Fridays from the Frontline: Moving to the States with My Daughter to Pursue an MBA at HBS and Switch Careers
The MBA is a vehicle for change, especially for those looking to switch careers and refine their professional trajectory. The transition to business school comes with its own changes, such as location, lifestyle and more. For Yaping Wang, current Harvard MBA student and former product innovation researcher at Mars Foods, it seemed as though everything had to change in order to pursue her dream. She took to the HBS blog to discuss the reflections that led to her choice of an MBA, all the way through to her experience uprooting from Beijing to relocate to Boston. Read on for her story.
Moving to the States with My Daughter to Pursue an MBA at HBS and Switch Careers
by Yaping Wang HBS MBA ’20
It was the summer of 2017, and after working at Mars in R&D for eight years, I started to think about the next step for my career. I enjoyed my role as a product innovation manager in the Consumer Packaged Goods industry because it involved leadership responsibility, strategic exposure, creativity, and tangible impact. Still, I realized that I was not satisfied with my growth and needed something more challenging and fulfilling for the long term.
I prioritized self-reflection to more clearly understand my motivations and what brings me satisfaction and frustration, and I looked at the different aspects of a career that drove my passion. I also reached out to many old friends to discuss these thoughts. After this time of reflecting and conversing with friends, it became clear that a career switch should be my next step. I started thinking about different industries to explore, including consulting, technology, and health care, but I was not quite sure which direction I should go in.
There are several ways to switch careers, such as directly changing jobs or pursuing another advanced degree in a new field. Among the choices, an MBA is not a typical option for people with a technical background. I had very few friends and colleagues who had gone the MBA path, and yet, the more I talked to those friends, the more I realized that an MBA was the perfect fit for me as a next step.
As my reflection went on, I realized that a career switch was only part of the change I was longing for. After becoming a mom four years ago, I had spent more time focused on family, and I felt that I needed to allocate more time back to myself. My little one is just like a mirror of myself. I can see that my life journey would subtly influence her future decisions, just as my mother’s life story had impacted mine. Therefore, if I want her to be brave, independent, and open, I need to apply the same standards to myself. If I wanted to demonstrate what life is really about; I had to seek new opportunities, take some risky steps, and cope with uncertainties.
For me, an MBA was both an opportunity to consider other career options and to make a big change in my life. I had never received formal business training before, so I looked for a well-rounded business curriculum to complement my technical background. The opportunity to meet people from diverse backgrounds and to hear different perspectives and provocations also attracted me to Harvard Business School (HBS). A career switch meant that I needed to leave behind all my past experiences, and titles, and start over in a new field as a beginner. To my surprise, this excited me rather than scaring me.
With those expectations in mind, I decided to apply. I only applied to schools in the United States because there were excellent career exploration opportunities, and I wanted to meet friends from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. I also wanted to expose my daughter to a new environment with different values and opinions at an early age. I’ve experienced different environments myself, and those differences taught me to observe and empathize, rather than to accept whatever I have by default. I had never lived in the United States before, so that was also a part of the experience.
HBS was on top of my list not only because it has always been my dream school, but because of the case method approach of teaching. Having been through lecture-based classes in Asia for most of my education, I wanted to experience what a case method class felt like, and I was prepared for the challenges it could bring.
I’m now more than halfway through my MBA journey, and I am very happy that I decided to apply two years ago. This past year has been an incredible and full of new learnings for both me and my family. The case method has taught me to express my own opinions in a clear and succinct way. More importantly, it taught me to be open with new perspectives, new experiences, and opposing views.
On the career side, I’ve leveraged HBS resources to explore different career trajectories in the first year. I am now determined to switch into health care, where there are currently so many unmet needs. It is an exciting industry for science and technology innovation and breakthrough. Boston is also a global hub city for health care and as a result, there are seemingly endless opportunities to learn beyond the classroom, whether it’s through an internship or independent study.
My daughter has also been adapting well to the new education system here and has made new friends, which include her classmates and kids of my section mates. As a family, there are still ambiguities ahead around where we’ll be after graduation, but we’re okay with that. We know that we have built a tighter bond with each other by settling into this new environment and are enjoying the journey together, which for us is the most important thing.