Rolling In To Rollins After Two Years in the Workforce

Kirsten Wade, MPH’24 in Epidemiology

I made the decision to attend Rollins quite a bit later than most of my peers and friends (as in, about 75 days before starting my first class as an epidemiology student). I took two years off after undergrad because I genuinely had no idea what path I wanted to pursue. I meaningfully involved in over five different departments while in undergrad, and I had no idea how find a career that would allow me to pursue my varying curiosities both in and outside of work. I am grateful that I did not rush myself into a decision because I learned a great deal about what is valuable to me in my personal life, at work, and – now – back at school during the years I spent between undergrad and grad school. The following are a few of the reasons Rollins stood out to me as the best place for me to pursue my personal and professional goals.

School Culture
I am fortunate to have many friends and mentors who navigated the graduate school process before I did – a few of them even attending Rollins or one of Emory’s other notable graduate programs. In conversations with these people, I learned that one of the most influential components of a successful graduate school experience is being surrounding by a community that values collaboration, mutual support, and an openness to new ideas. Hearing those close to me gush about how the faculty were always interested in and ready to help students; how fellow classmates were welcoming and genuine; and how much time and effort goes into programming to help students succeed really set Rollins apart from the other schools I was considering. 

Networking & Opportunities
Atlanta is affectionately nicknamed the “Public Health Capital of the World” for a very good reason. Even beyond the variety of opportunities available through the faculty at Rollins, the broader context of public health opportunities in Atlanta is unmatched. The CDC is literally across the street; the Carter Center is a couple miles away; the American Cancer Society is here; there are several major hospital systems nearby; and the state and local health authorities have connections to Rollins. Furthermore, Rollins has several programs through which students can directly work with these organizations while completing coursework. In the six months I’ve been a student, I’ve accidentally stumbled upon more on-campus networking events than I can count.

Courses Available
As an undergraduate student, I took as many different classes in as many different departments as I possibly could. At first, I thought I was just indecisive, but eventually I realized that I am most interested in and challenged by work that is interdisciplinary. I knew that I needed a graduate school that would encourage students to work across what are typically considered the “silos of academia.” In particular, I was interested in social epidemiology – a mixture of social sciences, epidemiology, statistics, geography, and policy. Browsing the course offerings at Rollins helped me feel confident that I would have plenty of variety in my coursework and could feasibly expand my learning well beyond the basic degree requirements. Additionally, Rollins is unique in that tuition is billed at a flat rate. Students can take as many classes as they want – across all the departments at Rollins and even through other graduate programs – without having to pay extra fees.

Part of my personal decision about which graduate school to attend was knowing that school is an excellent time to try out a new location for a couple years. I decided early on that I wanted to go to school somewhere as different as possible from where I had lived thus far. I grew up in New England and attended undergrad in Pennsylvania, so grad school seemed like the perfect time for my first foray into the South. I’ve already mentioned the abundance of public health-specific opportunities in Atlanta, but life outside campus offers a whole other host of chances to grow as a student and a person. Atlanta is the largest, most-populated, and most diverse place I have ever lived. I love taking breaks from studying to run on the hundreds of miles of trails through the city, to try out different restaurants along the infamous Buford Highway, to do my weekly grocery shopping at Costco-sized international food stores, and to learn about the rich and complex history of the city. 

All in all, there are endless reasons to choose any number of graduate schools. But I would encourage you to talk to the people who call that place – the school, the department, the city – home to make sure that all aspects of your life will be tended to wherever you choose. And my personal bet is that you will be hard-pressed to find a place as warm, as challenging, and as dedicated to students’ success as the Rollins School of Public Health.

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