The human behind ubc.ca: Alumni profile with Adrian Liem



Adrian Liem in Tofino, British Columbia.

Adrian Liem’s curiosity about human behaviour first led him to pursue a psychology degree at UBC. Now, the psychology alumni uses his knowledge of psychology to better understand how humans interact with UBC’s website.

As manager of UBC’s digital communications, Liem integrates a number of analytical and design practices to make sure UBC.ca meets the needs of its users while serving as an information gateway to the University’s massive amount of resources.

Liem credits UBC for not only shaping, but building his career. Most people would be content to lead a highly-ranked institution’s digital efforts, but what if you feel you have more to offer—on a human level?

The lightbulb moment

A series of significant life events—the passing of loved ones as well as the birth of his nephews and niece—and the transition of his parents into grandparenthood led Liem to do some soul searching. He wondered what legacy he would leave one day. Eventually, Liem turned to a life coach to guide his journey. After taking part in a peer coaching program, a lightbulb went off for him. Not only did he learn a great deal about his own goals, he was helping other people reach theirs.

“I want to help people live their best lives.”
BA, Psychology, 2000

“Coaching originated from an interest and a personal need that I had for myself. Through the process, I discovered that coaching people is naturally aligned with my values, my background, my skills, and my interests.” says Liem. “It resonates with the way I approach how I work with people: helping people help themselves.”

To gain more training and practice in coaching, he enrolled in UBC’s organizational coaching program. After completing the program, Liem plans to put the knowledge to good use by helping others identify their goals and develop their strengths to realize their potential, “I want to help people live their best lives,” says Liem.

Liem credits psychology in shaping how he observes and interacts with people. Studying psychology also built his foundational way of thinking and observing the world.

“Psychology opened me up to all sorts of theories and importantly, how to apply a critical eye to the world around us.”
BA, Psychology, 2000

In his own words, Liem reflects on his time as a student and how UBC influenced his career path. He also shares which Eddie Vedder lyric he sings to himself when he needs a reminder to make the most of life.

What is your degree and what year did you graduate?
I have two! A B.A. Psychology 2000, and B.Ed. Middle Years 2003.

What is your current career?
I currently manage a digital communications team at UBC. This work involves a mix of disciplines including analytics, user experience research, information architecture, design, content creation (writing, photo and video production), web development, and project management. And although the work heavily involves digital technologies, the purpose of my work from the 30,000 ft view is to support the flow of information and knowledge, and to help people as well as UBC as an institution achieve their goals.

Why did you choose to study psychology at UBC?
Well, when I graduated high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study, but I knew that I wanted to go to UBC. I chose UBC largely because of its reputation, but also because it’s where my dad had graduated and where my older sister was going to school (and eventually where my younger brother went as well). In my first year at UBC, I was in Arts One, and for the first two years of my undergrad I had a very diverse range of interests including philosophy and computer science. Ultimately, I chose psychology because as I looked at all these other fields and thought about the end purpose of it all, at the root of what it’s all about is people. I approached my undergraduate education as a means of getting a strong foundation in understanding the fascinating question of why we do what we do.

When you were a student, was there anything or anyone who inspired you?
I had a prof who taught organizational behaviour who really inspired me to continue what has become a lifelong interest in studying and applying principles of psychology in nearly every aspect of my work and even beyond into my own personal development and areas like team sports.

As an undergrad, I also played for and helped run the UBC men’s ultimate frisbee team. The people I met through the men’s and women’s ultimate programs were from all walks of academic disciplines, athletic backgrounds, and ages. Collectively, it was an incredibly inspiring group to be a part of, and it’s not too far from the truth for me to say that it was this community of people, the experiences we shared, and the goals we collectively worked towards that kept me engaged with my life as a student at UBC.

In your experience, how does the value of a psychology degree translate into the real world?
From what I have observed, a psychology degree is as valuable as you make it. On its own, an undergraduate degree in psychology doesn’t translate directly into a specific career the way other degrees might. The real value is in drawing connections to the things you continue to learn and observe throughout all aspects of your life that you can always tie back to the theories you learn about in your psychology undergrad. There is a strong foundation that you can continue to build on as you go through new work and life experiences, but it’s really up to you to make those connections.

How has UBC shaped your career?
Given I have spent the vast majority of my working life at UBC, I can say it has not only shaped my career, it has given me my career! I would say I’ve benefitted from having a very broad exposure to different academic areas and interdisciplinary opportunities.

I’ve also had a few starts at business ideas, most of which have failed or turned into a hobby more than a business. In spite of the misses, I still find it exciting when the lightbulb goes on and the idea strikes. It’s also inherently rewarding to create something tangible that contributes something meaningful to the world that didn’t previously exist.

This fall I am also enrolled in UBC’s organizational coaching program so the learning continues.

Do you have a motto?
I have a few, but I have two that have been a bedrock for me. Both are lyrics written by Eddie Vedder. The first is: “I’ll ride the wave where it takes me.” I like this because it acknowledges that there are forces in life that are outside your control, and there is an implied acceptance, that, even if you can’t control where things take you, ultimately you are still in control of choosing your attitude and mindset. (It also has extra meaning to me now that I have finally learned how to surf!) The other is: “I know I was born and I know that I’ll die, the in between is mine. I am mine.” I repeat this to myself any time I experience existential angst and need a reminder to make the most of this life.

Adrian Liem surfing in Costa Rica.



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