Achieving Success Her Own Way

July 22, 2020

“Dad, are you sure you want to keep working?” Diana Tan, based in Boston, Massachusetts, asks her father on the phone at the height of COVID-19. Her father is a doctor, and while she is halfway around the world in Boston, her heart remains in Penang, where her parents reside.

“As a doctor, my father was given the option to reduce his workload at the hospital due to his age but declined, stating very matter-of-factly, ‘If I don’t do the work, who will?’ ”shared Diana. She credits her grit, discipline, and determination to her father – key traits that have allowed her to bounce back from failures and keep trucking on even as the going got tough.

Born and raised in Malaysia, Diana never imagined that she would study, let alone build a life overseas. Completing the Australian New South Wales Higher School Certificate at INTI International College Penang gave her the opportunity to explore international universities abroad for her tertiary studies. Taking after her elder siblings, Diana decided to build a life in Singapore and secured a place at the National University of Singapore to pursue her Bachelor of Science, Life Science, majoring in Molecular Cell Biology.

Dropping out of the lab rat race
During her second year at university, Diana came to the sobering conclusion that biology was not what got her out of bed excited every morning. What was she going to do? Quitting was not an option. So, for three consecutive summers, while her peers secured internships at labs and pharmaceutical companies, she ran in the opposite direction – she applied for internships at marketing firms, investment banks; anywhere that would expand her connections and expose her to a world beyond lab rats and lab reports.

Diana continued to live in Singapore for another four years after obtaining her degree. Her path took her through various industries: investment banking, entertainment, consumer goods. “I didn’t know what I wanted, but trying out new things helped me discover what I didn’t want by the process of elimination!” she shared.

Still not content with what life in Singapore offered, Diana decided to take a leap of faith and moved to Boston to complete her Master of Science in Mass Communication at Boston University in Massachusetts, USA.

Learning from the best in Silicon Valley and Boston
It took over 100 job applications and reaching out to every connection that she knew to secure a job at Quora, a start-up based in Silicon Valley. She finally discovered what motivated her: working hard and smart with some of the best and brightest minds in the world, and making an impact at all levels of the company, not just being a cog in a wheel.

Diana is now a Senior Product Manager at PathAI, a startup that aims to advance pathology with machine learning and deep learning techniques. The irony is that when she was pursuing her life science degree, she swore off all things biology and healthcare related as that wasn’t her forte. Life had certainly come full circle.

Life during a pandemic
Sharing a little about the recent health and socio-political concerns in the US, Diana admitted that there was a heightened sense of awareness and caution among families and communities now more than ever before. Like many families globally, certain adjustments were made to ensure her family could remain safe.

“We decided to move out of our densely occupied apartment building before the spike of COVID-19 cases in the US as we were a stone’s throw away from one of Boston’s major hospitals. While there were advantages of living in the city, especially commuting and having access to stores easily, we opted to move further out into the suburbs where it was less populated. We were fortunate to have an alternative place to stay,” Diana said.

Making the decade count
Diana shares, “Looking back on the past decade, the roads that have led to where I am now were winding and never meant to be straight. It is only through grit, surrounding myself with good and kind people, and luck that I’ve ended up with a life I only dreamed of.”

It helps that her supportive husband has been by her side through it all and her two young children continue to keep her grounded.

Diana’s focus now is making the next ten years count. “In 2030, I want to look back on the past ten years and know that every big milestone I achieved in life was intentional.”

She encourages the youth of Malaysia to pursue whatever they set their minds to and to be intentional with major life decisions, while embracing some adventure.

Diana is currently writing her first children’s book, inspired by her first son. It will be published in December 2020.