Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Name of Undergraduate Institution: University of Miami
Major(s)/Minor(s) in College: Majors: International Studies, Public Health, and Spanish
Name of Graduate School: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Gillings School of Global Public Health
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40
Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Where are you currently at in your career path and why did you decide to pursue this career path?
I’m currently a first year MSPH-PhD student at the UNC Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. I’m studying in the department of Health Behavior. During my first year of course work, I will obtain my MSPH. After that, I will complete the requirements for my doctoral degree. In terms of deciding on this career path, I have always been very social justice minded and really cared about inequities that I saw within my community. My mom worked in Public Health, so when I started my undergraduate classes at the University of Miami I decided to take a Public Health class and it was a perfect fit. After taking that first class, I realized that this was an area of study I really wanted to pursue. Public Health provided me the academic tools to understand and work to alieviate the inequities and issues surrounding social justice I had encountered throughout my life.
If you could go back and have a chat with your naïve college freshman self, what would you tell her?
I would tell myself to be open to change and to be okay with things not going according to plan. Change is something that I have historically had an aversion to. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a creature of habit and an avid planner. It can be stressful for me when things don’t go according to plan. Coming into undergrad, I had a very set plan for myself and what my life would be like. Throughout my college career, everything I planned either didn’t happen or happened in a way that I would have never expected. Through these experiences, I learned that life will take you in all kinds of crazy directions but that’s okay; that’s really the beauty of living and discovering who you are. I know that so many of the opportunities that I have been afforded, and the incredible experiences that I have had, happened because I allowed myself the opportunity to deviate from my original plan, take a leap of faith, and just see what happens.
What is your favorite thing about your graduate school?
It seems simple but my favorite thing about graduate school is learning. I really love to learn, think critically, and debate. I seek opportunities to express my own opinions, which sometimes lead to being proven wrong and having my perceptions challenged. For me, learning is about becoming a better person while also becoming more equipped to tackle issues of social justice and inequity.
What do you feel is the most challenging part of graduate school? The easiest part?
The greatest challenge has been the shift required in the way that I think about school and my education. Throughout my education, my focus had always been on grades and passing classes so that I could move on to the next grade, or year, and ultimately to graduation. However, this has not really been my experience in graduate school. Instead, the focus is on deeply learning the material so that you can become a practitioner in your chosen field. My focus isn’t necessarily on learning the material for a grade. Instead, it is on learning the material so that I will be prepared to one day enter the work force. This type of deep understanding, to me, requires a lot more effort and careful consideration of the material.
The easiest part of graduate school has been the fact that I get to go to class every day to learn about a subject that I am truly passionate about. I enjoy going to school and work because I know everything I’m doing is preparing me for a future career that I am very excited about. While the work load may be more difficult, I’m enjoying what I’m doing, which makes all the difference.
How have you been able to deal with your romantic relationship and graduate school at the same time?
Well, as you know, I’m Christel’s girlfriend. Therefore, as you can imagine, balancing a relationship is something we both have to work really hard at. We are both so busy and are pursuing our own dreams and career aspirations. At times, finding this balance can be difficult. However, the fact that we are both so busy has actually helped our relationship. For me, it was important to be with someone who was just as busy, driven, and passionate as me. Christel is definitely that person, so we understand each other. Christel understands when I have to study, or when I have to go to bed early because of an exam. He understands when I have to stay in on weekends because of a 20-page paper and I understand the sacrifices he has to make as well. In my experience, the most important aspect of balancing a relationship in graduate school is finding someone that understands and accepts your experience as a student.
What did you do during the summer before you started graduate school?
NOTHING! And that’s okay. I think there’s this perception that you must always be doing something and working harder than everyone to be successful. Working hard and having goals is obviously incredibly important. However, it’s also important to be able to take a break and enjoy life and living. It’s okay to relax and travel and do something just because it’s fun. I took the summer before graduate school to spend time with my family, my friends and to be around people that I love. That was so fulfilling for me and it was one of the best summers I have ever had.
Thanks a ton for taking the time to share some of your experiences and advice with us Erika, I appreciate you very much! Your wise words will prove to be very helpful to the people that will come across this feature, and I'm really glad that you decided to help out with this initiative because your perspective as a future Public Health professional is an extremely important one! I'll be right here cheering you on as you continue to do amazing things in your career! Love you babe! ❤️
Posted on February 14th, 2018