While her high school education in Hong Kong nurtured her strengths in sciences, Gigi Chan (MPS '22) explored her interest in social and political issues as an undergraduate student in Canada. Working on a housing policy capstone project at the University of Toronto, she discovered that public policy could merge her aptitude for evidence-based analysis and passion for societal impact. “I realized that I enjoy working in public policy and I thought there might be a career in it.”
It turns out, there is a career in it. Now graduating with her Master of Public Service (MPS) degree, Gigi is already employed with the Ministry of Transportation’s emerging technologies office. “I'm really happy in the Ontario Public Service. I find it to be a very supportive work environment where they encourage you to learn and grow and develop.”
Back when she was searching for masters’ programs in public service, Gigi says she was drawn to Waterloo’s strength in co-op education and its supportive culture for digital skills, entrepreneurship, and career readiness. “I was very happy that I was accepted to start my MPS journey,” she says.
Forming strong social connections
Of course, that was in 2020 and all the courses Gigi and her classmates took in the first two terms were online. Despite the pandemic disruption, the coursework emphasis on collaborative projects helped the students form strong connections. “I learned a lot about how to work with people,” says Gigi. “I learned that others’ understanding of social issues might be different than mine, that their style of work might be different than mine. And I learned how to facilitate a group and manage conflicts.”
In fact, Gigi found that relationship-building is one of the most important skills she developed. “Now that I’m working in the public service, working with people is a big part of what we do.”
Along with those vital human-centred soft skills, Gigi and her cohort were immersed in technical skills, particularly learning to work with data, which is key in government policy development. They were also introduced to innovative governance trends such as design thinking and digital government. Public service is inherently multidisciplinary and collaborative, and that’s exactly what MPS students experience as they develop those hard skills along with the sensitivity to understand the impacts of public policy on people’s lives.
For instance, Gigi opted to add the graduate diploma in Computational Analytics for the Social Sciences and Humanities (CDASH) to her degree — a three-course intensive on data analysis, data mining, and systems analysis. “My CDASH diploma included a course called Hard Decisions and Wicked Problems where we used quantitative analysis, probability and risk factors to understand intricate social issues like homelessness, sex trafficking or climate change — really big problems that you can start to wrap your mind around with these approaches.”
Working with nurturing professionals
She also opted to do an internship on top of the one required co-op term. Over the total eight months of work-integrated learning, Gigi deepened her skills and knowledge in public policy, regulation and legislation, government finance, and how the public and private sectors work together for economic innovation.
“My co-op and internship were really fruitful experiences and led to landing my current job. I learned a lot from insightful and kind mentors, and this really helped my career and gaining perspective on government work and life-long development.”
Gigi mentions Professor Anindya Sen, MPS director, and John Milloy, a former Ontario MPP and an instructor in the program, for their outstanding teaching and mentorship. In fact, she says the exposure MPS students have to many experienced policy practitioners both in the classroom and on the job is crucial for their professional development. “I found these senior government officials really care about nurturing new people, encouraging us to network with MPS alumni and other public service professionals — I wasn't afraid to reach out to people anymore.”
Becoming a professional
“Before starting the MPS program, public policy seemed far from reach for me. And that was what I really meant to gain through the program, to feel comfortable to enter this world as a professional,” reflects Gigi. “Today as I mentor new students, I can see that I understand government and policymaking and I'm confident that I can add value. And I think that's a major growth for me.”
Originally published on Waterloo News