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.
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.
Here are a few things I have learned from this situation and my interesting career path:
- 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.
- It’s okay to take the plunge into the unknown, but learn as much as you can before diving in.
- There are blessings in rejections.
- Career fairs aren’t for everyone, but they’re great practice for selling yourself.
- 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?
- It’s okay if you don’t qualify for scholarship or the REAL program. I didn’t and I hit the trifecta.
- Breathe. But really, breathe.
- Talk about your interests with friends, classmates, and professors and you might get a job.
- “Networking” sounds intimidating, but all it means is that you make friendships with the people around you. Classmates, professors, staff, etc.
- We LOVE our acronyms here at Rollins.