Sunday, October 26, 2008

Don’t worry, you’ll make your way

As a public health student, it’s gratifying to be pursuing a career in a field that excites me and impresses me every day. But there are so many interesting aspects of the field and so many paths to a successful career that it can be a bit overwhelming (but in a good way, of course).

The advice from the mentors who took part in an APHA Student Assembly speed mentoring session on Sunday left me with this advice: Focus in on what you love, make a list of life and career goals…and take a deep breath, it will all work out.

The main topic of the mentoring session was securing funding — a hot topic for doctoral students. While applying for grants can be a frustrating process, mentor Linda Olson-Keller said that concise writing is essential to a favorable outcome. Read it out loud and have others read it before submitting. And if you don’t get funding, take time to explore how to improve the grant and the presentation of your goals. Also, ask the reviewers for feedback to improve your chances the next time around.

“If you can’t write it down clearly, it definitely lowers your credibility,” Olson-Keller said.

In order to finally get that degree and put those initials behind your name, you don’t have to save the world yet. You have to leave something to do during your career, right?

“The best dissertation is a deposited dissertation,” said mentor Lyndon Haviland. In looking for jobs, emphasize your strengths and apply for what you’re qualified for. It’s okay if you don’t have a lot of experience yet.

Also, no career is forever, they stressed. Even jobs within the same organization often transition into completely new positions. You don’t have to be a “doer” or a “thinker” — as Haviland pointed out, you can be both! Make your own path and don’t restrict yourself based on others’ limited ideas of what you can and cannot do with your degree, said mentor Brenda Liz Henry. Being open to relocation often helps as well, but now may be a good time to break out that list of life and career goals and balance your priorities.

Talk about food for thought…more like an all-you-can-eat buffet of possibilities. I know I’ll be thinking about that old question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” for the rest of the day and the meeting. Ya know, I thought once you picked a profession, this was supposed to get easier…

— P.T.

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