Meet Washington Foster’s MBA Class Of 2020

Barbara Sujin Lee

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

Imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, amazingly curious, energy czar.”

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I like to train rescue dogs as a hobby.

Undergraduate School and Major: UC San Diego, Linguistics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: UCLA Health, Clinical Research Associate

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: After graduating college, I started working in public relations for entertainment clients and consumer brands. The work was very fun and dynamic, but my biggest career accomplishment was actually leaving PR to pursue a career in life sciences. This was a difficult decision for me both personally and professionally; it was largely motivated by my experience in healthcare taking care of my grandmother through end-stage COPD. When she died, I realized life was too short to play it safe by not taking risks out of fear of failure – or fear of actually making a difference! So I turned down an offer from a large global PR firm (which was my dream job as a senior in college) to work as an unpaid research assistant in an underground lab with tarantulas at UCLA. Eventually, I was recruited to help on a larger research study funded by the National Institute of Health and went on to get promoted twice, to ultimately start and manage clinical trials for the department of radiology. Not bad for a humanities major.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Humility. It’s undeniable how smart, competent and experienced my classmates are, but what stands out is the level of modesty and genuine interest in others exhibited by each person I’ve met so far.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? It was important for me to join a program that was part of a university with a strong health and life science campus because of my interests in this area. At UW, I knew I’d have access to the both the top research professors in business as well as the health and life sciences and real opportunities to work collaboratively across these disciplines, which is not always the case for other MBA programs. UW’s strong relationships to the business community also made the decision an easy one, as my husband and I both saw ourselves in Seattle post-MBA.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am particularly interested in helping expand the diversity efforts for the program and convincing more awesome professionals from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds to come to Foster. Furthermore, I am looking forward to taking on leadership roles in both the healthcare/biotech and finance society.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? It was when I was working in clinical trial management that I realized I was ready to pursue an MBA. I loved working with patients and the doctors at UCLA health, but found myself finding ways to spend more time developing budgets, determining costs/risks, and negotiating budgets with the device companies sponsoring our trials. I knew then that going to business school would be the right decision at this point in my career because it would help round out my quant and finance skills to ultimately transition into a business role in the life science space.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? When I had a clear idea of what I was getting my MBA for and what role I wanted to transition into after, the investment made logical sense.  That said, I did seriously weigh the cost of attendance and living expenses against the return from the degree and used that to be selective during the application process to choose programs that were relatively affordable to attend and to live in the city the program was located in.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? USC, UCLA, Yale

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Location, class size and culture were the most important in determining fit.

1.) Location: I wanted to go to a program that was located in a city that I could see myself enjoying living in.  Going to as many campus visits was one of the best decisions I made because it gave me a real, physical sense of the university and the communities around it. Having grown up a city kid, I knew I wanted to be in a city and this was more important to me than rankings or prestige. You go to b-school to learn, but also to network and have fun! I couldn’t see myself doing that in some of the smaller university towns I visited.

2) Class size: My undergraduate class size at UCSD was in the thousands. For graduate school, I wanted to be somewhere where I could get to know my classmates more intimately so I prioritized programs that were around 100-400 total students in size.

3.) Culture: The third and most important factor in assessing fit for me was culture. My process of determining this was a) talking to admissions staff b) talking to alumni and c) visiting campus.

A) Talking to admissions staff was eye-opening because it gave me an idea of how helpful, accessible and available the staff were. It seems obvious that admissions directors or associates would be all of that and above, but from my research they were not. These conversations gave me a great window into how involved the staff were in supporting students, but also insight into the uniqueness of each program that I later used for my application essays for each school. The more positive interactions I had with the program and staff, the easier it was to complete my application for the school.

B) I talked to both current students and alumni, but found my conversations with alumni to be more insightful. They had more distance from their MBA experience, so were more frank about the pros and cons and offered great advice on what really mattered during and after the program. I had a great conversation with one particular alumna who was working in the industry I was interested in going into post-MBA and she even offered to put in a good word to the admissions office on my behalf!

C) Visiting campus was very helpful in determining cultural fit because physically being in the environment you may move into gives you an idea of whether you can truly see yourself there. Even if there weren’t many students around because I visited during the summer, I was able to read all the flyers, notices and event postings throughout campus. Little things like what the food offerings in the cafeteria were like, or what students considered fun or social based on event posters were hugely influential in determining whether I could gel with the existing culture and people there.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? The most defining moment for me was advocating for my grandmother on the day of her first operation: colon surgery. On the morning of the surgery, the surgeon reviewed the procedure details and mentioned general anesthesia would be used. I had previously consulted with specialists and knew that this would cause burden on her one functioning lung and as a result, prevent her from waking up. I first asked him to change the order to one that accounted for her history, seeking second opinions. When he refused (naturally, as he’s never done the surgery any other way), I forced his hand by organizing a call between him and her pulmonologist at another hospital – an unconventional practice due to liability risks. After the call, the order was changed to local anesthesia with sedation.  The procedure turned out to be a huge success, and the first of its kind for the anesthesiologist!

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I want to stay in healthcare and the life sciences, but am currently toggling back and forth with pursuing healthcare coverage on the investment banking side, or corporate finance/business development for a device or biotech company such as Phillips, Genentech or the healthcare brainchild of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In a recent talk to high school girls interested in studying business in college, I shared the importance of being open to the unexpected so that you feel free to change direction without feeling like everything was a loss. My hope is that I will be growing as a person and leader in the life science and healthcare business, and that I’d be recognized and respected for this.  I hope to also be expanding my capabilities globally and taking on assignments abroad in Europe or Asia. Above all, however, I hope to be living by this principle of expecting the unexpected so I can make room for surprise and adventure in my life!

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