Katherine MacIvor

February 11, 2019

As Co-Chairs of the Contemporary Asian Studies Student Union (CASSU), Grace Chong and Richard Liu played a central role in organizing this year’s Global Careers through Asia Conference. A fourth-year CAS student, Grace’s interests lie along the intersection of migration and mobility, human rights and hyphenated identities, which she hopes to continue exploring in a career in immigration and refugee law. Richard is a third-year student studying CAS, international relations, and philosophy. As a Chinese-Canadian with roots in Beijing and Vancouver, he is used to navigating the complexities of an intersectional identity and says CAS has helped him to appreciate the multiplicity of perspectives he was exposed to growing up in both the East and the West.

Grace and Richard worked with faculty advisor Yiching Wu and Asian Institute staff to plan the conference and led their CASSU Executive Team in speaker research and conference preparations. We asked them to reflect on what they took away from the experience.

View the full conference program and speaker bios.

What were your expectations leading into the conference planning experience?

GC: Compared to previous years, this year’s conference placed a higher emphasis on alumni representation, and focusing on the theme of transitioning from academia to the workplace. As a result, aside from hoping to execute a well run conference, I also walked into it hoping to see fruitful conversations between speakers and students, and to hear speakers talk about things that were a little more applicable to the next few months of my life, as opposed to general career trends.

RL: Last year I served as Director of Public Relations on CASSU, so I played a role in organizing the conference. However, I was out of town that week attending a Model United Nations conference in Montréal, so I was unable to attend! Nonetheless, I heard wonderful news on the success of last year’s conference, so I had hopeful expectations leading into this year.

Putting together a career conference is a big job! What were the most challenging and beneficial aspects of the experience for you?

GC: The biggest lesson I learned throughout the process was being able to switch to different backup plans as opposed to stressing about small details that didn’t pan out. A few of our speakers dropped out over the holidays and I spent a lot of my time looking up and emailing other candidates, then having to rename an entire panel to fit the new slate of confirmed speakers. Although this provided a hectic overseas holiday season, it taught me the flexibility required in group projects. I also got to do a lot of job exploring as I read through bios and invitation letters, which has proven to be of great help as I look towards graduation!

RL:  Oh yes, it certainly kept all of us quite busy! From researching and contacting prospective speakers to logistical planning to executing everything on the day, this conference involved a whole lot of coordination with many different people. The most challenging aspect of this experience for me, I think, was maintaining a balance between making progress on conference planning and keeping up with my academic work and other commitments. It was certainly good practice in long-term logistical planning!

How did you involve the CASSU Executive Team in the conference planning and delivery?

GC: The majority of our speakers were people that they’d researched and presented on. Although I did all the contacting, they were definitely the drivers behind our impressive slate of speakers this year. Likewise, CASSU executive members chaired all the talks, and were able to run panels and Q&As.

RL: We would not have been able to organize and execute the conference without our strong and capable CASSU colleagues. We were able to delegate work amongst our members. For instance, we had colleagues who helped draft invitation letters, colleagues who helped with logistical planning, and colleagues who served as panel moderators for the various industry panels.

What did you find most inspiring, and what was the most valuable career advice you gained from the conference?

GC: A lot of the speakers discussed the need to not look at career planning as a straight line, but rather, to anticipate risks and taking unexpected roles. However, the piece of advice that stuck to the most was one on mental health. One of our panelists cautioned us to gain a better understanding of our mental health before graduation, and to seek a sustainable source of self care and support post-graduation. As someone who comes from a background where I’m just taught to take small risks to ensure a high rate of success, to hear her talk about failure in a way that didn’t shame me but rather, sought to protect me, was unexpected yet much appreciated.

RL: I think the most useful piece of career advice I gained was to not be afraid of taking risks. I remember several speakers echoing this message, including Ms. Zhiying Zhang from Apple. Our keynote speaker, Executive Director Sarah Kutulakos of the Canada China Business Council, was particularly inspiring. Her engaging presentation and comprehensive insights on the rise of China and its implications for Canada and Canadians gave me much food for thought.

How did the conference influence your career plans moving forward?

GC: As a fourth year, it’s definitely a daunting task, peering into the wide pool of possibilities. Although this has widened my knowledge of the types of jobs available, the biggest impact that the conference has had is in reassuring me that although the prospect of career changes and unexpected plans seems daunting, it’s part of a process that everyone is on.

RL: One prevailing theme that all our guest speakers touched on and really stuck out to me was how Asia is a dynamic, fast-growing, and increasingly influential region of the world. Many, if not all, of the speakers discussed the rise of China and the implications of that for their respective industries. Hearing these insights from all these professionals really highlighted the importance of everything I’m studying in CAS. Asia is becoming increasingly influential in the world, and Asia as a region – China especially – touches upon all industries and sectors of the economy. I certainly hope I can apply what I’ve learnt in CAS and my personal experience in Asia in any career path I pursue in the future.

Do you have any advice for next year’s student conference organizers?

GC: I would suggest that they prepare questions to ask during the talks, or to get speaker emails to keep in contact! Especially if they are alumni from the same program, speakers understand the stress and confusion of transitioning from the academic work to the work force and are generally more than happy to answer questions. And as an extension, always feel comfortable asking people for help, even if they’re strangers. In my frantic emailing period, my mantra was “The worst they can say is ‘No.’” Regardless of it being academic, professional, or personal help, never feel like you can’t ask!

RL: The conference was a culmination of five months of preparatory work, so I was thrilled to see it all finally come together and bear fruit! We certainly faced a number of challenges during this planning process. I know our successors will encounter similar challenges. Planning for this sort of conference is a lot of work – it’s not easy! My advice for students who will be involved next year is really to just remember to keep working hard. Persistence does pay off!

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Photos by Dhoui Chang.