During the summer of my first year in graduate school, I audited my first public-health class.
The class was foreign territory to me. Rather than discussing the shortfalls of the latest name-your-favorite-protein study or squinting at and scrutinizing the faint lines on a gel in a publication figure, we talked about people.
We talked about the built environment around us and how that affects our everyday behaviors. We talked about the policies that impact our health. We talked about research on disease etiology. And we talked about disease prevention and public health intervention strategies.
Two afternoons each week, I would sneak out of the lab and hope that no one would notice my absence.
One afternoon, I saw a brochure on the bulletin board near my public-health classroom. The brochure described the “Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program” at the National Cancer Institute. Not only did the program provide financial support for earning a Masters of Public Health, but it also provided training and experience to become a leader in disease prevention. Although I didn’t know much about cancer or cancer prevention, it sounded like the perfect program for me.
There was one catch though: candidates are required to have a graduate degree – a PhD, MD, or JD. I was, if lucky, at least four years (and multiple exams, nerve-wracking committee meetings, several requisite published or submitted papers, and numerous because-my-experiments-failed-again margaritas) away from that doctorate.
I am now a Cancer Prevention Fellow at the National Cancer Institute. In my next blog entry, I will share how I used those four years to construct a resume to show that my interest in public health was not a whim and that my training beyond that as a basic scientist was an asset and could speak to my abilities as a quick learner and leader.
It all started because I snuck out of the lab for some fun. Yes, that’s right. I just realized that when you like what you’re doing, it really is fun.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.