My Career Path: A Q&A session with Dr. Pa Der Vang

Dr. Pa Der Vang is an Associate Professor of Social Work at St. Catherine University who also serves as the Endowed Mission Chair for the Liberal Arts. We will be exploring her career path and advice for our new and returning students through a Q&A session with Dr. Vang.

How did you know what you wanted to major in during college and what you wanted to do?

Ever since she can remember, Vang has always liked topics related to family, sociology, helping people, racism, understanding social systems, and elevating social problems. She wanted to talk about gender issues and social injustice. Vang knew that her path was leading to an area like social work. She liked topics that kept her wide awake and alert in class. 

How did you get to where you are today? For example, what were some challenges you faced and how did you overcome them? 

Vang went to school and got a job as an assistant working with people who had disabilities and mental health issues. After graduation Vang got a job working with youth social services and she enjoyed it. Vang then decided to get a masters in social work which later on led into adult mental health then domestic violence and because of her love of learning she stayed in school and eventually got her PhD. After getting her PhD, Vang’s professor and advisor recommended that she explore the thought of  teaching or becoming a professor. Vang doubted herself because she didn’t know how she would do or if she’d be good at it. However, her advisor assured that she would do well, so she applied and was glad that she took that opportunity because she really loved the profession.

How do you balance family, life, friends, and your career?

“You need to have good boundaries between work and home life,” Vang says. Vang has been very good at devoting time to the family and when the day ends at work she gives all the time to her family. She cooks dinner with them and spends time with them on weekends doing other things together. At the same time, she makes sure that she gets work done during her work hours. She also spends lots of time volunteering for things that she’s passionate about as well.

How do you manage stress?

“Have a pretty good outlook at the fact that work is very separate from who you are, so really get to know yourself, do lots of self-reflection, develop self awareness of things you need, and what makes you feel good and your health,” says Vang. Vang spends a lot of time doing yoga and exercise. Waking up early and trying not to sleep in too much because she won’t have enough time to focus and do all the things that she wants to do. Go to bed early, so that she’s well rested. “Take time off and schedule vacation for yourself and make sure there’s a balance. There will be work.”  

Reflecting on your career now, what advice would you give your younger self in college? 

Vang said that the advice she’d give her younger self is “to continue pursuing what you are passionate about, and the thing that you are passionate about is just that class that ignites that energy that you want to keep asking questions, sit in the front and keep taking classes about that topic and reading more and more.” Set goals for yourself so that you are always working towards something and “everything will fall into place” says Vang. 

What leadership qualities do you feel are vital today and why?

Vang says “in today’s world we have to be open to new ways of leadership and difference. There are different types of leadership out there, someone who’s grounded, humble, critical thinker, thoughtful, kind, people need leaders like that right now. It’s not about ego or timeline, it’s about what is good for society and the people.”

Are there specific leadership skills, etc., you feel are critical for women to have in today’s workplaces?

Vang suggests that “for women, trust our guts and leadership style, things are changing rapidly, the student body and diversity especially for St. Kate’s quickly becoming more student of color and diversity, leadership needs to align with that in terms of being able to be flexible and open to new ways of doing things.” Vang also says that as women we are very adaptable therefore, we should continue developing our skills and trust in ourselves. 

What are vital tips for students to build their networks and resumes?

Vang says that relationships are key, therefore take time to build those relationships. Reach out to advisors and staff to be your mentors and don’t feel nervous about asking questions. Set time for conversations and also maintain relationships with peers (build a strong community with peers). 

What about shy students: “Understanding that professors are shy as well and so embrace your inner power, self power, your agency and do it for yourself. Understanding that everyone has those same feelings of not being sure if we should approach someone, whether or not they would like us or want to talk to us, but take that initiative and tap into your own self-power.”

It was a great opportunity to get to interview Dr. Pa Der Vang and discuss her career path of how she gets to where she is today. Vang had shared some great tips for building networks which are very helpful for many of our students. 

By Tia Yang
Tia Yang Career Assistant