#Meet Our “Future Leaders” # is a series featuring the personal stories of students in PKU Guanghua’s “Future Leaders” International Undergraduate Program.
Today, we meet Cao Yajun, a Chinese young man who has a great passion for behavioral science research and has just become the first student in history to be accepted directly into Harvard's Organizational Behavior (OB) Ph.D. program from mainland China as an undergraduate.
Yajun is a local student at Peking University Guanghua School of Management, pursuing a double major in Business Administration and Psychology, and a minor in Data Science. Two things that make his undergrad experience incredibly enjoyable are his empirical research on behavioral science and his engagement in the highly diverse community of the “Future Leaders” Program. Aiming at promoting our understanding of human nature, he is devoted to psychology and micro-organizational behavior research. With three years of research experience, closely working with Guanghua faculty members, his academic achievements brought him admission to the doctoral program in Organizational Behavior at Harvard Business School. Meanwhile, being immersed in the “Future Leaders” cohort has made him enjoy exploring cultural differences in people’s minds and behaviors while preparing him to begin a new journey in a different country to understand human nature better.
Deeply fascinated by the fundamental questions regarding human nature, Yajun decides to take a rigorous and empirical approach to pursue his passion for human behaviors.After completing basic coursework in social psychology, he was introduced to Organizational Behavior (OB) research by Zhixue Zhang, Professor of Organization and Management and Zhe Shang, a post-doctoral fellow of Guanghua School of Management. Intrigued by Zhixue’s research about fate belief, he seriously considered micro-OB research as his career. Later in summer 2019, he joined the Lab of Yang Bai, Assistant Professor of Organization and Management, Guanghua School of Management, and began working on projects about emotion’s social functions in the next two and a half years. With Yang, he investigated how social emotions (e.g., awe and envy) shape people’s self-concepts and unite social groups. He believes in the social factionist and evolutionary psychology theory of emotion (See Keltner, Haidt, & Shiota, 2006) and is convinced that emotions are an integral component of human nature that we inherit from our ancestors.
Built upon his Research Assistant experience, Yajun proactively seeks opportunities to develop his own research ideas. Supported by the Peking University undergraduate research training program, he conducted a project on leader competence perception under the supervision of Yang. He independently designed and ran four experiments and one archival study, and presented it to the Harvard Business School (“HBS”) admission committee as his featured work. Moreover, he also collaborated with Minya Xu, Associate Professor of Business Statistics and Econometrics of Guanghua, to conduct several survey studies and field experiments on topics like workplace gossip and newcomer socialization. He hopes to integrate fundamental psychology theories and management literature to study human behavior and provide insights for practitioners.
Yajun’s hard work and academic achievements were eventually recognized by the HBS faculty, making him the first undergraduate student in mainland China in history to be admitted directly to the doctoral program in OB at HBS (The admission rate is less than 2% this year). He is proud to be the only Asian student and the only one without full-time working experience admitted to HBS this year.
Besides research and coursework, Yajun spends lots of free time in voluntary work and social services. He has worked as a student assistant at the Student Career Center of Peking University for one and a half years. Based on his knowledge in vocational psychology, he helped the staff develop career services for undergraduate students, especially for freshmen during their orientation. He used tactics like field interventions to support the center test the effectiveness of different career service programs. Additionally, interacting with small animals and playing harmonica always refreshed him, especially when he was under huge pressure due to his application last year.As a result, he joined the Stray Cat Caring Association and the Harmonica Association at Peking University to develop these personal interests in his free time.
Speaking of the experience in the “Future Leaders” Program, Yajun enjoys discussing with fellow students from different cultural backgrounds and learning from various opinions towards the same issue in their chats. He is grateful to the “Future Leaders” Program because it helps him establish confidence (academically known as self-efficacy, according to Yajun) in interacting and socializing with students from other cultures. “My experience in the program corresponds with the latest OB studies on the “Bamboo Ceiling” phenomenon by Dr. Jackson G. Lu at MIT Sloan, who pointed out that East Asians appear disproportionately underrepresented in leadership positions in multiethnic environments partly because they socialize more with members within the same ethnic group and lost the chance of expanding their network (Lu, 2021), while multicultural experience can enhance one’s leadership effectiveness in multinational teams (Lu, Swaab, & Galinsky, 2021)”, explained Yajun, “Based on Jackson’s theory, the “Future Leaders” Program cultivates students’ leadership through intensive cross-cultural communications!” Yajun believes that the training in this diverse program is invaluable for him getting prepared to pursue his career goals in a new multiethnic environment in the future.
Keltner, D., Haidt, J., & Shiota, M. N. (2006). Social Functionalism and the Evolution of Emotions. In M. Schaller, J. A. Simpson, & D. T. Kenrick (Eds.),Evolution and social psychology (pp. 115–142). Psychosocial Press.
Lu, J. G. (2021). A social network perspective on the Bamboo Ceiling: Ethnic homophily explains why East Asians but not South Asians are underrepresented in leadership in multiethnic environments.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.Advance online publication.
Lu, J. G., Swaab, R. I., & Galinsky, A. D. (2021). Global Leaders for Global Teams: Leaders with Multicultural Experiences Communicate and Lead More Effectively, Especially in Multinational Teams.Organization Science. Advance online publication.
PKU Guanghua “Future Leaders” Program
The Guanghua School of Management founded the "Future Leaders" International Undergraduate Double-Degree Program in partnership with 15 of the world’s best business schools, giving students the opportunity to gain an understanding of their local markets while also immersing them in one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic economies in the world: China. This program focuses on admitting top students with outstanding leadership potential from Peking University and its partner institutions. After completing their first two years of study at the institution in their home country, students live and study together with classmates of diverse backgrounds from all over the world—including students from China—for two more years as a single cohort at Peking University.