Parents' key values a life prescription

Writer, paediatrician, medical researcher and toddler's mum on next step of learning journey

Renee Liang.
Renee Liang.

Renee Liang is a poet, playwright, paediatrician, medical researcher and fiction writer. She is a regular contributor to arts community website The Big Idea. She has been published in a number of journals and anthologies and has produced three books of poetry: Banana, Chinglish and Cardiac Cycle. In 2010 Dr Liang's leadership in the community was recognised at the Sir Peter Blake Leadership Awards.

Q: How would you describe your childhood?

My parents came to New Zealand from Hong Kong in the 1970s and have lived in Auckland ever since. I have wonderful memories of my school days and my parents instilled some key values in me: work hard, never give up the first time and think very hard before you complain.

Q: What is a typical day at work?

It depends on the day. I don't think I'm unique in having many careers. I'm a writer and also freelance as an arts journalist. I produce plays and community arts events and I work around the country as a paediatrician.

I work at the University of Auckland part time as a researcher and I'm mum to a very feisty toddler. Needless to say, I owe a lot to the support of my wonderful, patient husband, and I have a clever phone that reminds me what I'm meant to be doing!

Q: Can you tell us about someone who has been a mentor to you?

In every field I go into people seem ready to offer their help and mentorship. It's the way New Zealand is, I think. One person who helped guide me in my arts career is writer and poet Siobhan Harvey. She encouraged me ... when I was just a beginner poet, helped me put my work forward for anthologies and has also mentored me with my first novel and poetry collection.

Q: How would your colleagues describe you?

I'd like to think people find me friendly, approachable, energetic and maybe a little mad. I tend to be passionate about lots of things, but I also try to take other people's ideas and feelings into account before I bowl ahead with a plan.

Q: What was the best piece of career advice you ever received?

Professor Tania Gunn, a leading neonatal researcher at National Women's who mentored me when I was a student, told me that the most successful people have at least five careers. I'd say that has gone up to 10 or even 20 careers now. It taught me to keep chasing my passions.

Q: What is the biggest risk you've ever taken?

It's pretty crazy to give up a fulltime job in medicine and enrol in an arts degree. But I now have three jobs that I love. My passion for medicine has been reignited, I love the challenge of groundbreaking research, and my writing allows me to explore the questions about identity, family and culture that fascinate me.

Q: What has been a low moment of your leadership journey and how did you deal with it?

I was bullied when I was a junior doctor. It was by a professor that I regarded highly and had hoped to learn from, so it was a particularly challenging time. I decided to walk away from the specialist career path I'd set my heart on and then I discovered that when one door closes, others open.

Q: What is the best part about being a Blake Leader?

It's been an amazing journey so far. Right now I'm learning about governance by being thrown in the deep end serving on various boards. I'm meeting so many people from different backgrounds and we all learn from each other.

• Renee Liang's comedy play, The First Asian AB, has free performances at Auckland's Southside Festival from tomorrow until Friday. See www.firstasianab.com for more details.

- NZ Herald

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