A Conversation with Minerva Graduate Student Philip

Sep 2, 2020

This is part of a series of profiles introducing Minerva’s Master in Decision Analysis (MDA) students from the Class of 2022. If you would like to learn more about the MDA program, please visit minerva.edu/graduate-programs.

“I’ve always been passionate about learning.”

Back when he attended college in Taiwan, Philip Chan majored in chemical engineering. However, this was not a field he intended to study, instead, his entrance exam score placed him into the program. Despite this, he continued to follow his passion for learning broadly and took a range of courses beyond chemical engineering, including philosophy, psychology, literature, economics, accounting, and marketing — everything he could get from his university. He believed that learning and education had no boundaries, and he still holds this philosophy.

“I really maximized my experience in college. And my learning didn’t stop there. After I graduated from chemical engineering I jumped into Human Resources (HR) — a totally different field — at Proctor and Gamble (P&G,) which is a well-structured, mature, huge company.”

After working at P&G for four years, Philip began to realize that his learning was stalled and considered quitting for something new. However, when he spoke with his supervisor and expressed his desire to go back to school, she asked if he would be open to reconsidering if she found him a new challenge. A week later, she presented him with several different opportunities in mainland China — he could try some of them out and, if he was not happy, then could reconsider. So he transferred to working in HR at a big manufacturing plant, and while he enjoyed his work and it provided something different from anything he had known before, he kept thinking about his desire to go to graduate school overseas.

To test the higher education waters, Philip visited top traditional Business graduate programs in the United States [and other countries.] Unfortunately, as he sat in on classes, his dreams did not match his experienced reality.

“To be honest, I was very disappointed. It was not nearly as diverse as I had expected. I used to think that Master in Business Administration programs (MBAs) were very diverse and that people shared different educated perspectives backed with solid experience.”

While Philip found many of his potential classmates to be intelligent, he was also searching for a cohort with professional experience under their belt. He did not want to simply discuss theoretical arguments, he wanted a program that focused on real-world applicability.

After his school visits, Philip decided to continue accumulating work experience for a few more years. He rotated through several cities and different organizations, including acquisition planning and sales organization. After eight years of experience in P&G, he decided to change companies and accepted a position at Google Shanghai. There he quickly realized that unlike the structured and systematic environment of P&G, Google employees thought on their feet to solve a problem. This transition was challenging as he felt unsure in his work, especially when he was tasked with partnering with senior business leaders. He wondered how he could add real value to the work he was doing.

Philip realized that he did want to go back to school but recognized that he did not want a traditional degree. Instead, he knew he should find a program that would help him develop the skills to solve the complex, ambiguous, and uncertain problems of the future.

“I chose Minerva because it’s interdisciplinary and has the practice and philosophy that can help me integrate all my ideas and experiences together. I love the idea of breaking down the boundaries between different disciplines because I feel like that’s the future. Minerva can help me understand how to learn and how to solve a problem instead of just teaching me the answer. That’s why I was really interested.”

One of Philip’s passions has been partnering with leaders to reimagine the future with data and intuition. He believes it is important for leaders to understand how to navigate ambiguity, how to solve problems, and how to make the right decisions. And if leaders can master these practices, their entire organizations will benefit from that.

Once he begins the MDA program this fall, Philip would like to follow his interest in nurturing leadership in complex environments as he feels this is more urgent than ever given the world’s current health and economic crisis. He plans on exploring how we can ensure leaders are prepared to make the right decisions in this changing environment, bring this knowledge back to his home community back in Taiwan, and gradually expand his impact.