Government internship, round 2

July 17, 2014 by

charles-zhouThis post is part of a series about my summer internship. For background, please see the first post.

Three summers ago, I interned in Washington, D.C. and it’s probably the reason I’m writing this blog post as a public health student. Science had always been a forte and a singular focus of mine. A summer in D.C. made me realize that policy is another channel through which I could change the world. Upon returning, I changed my major and abandoned the idea of medical school.

For those of you unfamiliar with Capitol Hill internships: the positions are unpaid, there’s a lot of mundane office work like sorting mail and answering phones, and interns are outranked by high school Pages, a very prestigious and competitive (not to mention compensated) program. However, I learned a lot about a wide range of policy areas, including energy and environment, and I really did love the experience.

Imagine my surprise when I found out I had my own cubicle this summer. And didn’t have to share computers with other interns. And didn’t have to make sure the addresses on a thousand form letters were formatted correctly (this happened once or twice a week). Oh, and I’m getting paid, but that’s just the cherry on top!

One of my roles is to support the communications team. This includes working on the email newsletter and providing ideas for web content, advertisements, and infographics. This is where the scientist inside me gets to shine. Thanks to the life cycle assessment course at SPH, I have a good understanding of the interaction between transportation of goods, fuel, and carbon emissions. The tough aspect of choosing what to include in the infographic is what an average reader will be able to understand, and on top of this, the audience has to be considered. Just because I know what a ton-mile is doesn’t mean somebody who sees the infographic will, unless that person works in the freight transport industry.

I also work with SmartWay affiliates, organizations (industry groups, nonprofits, etc.) and businesses (dealerships, leasing companies, and truck stops) that support and encourage participation in the program, by educating members and customers or selling SmartWay technologies. My main project this summer (which I’m happy to say is a week ahead of schedule) is to produce a best practices document for our 200-plus affiliate groups. I’m in the process of interviewing several successful affiliates and identifying common themes revealed during these interviews.

To me, an amazing thing about SmartWay is that it can bring together such diverse people and groups. Of course, their goals are different. Some join the program for the fuel savings, some for the environmental and health benefits, and some to demonstrate corporate social responsibility. Arguably more amazing is that SmartWay works with an industry that wouldn’t be considered friends with EPA by anybody’s standards, and huge players in the freight transport industry happily participate in this voluntary public-private partnership.

Trying out the real world

July 10, 2014 by

charles-zhouSummer is well under way, and it’s been a while since the second-years have left us with their parting advice on this blog. All of the rising second-years are busy at their internships, some of which are blogging here, here, and here.

Before I talk about my internship, I’m going to briefly describe the search. It was tough and frustrating, but also an invaluable learning experience. I didn’t have my first internship offer until almost mid-April, which is really late considering some friends had their internships lined up in October. However, the search most clearly demonstrated the purpose of SPH: to prepare students for a journey into the real world, the first step of which is to find a job. If you happen to be a first-year struggling to find an internship, my advice would be what every second-year told me: just keep looking and everything will be fine in the end. Something will work out.

The search for an internship forced me to act on opportunities quickly, pursue them relentlessly, and create them where they didn’t exist. Throughout the school year, I applied for many positions related to environmental health (many vaguely so) that the career office, professors, and friends let me know about. My first offer was extended by the Ecology Center, a wonderful local nonprofit that does very interesting work. I had sent them an email out of the blue, as internships weren’t advertised on their website, and only really knew about them because several friends had worked there in the past.

The second offer was from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Ann Arbor, which I applied for after a professor forwarded an email. After a month of waiting for paperwork to bounce around various government agencies, I finally got to start last week. My internship is strange in a couple ways. First, I’m working with SmartWay, a voluntary partnership between industry and the EPA. As a regulatory agency, the EPA’s main job is to enforce rules, so the word “voluntary” doesn’t come up very often when discussing the EPA. Second, I’m a person with a science background in a science-based program at SPH, but I’m primarily a communications intern. However, I get to see how science, government, and industry interact, and not many other internships can offer that.

SmartWay’s goal is to reduce emissions from freight movement by encouraging use of technologies and strategies that reduce fuel consumption, leading to cleaner air and fewer greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Most of the program’s efforts are focused on trucking, as it is the primary way that the goods we use every day are transported in the United States. Others include rail, marine/barge, and air, as well as logistics companies and affiliates, groups that support SmartWay. Over 3000 companies and organizations participate in SmartWay, which turned 10 years old back in February. For the rest of us who don’t ship goods, we can buy a SmartWay certified car.

This is my first time working at a job where I spend almost all of my time in an office. I admit that having my own cubicle and phone line makes me feel important, though I’m still getting used to working in a small, boxed-in area. I’m also acclimating to working for a governmental agency, which has its mysteries. However, everybody has been friendly, offering advice and answering my many questions. I’ve learned more about the trucking and transportation industry in the past couple weeks than I ever thought I’d need to know. In any case, it’s good to be trying out the real world for a few months.

That’s enough for now–more to follow in future posts!

8 things I wish I knew before my first job

May 6, 2014 by

andy-mychkovskyDo yourself a favor and read this post. I’ve consolidated years of great advice about success in the workplace from fantastic mentors. Let me share some of their knowledge to you, the future of health care.

Here’s what I wished I knew before my first job:

  1. First impressions matter. Dress to impress. Be happy. NOBODY wants to work with Oscar the grouch. Keep your Outlook inbox organized from the beginning and develop a system that won’t break when the work pace increases. Pay close attention to detail. It won’t matter unless you mess up. Always carry a notepad around to take notes.
  2. Start talking to people who are where you want to be. Get comfortable communicating with people more accomplished than you. Often times, friends tell me stories of awkward informational interviews. Solution? Stop being awkward. They’re human beings too, with all the problems associated. If you run out of substantive material, talk about sports, talk about their career, talk about the weather. At the end, thank them and ask for referrals to other high-performing colleagues.
  3. For the first few weeks of your job/internship, you will be a burden. Just try to be a small one and learn quickly. Attempt everything multiple times BEFORE asking for help. However, don’t just sit there spinning your wheels. If you have a question, make sure you’ve seriously attempted answering it yourself before asking. And always write down the answer so you don’t have to ask again.
  4. ALWAYS print your work first before presenting it to your superiors or clients. You wouldn’t believe how many formatting errors will fly off the page. Also, use spell check. This goes for PowerPoint and Excel too. Yes, Excel has spellcheck.
  5. Be a genuinely kind person. Yes you went to a ‘highly ranked’ graduate school. No you are not automatically more capable. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Being an awful person and becoming hugely successful are not correlated. Model your behavior off respectable peers and it will pay dividends. Everyone is part of the promotion process, make sure they’re on your side.
  6. Most bosses preach a work-life balance. They will speak of flexibility in completing assignments or projects. However, some of them would be very impressed if you finished it by tomorrow. Figure out who those bosses are and manage your workload accordingly.
  7. Identify who makes the decisions. In every workplace, there are a few individuals who run the show. Sometimes independent of job title, these players consistently work with the most important clients. Once they’re identified, build relationships with them. Put in extra effort when producing work for them. Their recommendation will become your greatest organizational asset.
  8. If you mess up, learn from it and move on. Everyone makes mistakes don’t be too hard on yourself. We all blow things out of proportion. Even though colleagues may give you a hard time, I guarantee you that no one is thinking about the mistake as much as you are. Think about the reverse scenario. Now get back to work.

Good luck everyone and stay connected on twitter @BookofAndy

Andrew Mychkovsky

8 Things I Learned About Myself (and Other People) at Graduate School

April 23, 2014 by

rachel-rudermanMy last day of graduate school was yesterday. I have one final left. The finish line is so close I can see it. Now is the time that I can reflect on the last two years. What did I learn here? What will I take away from this program? How has it impacted my career?

There’s no doubt I know much more about public health than I did when I started. I’ve gained the knowledge and skills to go into the world and effect change. But as I started thinking about writing this blog I couldn’t help but consider the insights about myself and my peers that I have learned through this process. So, as my own personal “capstone” to the last two years of papers, exams, and learning, here are my 8 lessons learned:

  1. You find your passions through your path.

I thought I knew my interests when I started SPH. Turns out I was wrong. I would have never guessed a year ago that I would be getting the Risk Science certificate or that I would become passionate about health communications. A pre-set agenda of classes and interests you think you want to develop never works out. It’s best to let yourself figure it out along the way.

  1. Sometimes doing your best is not doing your best.

What does this even mean? This might sound counterintuitive, but this lesson has actually helped me so much over graduate school. A classic overachiever, I had a hard time letting go of always being in charge of everything and making sure every detail of every assignment was perfect. In grad school I’ve learned that life is a balancing game. When you’re trying to juggle multiple assignments with work and extracurricular activities, your best might be letting a few imperfections go.

  1. …And sometimes the best work is the hardest work.

I said before that sometimes doing your best is all you can ask, even if the work isn’t perfect. The addendum to that is that when you work your hardest, sometimes you get not only the best results, but the most satisfaction from your work. This semester, I took a course on law and public health. Although our end-of-semester research paper was long and difficult, investing my time and energy into it helped me to really understand the issue and create a final project that I could be proud of.

  1. Group work can be fun work.

Going into SPH, I hated group work. It was annoying and I always ended up taking on all of the responsibilities. The thing about grad school (and real life) is that you really can’t do much on your own. Although group work may still be bothersome and take extra time, learning how to work with others is something that I really appreciate about this program, and have actually learned to enjoy.

  1. Breaks are the best.

Breaks are necessary and important. I like to exercise and cook so if I’m sick of my schoolwork that’s what I’ll do. It makes me feel good and gives me a much needed break from the monotony of staring at a computer.

  1. People will surprise you.

It’s easy to have preconceived notions about that girl in class, or that tough teacher. It’s easy to say “she’s a suck up” or “he’s an unfair grader.” It’s much harder to take the time to get to know these people and realize that they bring value you could have never imagined to your life and work. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

  1. Make your experiences count.

As pretty much the youngest person in my program, I had a unique perspective throughout this process. Many of my classmates had kids, or had years of work experience. I felt insecure about my lack of real world life experience. Through the last two years, I’ve learned that life experiences and work experiences can be had throughout the learning process, and it’s all a matter of perspective and being able to apply your (albeit limited) experiences to the classroom. Being able to apply what you’re learning, even if it’s only something you’ve read in the newspaper, to your life, makes it easier to understand and more meaningful.

  1. Go outside your comfort zone.

This semester, I took a class I felt was so out of my comfort zone – the first day I really considered dropping out. But I stuck with it – and it was worth it. This course challenged me to think about public health policy issues in a new way. By trying something that didn’t feel easy I learned more and was able to make critical connections about public health that I hadn’t before.

As I go towards my next destination, I will keep these lessons in mind. We all learn different things about ourselves on our educational journeys – and these are mine.

The beginning of the end

April 21, 2014 by

tiffany-yangI turned in my dissertation to my committee on Friday. I had about 3 seconds of elation before the anxiety started to set in again.

Ever since my data meeting, I’ve been ablaze finishing up analyses and interpretation and then writing the dissertation itself. I’m extremely grateful to my Fall 2013 self for starting the process. The days have been speeding by, let me tell you. It felt, and continues to feel,  a bit like self-inflicted isolation. I’m in a confusing place.

When I look back to the beginning of my graduate schooling, I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned: the thinking, the jargon, the process, the politics. But, being in graduate school also makes you realize how little you know; even as you’re constantly imbibing new information, the sheer amount of knowledge out there is increasing at a pace faster than you can consume. When I think about it too often, I get the feeling of treading water in a current moving in the opposite direction. It can be pretty alarming. Good thing fear can be a source of motivation.

Even as I struggle with the “am I really ready? How do I really know?” aspect, I try to remember what the advisor of a fellow grad student (now a legit Ph.D.) said: you’ll never be truly “ready” but, having gained the tools during a Ph.D., the best test of your ability is to go out into the world and try your hand.

Air pollution, admitted students, and aquaculture

April 11, 2014 by

charles-zhouQuick, what do these three things have in common? Actually, nothing besides the fact that they’ve made an appearance in my SPH life in the past couple weeks.

This semester, I’ve been in a community air pollution class studying the sources of air pollution and its effect on communities. However, there are countless talks that people from around SPH and around the University spam us about. One that caught my eye was a talk by Dr. Patrick Breysse from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His talk was about his work on a problem in many developing countries: indoor cookstoves. Three billion people around the world burn biomass and other solids (wood, coal, “cow chips” or manure) as fuel inside their homes. This generates air pollution levels up to hundreds of times that of the worst smog in Los Angeles within people’s homes, and leads to many health problems. There are many efforts around the world to install cookstoves with chimneys or to use cleaner burning fuels in order to reduce this pollution.

I also made time in my schedule to go to the social hour for Admitted Students Day, which happened a few weeks ago. Admitted students who made the trek out to Ann Arbor mingled with current students at Dominick’s, a popular spring/summer destination near campus known for its sangria. Over drinks and snacks, I talked to admitted students about where they were from and what their interests were, life as a grad student, fun things to do in Ann Arbor (like being a part of the notorious Michigan hockey student section), and the million reasons they should choose Michigan. I also ran into someone I went to high school with who was now considering attending SPH–what a small world. If you’re an admitted or prospective student, please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me if you have questions!

And aquaculture? Sustainable Aquaculture is a class I’m excited to take in the fall in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, because I’m still an ecologist at heart. One great thing about SPH is that the degree program allows you to take a lot of electives in other departments and school around the University. In fact, almost half of my credits next semester are outside of SPH because I completed most of my requirements this past year.

Also, happy National Public Health Week!

What I Learned From the Man Behind Ben and Jerry’s

April 4, 2014 by

No, it wasn’t Ben, and it wasn’t Jerry either. Last week I had the opportunity to hear Jeff Furman, a Ben and Jerry’s insider, speak about his role at Ben and Jerry’s , from helping to create its original business plan, to its innovation and social mission development, to selling it to Unilever, and finally to being on the board of its charitable foundation.

What I learned from Mr. Furman is that Ben and Jerry’s is way more than a good ice cream shop – it’s an innovator and leader in how businesses can be profitable (and delicious!) and still manage to treat their employees fairly and give back to their communities. Ben and Jerry’s pays their employees a minimum of $16.30 an hour and donates 7.5% of their pretax profits to charities chosen by their employees.

In public health, we often confront a harsh reality: how do we improve the public’s health and get people to care while making our efforts profitable and sustainable? The Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship initiative at the School of Public Health is trying to do just that – and started this year with a successful Innovation in Action campaign.


Mr. Furman also gave us some tips at his lecture. They include:

  • Constant vigilance: Monitor your work and make sure that your social mission does not fade into the background.
  • Evaluation: Measure your progress! Have a realistic understanding of what you can accomplish and where you go from here.
  • Don’t compromise on quality: If your product isn’t of a high caliber, then your initiative will suffer as well.
  • Integration: Make your social mission a part of your organization – that when people think “Ben and Jerry’s” they will think of a company that gives back.

As Mr. Furman said, “businesses must actively lead in global solutions or else there may never be global solutions.” This is a lesson I think all of us, regardless of industry, can learn.

Smell the Roses

April 2, 2014 by

selam-misganoThe snow is melting outside and even the frozen Huron River is back to it’s sparklingly glorious self. With final projects and exams approaching, you can feel the collective anxiety and stress building at UM School of Public Health.

It’s a transitional time as first year students like myself head out to our internships in just a month. Second years are graduating and going into the real world.

Graduate school may be inherently stressful, but that doesn’t mean we should forget to enjoy each other’s company and the privileges of being a student at one of the best public health schools in the country.

Guide to Surviving the last few weeks of the semester

1. Listen and contribute to class discussions. It’s tempting and maybe sometimes necessary to be on your computer, answer emails, or finish up assignments during class. However, try to make the effort to be really present and take advantage of the expert sitting in your classroom.

2. Be a thoughtful team member. Group work can feel inconvenient, but it has the power to connect people and make ideas into reality. Be a thoughtful team member by responding to emails, being fully present at group meetings, and being appreciative of others’ contributions.

3. Take a 15-minute walk at the Arboretum during lunch. The sun is shining and most of the snow is gone. Do yourself a favor and get some sunshine and some physical activity while taking a quick walk. The Arb is located next to SPH.

4. Take breaks from your computer and phone. We all find ourselves on our laptops more than we may like. Sometimes it can feel like we can’t get anything done without our devices. You may be surprised how much more productive you can be without the temptation of Facebook. Can the outline of your final paper be done in paper and pen?

5. Go to that really cool talk across campus that has nothing to do with public health. Go to a cultural show, or walk around central campus. I remember how much I missed my undergraduate campus once I graduated. UM’s campus is beautiful and with the weather improving, it’s only going to get be better. Take advantage of it!

For those graduating, Congratulation and Forever Go Blue!!


Is Alcohol to Blame For Sexual Assault?

March 13, 2014 by


That’s the short answer. The real, more complicated answer, is the result of a set of interconnected factors that have been tested and researched for many years. I learned more about this complex behavioral relationship at a presentation by Antonia Abbey, Professor of Psychology at Wayne State University.

Dr. Abbey walked us through her research, which explores how alcohol and sexual misconduct are intertwined, but not directly causally related. The first thing I learned is that when conducting this type of research, how you ask the questions really matters. Specifically, broad questions don’t get high rates of response, and the context that the questions are in can influence the results.

Sexual assaults are committed by sexual perpetrators, period. However, careful analysis showed that heavy drinking is linked to impersonal sex and misperception of sexual impact, which can influence sexual assaults. Alcohol also makes people feel comfortable acting on beliefs (that may be caused by past experiences, social norms, or casual sex environments, for instance) that lead to sexual misconduct.

The fact that alcohol is often involved in cases of sexual assault, such as rape, even indirectly, is scary, especially when alcohol is so widely available on many college campuses. The idea that drinking heavily might push someone to act on beliefs that it is justified to sexually assault someone else is equally disturbing.

We need to recognize, though, that alcohol doesn’t sexually assault someone, people do. That being said, sexual assault on college campuses is a serious problem, and more attention needs to be given to it both in and out of alcohol related contexts.

The Mysterious Capstone Project: What is it and Why is it Important?

February 27, 2014 by


One of the key ingredients to obtaining your Master’s Degree in Public Health at Michigan is completing a capstone project.  You may hear phrases like “independent research project”, “data analysis”, “summer internship”, or “stressed and confused” when talking about the capstone project. But basically, writing your capstone is a chance to show off all you’ve learned during your time at Michigan.  And even though it may seem overwhelming to even begin such a large project when you might not know anything about data analysis before entering the program, relax.  Learning that is what you’re here for!

Steps to completing your capstone:

  • Choose a faculty to work with or an internship position to apply for. How? Faculty are very approachable, and you can find their research areas online to see if you share similar interests.  As for internships, there are tons of links on the SPH webpage as well as opportunities emailed to students almost daily.
  • Summer internship! Have fun, learn a lot, and potentially get an idea for a good question to investigate in your capstone.
  • Poster Session. In your second year, you get the opportunity to create a poster outlining the work you completed during your summer internship (a picture of mine is at the end of this post!)
  • Choose a capstone adviser. This may be the faculty or staff who helped you set up your summer internship, or if there’s a new field of study you are interested in, this is your opportunity to explore working with another faculty.
  • Choosing a dataset. Often a student can obtain a dataset from their summer internship, which is great because you will be most familiar with this.  If not, often your capstone adviser can provide you with a dataset to use for analysis.
  • Identifying your question. What are you hoping to learn from your data? For example, are there certain risk factors that this data helps identify for a certain disease?
  • Data analysis. You may form a love/hate relationship with your statistical computer programs, but you will definitely learn the ins and outs of turning numbers into relationships and useful information.
  • Writing. Finally, the actual capstone itself.  The paper typically takes the form of introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion.  This is the part where you present your findings and evaluate what your results really mean to the public health world.

I hope that this answers some of the questions that any of you prospective students may have!  Keep in mind that this is a dynamic process and you will have people to guide you throughout your capstone work.  Are there other questions you have about the capstone project? And for current students, do you have advice to give prospective students on this topic? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

My poster from my summer internship:

Epid poster pic


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