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: non-governmental organisations, 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.
From 2019 I am co-director of the the Department of Social Policy’s PhD Programme. As the top social policy department in the world, we are committed to train the best of the next generation of scholars.
Growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota 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 with School Year Abroad; at St. Olaf College I majored in Asian studies and political science; after graduating, I taught English for a year in Shanghai.
Upon returning to the US, I spent over two years 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. I also served as managing editor of the China Environment Series.
Working in the policy world provided me with the empirical foundation to pursue a PhD 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. This funding had me work with scholars from both social and natural sciences, sparking my deep and continued devotion to interdisciplinary research and teaching.
After receiving my PhD, I held postdoctoral fellowships first at Center for Asian Democracy at University of Louisville, and then US-China Institute at University of Southern California (USC). For the 2011-2012 academic year I lectured at USC’s School of International Relations.
In 2012, I joined King's College London as Lecturer in Chinese Politics—and in 2013 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 regionally in the Department of Social Policy.
I encourage my students to maintain a healthy work/life balance and try my best to practice what I preach where it be travelling to new destinations and 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 am both 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 teachers, we should aim to provide an education that influences lives far beyond the classroom.
This vision that helps guide my career has been shaped by the core philosophies of several institutions where I have worked and studied.
While at the Woodrow Wilson Center, I saw first-hand the value of bringing together academics and policymakers to tackle the world’s most vexing challenges. During my doctoral studies I embraced the 'Wisconsin Idea': higher education should improve the lives of those far outside the university, not just those students enrolled within it.
LSE's mission to 'understand the causes of things' reminds us to identify the sources of complex social problems and devise ways to help solve them. In the Department of Social Policy, we pursue this mission from an international perspective and in a multidisciplinary way, recognising that no single methodological, theoretical, or disciplinary means of inquiry is the 'correct' one.
My work is influenced by an eclectic group of thinkers who provide often sometimes controversial, but always thought-provoking insights for understanding the world: philosophers of pragmatism William James and John Dewey; moral philosopher (and longshoreman) Eric Hoffer; theologian Reinhold Niebuhr; and state & society theorists Benedict Anderson, James Scott, and Jurgen Habermas