Going Back to School after Working

By Katherine Sun, MPH’23 in Health Policy and Management

If you asked me five years ago, I would not have expected to be back in school at this stage in my life. After graduating from college, I started on a journey to carve out my own career path, but I reached a point where I realized I needed to pivot and I needed to go back to school to launch a new career. So here I am, at the Rollins School of Public Health.

R. Randall Rollins Building at Night

Adjusting to the Rigors of School
I won’t lie, adjusting to the intensity of the academic content and having to study every night was a struggle. I miss having free evenings and having disposable income to spend on dining out and vacation. I had gotten used to shutting off my laptop at the end of the workday (there were some nights I had to work overtime or had to check emails over the weekend) and having flexibility with my evenings and weekends. I had a routine: go to bed at the same time most nights, wake up at the same time, and get to work. In the evenings, I could attend events or catch happy hour with friends. I had vacation days I could schedule and use any time of the year. Being back in school on a semester system while taking more than 15 credits meant I spent most weeknight evenings and weekends at home doing my readings and assignments or studying. Some weeks are harder than others, but I made sure to schedule time with friends to check out a new restaurant or attend an event.

Tips: manage your time and find a calendar system that works for you. As with most areas of life, managing your time can help with the challenges I mentioned. Block off your schedule to remind yourself to complete an assignment during a gap in classes and mark your calendar with your assignment due dates and exam dates. Find a calendar system that works for you. Some of my friends choose to write in a physical planner, but I chose to use Google calendar for ease of access on my phone. I set up recurring events with my class schedule and plug in student organization events and plans with friends. Since it’s an app on my phone, it’s easier for me to pull up my calendar and view my week. Finally, take advantage of all the city has to offer – balance your studies with time to explore Atlanta’s amazing restaurants, parks, hiking trails, concerts, and other events.

Finding my Tribe and Fitting In
I came back to school feeling really out of place. I knew a large proportion of students were coming straight out of college. During Orientation, I learned quite a few of my fellow cohort mates had undergraduate degrees in public health or the sciences. As a student who had never studied public health in college, I felt anxious about my upcoming courses in health policy and infectious disease epidemiology. As the weeks went by in the first semester, the anxiety went away as I met students who had similar interests in my classes. I learned that many students also felt the imposter syndrome that comes with being at a school like Rollins, but remember: you were admitted for a reason!

Tips: talk to students in your classes and find your tribe! Talk to students who have similar career interests and learn from those who have different interests and perspectives. Leverage chat and study groups to clarify assignments and concepts; you don’t have to do it all alone. Make sure to take advantage of student organization and social events on campus to meet students from all departments. Cultural organizations are great for cultural belonging, and organizations with specific focus areas are great for connecting with students who have similar areas of interest or learning something new!

Leverage your work and professional experiences
Whether you’ve had prior experience in public health or not, leverage your professional experiences to your advantage. I came in knowing that two years would go by in the blink of an eye, so I had to make the best use of my time in the program. As someone who had “lost” some time compared to younger students in my cohort, I had to approach the program a little differently so that I could hit the ground running in a public health career after graduation. I attended as many of the Office of Career Development workshops as I could on resume building, updating my LinkedIn profile, strategies for networking, and more. Pay attention to networking events sent out in emails, and attend them. The Office of Career Development has many great resources, and they only serve Rollins students! Events organized by student organizations are helpful as well since some may have connections to unique local organizations. I found one of my part time jobs through a fair-type event, and I found my applied practicum experience by connecting with an organization that I had learned about at the Fall career fair. While I haven’t been told this explicitly, I’d like to think that my prior work experiences and skills helped me get some of my jobs. Market yourself well: highlight all relevant skills you can apply from your prior experiences whether they’re related to public health or not. Some of the skills I’ve leveraged most are my networking skills, professional communication for the workplace, managing my time and projects, and communication with different types of personalities.

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