Archive for the ‘career’ Category

Make like Apple: Think Different

About half way through my term of service with AmeriCorps, I have written lesson plans for our new college counseling curriculum and I am building our volunteer managment program from the ground up. I can imagine these activities are similar  to the process needed to write a communication plan for a health behavior intervention and then work to train the community health workers that would education the community about that health intervention, but I can not be sure. I have amazed myself with how much my thought process has changed in such a short period of time. My first concern has become what is probable rather than what is possible for organizational sustainability. Where I used to focus on only the program I worked on, I now have to make tough decisions about our limitations.

I know that professional and personal development has improved as a result of my daring to think differently about my potential and my role in a nonprofit.

GlaxoSmithKline is daring to think different(ly)  as well by expanding access to medicines for neglected diseases in some of the least developed countries. The corporation also plans to open access to their medical technologies in development to other sciences to expand research on treatments for neglected diseases. Whether out of a moral obligation or the pursuit of a financial opportunity, this unprecedented level of access has the potential to help countless numbers of patients. Furthermore, this is the first time that I have heard of a private sector company acting on the reality that universal access to treatment while necessary is not sufficient for eradication of certain diseases.

There needs to be a simultaneous focus on expanding access and improving health systems to build capacity for increased usage. Even then, it is unlikely actions GSK takes now will become the only road for eradication of diseases. As a corporate social responsibility venture, GSK may reap the benefit of positive public relations and somewhat increased profits from the now possible sales. However, it is difficult to tell how many countries will be able to afford medicines even at these discounted profits. The real benefit for developing countries lies in the potential for increased research for neglected diseases that affect developing countries most. OneWorld Health is the only major nonprofit pharmaceutical company that focuses on research and development of treatments for neglected diseases; having a major Big Pharma company devote more time and resources might be enough to tip the balance for some substantive development.

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Wading out of my comfort zone

I have a confession to make to those of you who have not met me personally. I have a competitive streak in me that runs a mile wide. I love playing board games and card games.  If being an overachiever were a crime, I would be a convicted felon. Forgive me; it is probably one of the most stereotypical traits of Millennials. Considering the alternative, I think that it my drive to succeed has been a real asset.

Returning this work has knocked a little wind out of my sails because everything that I am doing to prepare for this semester’s activities for PAIR is new to me. I am drafting a volunteer training and writing a curriculum. It has made me rethink my typical full speed ahead approach. I spend more time explaining my thought process to my supervisor on an unfinished product rather than a complete one. My goal is completing a phase rather than finishing which requires me to concretely develop a plan of action. My thinking tends to be a little on the scattered side so thinking linearly has been difficult.

The biggest change has been the level of collaboration. During my work at AED, each project had a team but the tasks were assigned and completed as though each one was an independent project. My work responsibilities typically did not require the input or insight of others until they were complete. Even then, my draft was returned to me in the same way that a teacher returns a graded paper. You make all the corrections they tell you and then return the paper. Really working collaboratively is something that I have not done in a professional setting before.

I never thought that I would admit it, but I really like working this way. Coming from a former lab nerd, I think that should count for something…an achievement of sorts?

This only a test: Tackling the GRE

Standardized tests may be your forte or your weakest link but they will be part of any application for graduate school. I know after taking the SAT for admission to college that I had hoped to never see another standardized test again. Unfortunately, that simply was not possible.

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is basically a grown up version of the SAT. The test includes the same sections: Verbal, Analytical and Writing. As before, expanding your vocabulary can only help you with the verbal section. I know that many people often use flashcards to learn hundreds of the most frequently used words. For me, it was more useful to learn to recognize word roots because I have a hard time with rote memorization. This test will require you to brush off those rusty math skills that you likely have not used for years. I didn’t find anything too complicated, but preparing for the test will allow you to be comfortable on test day.

I found the biggest adjustment was becoming accustomed to a computer-administered test. You can’t make notes beside the reading passages. Knowing the computer actually increases the difficulty of each test item following every correct answer until you miss an answer. I personally think this is ETS’ way of playing mind games with test takers. The key to avoiding a whirlwind of worry about the correctness of your answers is learning how to pace yourself before taking the real test. While practice tests will not exactly capture the testing experience, you can follow the same rules as the real exam.

Keep in mind that your test scores are valid for five years. Even if you are not sure that you want to go to grad school soon, you can save yourself some trouble by taking the GRE sooner rather than later. Because you can schedule the test on your own schedule, you can choose how much time you will need to prepare even if you are working fulltime. For those still in college, the summer months are perfect for preparing and then taking the GRE since there is more free time. While it’s no picnic, The GRE may be as close as you can get to having a stress-free testing experience.

Selecting a school of public health

How do you whittle down over 40 schools of public health to a reasonable list of schools to apply to? Everyone has a different approach. I am sort of a spreadsheet queen, so I keep everything in a single Excel workbook and each school has an individual worksheet. I considered about 25 factors when looking at schools; here are my top four most important things to look at for selecting a school in no particular order.

1. Location, location, location.

Focusing on location is more important than your tendency to be snow averse or a ski bunny. Certain cities such as Atlanta will offer numerous public health internship and practicum opportunities. Obviously, having greater work experience upon graduation is a good position to find yourself in. Internships can also increase your chances of finding fulltime work soon after graduation.

2. Let your passions be your guide.

First and foremost, you need to look at the degree offerings of the schools. The most common credential for graduate-level public health study is the master of public health (MPH). Some schools offer other master’s-level degrees such as the master of health science (MHS) or the master of science in public health (MSPH). Consider the career path that you hope to take when choosing the degree you would like to pursue as some may have a more academic focus with an emphasis on research while others may be more professional in nature, targeted to teach specialized skills. Other degree options include doctorate-level study and joint degrees.

The next consideration should be the area of study that you would like to focus on, if any. Some areas of study, such as epidemiology and health care management will be available at almost every school of public health. My particular area of interest, global or international health, is not available at all schools of public health. Even when global health is available, it may not be an academic department, but rather an interdepartmental specialization or certificate. The academic structure of your area of study has an impact on research and practicum opportunities.

3. Bills, bills, bills.

It has always been important to weigh how to pay for graduate school. It has taken on a new level of importance with the credit crunch as student loans are harder to obtain. Let’s be honest; being a full-time student is far from a lucrative profession. This does not mean that you have to eat bread and water for two years. Most schools offer some merit-based grants to prospective and current students. Often, students apply for these scholarships with submission of their application. Location does play a role in your finances as a graduate student. Attending school in an area with a relatively low cost of living can go a long way to keeping costs down. Applicants should also consider the availability of part-time work if desired or required. Larger universities tend to have more teaching and research assistant positions available for graduate students.

4. Inside and outside the ivory tower.

A school’s research centers and institutes mean more than extra classroom reading. For students interested in a more academic focus, the more research, the better. For students wanting to work in the field, research centers represent opportunities to apply theories and methodologies in the classroom to real-world situations. Some universities give back to their surrounding communities by using the expertise of faculty and enthusiasm of students to improve conditions and outcomes. Even for international health, research institutes such as Columbia’s Millennium Villages Project offer students privileged access to putting their academic lessons  to the test through university-supported affiliates and organizations.

Check out these resources for more information for your select-a-school search:

US News and World Reports Best Graduate Schools in Public Health
Idealist.org Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center
SOPHAS
Your friends and acquaintances (look at educational history through a social networking site such as Linked In)

photo courtesy of S.C. Asher

Gen Y leadership on social change is more crucial than ever

It has become blatantly clear that Millennials have a lot of responsibility at their feet for cleaning up the current mess that the world is in. It certainly is not everyday that you see almost daily failures of financial institutions that have been around for over 100 years. While these major headlines are shocking, it is the changes at the local level where the human impact is most apparent and greatest: the failure of small business and families’ decisions to cut back on medical care.

If you are looking at my hometown of Houston, the economic depression is compounded by the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike. You would think that we would have learned from the lessons of Hurricane Katrina: safer mandatory evacuations, rapid restoration of critical services, and faster disaster recovery to get affected families back to normal as soon as possible. Instead, many of the victims of Hurricane Ike have found themselves ignored by the very institutions that are supposed to assist them. Maybe Generation Y is right to be suspicious of institutions’ ability to effect social change.

Optimists may prefer to make social change the focus of their career, electing to work within established institutions to change them from the inside outward. Others try to find their own way to be the change they want to see in the world whether through digital media or the next great idea to help the most people.