As Associate Professor of Social Policy & Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), I’m engaged in problem-driven, policy-relevant research and teaching on topics including: NGOs, activism, civil society, development, public health, sexuality, and social policy. While widely recognised as a China expert, my work is broadly comparative and international in scope.
In LSE’s Department of Social Policy, I serve as co-director of the PhD programme, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) representative, and an ex officio member of the management team. As the top social policy department in the world, my colleagues and I are committed to producing world-leading research and providing the best training for the next generation of scholars, policymakers, and practitioners.
Growing up in Minneapolis, I began learning Mandarin at age 13. This marked the start of a life-long interest in China: in high school I studied in Beijing; at St. Olaf College I majored in Asian studies and political science; after graduating, I taught English in Shanghai.
Upon returning to the US, I worked at the Woodrow Wilson Center—a non-partisan think tank in Washington—where I planned programs, researched, and wrote on Asian politics, environmental protection, and NGO development in China. I was also managing editor of the China Environment Series.
I did doctoral studies in political science at University of Wisconsin-Madison. My mixed-methods, year-long field research in China was supported by an interdisciplinary grant from the National Science Foundation; working with scholars from both social and natural sciences sparked a deep and continued devotion to interdisciplinary research and teaching.
After receiving my PhD, I held postdoctoral fellowships at the Center for Asian Democracy at University of Louisville and the US-China Institute at University of Southern California, where I also lectured in its School of International Relations.
In 2012, I joined King's College London as Lecturer in Chinese Politics. A year later, I moved across the street to LSE, where I continue to draw upon my expertise in Chinese politics while also expanding my research both topically and geographically in the Department of Social Policy.
I encourage my students to maintain a healthy work/life balance and I try my best to do the same: travelling to new destinations and re-visiting old favourites, theatre on the West End (especially musicals), hiking, running, binge-watching Netflix, or spending as much time as possible in the sun. I’m incredibly lucky to have a wonderfully supportive husband, Sam, join me on these adventures and stand by my side in life. With family on both sides of the Atlantic, I’m a British and American citizen.
I believe research should be both problem-driven and policy-relevant to help bridge the divide between academia and policy. As a teacher, I aim to provide an education that influences lives far beyond the classroom.
This vision that guides my career was shaped by the core philosophies of institutions where I’ve worked and studied: the Wilson Center brings together academics and policymakers to tackle most vexing challenges in policy, while the ‘Wisconsin Idea’ holds that higher education should improve the lives of those far outside the university, not just students’ studying within it.
LSE's mission to 'understand the causes of things' focuses us on identifying the sources of complex social problems and devising ways to help solve them. We pursue this goal from an international perspective and believe that no single methodological, theoretical, or disciplinary means of inquiry is the 'correct' one.
My work is influenced by an eclectic group of thinkers: philosophers of pragmatism William James and John Dewey; state & society theorists Benedict Anderson, James Scott, and Jurgen Habermas; moral philosopher (and longshoreman) Eric Hoffer; and American children’s TV host Fred Rogers. Ultimately, as a scholar I work to find what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr would call ‘proximate solutions’ to some of the ‘insoluble problems’ of human and societal wellbeing.