What are your key roles and responsibilities in your current positions? What do you like most about your job and what do you find most challenging? 

I currently lead the Economic, Demographic, and Statistical Research unit in the Fairfax County Government in Virginia. My responsibilities include managing research programs and developing methodologies that monitor and forecast the local demographic and economic trends, supervising and mentoring data science team members, creating public data, disseminating data and research findings through reports and data visualization applications, and working with partner agencies to facilitate the data-driven approach in the local government policymaking and community service delivery processes. Outside the regular 9-5, I also conduct research supporting initiatives and programs in environmental conservation and social justice through volunteering and consulting services.

What I like most about my current job is its direct and visible impact on local communities and the many learning opportunities it provides. It has an excellent work-life balance and a human-centric culture that allows continued personal growth.

The most challenging aspect is time management, balancing competing demands between conducting research and fulfilling management responsibilities.


List or describe the top 5+ professional skills that are crucial to your role. 

  1. Collaborative mindset
  2. Systems thinking
  3. Self-awareness
  4. Integrity
  5. Spatial analytical skills
  6. Project initiation and management
  7. Scientific judgment

How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory? For example, what skills and/or experiences did you acquire that have contributed to your career success? 

Yale’s education and experience helped me grow into a systematic and independent thinker with empathy and compassion for understanding people’s differences and the confidence to work for a better world.

Getting on a huge airplane for the first time in my life and flying the longest possible distance around the world is the turning point in my life, shaping who I am right now. I am forever grateful for the educational opportunity that Yale generously provided. Undoubtedly, it opened up possibilities of forming self-perception from a new angle, conducting research worldwide, and getting to know and learn from friends and mentors from various backgrounds.

First, since I started my study at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, I have had the opportunity to seek resources to develop my thesis topic from the very first sketch – to study a species conservation question from a sustainable forestry management angle and carry it through, which eventually contributed to establishing the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park, one of the first National Parks in China. In the process, I learned how to initiate a research project, turn an idea into a tangible plan, carry it through, and develop something impactful — the process helped me to learn how to ask the right question that matters, how to work with people and mobilize resources, develop a vision of how research can lead to a better world — these skills become my ingrained philosophy whenever I need to make a decision professionally.

Second, I value the skills gained through my thesis work in forestry and tiger conservation, i.e., the technical skills, especially spatial analytical skills, the interdisciplinary approach, and the ability to work with people from different backgrounds and interests. These skills led me to my first job at NatureServe, a non-profit organization using science to support biodiversity conservation, as the technical lead for the Biodiversity Indicators Dashboard project, turning a one-page concept note into a data product that is later used by many countries to support their national reports to the UN Convention of Biological Diversity monitoring biodiversity and conservation progress. The success of this project won the MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions for NatureServe.

Later, the same skills allowed me to seamlessly branch out to social science. I took on the Data Scientist position at the Fairfax County local government and successfully reformed the demographer’s group into a data science team that integrates research, data, technology, and application for services.

Finally, my mentors at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Chad Oliver, Dana Tomlin, Gus Speth, and many more, showed exemplary leadership. These great mentors taught me to continually push the boundaries for kindness and creativity, have a collaborative mindset, and think systematically. Therefore, when I became a manager, I knew what I needed to offer the team—intellectual merits, research integrity, appreciation of diversity, empathy, and compassion.


What were the biggest challenges that you faced when transitioning to different workplaces and cultures? What advice and suggestions can you offer to current students to help them prepare for those challenges?

Transitioning to different cultures can be challenging and bring tremendous discomfort, especially when already very stressful academic goals compound the situation. However, it is also a rare opportunity for growth—you learn about yourself, learn new things, and gain true friends during the hardship.

My first few years at Yale were very stressful. My time at Yale was unique in many ways. I had the unusual experience of switching programs after passing the qualifying exam. I still feel so vivid how overwhelming it was, even 20 years later, to overcome obstacles from language barrier and cultural shock and adapt to a brand-new culture, lots of self-doubting and anxiety. Looking back, it was a tremendous growth experience. Dealing with the transition transformed me: in the process, I re-gained confidence, learned how to deal with uncertainty, gained life-long friendships, and ended up with the best luck to studying with the best mentor, Dr. Chad Oliver. Along with the transformed self, my thesis research emerged – the work I did on forestry and Amur tiger habitats considerably impacted the conservation strategies in the region and eventually, together with other colleagues’ work, led to the establishment of the first National Parks in China.

On the contrary, my experience with workplace change has been much easier to adapt to. I transitioned from academic to non-profit and then to local government. In hindsight, the big challenge was to know the unknowns—to become aware of the “norms” in the new workplace, understand the logic behind them, and acquire institutional knowledge.

Transitioning to different workplaces and cultures brings excitement and learning opportunities. My advice is that no matter how hard it seems, believe in yourself, know the best will come out of the hardship, and seek resources to help. Stay open, stay curious, reach out for help, and enjoy the moment.

Work Experience
  • Principal Data Scientist
  • Fairfax County Government, VA
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