Inaugural Director of Career Services, Sonia Liang, Shares Insights

Sonia Liang, Director of Career Services

Sonia Liang is the inaugural Director of Career Services, bringing with her over a decade of expertise in higher education, including seven years of dedicated work in career services. Her passion lies in guiding individuals through the career development process including exploration, decision-making, effective communication across cultures, and creating holistic institutional career support for diverse students.

In a recent interview, Liang shares insights into her journey, the vision for career services within the global studies context, and the exciting initiatives set to shape the future of Pardee students’ careers.

Can you share a bit about your journey and what led you to the Career Services department at Pardee?

My journey in career services began eight years ago as an international graduate student. It all started when a professor invited me to be a teaching assistant for a bilingual career exploration course. This introduction ignited my passion for career development theories and practices, knowing how much I can make a difference on someone’s life by helping them find joy and satisfaction in their career. Since then, I’ve dedicated myself as a career advisor, taking on informal leadership roles to innovate and refine various aspects of career services.

As I progressed in my career, I sought out directorship opportunities that would allow me to leverage my skills and experiences. When I discovered the opening at Pardee, I was immediately drawn to the opportunity of contributing to creating career services offerings for students who are future global leaders who want to change the world for better. Now, I am thrilled to begin this new chapter and make a meaningful impact in this vibrant community.

What’s the overarching vision for Career Services in the context of our global studies school, and how does it sync up with the school’s overall mission?

Great question! Building a career services function for a graduate school that has not had one before requires strategic planning, community collaboration, and a focus on the unique characteristics and needs of the students. In the context of global studies, our students share common skillsets, strengths and career aspirations that require tailored approaches to meet the demand. My first year is to focus on laying the groundwork. This includes introducing career resources within and beyond the university, educating students on job search skills, and providing opportunities for students to connect with alumni, employers and professionals. To accomplish these goals, it requires a lot of relationship building with faculty, staff, alumni and employers, and setting up technology platforms and communication channels for job postings, career workshops and recruiting events. Enhancing the career preparedness of our graduates is an integral part of the school’s overall mission. Equipped with knowledge and skills to launch their post-Pardee career, students are making their first step towards being global leaders and transforming their classroom learning into making real change in the world.

How will the Career Services department be incorporating a global viewpoint into its initiatives, and what exciting prospects are on the horizon for students?

Everything we do at the school has a global scope in it, including our career services. Our student body reflects this global mindset and identity. We have a diverse mix of international students from various countries, as well as students with experiences such as living abroad, being global nomads, or extensively traveling. As a result, our students are interested in pursuing opportunities on a global scale. Even those seeking jobs within the US tend to lean towards roles in government with international components, multinational corporations, or organizations addressing global issues, or serving global clientele. This sets the stage for our career workshops, networking events, career fairs, and other programs, all focused on leveraging our global skills and identities for international careers. Our students explore a wide range of career possibilities spanning different sectors and continents. With increasing global mobility and competition for talent, exciting opportunities are emerging for both international and domestic students at Pardee.

Navigating diverse cultural backgrounds can be challenging. What challenges do you anticipate, and how is Career Services gearing up to address them and ensure an inclusive environment?

Ensuring an inclusive environment is the top priority for developing career services. Recognizing the diverse career needs of our students, I understand that a one-size-fits-all approach is not enough. While our topical workshops often cover careers in foreign services, intelligence agencies, large NGOs and other areas that are most popular among students, we acknowledge that unique needs may not always be met programmatically. To bridge this gap, we are investing in diversifying job postings through target newsletters, providing individual advising, expanding employer network, and enhancing programming to celebrate and support the diverse backgrounds of our students. Our commitment is to create an environment where every student feels empowered to pursue their career goals with confidence, regardless of their unique interests, goals, and backgrounds.

Building partnerships with global organizations, government agencies and NGOs sounds intriguing. Can you shed light on how these collaborations will benefit students, and perhaps share a teaser about some exciting partnerships in the pipeline?

Building partnerships with these employers goes beyond merely securing internships and jobs. Through actively engaging with these organizations, our students can explore and identify the endless possibilities their degrees and skill sets offer, and gain valuable insights into potential career paths. These interactions can be group info sessions, one-to-one chats, informal networking, and site visits during our signature New York and DC trips, so on and so forth. My role is to create platforms and solutions to maximize effective and meaningful engagement between students and employers.

In the Spring, we anticipate a number of exciting opportunities, including more employer visits both on campus and virtually. Highlights include CIA recruiting events, a Diplomat in Residence info session on States opportunities, and several Pardee Works sessions covering topics ranging from diplomacy, communications to international development.

One particularly exciting event is our inaugural Pardee Career Night scheduled for April 10. This unique event offers students the chance to network with alumni, professionals, and recruiters, providing valuable connections and insights into various career paths. Stay tuned for updates as we continue to unveil details to these exciting opportunities for our students.

In the ever-evolving landscape of global studies, what skills do you consider crucial for students, and how will Career Services be molding them for success?

The National Association of Colleges and Employer (NACE) published a document in 2021, outlining the key competencies for a career-Ready workforce for students in higher education. The competencies listed include career and self-development, communication, critical thinking, equity and inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork, and technology proficiency.

These key competencies, highly applicable to the field of global studies, inform how we shape our career services and programming. Whether through job search workshops to enhance self-awareness and professional communication skills, or through Pardee Works career panel sessions to foster critical thinking and inclusive mindset, our initiatives are designed to prepare students for career success in short and long terms. Of course, students cannot acquire these skills through one appointment, one workshop, or any single interaction with career services. To support students to achieve these competencies, career services need to collaborate with rest of the Pardee community, and leverage resources within BU, to provide a holistic educationally enriching environment, and a robust career ecosystem.

Most importantly, when conducting a career workshop or engaging in one-to-one advising sessions, I make sure to prompt students to reflect on how their academic experiences translate into practical skills applicable in professional settings. This approach not only emphasizes the significance of cultivating professional skills but also equips students with the ability to communicate these skills effectively to potential employers.

As the pioneer of Career Services at our school, what aspect of this role excites you the most, and how do you plan to connect on a personal level with our diverse student body?

As I mentioned, I am particularly thrilled about the opportunity to lay the groundwork for this essential support system. However, my enthusiasm also comes from recognizing the remarkable strengths of our community. Here, students aspire to become the future leaders driving global change, while faculty and staff work hand in hand to nurture their ambitions. We’re tapping into the rich resources and diverse talents within the broader BU community to fuel our efforts.

When it comes to connecting with students on a personal level, my own journey as an international graduate student has deeply shaped my perspective. As someone who has navigated being a foreigner, a woman, and an ethnic minority in higher education, I empathize with the challenges students may encounter during their graduate studies. Advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been integral to my career, both as a leader in career services and as a dedicated career advisor. Drawing from my personal experiences and commitment to DEI, I aim to forge genuine connections with students, offering them not just guidance but also understanding and support as they navigate their academic and professional journeys.

What advice would you give current students or recently graduated students?

Your journey is your own. Take time to reflect on your strengths, interests, and values, and let them guide your decisions. Celebrate success on your own terms, but based on others’ expectations. Success might mean landing your dream job for some, while for others, it could be as simple as reaching out to alumni and engaging in a meaningful conversation. The road to occupation is often obstructed by your own preoccupation. By deeply understanding what work means to you and how you envision your career journey, you’ll define your own measure of success and pave the way to achieving your goals.