Thursday, March 8, 2018

HNC Alumni Profile: Jessica Wong

Jessica Wong graduated from Wesleyan University in 2009 and received her Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) in 2011 from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center after studying in Nanjing for two years. Since 2014, she has worked as a Business Risk Intelligence Manager at Abbott Laboratories.

How did you find yourself at the HNC?
Part of my major requirement to earn an East Asian Studies degree when I was in college was to spend a semester abroad, so I decided to go to China - and I loved the experience. My mentor at the time in college told me in order to become a “China hand” you have to go to China and spend significant time in the country. So, I applied and was accepted to the HNC MAIS two-year degree program. At the time, I was also interested in doing more research in China. Being of Cantonese descent, I have a lot of connections in Guangdong, so I knew I wanted to do research there for my master’s thesis. I have very fond memories of my time at HNC. I had a good two years there. In fact, my HNC roommate recently got married and she asked me to come to her wedding - we still have a good relationship.

Can you tell us about your current role as a Business Risk Intelligence Manager at Abbott Laboratories?
Abbott Laboratories is an American multinational healthcare company. In my role, I conduct political risk and security risk forecasting for the Asia region. The company has assets all over the world and because it’s so globally dispersed, it can be impacted by political risk trends. When we talk about political risk at a very basic level, we are asking, is this country stable and does it provide a good operating environment for businesses? So I’m always looking at trends when it comes to healthcare or business, and trying to figure out if they impact the company’s ability to make money and invest. Many political science courses you can take at the HNC or in college may seem really abstract but I think that there are many spaces you can apply that knowledge that are not limited to diplomacy. Political science isn’t just limited to people who want to be in government – there is a lot of demand in the corporate sector for this type of “know-how” as well.

That’s fascinating that you are undertaking political risk and security risk research in your everyday work. Is the research done in Chinese, English, or both?
At my current job, I probably spend about 40% of my time on China issues, but the skill that got me here was the fact that I could do policy research in Chinese with no trouble; I still do this type of research today. Since I work at a healthcare company, I have to look at technical documents to keep up with the latest policy trends. For example, companies have to follow certain compliance standards for making or selling a new type of product. I’ll read those documents in Chinese and then have to explain them in plain language. I do still read Chinese every day for my job.

What is one skill you gained from your time at the HNC?
One of the greatest skills I gained while at the HNC that is still useful today in my career, even 5-6 years later, is policy research. As in, all of those really long documents that we read for class at the HNC about how China sets policy for all areas of life. At the HNC, I really picked up the ability to process a huge volume of characters very quickly. Since then, I’ve just refreshed that skill in terms of research topic scope every time I’ve either changed jobs or internships. I am where I am today because the HNC pushed me to develop policy research expertise, attention to detail, and grit to get through challenging material.

Was there a defining experience at the HNC that influenced steps you later took in your career?
The master’s thesis was one of the most defining experiences at the HNC for me. My entire thesis was in Chinese, titled “新课程改革对农村小学的影响:来自广东的个案研究”/ “The New Curriculum Reforms: A Case Study on Rural Primary Schools in the Guangdong Province.” Writing in Chinese was very challenging, but that was when I began honing on my ability to process information very quickly. The execution, such as compiling my research material and then also trying to define the story that I was trying to tell with my thesis, was the most difficult part of the process. However, once I had to defend my thesis orally, it wasn’t that hard, since at that point, I had spent many months immersed in the research.

The thesis experience was critical to my professional development because it was during that time that I thought to myself, if someone were to ask me to do policy research for any company or for any organization, I knew I could definitively say, yes, I can do it.

What was your most memorable experience from the HNC?
The most memorable experience for me was the dragon boat competition. There was a classmate of mine that led the team for two years and we actually placed third in an amateur competition. During my first year, we weren’t that serious, we only started practicing in the spring semester. We would get up at 5am about 2-3 times a week to practice and then afterwards get breakfast together as a team. In my second year, we decided to start rowing during the fall semester so we would have more time to prepare before competing. It was a great way to make friends. Some of my best memories at the HNC, outside of academics, are with the dragon boat team.

What do you believe is one of the best resources available to HNC students?
The HNC made a great decision by hiring Robbie Shields, the HNC Career Counselor. He was actually not there when I was a student, so it was more difficult finding career development resources back then. I got to know Robbie because he comes to Shanghai to do the Shanghai career trek and alumni events. He’s done a great job helping students and I think students should definitely go see him. Even if they are not sure of what they want to do, they should go to him and have a conversation.

Any advice you would give to current or future HNC students about the type of work you currently do in political risk consulting?
Generally speaking, political risk consulting or risk management is seen as very mysterious, but it really isn’t - there are a lot of exciting problems you can solve by entering these industries. Additionally, consulting companies specializing in these fields sometimes give talks at the HNC to explain what it is they do. I would give students this advice: Don’t be intimidated by the labels, especially if you’re not sure what the job really is. Go to the corporate presentations and listen to their representatives to see if it’s something for you. I think if you don’t have the exposure, you might not know the full range of opportunities there are for you. Just go in, listen, and see for yourself.

 Written by Emily Rivera, HNC Certificate ‘18