By: Aishwarya Iyer
When you’re a public health student, one part of earning your MPH degree is completing a practicum, an experience that is meant to give you some real-life public health experience and skills—a taste, if you will, of what it means to do public health. At Rollins, this is called the Applied Practice Experience, or APE.
Your APE can technically be done any time during your two years at Rollins, but most students tend to do (or at least start) theirs over the summer between their first and second years. Hence, finding an APE tends to be something you hear a lot of people stressing about their first spring semester. Some questions we tend to hear a lot include: how do you find an APE? When should I start looking for one? Where should I look? Do you have to do it unpaid?
First of all, let me just say this: take a deep breath. Don’t stress—I mean, if you’re reading this, you’re likely still a prospective student. You’re not even here yet!! So seriously, don’t start worrying about this yet. Second, I want to emphasize that this process looks different for everybody. Some folks get lucky and have their APE locked down in January, whereas others don’t find theirs until May or June (or even later). It’s very variable, so there’s really no use comparing yourself to others when you hear your classmates talking about APE stuff, because that’s only going to stress you out more. Instead, talk to them about the opportunities they’re hearing about. This sort of “informal networking” is really valuable, and it’s actually how I found my APE! I was just hanging out with some friends, and a friend of a friend was talking about this opportunity that they weren’t going to pursue. It sounded right up my alley, though, so I asked them to connect me with the person who was overseeing this project, and that person ended up becoming my APE supervisor (and thesis mentor!).
Other great ways to look for APEs include scanning your department’s Canvas page or weekly newsletter (we have one in Global Health) for opportunities, reaching out to faculty members who work in areas of public health that you’re interested in, or contacting guest speakers from your courses who are doing interesting work. I’m in the Social Determinants of Health certificate, and Dr. Gazmararian, who teaches our seminar and Social Epi courses (both required for the certificate), does a great job of pulling in guest speakers from Emory as well as from organizations doing work in the community who often have ongoing projects and are always enthusiastic about connecting with students. That said, you don’t have to limit yourself exclusively to folks you’ve had facetime with in a class—in other words, don’t be shy about cold-contacting folks! You are more than allowed to send someone an email or message if you find their profile on LinkedIn or on a website of an organization you really want to work with. There is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting your shot—the worst they can do is say no, or not respond to your email!
As for when you should start looking, that’s really up to you! Most people start looking for APEs in their spring semester first year. There’s no rule saying you can’t start earlier than that, but you also don’t have to stress about it your first semester—spending that time transitioning to grad school and finding your rhythm is okay, too.
Some APEs are paid, whereas some are unpaid. There is no hard and fast rule to this, it’s really mostly about what you can find. There are multiple funding opportunities offered every year through Rollins; these include the Emory Global Health Institute’s Field Scholars Award, and the Global Field Experience grant. Both require you to submit an application containing a description of your proposed project and will be reviewed before a decision is made as to whether your project will be funded or not. These are the funding opportunities that are the most well-known (at least in the GH department), there are of course others. It’s also common to do APE opportunities that are unpaid. Ideally, all the work that we do as graduate students would be paid because we deserve to be fairly compensated for the time and effort we put into these experiences, but that’s just not the world we live in right now. I do think the culture is shifting, though.
Also, just a note that the APE requires you to have 200 hours of hands-on learning, and you can fulfill this time requirement with more than one opportunity. I know of several folks who had multiple APEs and got their 200 hours done that way—so you are not limited to just one opportunity, if you want to get more diverse experiences. It’s entirely up to you, what your priorities are, and what you feel you have the capacity for.
I hope this gives you a basic overview of what an APE is and how to find one! If you have any lingering questions, feel free to connect with me or any of the other Ambassadors, and we’d be happy to chat with you in more detail.