Applying to and choosing between 5 MPH/MSPH program offers as a first-generation student, with Denise Chow

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Denise Chow, a 1st year MPH student studying at the Yale School of Public Health. Denise was accepted into all five MSPH/MPH programs she applied to and in this episode, she speaks about her application process and gives some great advice for others considering pursuing a graduate degree.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Denise came upon the field of public health and experiences led to her knowing it was the right field for her 
  • What influenced Denise’s decision in pursuing an MPH vs. an MSPH and why she decided to enter the graduate degree right after completing her undergrad
  • What considerations prospective students should make when deciding which schools and programs to apply to
  • Denise’s decision making process and how she ultimately made the choice to study at Yale amongst the other schools she was accepted into
  • Tips from Denise on how to strengthen applications for graduate school
  • How having a solid support network is important through your education and career path, especially as a first generation student with unique barriers during the application process
    • How to go about building this support network
  • Advice from Denise for others who may be considering higher education

Today’s Guest:

Denise Chow is a 1st-year MPH student at the Yale School of Public Health. She recently graduated from University of California, Berkeley, studying Public Health and Education. Her research interests include mental health and well-being, qualitative and community-based participatory research, social and interpersonal relationships, and early childhood development among children, refugees, and displaced populations.

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Episode Transcript

Denise 0:00
You can really, really relate any experience to improving the health of the population in any which way. And that’s something that I want to like emphasize because, like, that’s what makes public health so great is that you have the diverse narratives and conversations and people involved in that sort of how you gain the overall best perspective of improving the health of a population.

Sujani 0:26
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT.

Sujani 0:49
Hi, Denise, welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. It’s so wonderful to have you join us to talk about your journey into public health. So welcome.

Denise 1:01
Hi, Sujani, it’s really good to be here, I’m so happy to be able to share my experience with you all.

Sujani 1:08
I don’t know if it was Kelsey or myself, one of us saw one of your LinkedIn posts, and you had shared a bit about, you know, getting accepted to a number of different programs. And we’ll get into that in a little bit for sure. So, you know, that was quite interesting to us to hear you kind of talk about your experience applying and then receiving acceptance to everywhere you apply to. And so congratulations on that.

Denise 1:35
Thank you.

Sujani 1:36
And I’m sure a lot of our prospective, you know, grad students looking for a grad degree in public health are curious to hear, you know, what are some tips that you can share with them. So I’m sure this episode is going to be full of super valuable information for them. So maybe we can start with this one question that I always ask my guests in terms of like, how did you discover public health because a lot of people I’ve spoken to and even myself, you know, public health was something that I accidentally discovered, it wasn’t something that I knew about, even when I was starting my undergraduate program. It was something I discovered in the middle of it and kind of changed around some of my courses, and then eventually looked into a master’s program. So curious to hear what your experience has been, especially because you have an undergraduate degree in public health. So maybe you can tell us a bit about that.

Denise 2:32
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Also similar to the people you’ve spoken with before public health was a newer concept to me, I had no idea what public health was before going to UC Berkeley, I actually intended on majoring in marine science in marine biology. So kind of not as interactive with people. But as a freshman, at UC Berkeley, I was just kind of meeting new people and trying to find some, like, work study jobs, I was working at the gym. And then I also found myself being a project manager for a campaign that was focusing on hearing underrepresented students at the gym and their voices and visitors like why they may feel less comfortable than other student populations at the gym specifically. And within that same office, I ended up working as a peer educator, for being an active bystander, and why that’s really important, as opposed to just being like a regular bystander. And so through these experiences all my freshman year, I met, first of all people in public health, that sort of hearing about their interests. And I did some reflection on myself, that I really enjoyed working with people, and working with communities like underrepresented communities specifically, so that everybody sort of has more of a like equal playing field, just in their day to day lives. And I also was reflecting on my experience as a first generation student applying to undergraduate degrees or schools, and how it was a little bit of a difficult process. And so just kind of tying all of those things together. And then looking at public health as a major and like seeing all the classes and electives I got to choose from is very interdisciplinary. Like I could take statistics or anthropology or chemistry still, I really loved that aspect on top of just being able to really engage with people. And that just led me to this path of meeting more and more people in public health like students specifically my coworkers, and really getting along with them well, and all that together, I just sort of decided to switch my major and pursue public health my freshman year. And it’s been a great relevant fit ever since.

Sujani 5:15
Yeah, it sounds like, you know, a lot of people’s stories are quite similar. They enter university with one program in mind and discover public health. So, you know, there’s a bit of intentional reflection there, which is quite neat. And also, I don’t hear much from people in undergrad. So I’m curious to hear how you went about that reflection. You know, obviously, it wasn’t a one day thing, but I’m sure you kind of sat back and wrote down a few things or maybe took some walks and thought about it. Curious to hear like, what that reflection process looked like. And then you said, some of the things that came out for you fit very well with public health. And I’m wondering like, did you then just open up your university’s list of programs and just one by one went through to see where you fit best, or did somebody tell you about public health, and that kind of directed you to go learn more about it?

Denise 6:11
So a lot of this reflection was happening while I was on campus, like during my freshman year, right off the bat, and I was really interested in marine science and marine bio, but I think it was a much more surface level interest, as opposed to something my dad had always told me, which was like, you want to wake up every day, being excited and ready for the day. That to me related to the work and career I wanted to have. And I just thought that after realizing a little bit more about what public health was, which had to do with in my eyes, working with communities, and promoting health equity as a whole, I thought that the feelings I got from my past experiences, which I can touch on as well in high school and as a freshman. So thus far, the aspects of those and like, actually, helping people was something that made me feel excited about getting out of bed every day. A lot of that was my self reflection. And sort of, again, like the interdisciplinary process, I was thinking about myself, and how I’m a little bit of an indecisive person, lash, I have so many interests, and I love learning new things. And I thought that through public health, I could really learn a lot of new things every day, because you never know what’s gonna happen when it comes to working with people. The concept itself was never something I heard, probably till I got to Berkeley. And I think I remember hearing it for the first time as a peer educator in my office. And it was like a coworker of mine who was a year ahead of me, and was already declared, or like she was intending to declare, we like- it’s like a conversation you have as a student, right? Especially when you’re first meeting them, like, oh, what are you majoring in? Like, what do you need to do. And she was super friendly and super open and had already been around this work. So I kind of just wanted to talk to her about being a peer educator first, and getting an idea of you know, what the job description or responsibilities were, and then that came up. And I got to talking to her a little bit more about why she intended to do it, and what her interests were. And she just like, described certain classes she was taking, like epidemiology and biostatistics and community health, as well as her passion for nutritional science and tying that in with people. I got along with her really well, and got to learn a lot more about like the classes that she was taking and what they entailed. And the few other people in our office were also intending to major on public health if they hadn’t already. I saw actually, after getting to know them more, how different each of them were. And we were also doing the same work. And I really, really loved that. And that I also tied into like the self reflection process, and it made me feel really excited and then look into it more at Berkeley. And the classes I would be taking and I kind of just went from there and didn’t look back.

Sujani 9:32
It looks like it was a decision that you had made to then pursue grad school immediately after. So you finished your undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and then went on to pursue a Master’s of Public Health degree and I think you were debating either between an MPH degree or an MSPH degree. And I probably already gave it away in our intro that you had applied to five different programs ended up receiving offers for all five of them. So, you know, what was your I guess, decision to pursue grad school immediately after undergrad? And not maybe take some time to work? Was there like a decision point there? Or did you not really think about it? And you figured you just get all the studying out of the way?

Denise 10:20
Great question. I think as a sophomore junior, throughout my undergrad, I did sort of just think the MPH was the next step, because I kind of love school, and educating and being educated. And I’ve always sort of seen myself as like, a leader or in some sort of managerial role, because I really liked to like, promote a very cohesive team. And I think just kind of going off of that, and how much I was enjoying public health. The MPH was sort of that next step. But as I was furthering my career and doing some more research, as a senior, and really thinking like, this is the time that I should be thinking about this and debating if I should go straight in or if I should take some time off to work and really gain some great experience, field experience to get a better understanding. It was definitely a process, I did switch back and forth after having such a strong inclination to do the MPH right after I graduated. And that was because I was meeting with my bosses or like my PIs, and just people who’ve been out in the field for a while and meeting more doctorate students who’ve done an MPH. And hearing like, both ends of the story where gaining work experience, you know, can really help you hone in on your interests. And then be way more intentional with an MPH at least what I was hearing, because you have that field or that research topic or you know, what you want to get out of it. That was a very strong point for for taking a few years off. It also benefits you financially, if you happen to come across an employer who would help fund your MPH that as opposed to what I was hearing about going straight in or what I was feeling going straight in how I felt was, again, I really loved school. I love the interdisciplinary aspect of public health. And so I did have a lot of interests. And you can even argue maybe a few too many interests. And I think coming out of like undergrad, as I was envisioning it, it was going to be really difficult for me to choose one of those interests, and then kind of commit for a few years or a year there to spend that time not really being too certain. And then coming into an MPH kind of after getting a better idea.

Sujani 12:54

Denise 12:55
I also think that my experience as a senior in 2021, where COVID was very much present made things a little bit more different because I was online, all my senior year and a bit of my junior year. And it was in the works that certain schools or mph programs, were going to be in person again, as well as the MPH, MSPH, or grad school programs, removing the GRE requirement for the application very temporarily. I myself am not the best standardized test taker. And that was an added incentive for going straight out as opposed to maybe waiting a few years. And the GRE being a requirement again, it’s also a huge financial barrier for me. And it adds just I think a little bit more stress to the process.

Sujani 13:53

Denise 13:54
So that in addition to how I was feeling about going straight in and exploring through the MPH program, that’s what I used as to why I decided to go straight out. And then also, I think in the MPH program, like right off the bat, what I saw that the program was going to give me was exploration and like opportunities to still get a good idea of what I might be interested in pursuing post mph. I thought it was going to just give me a lot more like opportunities to meet people like professors and faculty and explore different research topics as opposed to sort of narrowing in on one in a job. That’s what I was thinking.

Sujani 14:39
Now I can certainly relate I did a similar route as you were I finished my bachelor’s degree and jumped right into a master’s degree and sometimes when I do think back at the experience, I do wonder how different it could have been had I gained a few years of work experience within the field of public health and perhaps you know, I knew exactly where I wanted to focus my education on and I’m sure my experience would have been different. But the- I think the added benefit of the GRE being during this period. Yeah, that’s- that’s a great also another reason to consider bumping up your timelines for sure. Okay, so you mentioned when you were applying to your undergraduate program about being a first generation applicant, and kind of the difficulties that you face there, and the LinkedIn posts that I think how I discovered you, you had mentioned that as well, when you were reflecting on your application process for grad school, and how, you know, there was that difficulty once again, but this time around, you had a bit more support. So I think like, before jumping into your experience, actually applying to the grad school programs and public health, I’m curious if you’re comfortable sharing what sort of difficulties you did face. And for any of our listeners who may be in, you know, similar situation as you also, you know, first generation applicants, myself included, anything that you’re able to share in terms of just where they can look for support, and perhaps even like, how do you overcome those difficulties?

Denise 16:22
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Because I know that this isn’t like a unique perspective to have when it comes to higher education overall. But I think, sort of comparing my undergraduate application process and my graduate application process, yeah, I really found a great number of people that really just became a great support network, the second time around versus my undergrad. Because as a first generation student, both of my parents, neither of them went to college, or had really begun taking school as seriously as me and my siblings, perhaps. And I love them very much there, they’ve always been very supportive of my sort of academic and professional endeavors. But one thing I found really difficult in both of the application processes was not being able to talk to them, about any of it, because they had no idea what I was bringing up and it sort of made them feel bad, they didn’t know how to help, or I would get frustrated myself, because I couldn’t convey to them how I was feeling in a way that they would necessarily understand or be able to empathize with. So I guess in like that, I first realized when I was first applying to undergrad programs, and it was difficult at first because I didn’t really know who to turn to, outside of that, as a newly 17-18 year old student who just wanted to further my education. And through my undergrad process. First of all, I met with a college advisor, and she and I got along really well. And I was able to convey my like background and like experience with her. And she really took that to heart, when saw me as more of a person rather than just a student. And I think our relationship, I really took that to heart. And she just really helped me through the entire thing as a whole. But like, more so related to the grad school process, I kind of just took that in planning manifested it into more of those relationships, especially as I was thinking about doing the MPH so early on, I had it in my head, sort of like my senior year, the entire time. And I took a class in the summer before senior year. And one of the TAs for that class was a doctorate student who was just really open to helping students there. She was saying, you know, if you have any questions, I know that this is sort of coming up, feel free to reach out, and I would do my best to, you know, help you in any way I can. Her and another sort of like doctorate student that I met in my research lab that year, was also really open to helping students in this- in a similar situation as me. And just through that, like I sort of just took it upon myself to reach out. And I had no idea at the time that anybody that I had really reached out to like we would get so close, but I kind of was just very open and honest about where I was at and how I wanted to pursue an MPH but I didn’t really know how to go about it. And then I actually learned where both of those students went. There were other people as well in this process for sure. But to name a few, like these two students had both gone to different programs. And I kind of just like learned where they were coming from as a doctorate student and how their mph application process had gone. And I was really open about not really knowing how to go about applying, or how to write statements, really strong statements, or you know how to make the most of this process. They were so, so helpful, they’re really understanding of my situation. And we just kind of got to know each other through that. And I got to turn to not only them, but a few of the other people that I had met in that process, in times of need, such as looking overstatements, or putting me in contact with people from the university or school that I was looking into. I was just very, very grateful that I had these resources that I didn’t necessarily have, because I was the first generation student at home, because I didn’t really know how else to go about it other than just sort of reaching out and putting my- my personal background out there to people and then just sort of taking it from there.

Sujani 21:19
I- Over the past few days have been quite active on LinkedIn writing about exactly this about building your Public Health Network, because you want to do that before you even need it. And it’s not just for finding the next job. And there are so many benefits of cultivating really strong relationships with individuals in our field. And, you know, your example is an amazing and perfect example for this. And I’ve been talking a bit about you know, how people can reach out and, and I heard you say that word quite a few times as well. And so for those who are listening, and they find themselves in a similar position, as you really don’t know how to navigate their current situation, and they’d like to reach out to individuals, like, what tools or avenues did you use to do that?

Denise 22:14
It did help that for some of the people I did reach out to, we had sort of like an intermediary like set up. So through like the research lab, or through class I had had face to face like meetings just in some time periods. And then I would just sometimes stay on the Zoom call, and ask, you know, if they had time to meet, I would definitely reach out over email, if I wanted to talk to this person, like another time or in a more personal setting. And then I also reached out through LinkedIn as well, I guess, like, I also want to speak to, you know, some people who may be in this position, and who can feel a bit more intimidated or that it’s a more impersonal process, kind of reaching out through email, or LinkedIn or other platform, I find myself like thinking it’s a bit more impersonal. And, you know, sometimes I may not respond to an email right away, because it’s just an email. But no, there’s actually another person behind there. Looking back at it now actually, like reflecting on that, I recognize that seeing that aspect of a person behind the email and a story, especially if you’re reaching out because you’re interested in their work or their interests, you are going to find something to talk about and something you’re going to gain from the conversation. So I think reaching out over email, or just in any conversation that you have with them, like recognizing that and sort of like remembering that there’s something that both of you can sort of gain from that. And in having that conversation in the same line of work or interests, I think is makes it all the less intimidating, especially as a sort of first generation student who, you know, you may not have been in contact with researchers or doctorate students before I’ve found myself in that situation before.

Sujani 24:14
Yeah, no, thanks so much for like sharing that experience and even just bringing that experience to light because as I’m having this conversation with you, I’m kind of reflecting about the path that I took and found myself in very similar position as you being first generation applicant, where, you know, my siblings are kind of the first of our families to also enter university and I remember speaking with my husband a few months ago saying like, it’s we should be proud of ourselves that we’ve come this far because we come from families where, you know, we didn’t talk about how to best prepare your university applications around the dinner table, for example, because it wasn’t something thing that everyone could share an experience about, right? So you kind of had to figure things out on your own and, or at least like we never questioned it as, as anything that should be done differently. And we kind of just thought, okay, we had to figure it out, we just move on with it. So I remember a few months ago, reflecting on that, and telling each other, we should be quite proud of how far we’ve come. So, you know, with that, I also want to tell you, you should be really proud of you know, how far you’ve come. And it’s not easy putting forth five application, let alone getting accepted to all of those. So really excited to hear about that experience. So yeah, you know, for our listeners, you are currently at the Yale School of Public Health pursuing a Master’s of Public Health degree. But you apply to five programs, you applied to Yale, UCLA, University of Pittsburgh, Columbia, and John Hopkins, and you received acceptances to all five of those. So-

Denise 26:00

Sujani 26:01
How did you feel when you heard that?

Denise 26:06
First of all, I just want to say thank you, I can, I can definitely relate to just sort of working and working hard and not really knowing how was to go about it. But going off of that the five applications and the five acceptances. I think I cried. So the first one that I opened, definitely, it was a whirlwind. The first one was Columbia. And at the time, it was my first choice. The first one, like, I didn’t know where I stood as an applicant, like I had a lot of confidence in myself applying to these programs, because I knew I loved public health, and I had a lot of relevant experiences. But I mean, you can never really know where you stand, when you’re just going up against so many applicants very qualified as well. And I was at home because it was zoom University, and I was just sort of in my apartment in my room. And I just remember, like, okay, I’m gonna record this for myself, is to get sort of my natural reaction out of it, no matter what happens. And when I opened the letter, I just, man, it was- It felt great. And then seeing how, you know, Columbia was my first choice or top choice, and that all these schools are of great caliber, it sort of allowed me to accept that I did work really hard. And I do work really hard. So all of that in combination was- was a great feeling. And each one of those were great feelings being like, recognized for the hard work that me in all my support system had put in to those applications. And then what I’d done, you know, in my undergrad experience as a whole, working up to this, so that was, that was pretty great that it felt good.

Sujani 28:02
Okay, so you know, you, you get these five great offers, and then you have to obviously decide on one, how did that decision process look like? And how long did you spend on that? Take us through that?

Denise 28:18
Yeah, this is actually something that I haven’t really spoken to too many other people about in my position, like what that decision process for them was like, but for me, it was probably the toughest part about the process.

Sujani 28:33
Did you leave all of them at the same like on the same day?

Denise 28:36
No, no, they were coming in, I think within a span of maybe a month, or maybe like a few weeks. I think maybe by the third acceptance, I was feeling pretty good about where I was at with others few schools, it was just sort of a matter of figuring out now. Well, I had already sort of thought this out, but like, the additional factors that were really going to be important to me about the program and the school itself. That is another really critical stage in which my support system like I could not have done without basically just helping me like guiding me through what I was looking for in a program overall, like was extremely helpful and just sort of like ways to go about it. Making pros and cons lists and talking to past and current students and reaching out to faculty or looking at the faculty list. Definitely, definitely incorporating the financial aid package into my decision that it was also a big portion of it as a like first generation student and like low income. So yeah, I think like that decision process. I- some things that I thought about were what I was trying to get out of it such as you know, where was the school located? If you can tell I applied to all out of state except for UCLA. Because I grew up in California, and I’ve always wanted to explore the states a bit more. But I did want to leave myself one option, you know, just in case I didn’t want to stay home, and maybe the tuition or the financial aid would be different. Something else I thought about were, how much flexibility I have in a schedule or in my schedule, or in my program, you know, to take other classes that I’d be interested in, maybe the semester versus a quarter system, because a couple of them were semester, a couple of them were quarter. And in my post, I wrote that I had gotten into an MSPH program as well as mph programs. So I had gotten into the MSPH program at Johns Hopkins, which I had applied to because I didn’t gain work experience after graduating, so I was only eligible for that one, versus their MPH program. So that was something to consider also as a, an applicant coming right out of undergrad. But yeah, thinking about what degree I would be getting out of it, actually. And like what difference that would maybe make professionally. I do think that their ranking of the schools, you know, it, it was something I didn’t want to think about, but it was there, just having sort of a little bit of a, you know, discrepancy, not- not that great, but some there, all of that, just going back and forth. And like maybe my personal takes on each school, that all in combination, and I’m sure there are many other factors that I had considered. When I was deciding all of that was taken into consideration. And, yeah, it was not an easy process. But talking to my support system, like the different people and graduate students that I had become good friends with, and had been in my shoes before that was really important was really, really helpful, being able to talk things out and ask them questions, either about their schools, their experiences, or to clarify some certain logistical things. Also, some personal relationships I had were really supportive. And then they also just gave me some guidance on you know, how to approach faculty now that I’ve been accepted to learn a little bit more, or to negotiate my financial aid packages, with the admissions like I did that with every single school. Because as grateful as I was to had received financial aid, that most schools I, I definitely wanted to try to make the best package as I could just yeah, they were super insightful and super open to listening. And sometimes, I cried. And it was an emotional process really having to love a school and love a program. But it just not being or feeling like the right fit overall. Also, getting to turn to my family at this point was really- was really a nice change of pace, especially my dad who, again, didn’t really offer like where he thought I should go, but why he thought I should go to a program, that would be the best fit for me.

Sujani 33:23
It sounds like there’s a common theme amongst kind of your different experiences. And it’s that you really, really rely on that support system that you’ve built for yourself. So if there’s anything anyone takes away from this episode, it’s that like, the importance of that, right? Like, we can’t do some of these things alone, and we shouldn’t, and we should really, like lean on the people that we have around us. And it also like should convince you to go out and reach out to more people and not be shy about that. And the post that I made today on LinkedIn, I think it was today, it’s about encouraging some of my network, like on LinkedIn to share stories under the post to say like, yeah, we do definitely answer LinkedIn messages. And we ourselves even though I have been working in public health for 5-10 years do also ask for support to individuals that we may look up to. So it’s kind of a two way street. And I hope that our listeners can kind of gather that from what you’re saying, Denise and it’s great. And, and I’m sure you know, you had a lot of other nuances that played a factor in deciding which university to go to and there’s also that like gut feeling that really tuned into in addition to the you know, pros and cons list and financial aid packages, I think there’s also your- your body kind of telling you exactly how you’re feeling about each decision. So thanks for sharing that- that process with us.

Sujani 33:23
Yeah, definitely. And I just want to emphasize, it is really a two way street looking back now, and as the next, you know, round of applicants or or acceptances are coming out, like, people are reaching out to me to, like speak about my experience so far at Yale, and I’m so happy to like, and like, I know a lot of my friends are so happy to and eager, like, even if we are busy and may like not have the time for it, which I like, you know, want to make the time that is there. And I know that that was something I was sort of a little self conscious about as a senior, because I kept reaching out and I kept asking questions, and I felt like I was taking up so much of their time and their busy lives. But from time to time, they- they did reiterate that they were so glad to be able to help me out, as well as other people and like reflecting on that and how like I take that very much to heart. That’s all I can really say is like, it is a two way street. Most definitely. And the support means everything, honestly, and you shouldn’t have to do it alone. It’s not fun. Yeah, there’s a lot to gain from it.

Sujani 36:16
Thanks for sharing that, that like, you know, you’ve kind of gone through this process. And then now you’re you’re super excited to turn around and offer that back. So yeah, if you’re, if you’re reaching out to people, and they’re not getting back to you, don’t take it personal, because people are just busy. And I tell people, it’s okay to send a reminder because I appreciate those. I used to be better at email and messages. And ever since I became a mom, my inboxes, like so not in great shape. And when someone like sends a reminder and says like, hey, just wondering if you had a chance to think about this, or can we chat? So yeah, don’t take it personally, if people aren’t getting back to you, they’re probably just busy and forgot about the email. So it’s worthwhile following up. Okay, so I think people are kind of dying to know, someone who applies to five great programs and receives an offer from all five. What did you do differently in your application? You know, there’s like, the, the, the kind of like, everything that every application requires, right? Like, there’s the experience that they’re looking for, and the grades and a personal statement and references. And I’m sure like you had all of these prepared in advance, and you took the time to pull together a high quality application. But I’m wondering, beyond those like requirements, what you think maybe that you did differently to really have this high of a success rate in your application? And what are some tips around like application process that you could offer to our listeners, you know, where do you think some of the strengths in your application may have been? I know it’s a- it’s a big open question. But really curious to hear your reflection on this, like success rate that you had.

Denise 38:09
That is a great question. Aside from sort of the time it takes to really form the application that I formed. Some strengths that I think were in my application, were, for one thing, I think my recommenders came from, really personal and growing experiences for me. And it helped that they are relevant to public health, I think. So I got to, you know, contact my former boss, as a peer educator, two of the three recommenders I’d worked with for a while in different areas of public health. And I also had reached out to a professor in epidemiology. And so for people who are listening, finding people who can really speak to you as a person, and, if possible, like, can speak to your passions and interests related to public health, that can really show a university or admissions committee. It’s not just you who can see it, it’s it’s people around you, who can really see that, you know, pursuing a graduate program in public health is warranted is something that is going to benefit the world. You know. And I also think that another strength in my application is in the statements. I mean, if it’s like the biggest, you know, portion of like how you can actually present yourself as a student and candidate or individual. I think being able to tie in my experiences to public health, whether they were public health related or not, is extremely effective and very important into again, why the admissions committee wants to give you an MPH or graduate degree itself in general. Yeah, I think that I was able to speak a little bit to my experiences because I knew I was doing public health at the time. But what I really love about these programs is that the interdisciplinary aspect is like so encouraging for people of all diverse backgrounds, you can really, really relate any experience to improving the health of a population in any which way. And that’s something that I want to like emphasize because, like, that’s what makes public health so great is that you have the diverse narratives and conversations and people involved. And that’s sort of how you gain the overall best perspective of improving the health of a population. However, the statements for me were- were a little bit like were pretty difficult, because I’m not the best at like writing or conveying or even talking about my myself, honestly. So I would say some tips in regards to that is definitely proofreading your statements and having others proofread for you, especially people who know you as a person. So they can actually speak to not only like your abilities when they edit or proofread, but they have a better understanding of like, your voice, you know, and like how you want to present yourself, because it helps a lot when you can see it from another person’s perspective. But an accurate perspective makes the whole difference. And that was like, like a few of the doctoral students that I had mentioned earlier, like, even after getting to know them through this semester and process like they were able to really gain the perspective I wanted to take. And those edits were, I don’t know if some of the sentences or thoughts that were in my statements, like I don’t know, if I could have come up with them without without them.

Sujani 41:55

Denise 41:56
I also think that in terms of preparing a very strong application, doing research into the school, and the program, and the overall area, you know, like really emphasizing why it’s that school, like why that school is one of your choices, or let alone your top choice. And not just why you want an MPH and or degree in general. I think it enhances your application a lot. I envisioned each of these applications, as you are my top choice. And this is why, not just you are an option. This is why. Yeah, and I think that even like just telling myself that like it really helped bring out the passion, and reasons why I wanted to go. And doing research into the schools and the programs and getting excited about it beforehand, helps that process all the more, also thinking about what you don’t want out of a program. So you can, like cut those options out whether or not like the school itself, or whatever else it has to offer is really great, because then relations to what I just said like it could sort of mentally or subconsciously like maybe change that. And I also just think that, you know, you shouldn’t apply to a program that you don’t see yourself in, like, let alone thriving in, you’re going to be living here like for a few years at least. And so it really just adds to the whole experience definitely. And also, starting early for me was really helpful. And I think added to the strength of my application, because I wasn’t feeling too stressed or rushed. For the majority of it, even if it’s like opening up a tab and like making a dock or doing some research into schools like starting early in that sense, as opposed to just sort of like, knowing you want to do it and then cranking it out, like towards the middle or the end of the process, like gives you a time to really read it through, really process everything, and make sure that this is like the best work that you can provide. Yeah, I think research in terms of you know, going online or websites or even talking to students and getting a great idea of like, what that program has to offer, I think is it really like helps you understand as a candidate, what the school is has to offer and what gets you excited about it. So yeah, those are just some things that I think are really important to note in yourself and during the process.

Sujani 44:36
Now, thanks for those great tips and suggestions and I- and I liked that you said you know, give yourself enough time. I’m just thinking back to some of the advice that I gave long ago. I think it’s been over 10 or 12 years since I had applied to my programs and I remember telling people you know treat this application process as another course, expect to put in that much time. Curious to know like, how early did you start your application? You know, even beginning with doing just the research on which schools you wanted to apply to? Was it the last year of your undergrad? Or had you started even like way before that?

Denise 45:20
So the last year may seem like my senior year, I know, I was thinking about it the summer before, because that’s when I had reached out to my TA about her doctorate program. And she’s actually the reason I applied. During that summer was a good time for me because I was at home during COVID. And I was, you know, entering my senior year very soon. And I was like, you know, what, once this actual semester starts, I’m going to be pretty busy with classes and my job, right now I want to get a good understanding of or maybe, like, just dip my toes and like, do a little bit of research into schools, or like, what an MPH degree like, do I really want this, that was definitely a good time for me, instead of just like sitting around, you know, watching Netflix or anything like that. And I mean, I was home, like, we couldn’t really go out too much. So I took advantage of that, and put in a few hours to look into schools, watch some students, day in the life videos, get excited. What it’s like just being outside again, definitely around the summer time. And then I think I got more serious about it during the beginning of this semester, my senior year.

Sujani 46:35
And so the applications are due towards the end of that year. So you’d say, four or five months of working on it, actually, is that- Does that sound right?

Denise 46:45
I would say I definitely started looking and really in thinking about it, just so I can, you know, have those thoughts in my mind around maybe June. But like, I didn’t really know where I was going with any of that, because I hadn’t really like found that support network yet, as a cohort. And then like, I think during August and September, were the months where I was like, thinking about this a lot. And there are people who are, you know, presenting themselves as opportunities where I can get to know more or like get my questions answered. And that’s probably where I started taking it really seriously and picking up on things and making a few more definitive decisions for the process.

Sujani 47:27
Yeah, no, that’s, that’s good amount of time, I think. And for those who need, obviously a bit more time to do the writing and things like that, I probably encourage them to start maybe even a little bit earlier.

Denise 47:38
Yeah, yeah, definitely. It was I think I’d started maybe in late August, thinking about my statements. Like, as soon as I started thinking about the processor, that that was something I wanted to start thinking about. And I guess it was like a little bit of a later start for me as well. But I hadn’t really gotten to answer any of my questions, till I had met some of these people and develop that relationship. And then there was- was probably where it started to pick up right off the bat.

Sujani 48:04
Yeah, no, that’s been such a wonderful conversation, Denise, and I’m just looking at the clock here. And they were well past the time that I had asked for you to join us. So thanks so much for doing this, and maybe you know, I’ll hand the virtual stage back over to you to share any last words of wisdom or anything that you wanted with our listeners.

Denise 48:29
Well, first of all, just thank you for having me and to the listeners, thank you for listening. You know, wherever you’re at, whether you’re coming out of grad, you’ve taken a couple of years or you know, later down the road and you want to come back to school, I think it’s an amazing opportunity to even be thinking about it and looking into how to go about the process, you know, to the best of your abilities is already something to me, it sounds like you’re on the right track. It’s definitely something that I was always considering, like, how do I present myself in the best way possible? And like, what can I do to really strengthen my application and looking into something like this, and the PH podcasts, you know, as a resource, like being resourceful in this way, is something I very much commend anybody to do. And it can be an intimidating process, just applying to anything. But if your heart is in it, and it’s in the right place, it is all the worthwhile and user the best, so why not make the most of it?

Sujani 49:43
Hey, so I hope you enjoy that episode. And if you want to get the links and information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I wanted to let you know about the career program that we run here at PH SPOT. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about building your dream public health career, then we can help you through this program. It’s an intensive hands on training program for early public health professionals. And this includes recent graduates and students. And you can now join the waitlist at And you’ll be notified when the next cohort opens up. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight, and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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