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Alumni of the Month: Monique Ho (BSc Biochemistry)

Embracing a Growth Mindset

Monique is a Biochemist by training, and a motivated multitasker juggling gracefully among her paid job as a technology consultant in the UK, an entrepreneurship venture, and an MBA course. Recently, she took a 6-month career break in Hong Kong. We were delighted to have Monique share with us her experience and latest adventure.

What is your Imperial story and how did that shape your subsequent personal or professional development?

Learning about the evolution of science in biochemistry gave me the necessary skills and mindset to be a self-driven problem solver who is always ready to challenge the status quo and seek improvement ideas. Throughout my three-year academic journey, I was inspired by new concepts and new perspectives each year across an array of modules. What it taught me was the ability to join the dots – to be able to integrate knowledge and apply them to practical scenarios.

During my time at Imperial, I was also very active in non-academic experiences within the College. I was the Chief Editor of PASSTIMES, a quarterly magazine published by the Public Awareness & Social Service Society (ICPASS), aiming to bring different perspectives of social issues to fellow students.

I was also the Sponsorship & Partnership Manager for Robogals of the UK region. Robogals is a student-run organisation that aims to inspire and empower young women to consider studying STEM subjects. My role was to seek funding for equipment and conferences – it involved designing sponsorship proposals, cold calling potential sponsors alongside many other business administrative processes that I would not otherwise have experienced in an academic setting. These opportunities pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped develop my commercial and interpersonal skills.

How did you transition from a Biochemist to a technology consultant?

The biochemistry programme was a very focused degree. I used to think that I would work in the science field after graduation, perhaps in fast-moving consumer goods or pharmaceutical brands. I was even considering doing a PhD in osteoarthritis. However, I was later introduced to the consulting business when I attended the on-campus career fairs during Year 3 (of course, we all remember the freebies and free food at these fairs!). As I got to know the industry better, I felt that the nature of consultancy was what I would enjoy – to bring in new perspectives and ideas to solve problems, and the opportunity to work in a diverse business environment. The role as a technology consultant, in particular, fascinated me.

Out of curiosity, I joined a cyber security consultancy after graduation, thinking that I could always go back to academia if this didn’t go as expected. 10 years later, I still find myself working in the technology space, because I enjoy making positive impacts on organisations by helping my clients grow their businesses. The problem-solving skills that I have gained from Imperial have proven to be useful and common to many careers.

What’s your most exciting project or greatest achievement as a technology consultant?

I had co-led and run an in-house innovation programme for my previous employer in the UK. The programme involved developing an investment framework for internal innovation, conducting a thorough analysis on what the company needed, engaging employees and board members, implementing training programmes, setting up measures of success, etc. When running the programme, I had the chance to connect with many innovation practitioners and colleagues globally, many of which have become friends since.

It was a challenging but rewarding experience that I’m very grateful for, especially when witnessing how a well-run innovation programme has the capability to empower people around me to lead their ways. The design thinking process does not only apply at a tech-based work setting, it has also opened the door for my subsequent endeavours in social innovation.

You mentioned about a social innovation project that you’re working on, can you tell us more about your new venture?

During the pandemic lockdown, I made better use of the 3.5 hours saved from commuting every day. Reconnected with a friend whom I’ve met at a Hackathon, we built a mobile app that displayed supermarket stock levels by collecting data via collective intelligence (shoppers like you and me). It was a fun project to work on that addressed an immediate need. After working on it for a while, we couldn’t convince ourselves of the business case and the expandability of the idea. Entrepreneurship is all about pivoting and addressing real user needs, it also built up my core leadership quality – including the ability to make painful decisions. Shortly after, we moved on to another project.

There are lots of trolls on social media, and we were trying to find ways to encourage constructive discussions that genuinely help society grow, by selection of debating skills and techniques. “LADL” (Learn and Discuss, Loop) is an in-flight project that aspires to become the “Duolingo of Debating”. Debating is a relatively exclusive activity in the sense that typically welcomes only the crème of the crop, just like the Olympics. I am keen to explore ways to make learning more accessible to a wider audience.

There are practical tips on LADL to help users improve their techniques and skills to listen actively, extract useful information from conversations, articulate ideas in a clear and convincing manner, and make informed decisions. We want society to reflect more on how we should approach opinions and communicate effectively.

LADL is ready to launch in Q2 this year. Please do get in touch here if you want to learn more about it, collaborate and/or exchange ideas for customised learning for business or individuals.

You were taking a career break before starting a new job in the UK, what have you been up to during this time?

The pandemic was an opportunity for me to reflect and re-prioritise things in life.

I have decided to take a career break to spend some quality time with my family in Hong Kong. I also completed a remote MBA course. LADL was of course a fairly time-demanding side venture.

To learn more about the social innovation space, I worked part-time at Good Lab, a think-and-do tank for social innovation. Whilst I have been using design thinking for years, the experience at Good Lab was very different from that of my corporate technology consulting. The work at Good Lab was very down-to-earth, and has a lot of emphasis on active listening to gain insights from a spectrum of perspectives and backgrounds.

Now back to the UK, I have joined Accenture, and have already been involving in their Development Partnership programme, bringing best practices, strategies and implementation to NGOs around the world.

What is your advice to recent graduates who are looking to start a career in technology/ innovation?

This year marks my 10th anniversary of graduating from Imperial. In these 10 years of work experiences, I observed that both learning and business environments have changed a lot. During my study, many of my cohort went into investment banking or graduate programmes. Prospective graduates today are seeking mission and purpose in the things they do. This gives me a lot of respect and hope for the new generation.

I would highly encourage recent graduates who are interested in entrepreneurship to leverage the support services of the College. Pace yourself to explore where your passion lies, and be open to learning business operating skills such as financial management, industry knowledge, stakeholder engagement, etc. Be young and crazy, and stay focused in the world with too many distractions.

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