From being a civil servant in Taiwan to giving it up to pursue full-time PhD studies at CUHK, Anna Hsu (PhD Year 4) knew she wanted to accomplish more with her commendable talents. Combining her love of languages, insights into international management, academic excellence and leadership potential—as recognised by her winning the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship —Anna is following her passion to become a capable, compassionate and socially responsible scholar.
Cultivating Professional Strengths from Linguistic Talents
Anna never thought working in academia would be on the anvil. Growing up, she only knew she loved languages and had a flair for mastering them. She spent 7 years majoring in Russian language and literature for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and nearly 20 years learning Japanese on the side.
Upon graduation, she worked at international trading companies and later joined the Taiwanese civil service, initially working at the Tourism Bureau of Kaohsiung City and the Transportation & Tourism Department of Hsinchu County, and subsequently at the Civil Service Development Institute, where she helped organise various kinds of training for all civil servants. Anna discovered that her language abilities not only gave her an enviable competitive edge at work, but also unlocked a far bigger world for herself and for others – a better collaboration with tourism partners, more effective training events and more fruitful interactions with guest lecturers worldwide.
“My language abilities not only gave me an enviable competitive edge at work, but also unlocked a far bigger world for myself and for others.” — Anna Hsu
While attending a workshop hosted by the Association of Talent Development, a major talent development association in the US, Anna was told by a distinguished instructor that she was one of the most impressive students she had ever met and that she looked forward to seeing her career progress. “Her words gave me an ‘aha moment’,” Anna recalled. “It inspired me to rethink my career, my life and how I could make a more significant contribution to society with my talents and capabilities.”
Orbiting Academia in Search of Career Transcendence
Recognising the limits of her impact in the “big machine” of government, Anna began mulling over a career in academia, an idea that germinated while she was immersed in scholarly activities, papers and people. She enrolled in a PhD programme in Taiwan to study human resources development and explore academia. Soon thereafter, she was invited by her previous professor to co-author a book on language policy, as he opined that her linguistic background, management expertise and research skills would be assets to the project. Together, they published a book entitled Language Management Handbook for Private-sector Industries in 2017.
This experience amplified Anna’s passion for scholarship and even professorship. However, the PhD programme she had been studying for three years proved unfulfilling, and the stability of a government job deterred her from considering a career change. “Fortunately, my parents, friends and colleagues encouraged me to follow my heart and pursue my dream.”
“CUHK’s PhD programmes offered a better pathway towards becoming a scholar.” — Anna Hsu
As Anna ruminated on her options, she remembered meeting guest lecturers from the CUHK Business School, including Prof. David Ahlstrom, at workshops and decided to explore CUHK. She was pleasantly surprised that CUHK’s PhD programmes offered a better pathway towards becoming a scholar. She finally enrolled in the PhD programme of the Department of Management in 2018. More significantly, she won the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme as the only awardee of CUHK Business School that year, a firm recognition of her academic excellence and leadership potential.
Merging Talent, Passion and Aspiration in Research
Anna picked entrepreneurial skills, passion and motivations as well as the language policy of multinational corporations (MNCs) as her research focus. Currently, she is working on several essays proposing a legitimacy-based view in employees’ compliance with language policy in MNCs.
“I’m intrigued by how organisational language policies influence the employees and their behaviours in an MNC setting.” — Anna Hsu
“Coming from an HR background, I understand it is easy to train skills but extremely difficult to cultivate passion and motivation. That’s why I want to focus on these areas.” Anna observed that although the usage of English may be “legitimate” and taken for granted in business, this common language practice may preclude some employees from fully participating in knowledge flows. “I’m intrigued by how organisational language policies influence the employees and their behaviours. For example, why is English commonly adopted as the corporate language in MNCs? Although English is a lingua franca, is it the only legitimate language in MNCs?”
She added: “I’m now studying a language behaviour called code-switching, which refers to people expressing their ideas using different languages interchangeably. This type of communication is very helpful for sharing, but some MNCs are against it. I want to show that what matters most should not be a person’s language ability but their legitimacy judgment and willingness to communicate with others by using multiple languages. Policy makers should care more about the legitimacy of English in different regions instead of just taking it for granted.”
“A professor needs to cultivate persistence and self-discipline while balancing the research, teaching, administrative work and various social services for academic citizenship.” — Anna Hsu
Transforming into a Capable and Socially Responsible Scholar
Anna could not convince her supervisor, Prof. Kevin Au, to agree to this dissertation topic for several months, because he saw the risk of delving into a less popular area. But once he did, he was nothing less than a godsend: “When it comes to personality, Kevin is a total opposite of me. He encourages me to be more agile and open-minded and always has my best interests at heart. He also taught me how to engage with scholars to build credibility and gain recognition within the academic community. I’m very grateful to have him as my supervisor and mentor.”
Through the PhD programme, Anna also experienced what it is like to be a professor: “There is research, teaching, administrative work and various social services for academic citizenship. Professors also need to demonstrate their capabilities and build their reputation through continuous journal publications, which is getting increasingly difficult, considering the limited journals and the increasing number of papers there are.”
Scholars coming from non-academic backgrounds will also need to recalibrate their mindsets: “We often work on long-term projects that take years or even a decade. It’s more about persistence and self-discipline than it is about efficiency. Not to mention the rejection rate of journal submissions is very high and can be demoralising. Anyone considering joining this profession needs to be passionate about what they do so that they can recover quickly from setbacks and keep going.”
“I want to make the best of my abilities and do research that’s meaningful to academia and to society. I also want to inspire more young students to become change-makers in society.” — Anna Hsu
Changing from Within to Without
Anna is undeterred despite these challenges: “My target and my dream is to be a ‘capable and socially responsible scholar’. I want to make the best of my abilities and do research that’s meaningful to academia and to society. Instead of burying them in written documents, I want to put these findings into practice. I also want to inspire more young students to become change-makers in society.”
Guided by a quote by the illustrious author Leo Tolstoy, who famously stated: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself,” Anna is continually investing in herself for progression.
Better still, she is instilling this mindset in her students and those around her: “If you don’t like to invest in yourself, nobody will invest in you. My journey has been the result of my long-term investment in myself. I believe everybody can achieve the same if they can keep persistently investing in themselves. Everybody can have incredible achievements.”
Thinking of advancing yourself in the new normal? Explore what’s in your future with CUHK Business School’s programmes.