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

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.

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