Practicum, Thesis, and Job, All-in-One!

By: Jordan Helms, 1st year BSHE

Yes! You read that correctly. I am indeed employed, earning practicum credits, and working on my thesis all at the same time from the same opportunity. But let’s back up. How did I get here and how did this all happen?

An Unconventional Journey

I was a late applicant and admittance to the program and when I say late I mean late. I submitted all six of my SOPHAS application on March 15, 2015 for Fall 2015 admittance. My background is in Biology, microbiology to be specific. However, I started my undergraduate career as a Music Education major, I’m a classically trained violinist! Then after sophomore year, I switched my major to Biology so I could go to medical school and be an Infectious Disease specialist or Cardiothorasic Surgeon. This switch in major meant that I would have to add a fifth year to my undergraduate career. More time and more debt to follow my dream but I was up for it.

Senior year, part I, hit and I was not the best candidate for medical school nor was I ready to take the MCAT. While observing physicians, I decided they spent too much time charting and not enough time with the patients. I decided that I wanted to be a nurse practitioner. There was an BSN to MSN accelerated program at Vanderbilt and I applied in Fall of 2014 as I was taking classes required to the program. This was my one shot. I was still volunteering in HIV/AIDS education and testing outreach services. On December 27, 2014. I received the email. I was not accepted to the BSN/MSN program at Vanderbilt University. I was heading to Florida for a week and decided that I would deal with this later.

Upon returning to Nashville, I met with my mentor and research advisor. They mentioned that they never saw me in the clinical setting but instead in the Public Health realm, specifically with a Ph.D., teaching and researching. I had never heard of Public Health. So I googled what is was, what programs were still accepting applications and which programs were realistic and which were reaches. I furiously scrambled an application together, took the GRE, and submitted the lovely SOPHAS application the last day possible. Then I waited…

I was getting really nervous that none of the six programs were getting back with me. All of the sudden I got email after email. I was accepted to four of the six MPH programs that I applied for. And two of them were really good schools. So, I went on their websites, because I did not have time nor money to visit either school. There was something about Rollins that caught my eye. The entire vibe I was getting from the websites, seminars, videos, emails, etc. was “home.” I come from a small undergraduate institution where my professors and staff were very reachable and wanted all of the students to succeed. I felt that vibe from Rollins. I sent in my deposit and started looking for a place to live.

August 15, 2015. I packed my car and U-Haul and headed to an unfamiliar city to move into a place I never saw with a roommate I never met to attend a school I never visited.

But I’m not a REAL Student

I was so concerned about finding a job and an opportunity to gain experiences and skills. Because I applied so late, I was not up for scholarship consideration nor was I accepted into the REAL (Rollins Earn and Learn) Program. There was a career fair coming up so I bought a suit, ordered business cards, printed my resume and with my firm handshake I went  the career fair.

I felt completely out of place. There were only a few booths that had anything relevant to what I wanted to do, but I thought I should visit as many booths to get experience. There was a lady sitting at the Georgia Department of Public Health booth who handed me two sheets of paper and told me to have a good day. I recognized one of my professor’s names as a mentor on this study.

The next day, at the start of class my professor plugged the study he was going to be a mentor for. I went up to him at the break in our class, re introduced myself and explained that I was very interested in this opportunity. He told me that I would be a good candidate and to send him my resume and a cover letter.

The Trifecta

Long story short, I got the job/internship. I am a qualitative research assistant for an exploratory study through the Georgia Department of Public Health, Office of HIV/AIDS and the Region IV Public Health Training Center. Part of my job includes collecting primary data and writing a publishable manuscript. This is a two-semester experience, for which I am getting paid. In addition to working closely with professors in my field and at the Department of Public Health, I am submitting my IRB application and collecting primary data for my thesis project months before most people do. Also, I get to publish a paper.

Lessons Learned

Here are a few things I have learned from this situation and my interesting career path:

  1. When your mentor gives you advice, take it. Listen to those who have your interest at heart and who have more experience than you do.
  2. It’s okay to take the plunge into the unknown, but learn as much as you can before diving in.
  3. There are blessings in rejections.
  4. Career fairs aren’t for everyone, but they’re great practice for selling yourself.
  5. Talk to your professors. Everyone at Rollins is really friendly and personable. Plus, these are some leaders in their fields and we are only here for a short time. Why not take advantage of the situation?
  6. It’s okay if you don’t qualify for scholarship or the REAL program. I didn’t and I hit the trifecta.
  7. Breathe. But really, breathe.
  8. Talk about your interests with friends, classmates, and professors and you might get a job.
  9. “Networking” sounds intimidating, but all it means is that you make friendships with the people around you. Classmates, professors, staff, etc.
  10. We LOVE our acronyms here at Rollins.


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