A group shot of nine students who represent the Contemporary Asian Studies Student Union.
Asian Institute

Student-run Asian studies conference explores global careers

For students seeking careers connected to Asia, the Global Careers Through Asia Conference continues to be a vital source of information, connection and guidance.

It’s an event not only for students, but also by students.

Organized by the Contemporary Asian Studies Student Union (CASSU), the annual conference features panels with experts from a variety of professions and industries and is hosted by the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

From a Vancouver-based film producer to an international banking risk assessor to a sitting Canadian senator, this year’s panelists brought a diversity of insights into how their careers have connected to, and benefited from, relationships with Asia.

Undergraduate student organizer Mia Nguyen, a member of Victoria College majoring in political science and the Contemporary Asian Studies Program, says connecting a liberal arts education with potential career opportunities is vital.

“This conference is a really necessary initiative for bridging the gap between the job market and our studies,” says Nguyen. “Every panel brought something fresh and meaningful to the table. And this year, we were glad to bring more women and speakers from diverse backgrounds to participate."

One panel focusing on arts and media featured U of T alumna Anita Li, a media consultant and journalism professor who worked as a reporter and editor at outlets such as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and the CBC before embarking on her own path as a consultant on the changing face of media in the digital age.

Li says when CASSU reached out to her, she agreed to participate because “I love engaging with students. They're so optimistic and have their whole lives ahead of them.”

“Beyond that, because my career path was a little unorthodox, I think it’s really important for me to relay my experience to students. You can have success despite going on an alternative path.”

Aside from connecting with current students, Li highlights the value of maintaining connections with her alma mater and other alumni by participating in events like the conference.

“The Munk School is one of the best global affairs schools in the country — if not the world — so maintaining ties to the University and to the school is really beneficial.”

“One of the most heartening things to see during the conference was Asian Institute students and alumni both expressing gratitude for the support they received during their studies from the staff and faculty at the institute,” says director of the Asian Institute Rachel Silvey.

“We are so proud to know that our students — both current and past — are benefitting from the resources and expertise housed in the Institute, and we know these experiences will serve them well in whatever their future holds.”

Another student conference organizer, Angelah Liu, reflected on how her journey as a member of CASSU has enriched her U of T experience. Liu is a fourth-year New College member double majoring in political science and the Contemporary Asian Studies Program with a minor in history.

“As a Chinese international student who had just come to Canada, I was afraid to join a community where everyone only spoke English. But a friend encouraged me to join CASSU and it has been the highlight of my undergraduate studies.”

Liu says she discovered the importance of peer support through her involvement in the conference. “This conference is one of the ways that Mia and I can share that kind of mutual support with other Asian studies students.”

Liu shares Nguyen’s belief that a stronger connection is needed between undergraduate studies and navigating the complexities of pursuing a career.

“Students — myself included — are sometimes confused about our futures and which industries we’re passionate about. Combined with a strong cultural influence that says we must consider family and parents, some Asian students choose a path that their parents want them to, rather than pursuing what they’re truly interested in.”

Both set to graduate this year, Liu and Nguyen feel prepared to pursue their interests armed with the knowledge and experience they’ve gained from working with CASSU and organizing the conference.

Liu has applied for graduate programs in Europe and Canada, but is considering gaining some work experience before continuing her studies. Nguyen is interested in working in consulting, finance or tech before also pursuing graduate studies.

Keeping options open and exploring different kinds of careers — at both this year’s and past conferences — has given Liu new insight: “Failure is another form of success because when one path doesn't work out, we're closer to another that fits us better.”