By Sydney Jingtian Wang
Dr. Lisa Lim is an Associate Professor in the School of English at HKU. Her current research interests include the evolution and politics of New Englishes, in particular in contemporary multilingual contact ecologies in Asia, issues of language maintenance, shift, endangerment and revitalization in minority communities, and the sociolinguistics of globalisation. She is also the founder of the online resource LinguisticMinorities.HK http://linguisticminorities.hk.
Coordinator of the Language and Communication programme for 7 years, and Chair of the Departmental Research Postgraduate Committee the last 2 years, she was appointed Head of the School of English for a 3-year term from 1 September 2016. In this interview, we talked about Dr. Lim’s major responsibilities as Head, her core values, her leadership style and strengths, and work-life balance.
As an indication of her various responsibilities as the Head of School, Dr. Lim mused over what she has been doing since she assumed the role: “In the last four weeks, my responsibilities have ranged from fairly routine daily managerial jobs such as approving applications of various kinds of leave and signing off on lots of paperwork, to endorsing performance reviews, to more major tasks, such as putting together comprehensive reports and writing recommendations for applications for promotions and grants.” She also manages budgets and human resources, which includes keeping an eye on all the staff teaching loads, and finding and assigning tutors and teaching assistants to courses. She is also responsible for new hires: for the three new positions in literary studies, she will, together with the Dean, be forming the search committees, overseeing the shortlisting and interviewing of candidates, and coordinating and participating in their campus visits and job talks. “I also have lots of conversations with the Dean and numerous regular meetings with him and the other Heads and Associate Deans about various matters at Faculty and University level.” She then brings to members in the School matters coming down from the senior management level, and leads or delegates consultations and decision-making, at School meetings or in smaller committees.
When asked about her core values in leading our school, Dr. Lim first affirmed that “what’s important is recognizing and appreciating the achievements and abilities of all the individuals who already make up the unit.” She wants to harness and further the strengths of the School’s talented and outstanding scholars and teachers, as well as give our postgraduate students more space and more recognition.
At the same time, she emphasizes the importance of the collective and the community. “We are very fortunate as a School to be very collegial; people get along. There’s not a lot of internal politics and, in general, colleagues are very supportive of each other. I don’t want to come in and shake things up in any way – that wouldn’t be necessary. I respect the different parts that make up the School, not only professors, but also administrative staff in the office – without whom the school would collapse! – as well as the postgraduate and undergraduate students.” Dr. Lim is quite clear in her conviction: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” She believes that the strength of the collective can be enhanced further through more academic activities such as reading groups, as well as more social ones. It’s about getting individuals to pool their resources, and feel that they are central to the community and that their contributions are important.
Another area Dr. Lim places a high value on involves social impact and strong and meaningful connections between the School and the community. She has just set up the Enterprise and Impact Committee, which will coordinate outreach activities with schools and other institutions, develop initiatives for School alumni affairs to establish a network of communication, activities and support, and enhance the School’s visibility and public presence through social media and other means, for example through the recently launched School Facebook page.
Dr. Lim used the word ‘consultative’ to answer my question of her leadership style. “We have many good people in our School, whom I trust a lot for their wise and experienced judgments, and who are all loyal colleagues who have the School’s best interests at heart. I am fortunate, as a leader, to already be surrounded by smart, positive people. It would be very remiss of me if I did not consult them.” She also admitted that this was one reason she accepted the Headship nomination.
Speaking of the strengths Dr. Lim embodies as a leader, I think most people in the School of English will agree with me that she is very approachable and compassionate. But she saw these strengths as both an advantage and a liability. “It can be challenging in leadership roles, because sometimes it is not possible to help. As the Head, I have to run the unit, answer to my superior, consider the budgets and make decisions from a manager’s perspective…. So if you are a compassionate person, there will be this tension when managing human resource matters, which has to be resolved in an objective way, which can be tough for the emotional side.” I believe that she will find a way to solve the tension and her extrovert and compassionate characteristics will be powerful in terms of bringing individuals together to achieve a common goal.
In terms of the balance between work and life, Dr. Lim shared her secret with me as to how she achieves harmony between these two important aspects. “I think what’s crucial is to be very clear about what the most important things in your life are and what priorities you have. Of course, one of the central aspects of my persona is who I am at work because work comprises my individual achievements, gives me my professional profile, brings in my salary and so on. But the most important thing in my life is my family. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be so preoccupied with my career, and then I blink and realize that three years have passed and my son has grown up and is no longer interested in spending time with me. So I take him to school every morning, to his after-school activities when I can, and I don’t leave work terribly late, so that I’m home when he has dinner around 6 pm. From that time until when I put him to bed, I don’t do any work and it is really all about having family time around the dinner table, catching up on the day. Weekends are also all about family and friends, so I don’t really do much work then. Of course, if there are things that are pressing, I’ll wake up earlier or go to bed later or wake up in the middle of the night, to get those things done.”
Dr. Lim believes that if the balance between life and work is harmonious, everything will fall into place. That is how she handles the juggling act, between all the new and time-consuming administrative duties of being Head, alongside teaching and research.
She also offered me an example of how things have evolved for her. “When I was younger and didn’t yet have my son, my usual rhythm was that I liked to work late at night. I didn’t get up early and didn’t get to the office until noon, then I started my day. And I used to say that I couldn’t do research unless I had a really big block of time. You can have this rhythm when you have the luxury of owning all that time for yourself. But since I had my boy in 2010, my timing has just had to adjust to his schedule. For example, when I had to finish writing my book, Languages in Contact, that was the period when my boy was going to playgroup. I would bring him to his playgroup down in Wah Fu and I would be sitting in the cha chaan teng with my nai cha and my laptop while waiting to pick him up. All I had was this two-hour window to work, and that was the most productive time of writing I have ever had!”
Time went by fast when talking with Dr. Lim and she will definitely make a wonderful leader with her insightful core values, wise leadership style and compassionate personality. I wish her all the best in her new role!