“I always planned to give back to the Center, either at my retirement or at least at a later stage of my life,” says Tingting Zhang, Assistant Professor of Organization Studies and Analytics at Merrimack College.
But, she says, when the opportunity presented itself sooner than expected, she was hesitant. “I didn't know how folks would think about my action. I was just two years out and at the beginning of my academic career. So I initially wanted to just make a quiet contribution.”
Zhang, who completed her PhD at the CIRHR 2017, knew that her former supervisor, Professor Rafael Gomez (CIRHR Director on leave 2020-2021), would use that contribution to enhance students' learning experience. Through matching funds, an award for IR/HR PhD students who excel in research during their doctoral program was built: the Tingting Zhang Prize for Research Distinction in the Doctoral Program.
It was Acting Director Dionne Pohler and Zhang’s family who convinced her to name the scholarship. Still, Zhang emphasizes, “This scholarship is not about me or what I did. I hope this scholarship can reflect what I learned at the Centre and the bonds with fellow Centre alumni formed at the UofT.”
And the bonds Zhang formed at the Centre—bonds of friendship, support, and training—run deep. In a recent profile as part of the CIRHR’s PhD Spotlight series, Zhang described the Centre as an intellectual home and her own scholarly magnet: even after graduation, she says “I kept coming back to visit friends and am still collaborating with faculty two years after graduation. The five years I spent at the Centre guided who I am as a researcher and a teacher. And the longer I leave the “nest,” the more I cherish that time.”
When starting out in Canada as an immigrant and a former international student, Zhang says she struggled to fully utilize her knowledge and skills in the Canadian labour market. "Over time,” she says, “I observed and heard many stories of entry barriers that skilled immigrants experienced when they started building a new life in Canada.”
Zhang’s dissertation on the relationship between occupational licensing, earnings and internal labour mobility was awarded the 2018 Thomas A. Kochan & Stephen R. Sleigh Best Dissertation Award by the Labor and Employment Relations Association. Since then, she has continued to explore her doctoral research on occupational licensing, supporting sound public policies by contributing to bringing more evidence to the public and policymakers.
“UofT, especially the Centre, gave me the opportunity to pursue my academic interest, contribute to society, and make an impact.”
Through both her own scholarly contributions and her support of future generations of IR/HR PhD student researchers, Zhang is making an impact indeed.