Coaxed by curiosity
Kuan Su is a firm believer that following your curiosity will get you where you want to be, even if you do not know it yet.
It was Su’s curiosity that proved to be so important in the creation of her own path, motivating her to pursue a degree in UofT Mississauga’s Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MScSM) and ultimately becoming a PhD candidate.
Su graduated in 2019 from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Unlike many of her peers, Su knew that her interests did not align with the traditional route of working within a major financial firm.
“I never felt like I wanted to go into business, or at a big financial or consulting firm,” says Su. “That was the dream of so many of my classmates, but it just never really spoke to me.”
She then set off to figure out her next steps after graduation and consider what piqued her curiosity.
“I’ve always been really interested in cooking, and a few friends completed [the culinary program at] Le Cordon Bleu. So, I thought ‘let me see if they are hiring at their offices,’ which could allow me to continue to learn while being in that work environment,” says Su, who had the opportunity to become an interpreter for Le Cordon Bleu in Tokyo, Japan in late 2019.
It was during Su’s time in Tokyo that academic life started luring her back.
“Despite having so much fun while I was in Japan, I started to miss school and the theories that I was learning,” says Su.
She says that it was a part-time job as an English teacher that was the turning point.
“I taught conversational English with Japanese kids and adults,” says Su.
“The moment that I started teaching, it was like a transformative experience – realizing that all my ego is gone in those two hours when I am with the student. It’s just about the student, it’s not about me anymore. I found that so liberating. So, it started to shine a light on a future path.”
After a year in Japan, Su looked for a new opportunity, this time within a master’s program but again with her interests and curiosity as a guide.
“I thought about what's important right now: climate change. There are so many social and sustainability issues that I felt like if I go back to school and learn about these things, [it] could be a positive use for society,” says Su, explaining her reasons for choosing UTM’s MScSM program in particular.
“The sustainability management program has a really nice professional development component, coursework, and a research paper, which was going to be important, since I knew I wanted to do a PhD.”
UTM’s MScSM exposed Su to many different sides of environmental, economic, and social sustainability issues through its required summer work/internship placement, as well as the four full-time academic terms. Through MScSM, she also had the opportunity to gain industry experience as a Sustainability Research Intern for Greenhouse Juice Co. where she diagnosed the current state of the company’s sustainability practices, among other things.
“Claire Westgate [MScSM Placement & Employer Relations Officer] is very well connected in the industry. Claire would help you connect with people she might know from the company, or she would also send out a lot of job openings and encourage MScSM students to apply for them,” says Su on finding the placement.
Research is an important component of the MScSM program, and since Su had her sights on pursuing a PhD in the future this was a perfect fit.
When it came to finding a research topic and proposing it to her program, Su says it was her curiosity once again that allowed her to find a path forward. Her research focused on understanding the impact of framing interventions and the effectiveness of persuasive tools on people’s attitudes and behaviours towards action on climate change.
Now, Su is preparing to join the Rotman School of Management in the fall of 2022 as a PhD candidate in Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management. She is grateful for this opportunity and her experiences coming out of undergrad, and has words of advice for other students.
“Follow your curiosity,” says Su.
“It can be intimidating to join grad school when you still don’t know what you want to do, but we are always curious as human beings. Along with that, take on as many opportunities as you can, as long as it suits your interests,” says Su.