The Most Meaningful Thing I Have Done for MIT

March 14, 2017

- By Chen Shen - MIT Spouses and Partner Connect has been running the Career Connect workshop series twice a year for about 8 years already. We have regular speakers, and generally the program focuses on the top three elements, which include resume writing, interviewing, and networking. However, there was one issue that the program manager, Jennifer Recklet Tassi, decided to address to make workshops even better. She understood that many people who could benefit from the program didn’t get the information because of a number of reasons. It was either because they arrived to the city in the middle of the semester, and so they missed some of the workshops; or they were sick or traveling on the day of the event; or they needed to take care of their kids.

So we started to think how we could get the information from the Career Connect program to a broader audience. Obviously, video is a great medium that could help us make this content available to people always, no matter where they are and when they would be able to watch it. In June 2015 we started a very successful fundraising campaign that raised around $3,000 from our individual donors and MIT annual funding. After discussing back and forth with the MIT Medical Marketing Department and MS&PC members, we finally figured out the format of the videos: we decided to include not only the most important points about job hunting but also the successful experiences from peer spouses and partners.

In September 2016 Jennifer invited me to help her put together a video production based on the filmed interviews with spouses who had attended the Career Connect workshop series. As a Chinese reporter and an MIT spouse, I was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of this meaningful project. I quickly jumped into the post-production mode, reviewed the freshly printed interview transcripts word by word, and highlighted specific soundbites [parts of interviewee's speech] at the Hayden library. I found out that all the interviewees were international and none of them was a native speaker, including the workshop lecturer! Same as me, they had to tackle language barrier and cultural differences in the job searching process in the US - so I immediately related to what they have gone through and what they have been struggling with.

Career Connect Video Launch Event on March 6, 2017

I felt that they were saying what I wanted to say but haven’t had an opportunity to express. I remember that Liya Alexandron mentioned that, before the workshops, she spoke in a collective style, always using “we” rather than “I”. When she tried to sell herself in the job market, she was usually saying, “my team”. She always felt uncomfortable “bragging” about her achievements. She also mentioned that networking is considered to be “sneaking in the back door” in her home country, Israel. I was so surprised that her perspective was so close to mine, the Chinese national! Drogseth Magnus talked peacefully and slowly and had smile on his face during the whole interview. He explained that during the hardest time, he was practicing kickboxing and jiu-jitsu and not only got fit but also received a blue belt in jiu-jitsu. He finally find a position of an architect in Boston. I admire his spirit of living at the present moment and his passion and perseverance to develop his hobby.

Maikee Issac said she worked at the foreign ministry before coming to Boston and hold two degrees. "How could she be jobless? Why was nobody interested in hiring her right away?" - I kept asking myself while editing her video. This situation made her doubt that she had valuable skills. This resonated with me, and at that moment I felt an emotional connection with this woman. I appreciate that all the interviewees were so honest and eager to share their struggles. This stories made me feel that I am not alone in this. That is why I think it was so important to produce these videos - the goal here was to create a strong personal connections between interviewees and the audience, and in this way provide spouses and partners with both technical support, by giving a practical advice, and mental support, by showing them that we all go through the same challenges in a new country.

Jennifer presenting the project at the Career Connect Video Launch Event on March 6, 2017

Deciding what soundbites to include in the final videos is as tough as selecting experiences and achievements for your resumé. After a week of re-reading and evaluating, I finally structured the scripts into three parts - CV, interviewing, and networking. I also made sure all of them incorporated information about "job hunting" skills as well as touch individual stories of spouses. Then, MIT Video Production division edited the footage based on my scripts. Finally, Jennifer, Barbara [MS&PC program assistant] and I polished the edits and shaped the final version together.

After watching and reviewing the videos for many hours, I’ve become familiar with every interviewee. I know their subtle face expressions, and I even recognize their voices at MIT campus. They've become my friends by now, though they may not know me nor realize how much support and encouragement they have given me. Like most spouses and partners, I have only spent a short period of time at MIT. Nevertheless, I have used my talent and professional skills to leave the heritage that will last long and hopefully will help more people in our community. I may not get a chance to know them personally but I might have a positive impact on their lives, just like the interviewees of these videos made a powerful impact on mine.