Heidi Gruhler, 1st year Behavioral Sciences and Health Education
Disclaimer: I have no authority on working before graduate school, so read Katie Clifford’s blog for the other side of the story.
I remember taking classes in my undergraduate college about the historical significance of Beethoven’s music in changing the musical culture of the time, while also taking classes on the current challenges in polio eradication in northern Nigeria. My undergraduate education was what I would call a well rounded education that in no way, but in every way prepared me for a career in public health.
One of the most interesting challenges I did not anticipate after getting to Rollins and meeting students was realizing how much of a “baby” I was and how other people didn’t think my opinions were as valid or useful as those of students who had “been in the field” for years and years. I had not volunteered with the Peace Corp for 2+ years, I hadn’t been working with a non profit for 5 years, I had never been out of the country except for a brief stint in Italy for a study abroad program in music. Especially my first few months, everyone already seemed to have specific and varied interested and I began to worry that I should have worked more before coming to RSPH.
BUT, that is ridiculously silly because that is not everyone’s path, and it certainly was not mine.. Although I may not have had the same longtime, out of country, very specific experiences and interests as so many at RSPH do–I too brought value and a different perspective to the community (yes, even my knowledge of the intricacies of Dvorak’s music is helpful for gaining a perspective few public health professional have). I had worked for 3 summers in a local public health center as a recreational water environmental health specialist aka, the pool closing lady, yet that seemed to be overshadowed by the fact that I was straight out of undergrad.
However, I used the knowledge that I wanted to do public health, before even working in it, to get a head start on my public health education in my undergrad degree by taking classes on global health, statistics, biocultural perspectives on health and even my basic biology and chemistry classes were all useful.
Although I may have been a “baby” and considered not as “experienced” in so many other ways my going straight to grad school gave me a different kind of experience.
- Just like those who have taken years off and are coming back to grad school–you STILL need more sleep than you got in undergrad. I promise. It’s crazy.
- You may have to sit through material you already know, or have to explain math concepts, or help edit papers for students who have been out of the academic world for a bit.
- You will get so annoyed that the older classmates devalue your lack of experience (however seemingly small), and judge you for not having the same experiences. Use these opportunities to learn from other’s rich experiences.
- You run the risk of feeling inadequate and stupid asking questions because you don’t have all of the experience of what it is actually like!
- You will be well prepared for the academia, the homework, and the papers. So you can carry that momentum from undergrad into your graduate degree (oh, a 10 page paper is nothing compared to the four 20 pagers you wrote last semester).
- You get the advantage of learning from so many other very experienced students. Take advantage of that wealth of knowledge and grow in the public health collective experience.
- You have a young, what I would like to call, a “fresh” perspective. Even though you haven’t been out there in the “real world” yet, your perceptive and fresh attitude can be just outside of the box enough to work in the real world, and Public Health is always needing new fresh, crazy ideas.
- Just as with those who took years to work before coming to grad school–if you are choosing to take on more student loans and forego valuable work experience to get your graduate degree–you also know for sure that you want to be in grad school. You know that you want your MPH (or MSPH, or MD/MPH, or JD/MPH etc etc etc) and you are willing to jump in and get your degree without any “real” understanding of what you are getting yourself into.
So you want to go to grad school right out of undergrad… don’t worry you’ll be just fine 🙂