“Keep a second pair of rain boots in your locker.”
I said this to myself at least 15 different times this past school year, but I never actually did it. Hence, I was never fully prepared for the sporadic rain showers, but I made the best of it even if it left me drenched.
My first year of my MPH program is over and I am currently in Guatemala starting my summer internship. When the school year started, I told my advisor Dr. Melissa Valerio and a few other mentors that I wanted to go to Guatemala for my internship. In all honesty, I was a little skeptical and unsure about whether this would actually happen. With the guidance of my mentors and the support of the Global Public Health Office and the University of Michigan International Institute, I am in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz for the next 9 weeks.
But this blog post is not about my internship, it is about a few of the lessons learned during this first year at SPH. You can read more about my internship here!
Here they are:
Things change, not just the weather. All the time. Many of us know this, but the lesson here is to stay ready and to accept change. Most importantly to focus our energy on what can be changed and not on things that are beyond us.
Be proactive. We are told this time and time again, but graduate school is the time to practice this. There are many opportunities for networking, research, funding, and overall involvement here at the University of Michigan, but there are also 40,000 other students. It is very important to reach out to the faculty you want to work with, set goals, and remind yourself of what needs to be done to reach them.
Pick your battles. When you believe and stand for something, speak out and act. Do something. We can’t fight every unjust battle, but when you feel something truly needs to be said, the opportunity must be taken. We have to stand for something.
Learn outside the classroom and put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Some of the most fruitful times during my first year took place outside of the classroom and at non-public health related events. I attended speaker series, conferences, student organization meetings, workshops, and more throughout the school year. I met students from different disciplines and was able to hear about their views on health and other public health-related issues.
Give yourself some time off. This is graduate school and we have a ton of reading and work to do, but it is manageable. However, it is easy to work “too much.” There will be days that you will be on campus from early morning until late at night and other days that you go home early and freak out because you fear that you may have forgotten about an assignment. I worked really hard during the week to leave my weekends as open as possible. This helped me balance my time and free up my weekends too.
Mentor someone. There are tens of thousands of undergraduate students, many who are interested in being a graduate student someday. I believe that mentorship is one of the greatest ways to give back. The knowledge and support that I have received from my mentors has been invaluable and I can only hope to provide that to someone else.
I leave you with a small fragment of a conversation I had with a fellow SPH’er to illustrate my final point.
Her: I have a question and i must ask it now, are we still gonna be friends after our program? lol I feel like that’s a necessary question to ask
Me: I would like to believe that our shared experiences here will never be severed and that we will be “grad school friends” forever, but we will have to test our friendship out in the real world one of these days…that will provide us both the answer to your question.
Make friends. We are here for two years (more or less) and there are only a small number of people who understand what it is like to be in your program. We can be each other’s support through challenging times and the truth is we see each other pretty much every day. So make the best of it and enjoy it while it lasts because the year goes by faster than the first Epidemiology exam!