Why SPH?

charles-zhouIt’s been three weeks since grad school started and I can safely say the question I’ve been asked the most is “Why are you in the program you’re in?” or some variant thereof. Why aren’t you in epidemiology/toxicology/health management and policy? Why aren’t you in SNRE? Why aren’t you getting a Ph.D. in ecology? Why did you choose Michigan?

A bit about me before I go on. I was born and raised in Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan in May with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As an undergrad, I was a member of the Michigan Marching Band, Dance Marathon, and the Michigan Hockey student section. If you want to know why the hockey student section is the best student section in all of college sports, go to a hockey game or talk to me–there are certain words I can’t write on this blog! I was also a tour guide, interned with Senator Debbie Stabenow for a summer, and worked on an algal biofuels project in a biodiversity lab in SNRE. The lab is actually featured in the University’s new Victors Valiant commercial (and I’m at 0:23).

Let’s start with the big one. I chose Michigan over four other schools, the closest of which was an 8 hour drive away, two of which were in warm places, and all of which were big names. There were various reasons: cost, reputation, familiarity, distance from home. You might not believe me when I say I was ready to go wherever my grad school search took me, but for the longest time, I was leaning toward another school. However, there was something about Michigan that drew me back besides the in-state tuition and the wonderful restaurants in Ann Arbor. It was the community here that made my last four years great, and I know it will make the next two years even better. And if you were wondering, I made my decision before that commercial was released.

Why public health, instead of ecology or natural resources/environment? Since I was a little kid, I’ve always cared about health and as I grew up, I started caring about the environment. Only public health could give me the opportunity to combine these two. At the same time, I don’t have to give up ecology, as it manages to work its way into what I’m studying. As for the environment, it’s part of the name of my department AND my subplan (Environmental Health Sciences and Environmental Quality and Health, respectively). As for why I’m not pursuing a Ph.D. (in ecology or otherwise), after a year and a half in a lab, I also discovered that I’m not the type of person that would thrive in research and academia, and getting a Ph.D. would be doing myself a huge disservice.

And why Environmental Quality and Health? Sure, I could be in Toxicology or Epidemiology right now, but classes from both are part of my degree. Ultimately, my goal is to work on energy, environmental, and health policy, and I plan on taking as many policy classes as my schedule will let me. Eventually, I want to work in Washington, D.C. and develop policy that will improve (hopefully!) the lives of millions.

That’s all for now! Oh, and if you’re curious, here’s my personal blog, where I write less about public health and more about whatever happens to cross my mind.

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