When talking, Julian Barg preferred to walk around than sit still. Though he said that walking would not make his mind clearer, but it could at least keep the conversation going smoothly. Barg wore a PKU T-shirt that day, with a black baby sling around his waist holding his one-year-old daughter. “She loves outdoor activities,” he explained. “If I sit down, she’ll make noise.” So we walked around the school building, when Barg shared his memories and expectations. He recalled the time when he was studying in China, while his Chinese wife Chunhong Sheng finished her Ph.D degree and gave birth to his daughter in Germany. “Even after our reunion, we had a very tough time and take turns to take care of the baby.”
Barg earned his master’s degree in management from Peking University HSBC Business School (PHBS) in June and then was planning a new journey with his family on the other side of the world. The German alumnus’s next destination is Canada, where he will pursue his Ph.D. in sustainability at Ivey Business School in London, Ontario. “So I am being tossed into a new struggle yet again, but after two previous new firsts, how hard can this third one really be?” Weeks ago, Barg wrote those words in his article New First posted on the Linkedin. Settling down in Canada with his family, he started to miss the “good days” in China and look for new challenges.
Before starting his master’s degree, Barg had three goals: Go to China, switch to management, and study in Chinese. And the past two years have seen how most of his goals were realized and how his story at PHBS unfolded. Barg earned his bachelor’s degree in China studies at the Free University of Berlin where a number of professors there also serve as visiting faculty at Peking University, as the two institutions are “sister universities.” He attended elective courses offered by PHBS professors, had a one-year exchange experience in Beijing and even engaged in PHBS’s field study in the Sichuan rural area. “We talked and he began to seek chances at PHBS,” said PHBS Professor Haifeng Huang recalling the days when he offered courses as a visiting professor in Berlin. Barg’s interest in China and research really impressed him. Barg then searched for more information about PHBS, admitting that its internationalization and rapid development served as a plus.
Though he did not have a business background, Barg had solid skills in computer science and strong interest in quantitative mathematics. “I managed to not let the golden chance slip away and even got a scholarship.” He added, “PHBS also saw my potential.” It has taken Barg some time to switch roles from studying China to studying management in China, getting used to all the culture shocks, management styles, and social networking. “The full-time master programs at PHBS are all taught in English. I failed the third goal, to study in Chinese,” Barg joked, but said he also took an MBA course taught in Chinese. Further, he has found a difference in educational approaches. “The communication and teamwork was not that important back in our country. I was surprised that the requirements here are very different.” Since the management program is also designed to provide students insights on business practices through forums, company visits and field studies, Barg and his classmates had to organize those events, arranging details like logistics, photographs and poster-making. “There are so many distractions and tasks, it’s better to have teams and effective delegation.” Barg thinks that having to manage a variety of arrangements was a bitter-sweet experience, saying that “though I was used to solving challenges all by myself, it’s good to know I’m not good at everything and other people have valuable skills. If we communicate well, we can get great things done.” He also said that the experience at PHBS is a subtle way to apply the management strategies he learned to practical cooperation. “Strategic management, organizational behaviors and other knowledge are quite relevant, helping me to predict and understand how people accept and respond to certain situations.”
According to the PHBS 2017 Employment Report, 96% of graduates started their careers at leading companies in the financial sector, but only 4% entered the world’s top universities for the further education, most of whom chose finance or economics as their research focus. “If I just find a job, I’m afraid that I can’t achieve what I want.”
Barg’s interest in academics was triggered by his participation in the PHBS Center for Green Economy (where he served as the research center’s general secretary), international conferences and academic publications. In addition, Barg was invited to present his research at international academic conferences and even contributed to a chapter of the book Routledge Handbook of Environmental Policy in China. The book was published in June this year by Routledge, the world's leading academic publisher in social sciences.“It is about business ethics in China. How different players push or initiate proposals to integrate green economy into business and policies,” he explained, adding that the other two co-authors of the chapter were his wife Chunhong Sheng, and his advisor Professor Huang. (Sheng earned her Ph.D. at Free University of Berlin, and has been conducting post-doctoral research at Shenzhen University.) Barg said he found the right moment to start thinking about pursuing a Ph.D. and got reliable outside help from his wife and professors to turn the dream into concrete goals. “I had hesitations,” he explained, “but sometimes you need someone to plant that idea in your head and encourage you.” Helping his wife with her work introduced him to how things work when pursuing a doctoral degree. Barg spent five months to get his “dream offer.” He rewrote his personal statement and research proposal 10 times. “Our professors’ insightful feedback made me better refine my writing,” Barg admitted, “Without them, I’m not sure if I would have received the offer.” Since doctoral positions are quite competitive, it’s hard to get accepted if not getting in touch with the target schools’ professors beforehand to get a clear idea about how to apply. “I didn’t have such connections. I chose sharpshooting over shotgun method,” Barg said, referring two marketing strategies. “Shotgun” attempts to capture the attention of a large, varied group of customers. “But I targeted a few universities and wrote specific proposals.”
Barg applied to five universities, among which four are in the U.S. and one in Canada. “When I got Ivey’s offer, I just accepted.” Ivey ranks among the world’s top research-intensive universities and earned its reputation in case studies, just behind Harvard Business School. In addition, he said, “Sustainability often is not a focus in a doctoral program at a business school, but Ivey is very progressive and far-sighted to incorporate it.” Barg’s choice was also consistent with Huang’s suggestion to gain experience in different cultures to avoid culture bias and enhance exchanges when doing research. “The biggest challenge for his doctoral education is how to learn various methodologies, and establish his own academic framework based on multi-cultural perspectives,” Huang said. As for his future plans, Barg said, “Maybe I’ll find a position in North America. But I’m also open to good opportunities in Europe.” He thinks the European academic arena is saturated with fierce competition, but he also hopes that there may be an opportunity for him at the new PHBS campus in Boar’s Hill, England, saying, “As a brand new institute full of potential and chances, it acts like a magnet.”
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