Photo of Alice Niu

“It does not matter where you work, but how people view your work and how you view your work.”

Alice Niu (CAS ’16) completed her undergraduate degree in Contemporary Asian Studies and Ethics, Society and Law. During her time at the Asian Institute, Alice was an active student leader, serving as President of the Contemporary Studies Student Union in 2014. In her final year with the Contemporary Asian Studies program, she had the opportunity to participate in the International Course Module in Burma (Myanmar) led by Professor Joshua Barker. After graduation, Alice returned to Burma where she was selected from a competitive pool of applicants to serve as the Canadian Embassy’s Summer Political Intern in Yangon.

She is currently working at a Crown Agency in Ontario, performing IT Planning and Portfolio Strategy. Simultaneously, Alice is completing her Master’s in Public Policy and Administration at Ryerson University.

What were the highlights of your time at the Asian Institute?

The initiatives beyond the classrooms were tremendously memorable, especially the International Course Module (ICM), which led me to work with the embassy. In this role, I was able to represent the Canadian political sector, working with NGOs and other embassies. The experience empowered me and gave me the confidence to pursue my career journey.

The ICM program was certainly consequential to pave my career path. It was and is still the highlight of my career, or of my life! Through the ICM program, we had the opportunity to meet different members of political parties and Canadian Ambassadors in Burma. To date, I am still grateful to have been given the opportunity to travel to Burma and then return to work at the Embassy for a term. The ICM and the internship were pivotal to my current career in government and politics.

Alice Niu stands in front of golden temple wall.

What was your first job after graduation?

I was selected for the Canadian Embassy’s Summer Political Internship in Burma after graduation. I still find it surreal that I was selected for such a highly competitive internship. When I learned about the internship opportunity through an email sent by the Asian Institute, I built up the courage to submit my application, which included my cover letter, CV, transcript, and writing sample. Within the course of a month, I received my congratulations email from the Canadian Ambassador in Burma.

How did your degree help you get into the work you do now?

The theoretical knowledge that I had accumulated through the Contemporary Asian Studies Program prepared me well for my Master’s. This prior academic experience in Marxist theories, for instance, gave me an advantage over other students in my cohort.

Furthermore, I was able to develop my project management, team management, event organizing and leadership skills through my experience as the Co-President of the Contemporary Asian Studies Student Union (CASSU). To date, I am still able to leverage the skills that I gained through organizing the Global Careers through Asia Conference among various other initiatives in professional settings.

How did you get from there to where you are right now?

After graduation, I was hired through the federal government’s post-secondary recruitment program to the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada. After working for the federal government, I transitioned to the province. To get my current job, I leveraged my social work experience through ESL. To get the social work job, I leveraged the initiatives I did through the Asian Institute. So, to get this job, it just worked out!

What’s your favorite aspect of your job?

From an early age, I understood that I wanted to work to serve the public. I am fortunate that I am able to accomplish this goal every day through a job that I enjoy. Although it is cliché, I am able to employ my strengths in working with people and envisioning the bigger picture to my current role as an IT Planning and Portfolio Strategy Analyst. This job helps me realize and appreciate the strengths that I have.

Right now, I have the opportunity to take on more responsibility because I have been able to build trust with my employers. I feel empowered to work harder and can see the difference that I am making. It does not matter where you work, but how people view your work and how you view your work.

Is there a current project or career achievement that you would like to share?

When I first applied to the Master’s program, I didn’t know if I would be able to continue working simultaneously. When I first faced this dilemma, my friend suggested that I shouldn’t make a rash decision and give up one opportunity for another. I’m glad that I was able to align of the some goals from current role to my studies, thus enabling me to do pursue both initiatives. I’ve surprised myself, but it’s great!

What advice would you give to a university student that you wished you’d known?

While it’s important to get good grades in school, for me it’s equally important to learn how to actually do things. One Chinese saying that has always resonated with me is, “dumb birds have to start flying early.” I didn’t think of myself as an extremely smart person, but if I hit the ground running I knew I wouldn’t have to catch up to the other kids. I always think ahead and approach challenges as exciting learning experiences. In some professional settings, no one knows what they’re doing – everyone’s just trying to figure it out. My advice is to start thinking in October about what you want to do over the summer. A term before graduation, begin applying to jobs.

In school, it’s not just about grades – it’s about taking on responsibilities that can help you grow. Unless you’re applying to grad school, your GPA doesn’t matter that much. Interviewing, finding soft skills will help.

By the time you graduate, you should know your strengths. In comparison to my friends, I was not much of a writer but was a do-er. Grad school-wise, I wanted to study the more administrative side of public policy. If you realize that when you write an essay you get angry (me), then a theory-based grad program is something you might not want to do.

Take advantage of the Career Centre. They will look at your resume, cover letter, and tweak out what should be highlighted. In your spare time, browse jobs you might be interested in – even if you aren’t applying at that time. That way, you’ll know what employers are looking for and what skills are required. Make sure you save the job descriptions – save it on a Google Doc – so you can always refer to them when you’re interviewing for other jobs. Those are exactly the skills you’ve developed. Keep everything!

If you really want a career in a certain role, know you’ll get there eventually if you truly want it – just give it time. U of T helps you create the foundation of your work ethic, but equally important is that you choose your friends wisely. If you surround yourself with like-minded people, they will motivate you through your studies and down the road.