Patrick Zhou is a 2006 graduate of Lexington Christian Academy. After graduating from LCA, Patrick went on to Boston College, where he earned his bachelor’s degree (double majoring in Biology and Theology) and his master’s degree (in Theology with a concentration in bioethics). Patrick moved to Washington, DC in September 2011, to work for a government contractor at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Rare Diseases Program. Patrick is now a federal employee with the FDA in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s program evaluation and implementation staff.
WHAT ACTIVITIES WERE YOU INVOLVED IN WHILE AT LCA?
I ran cross-country (slowly) and played basketball (mediocrely.) My junior year, I was the class chaplain and went on to become chaplain prefect my senior year. There might have been a few other things but those were the big ones.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITIES AT FDA
I implement and evaluate programs at FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
Here’s one hypothetical example for what that means. Let’s say we have a goal to improve the transparency of clinical trial data. More transparency means people can see how and why we made certain regulatory decisions. Given the current global public health crisis, many stakeholders consider this a worthy goal. The challenge is how you make that happen. What does transparency look like? Does releasing thousands of pages of clinical trial data constitute transparency when the average person can’t understand what they’re looking at? How do you account for patient privacy or trade secrets? The design of any program needs to consider critical questions like these. It’s my job to ask those questions, study the answers, and propose a path forward.
Evaluating programs, in a nutshell, is the flip side of that. Once a program is in place, how do we define and measure success? Were we successful? Why or why not?
WHAT ARE THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF YOUR CURRENT JOB?
One of the enduring challenges is also rewarding—the constant learning of new subject matter. I’m often asked to evaluate or implement programs where I need to be an expert in a brand new subject matter in a short amount of time. It’s a challenge but a fascinating one.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB?
I love the public health mission of the agency, the strong leadership, a good team, and the work-life balance (in normal times; the global pandemic was not kind to our workload). Even when the work gets difficult or a particular project is a bit dry, these other factors keep me going.
WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU HAVE FOR CURRENT STUDENTS?
It’s funny looking back at the last interview I did for the LCA Alumni Spotlight. I talked about all this stuff I was doing, how busy I was. I did all the things that many parents, like mine, who invest in schools with hefty tuitions, expect their kid to do. To grind. To succeed and to have ambition. I was obsessed with being productive all the time and felt guilty when I wasn’t. But, not long after I did that interview, I burned out. I could see that I was becoming a person that I didn’t want to be—ego-inflating, career-idolizing, productivity-worshipping—and I felt exhausted.
So I quit my job and became a barista at a small cafe in my neighborhood. For six months, I pulled espresso shots, scrubbed toilets, and burned through my savings. It’s easy to rely on God when you think of yourself as highly-competent and institutional benchmarks like a paycheck and a fancy title are there to validate you. It’s another thing to rely on God when those things fail you, whether you give it up like I did or your circumstances strip them away unexpectedly. I needed God to reorder my priorities before they became entrenched. Also, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I met my wife in that season of life.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reminds us that “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If our time is also a treasure and resource, then I want to make sure I allocate and budget my time and energy meaningfully. I found a job and role where the work doesn’t stake an oversized claim on my heart anymore. I ensure I have time to be a loving and attentive spouse, an active participant in the life of my church, a supportive friend, and a responsible citizen in our democracy. I may not make the most money or have the coolest job but I’m blessed to have the fullness in my life that I want.
This isn’t going to be a popular opinion but I don’t think high schoolers need specific career advice right now. Do your thing, whatever that is, and try your best at it. Unless you’re one of the very few who see your destiny at a young age, you don’t need to sort out career stuff now. For crying out loud, I have two theology degrees and work for the government. I personally know an English major who went on to be an investment banker, a fine art student who worked at Google, a journalist who became an affordable housing real estate developer, and a screenwriter in Los Angeles who became a doctor. You’re in high school. You can make a plan if that’s your speed but you don’t know where God will take you a decade from now. If you do, go to Vegas and bet big. Otherwise, be open to what God has to teach you and show you and you’ll do just fine.