Gene Sun is a current IO MPS student and a personal trainer at a boutique gym in Washington, DC.


What made you want to pursue a career in IO psychology? 

It’s been an interesting journey, because I wouldn't say that my professional and educational journey has followed a straight line. What ultimately brought me back here is that I have always found psychology in general fascinating. My first exposure to psychology was in high school when I took an AP Psych class. I remember that it struck me in a way that none of my other classes did. I was impressed that we were going to talk about behaviors, motivations, feelings, thoughts, and really deconstruct those things. Psychology always felt like something that went beneath everything else we experience, like exploring the science of “why.” That's how I interpreted it. So I dabbled in it in college, but ultimately got a degree in architecture. I found myself in the work that I'm doing now, working with people on things like their motivation, their behaviors, and their goals. I think that my mind and soul, or whatever you want to call it, has always been drawn to psychology. So when I was coming back to school, I thought about what I wanted to study. I hadn't originally thought about studying I/O, I was thinking I'd go more the clinical route. But I found myself wanting to study something that sank its teeth into the workplace, because what I've understood is that our work has such a huge impact on our existence. I came across so many people whose lives are affected by their experiences at work. So I felt like this would be an exciting and challenging field to get myself into, to study psychology in the workplace, learn how to build a career in the profession, understand the forces at play, and figure out how to change them for the better.


Why did you choose UMD’s programs specifically?

I chose UMD for a few reasons. Number one is that I am a term alumnus, and I graduated from the School of Architecture class of 2012.  Even though I don't use my degree in that exact way, I felt that my undergraduate education was exactly what I needed it to be. The architecture program was a collaborative experience, and a relatively research-intensive experience. And I liked going to school at UMD, so I knew that considering it for graduate school was going to be an easy fit since I had a great experience there before. 

The other aspect of why I picked UMD is that the structure of the program really works for me. I feel like it is very accommodating, since I work full-time. The program is designed in such a way that it works very seamlessly with my schedule. I also really enjoy the hybrid style of the program. For someone like myself, who is really much more engaged in person and face-to-face, I knew I had to have some elements of that. What's great is that I'm not accountable to come into class all the time, but coming in once a week keeps me on track and keeps me engaged with the material. I think the design of the program is successful in that sense. 

The other aspect that I enjoy about the program is that it's a Professional Studies program. The curriculum, and the way that it is taught and delivered, makes a lot of sense for me. I haven’t been a student for a while, and I am the practitioner who feels like I want to understand the point of the learning and the very practical ways to apply my learning. The curriculum answers that in a very real way. We do case studies in class, and projects where we are playing the role of someone who's already doing this work. Being challenged to work this way as a student is exactly the kind of education that I want, as it will help me with this career pivot. Lastly, it's a cohort-based model. A lot of the projects are team work, and collaboration is the way of work in most industries at this point. So even the way that assignments are designed closely reflects the kind of work environments that I will be heading into. I like getting a variety of perspectives from my classmates. 


What skills did you learn at UMD so far that you feel like you're going to help you in your career? 

I've learned to work quickly but intelligently on group projects, and to develop- in a very short amount of time- very professional materials. In my current profession, I'm sort of my own boss in a lot of ways, and my interactions are typically one-on-one. Not only that, but what I would call my work deliverables are very different in my current line of work from the kind of work I'll be delivering in the I/O world. I feel like this iteration of my UMD education has really thrown me into the ring and forced me to start turning out literature. I feel challenged by that, but I feel like it's a really valuable skill moving forward and it’s the start of a body of work that will be distinctly my point of view. It's also putting me back in a place of presenting in front of groups and doing public speaking. I really appreciate having the practice in those areas, too. 

What's your favorite leisure activity?

My favorite leisure activity is traveling with my partner and my friends. My friends are a huge part of my life. They're a major social support system for me. I've been relying on them a lot to have very needed mental and emotional breaks from school, and they're helping me along and reminding me that this is a great journey for me. So I feel very, very close to them. And I've always enjoyed traveling. I find that traveling is a huge part of expanding my perspective and taking a new perspective on my life. One of my favorite things about traveling is taking in a new culture. I'm a real foodie, too, I got that from my parents. They love to explore new foods. And because of my fascination with psychology, I also love to travel so I can see how people interact differently in other cultures. Traveling encapsulates a lot of other things I enjoy, and it throws a real fresh spin on all of it. I think that's why a lot of people like to travel. So I like to travel with my friends, because it brings me a lot of joy to experience these things I love together. I love making memories abroad with my friends. 


What is the best piece of advice, advice or feedback you've ever received? 

The best piece of advice I've ever received is to be patient and compassionate with myself, especially when the going gets hard. I'm someone who has a lot of perfectionist tendencies, and I'm usually my own harshest critic. As a result of that, I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed, and I can be very prone to anxiety, burnout, and overexertion. So one of the biggest lessons for me that has come from that advice is recognizing the importance of knowing when to say no in order to protect my time, my energy, and my sanity. Learning to hold personal boundaries so that I can maintain balance in my life has been really important, because that balance is crucial for maintaining perspective and a healthy outlook on life. I'm learning to not only make more time and space for myself, but to also say kind things to myself and to remember to love myself in the same ways I would offer love to my friends and family. I'm still working on that as a daily practice.


A man in a blue tank top hoodie looks at the camera. There are string lights hung in the background.