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Alice Choi - Put your hand up for things, but choose wisely!

23rd July 2020

Alice is the Chief Operating Officer of McCann Health Medical Communications, she gives us a run down on her career and passes on some great bits of advice!

 

Tell us about a typical day in your career 

I interact a lot with a range of different people, which I love. I spend my time answering a lot of queries and solving problems. I participate in a lot of meetings – probably more so, the more my career has progressed!  Each day, whilst largely following a similar structure, seems to present new ideas, challenges and issues which means that the days fly by! I always try to end each working day with quality family time.

 

Why did you choose this career?

Like most people, it wasn’t exactly by design. I was a scientist by training but realised that I was a competent, but not great, scientist! I especially enjoyed looking at and solving problems and found that I was great at connecting with people and communicating. At the same time, I didn’t want to lose my scientific training, so by serendipity, I found the world of healthcare communications. I got myself onto a management trainee scheme and was able to try out different roles and disciplines. I realised that I was able to marry up my scientific training and commercial acumen and found that I had a real aptitude for this - I’m still in the same field 25 years later.

 

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome these?

I have been very fortunate in that my career progression has been relatively straightforward.  I’m a person who likes to learn new things all the time, so there have been times when I would’ve liked to have progressed faster or have felt that I haven’t learned as much as I would like which has been frustrating.

 

My strategy has been to “job-load” which has enabled me to feel like I am making positive contributions to my field and wider community, whilst continuing to learn new skills and meet new people. For example: I’ve taken on volunteer roles outside of my day job e.g. chairing a couple of professional associations within my sector, mentoring for organisations such as Cancer Research UK and Northern Power Women and serving as a Governor for The Christie NHS Trust.

 

What do you feel passionate about in your role?

The philosophy within our company is “careers not jobs”.  Working in a fast-paced healthcare communications agency is very rewarding, but it’s not the easiest path. I, and the rest of our leadership team, enjoy working with bright, smart and talented people and we want them to thrive and want to stay with us.  Recruiting and retaining the best, is something I feel passionate about.  Mentorship and providing the best environment possible are key to this.

 

I want to do the best job in the best way possible – quality and relevance are extremely important to me as is creating the best environment possible for those I work with.

 

What have been your motivators and what are you most proud of?

My parents.  They are Korean and moved to the UK before I was born.  Even though Korea can be quite a male dominated society, they always encouraged me to be ambitious and supported me in pursuing my professional goals – never once did they suggest that I should be a stay at home mother, despite their cultural norms.  My father, in particular, used to say he wanted to raise a child who could survive in the desert through initiative – thankfully, this was never tested!

 

I’m now a very proud mother of 3 daughters – they are my biggest achievement and I’ve done my best to juggle parenting (with the help of a very supportive husband) with my work.  The fact that I have 3 feisty and talented daughters who think it’s perfectly normal for their mother to work speaks volumes to me. I aim to give them what my parents gave me.

 

What’s great about being a female in your role and what’s not so great?

Tricky question to answer because I don’t know what it’s like to be a male in my role so I have no comparator! I strongly believe in meritocracy so I think (hope) that I am in my role because I am the best person for it. We actually have a high proportion of females in our team so I can certainly relate to many of the experiences my colleagues have had and are likely to encounter, which hopefully stands me in good stead in understanding their challenges and how to get the best for and from them.

 

In comparison to others, I feel lucky as I genuinely don’t believe that I’ve ever been unfairly challenged in my workplace or that my career has suffered due to gender. However, the reality is that if you are working parent, it’s very difficult to “have it all”. There are sacrifices, tricky decisions and practical challenges along the way.

 

What lessons have you learnt and what advice would you give?

Not everyone will share your value sets or work ethic: don’t be disappointed or deterred; just stay true to yourself. Do the best you can and treat others as you would want to be treated.

 

My top tips are as follows:

 

  • Go with your gut instinct.
  • Resilience and flexibility are extremely important, and will see you through the difficult times.
  • Your professional and personal lives are not siloed: make them work well together.
  • Be authentic.

 

Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?

I love socialising with family and friends.  I like to read about frivolous things, accompanied by the occasional (I lie – it’s frequent!) frivolous purchase.  I reluctantly work out regularly but always feel better for it afterwards.

 

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

My mother – she has tried to give me as many opportunities as possible, has always supported me and been proud of my achievements along the way.  I’ve also been very lucky in that I have a great network of friends, many of whom are in senior leadership positions themselves, who support and provide humour / wine as needed.

 

What advice would you give to females aspiring to achieve in their careers?

  • Put your hand up for things, but choose wisely – don’t put your hand up for everything.Choose things where you can make a positive difference and where there is an unmet need.
  • Learn more about your colleagues around you – above you, your peers and those more junior. What interests them? How do they like to communicate?Apply what you learn.
  • It’s a cliché, but push yourself to network more.Even if it doesn’t come naturally, take a deep breath and get out there.
  • Be very focused, organised and use your time wisely. Be confident and assertive in your own opinions, but not aggressive. Try to stay calm even when the world around you appears to be going mad!

 

Some businesses are doing great things but many clearly aren’t, so ensure you are in an organisation that can thrive!  Until we have 50:50 composition at board level globally we still have more to do!

 

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?

Don’t agonise so much or sweat the small stuff.  Try to only worry about the things that you can directly control.  It will come good in the end! This was a piece of advice that was given to me that has really resonated.

 

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