Career advancement & family life: perspectives from a global health research manager, with Lathika Laguwaran

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Show Notes

Family life and career advancement is a topic that deserves more than just one episode so we are committing to bringing you different perspectives on this podcast. We are big believers here at PH SPOT of learning from those who have done something before us, and using their lessons and experiences to craft our own path based on our unique situations. We want to share the stories of public health professionals at various phases of their lives and careers to get a glimpse into their way of life and thinking. With the launch of the Career Advancement and Family Life series, we hope more of you will reach out to share your perspectives with the public health community.

In this week’s episode, Sujani sits down to speak with a good friend of hers, Lathika Laguwaran. Lathika is someone who Sujani has loved learning from since she met her back in 2012. Both Sujani and Lathika completed their Masters together at the University of Saskatchewan. After graduating from her MPH, Lathika took a role up with the Global Strategy Lab, not really thinking about whether she would stay in that role for too long.

Today, she has grown within the Global Strategy Lab and is the research manager, managing the operations of the lab and leading research projects pertaining to health news misinformation and international law. During this 6-7 year journey, Lathika also got married and became a mother; and that’s the journey we talk about in this episode.

You’ll Learn

  • About Lathika’s career progression within the Global Strategy Lab (GSL): from research assistant, to research coordinator, to research manager
  • How it is working on Stephen Hoffman’s team
  • Why Lathika chose to join the GSL despite a very low starting salary
  • How location played a role in her career journey (and how her commute has changed over the years)
  • The importance of building trust and a strong relationship within your organization for family life
  • What a day looks like at the GSL for Lathika
  • Things Lathika had to consider when her baby was born (i.e. childcare, family support)
  • The importance of being happy in your role for family life
  • How to have discussions about your role and change in family life with your manager
  • Transitioning back to work after parental leave: how things changed around her, what she had to change, how communication became a key factor during the transition period
  • How she manages extra curricular activities with family life and a career

Today’s Guest

Lathika Laguwaran

Lathika Laguwaran is a Research Manager at the Global Strategy Lab. She has a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Saskatchewan and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto. At GSL, Lathika manages the day to day operations of the lab while taking the lead on research projects pertaining to health news misinformation and international law. Her passion for public health has led her to be actively involved in the Tamil Health Association (a not for profit organization that serves the Tamil community in Toronto) as the Director of Community Health Research and a Board of Director for the Human Rights Internet (a not for profit organization that focuses on human rights information and resources relevant to Canada). Lathika was previously the Assistant Director of the Global Health Law Clinic.

Resources

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Episode Transcript

Lathika 0:00
It’s like you put all this pressure because you want to be like so great like, “Oh, I’m so like, really, you know, perfect person that I was before I left and had a baby.”

Sujani 0:10
Yeah.

Lathika 0:10
And honestly, you are going to be so much better.

Sujani 0:16
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.

Hey, what’s up everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight, a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. Today we talk about another topic that I have received questions about from you guys. And it’s around the topic of family life and career advancement. It’s a topic that deserves more than just one episode. So I’m committing here on PH SPOTlight to bring you different perspectives on this podcast. And these perspectives are going to come from our own peers in public health. Each of our lives are very different and acknowledging that we cannot design our life based on another person’s experience. I think though, we can learn from the decisions that these individuals have made and the perspectives that they have. I’m a big believer of learning from those who have done something before me and using these lessons from their experiences to craft what works for me for my unique situation. And that’s exactly what I’m hoping to do with this topic. I want to share the stories of public health professionals in different roles, and at different phases of their careers in their lives, to get a glimpse into their way of life and thinking. So in this week’s episode, I sit down to speak with a good friend of mine, Lathika Laguwaran, and in next week’s episode, I will continue this conversation with Lawrence Loh, someone I connected with via PH SPOT when we launched three years ago. And so with the launch of these two episodes, I hope that more of you will reach out to share your perspective with us and the rest of the public health community. So to my first guest on this miniseries, Lathika, Lathika is someone who I’ve loved learning from since I met her and Lathika and I did our masters together at the University of Saskatchewan. And after graduating, she took up a role with the global strategy lab, not really thinking about whether she would stay in that role for too long. However, today, she is still with the global strategy lab as a research manager, managing the operations of the lab and leading research projects pertaining to help news, misinformation and international law. And during the six to seven year journey, she also got married and became a mother. And that’s the journey we talked about today. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Lathika.

Thinking back to when we first met. And I think we’ve known each other for almost eight years now. And I think I’ve told you this many times. But I think one of the things that I admire a lot about you, which I don’t think it has changed over the years is the clarity that you bring to your life. And I think it really shows in sort of like when I was going to school with you, or now that you’ve built a family or even when you had to kind of decide on social events to attend. So, you know, I really like to hear your thought process and really respect your way of thinking. So when I thought about this topic of career advancement with family life, I automatically, I don’t know why, but just thought about you. Because some of the conversations that we’ve had over the years, I think it’s really helped me personally to kind of think about how to prioritize things in my life. So really hoping to bring that perspective and offer your wisdom to our PH SPOT listeners.

Lathika 4:16
I mean, I don’t know if I have a lot of wisdom to share, but I can definitely share my own experience. And thank you so much for the kind words and yeah, I definitely if you’d asked me five years ago about the whole idea of career progression and family planning and all of that. I don’t think I would have thought about much of it. I think my life has just been a bunch of like surprises and not too much planning from the start, but I really liked the way the direction has it’s gone through. And yeah, just being sort of mindful of everything has really helped me stay positive about all the different things and it’s really nice to hear you say that because I don’t get that compliment often.

Sujani 5:02
Yeah, no, like your, your perspective, I think, has really opened my eyes at least. And it’s a question that has been brought out by members of the PH SPOT community and just career advancement with family life. And not only from the perspective of women, but also men. So, in this miniseries, I’m hoping to do exactly that just bring in different people’s perspectives. So I thought, you know, with you, we can sort of set the stage a stage a bit here, just to kind of walk through the sort of career progression that you’ve had since your masters. And so shortly after your masters, I believe you join the global strategy lab, and I think we’ll throw around the acronym GSL, a couple of times in here, which is directed by Steven Hoffman. And he’s a very well known leader in Canadian public health, and you play an important role at the GSL. So maybe, you can take us back to when you first joined this team and how your role has progressed within this organization. And then we can sort of move our listeners through your timelines from masters to sort of where you are at now.

Lathika 6:14
Yeah, of course. So I started at GSL, about five years ago, which seems crazy now. And it was my very first job out of grad school. The way that opportunity came up was just very interesting. We had a mutual friend, Sujani, and I, who sent me a posting for a research assistant position. So at the time, I’d graduated, I was looking for a job. And I wasn’t really thinking about going into research, I was kind of set on working for just a regular public health organization, you know, maybe as like a data analyst or doing something else. But research wasn’t really on my mind, but what really caught my attention in the research posting was the types of projects that this lab was doing. They were looking at this huge international law and looking to evaluate it by collecting tobacco consumption data. And already I thought, “Okay, that sounds really cool.” I looked at the pay rate, it was really low. Of course, coming out of grad school, I’m just like, “Is that too low, like am I setting my standards too low?” And really, this is a great life lesson for anyone that’s getting started in public health that, honestly, if you are trying to get a job in the same field, like you should definitely use these opportunities as kind of a stepping stone. And for me, that’s exactly what it was, I ended up applying, I knew I was overqualified. But I thought, “Hey, I’m really interested in these projects, I’m gonna, you know, work as much as I can for a short amount of time and use it as like a stepping stone to another, hopefully another position somewhere else.” And so I had my first interview, went really well. And then I had my second interview with Steven, and it was actually over Skype, I believe. And the first question that Steven asked me was, “You know, you’re overqualified for this position.” So he’s like, “I don’t understand why you want this.” And I thought that was a great question. He was very straightforward. And I told him, the honest answer was that, you know, “I’m looking for a job, I’m hoping that this position gives me some experience so that it’s a stepping stone, you know, for another job.”, and I told him, I’m just gonna stick around for two months, so not that long. But I’m just hoping that I can get as much experience just from this one position. And I told him how much- how interested I was in the projects that they were doing, and that I had a lot to offer. He had great follow up questions, kind of going more into just like specific things that I’d done in grad school. And I think he saw that, you know, having me on the team could help him advance some of his other projects, which was great. So it was kind of mutually beneficial for both of us. And yeah, so I started that position in July of 2014. And it was actually in Hamilton. And at the time, I was living in Scarborough, and I was used going to be quite the commute. And I decided to commit to it. Because I was like, you know, I really need to show my work my worth and my values. So I would commute three hours each way. And he did that for almost two months. I think he got to one point where Stephen was like, “Okay, I didn’t realize you were commuting six hours every day to get to this job.” He’s like, “You can definitely work from home a few days.” And so I did that. And while I was there, I tried to go sort of above and beyond what a research assistant would do, because I knew I had grad school training and I tried to use other things that I done in grad school to kind of impress the people that I was working with. Because why not? I mean, why just kind of do the status quo, you might as well show other things that you can do, I think that really just shows that, you know, your value is more than what’s there. And for Steven especially, I think he saw something more in me than just “Okay, this is someone just being a research assistant.” So, yeah, and then like, within a few weeks, actually, Steven decided that he was going to move to the University of Ottawa and was looking for a research coordinator. And I was obviously very interested in applying it was a step up from being a research assistant. But I definitely saw potential in being able to, like run a lab and coordinate and do a lot more projects and hands on work, it was a full time position as well. And I applied for it. And Steven actually gave me a trial run before we actually did the whole process of applying and interviewing. He’d asked me one week where the current research coordinator was away on vacation to take on the role and do everything that she was doing. Because he really wanted to give me the opportunity to show what I was capable.

Sujani 11:10
Yeah.

Lathika 11:11
And so yeah, and so that was great. I was able to do that. And, I mean, I’m guessing, I did a really good job. And that really helped. But yeah, and then fast forward to applying for the research coordinator position, I did everything that everyone who was applying for the position would have done like, submitted all of my materials. The interview was actually in Ottawa, and I was living in Toronto at the time, and I took it upon myself to actually go to Ottawa and meet Steven in person. At that point, I’d never met him in person, I’d only talked to him over Skype. So most of our conversations were remote. And I thought, it made a huge difference to meet with someone in person, and to really talk to them and kind of share all of your experiences at once. And so that was great that I had the opportunity to go to that interview in person, I think that really helped sort of like seal the position.

Sujani 12:06
I guess, you know, you’re mentioning a number of different cities right now. And for our listeners, like you, you went to Saskatoon to do your masters, and then you come back home to Scarborough, and then you take on this first job in Hamilton, and then you decide you’re gonna try for this other job in Ottawa. Were you thinking about sort of family? And whether you wanted to build a family when you were making these decisions about your career in terms of location? Or was that sort of not in the top of your mind at that moment? Because like, a lot of people have that in the back of their minds, right, you know, just planning for the future a little bit.

Lathika 12:46
No, it’s true. And I think at that time, I honestly, I wasn’t thinking about family planning, or just more so doing it, or thinking of family in the future. I think what I was thinking about was “Okay, this is a great career opportunity. And I’m going to kind of like go with the flow, and see where it takes me.” But luckily, at the time, my husband was living in Ottawa, and that was something that was on my mind, like, I wanted to sort of settle in the same place that he was at. And so that definitely helped with my decision to move to Ottawa. But it wasn’t the only factor. I think, at the time, I was thinking of, “Okay, this is a great job opportunity, and everything to do this. And they think, you know, when you are graduating from grad school, I went back to back with my degrees. And so I was still fairly young, I didn’t have a lot of work experience outside of what I did in undergrad, or in school. And so I was just thinking, “Hey, I need to make the most of this career opportunity.” And so, yeah, it wasn’t really the top priority for me at that time.

Sujani 13:56
Yeah. Okay, so I guess like we fast forward a few years, and you are coordinating GSL at the moment, is that, am I getting that role right?

Lathika 14:07
The title changed slightly for that. I’m the research manager at the Global Strategy Lab. And it’s fairly the same as what I’ve been doing for the last like four and a half years. I would say that, as a research manager, my main task is to run the operations at Global Strategy Lab. So to make sure that, you know, the lab is running as efficiently as possible, that all the projects are being done in the timelines that we’ve set to make sure that the staff are not feeling overwhelmed with all their tasks. And at the same time, also being participating in the research that’s going on here. So it’s great, it’s a huge, sort of a project management role, I would say, because it’s, I mean, GSL is not a project itself. But there’s just like so many projects that I do manage, but I also manage the entire operation for the lab.

Sujani 15:07
So how busy does your schedule get? Because, you know, if we’re talking about Steven, and you’re- you’re working with him, and he’s a visionarian. And he’s got a lot of things going on. How does the day look like at GSL? And sort of how busy does your schedule get?

Lathika 15:25
Yeah, so I guess a typical day in the life is really, there’s a lot of meetings with many different colleagues around the world. And here at York University, that’s where we’re based. And it also involves just making sure that I’m keeping up with all of the project timelines. And so often, what we do is we work on what projects are high priority, and low priority. So those ones will be the ones that I like spend the most of my time doing. So for example, if we have like a grant, that’s due in two weeks, I will be spending majority of my time just doing all of the details related to the grant. So helping write the grant, but then just lysing with the university to make sure that we have all the parts that we need for the grant. But at the same time, I have to balance being able to talk to the different staff members here, if they have issues that come up in their own projects, I also have to make sure that I’m in all the meetings that Steven might not be able to attend, but attend to just make sure I get all of those, like meeting notes and stuff that he might need. But yeah, I think one of the interesting parts of my role is that because Steven travels a lot or work, it’s kind of being the face of Steven at the lab. And so just being that person that anyone at the team can kind of like come to, and sort of like run things by and ask questions for and feel like, “Okay, they still are able to ask them when even if Steven’s not around.” So,

Sujani 17:08
And you do a pretty decent amount of traveling as well. Right?

Lathika 17:12
Yeah, I’ve been really fortunate enough to be able to participate in a lot of work travel as well. And it’s great, we have some of the most amazing colleagues around the world that we get to work with and collaborate with. And I think that’s one of the best parts of being part of a global strategy lab and doing this global health work. Yeah.

Sujani 17:31
And I guess, briefly there, you’d mentioned that you were at York University. So the lab moved yet again, back to your home base, which is kind of nice. It’s almost like it just worked out well in your favor, as to where the lab was moving to, at every phase of your life.

Lathika 17:50
I know. It’s, it’s so strange, and kind of like meant to be. So it is really nice that it ended up coming back to Toronto, where I’m from and being able to be around family. So yeah.

Sujani 18:01
And I think like you’ve mentioned this a few times throughout it, it’s like a really good example of showing how you can grow within an organization. And with that growth, not just professionally, you build a relationship with your managers, or your direct reports where you can get a bit of flexibility with your schedule, because clearly, Steven saw how well you were doing in the role and decided, you know, commuting three hours a day or six hours a day is not normal, and that you should maybe take a few days to work from home. So I think those options, they come about when you build that trust within an organization.

Lathika 18:40
Yeah, no, I definitely agree. And I think that it’s so important to show first, that commitment. And you’re right, to build that sort of trust before kind of like, pushing those boundaries of like flexibility and being able to work remotely and whatever it might be.

Sujani 18:58
Okay, so I guess, you know, clearly in these past two years, you’ve built an amazing public health career. And on top of that, you also got married and became a mother. And it’s probably a good time here to introduce Lagu. And I think you’ve mentioned your husband a few times throughout already. And I guess like for you, and Lagu. Did you guys sort of think about your careers when you were thinking about starting a family and sort of how was that- was parental leave something you talked about? And, you know, let’s just maybe start the conversation there and then get into how actually it has played a role in your career right now.

Lathika 19:43
Yeah, um, so that’s a great question. I think we, I mean, we always knew we wanted a family. So that wasn’t a question of whether that was going to affect our current sort of like, career trajectories. So, Lagu, he works for the government. He’s one of those people that like really enjoys what he does, and had never seen himself ever planning on leaving the government. So it was kind of like set in stone that he was always going to be there no matter what. And so that kind of helped in a way, because it almost made it seem that, okay, like he was never going to leave that job, like maybe he would transfer to another governmental department, elsewhere, but he was never going to leave the government. So we always knew that that was going to be a factor in any kind of planning that we’re going to do in the future. As for myself, I really love working at GSL. And I really enjoyed everything that I was doing. So I also didn’t see myself making any changes to that. And so when it came time to actually having a baby, we weren’t thinking of, “Okay, like, can we do this without our families? Do we have to change jobs?” None of that we were like, “Okay, we’re happy with how things are right now. We’ll just see how it goes. Like, we’ll just figure it out as it goes.” We weren’t too, too concerned with everything. But I know, as soon as we had gotten pregnant, we were like, “Oh, well, now we have to think about daycare, and like who’s going to take care of our child and we have to go back to work.” and all of these questions that we weren’t really thinking of before. And I think it’s just, you, like, when you first have a kid or like you first get pregnant, you don’t realize all the other things that come with it. So childcare is definitely a huge thing. And even just having parental support. So living in Ottawa, we didn’t have any family, and you’re pregnant, you don’t really need much family around, I think you can have the support of each other. But once you have a kid, it becomes more obvious that having that support is important, or having that network of people to kind of be there for you and be there for your kid is important. And so that’s something that we learned along the way. But initially, when we had started thinking about family planning, we just thought, you know what, we can do it. Where we are is great, like our careers, we both love what we’re doing. We don’t want to change anything, we’re going to stay here for the long haul.

Sujani 22:17
Do you think that just sort of happened to be that you were at a point in your career, and you got pregnant? Sort of it all just kind of worked out? Or were you planning on having or starting a family when you got to a point where you were happy with your job?

Lathika 22:36
Yeah, I think so at that point in my life, I was extremely happy with where I was at my job. And I, like, I never thought of working anywhere else. And I was just like, if this is what I continuously do, for the next few years, I’ll be fine with it. And I thought, like, you know, at the time that we did end up getting pregnant, it just kind of worked out that that was the perfect time in our life, that everything was kind of settled for both of us on both sides, like we had, you know, all of our schooling and everything was wrapped up, we both had these really great jobs, we’re in the same city, we had a great place that we’re living in, and it was just, it did kind of fall into place. But obviously, I mean, everyone knows there’s no perfect timing to start a family. I think that’s a decision that everyone makes individually. And so I mean, you’re never going to have like the perfect time in your career to be like, “Hey, this is time that I’m going to have a baby and go on that leave and come back and hope my job is still there.” So I think it’s just a matter of how you both feel about starting a family and whether it’s good for both of you. Yeah.

Sujani 23:45
I think I can confirm that, you know, every time we’ve ever chatted, you’ve been like your- the work that you’ve been doing, you can see that it was totally inspiring you. And just the kind of energy that you brought with it. You would make us feel like wow, like this is such a great project. I know. I don’t know anything about it right now. But it sounds amazing. You know, just shifting gears a little bit. How do you think people that may not get that kind of inspiration at work, sort of- Do you think there’s things that they could actively do to find maybe projects or roles or just that positive energy within their work environment if they’re not feeling it already?

Lathika 24:26
Yeah, I mean, I see this all the time, actually. I think that it’s so important to know what you do enjoy and what you don’t enjoy at work. And often people kind of sit on what they don’t enjoy and they don’t vocalize it. I think it’s only-

Sujani 24:42
You mean like tasks or more like the content area.

Lathika 24:45
It could be tasks, it could be specific projects. I mean, obviously like if you- you work somewhere, you’re doing a certain role. There are going to be some things that you don’t particularly like but it’s kind of part of your job and that could be like 10% of the job, and that’s fine. But if there’s like a huge chunk of your position that you absolutely don’t enjoy doing, it could be anything, it could be like a certain project. Or it could be like the content of the project, whatever it might be, that you don’t really agree with. I think it’s really important to vocalize to your manager, or your supervisor or someone that you think could help you think through it, to just say that, “Hey, I’m really not enjoying this. And it’s kind of causing me to not enjoy the rest of what I’m doing.” And it’s happened to me before where I’ve had people approach me at work and say that there’s, you know, something that I don’t enjoy doing. “What can I do to like, work around this?” Like, “Is there anything-” like just kind of asking for advice. And I found that to be so interesting, and just, just great that they’ve had that confidence up to me and say, “Hey, like, this is really making me feel unhappy. And like, I want to really love working. So tell me what I can do to get around this.” So yeah, no, I definitely think that it’s important to- it’s important to vocalize those. Because if you’re not really happy or enjoying what you’re doing, it kind of shows and everything else that you’re doing, it’s hard to stay positive about everything else in your job. If it’s like this one thing that you’re coming into work you’re like this..

Sujani 26:29
I think, yeah, that self awareness really helps with not allowing yourself to be complacent and just sort of thinking, “This is it. And this is what I have to do.” And like I think, yeah, kudos to the people in your team that came up to you to vocalize that. Do you have maybe an example from your perspective where you may have done that? Like, vocalize it to Steven or maybe even share an example of one of your team members coming to you?

Lathika 26:57
Yeah, so what one thing that I do as part of my job, as well as being a research manager is really like, kind of getting to know everyone personally, and seeing what they want to get out of the job. And understanding how people are feeling about the tasks that they’re doing. And so the particular person that came up to me to say, “Okay, you know, this, you know, tasks that I’ve been given, it’s not something that I’m really qualified to do, I’ve never done a lot of, you know, a lot in it. I don’t feel comfortable doing it. But I’m happy to do it, if you want me to do it.” So it’s kind of how it was worded to me, and I’d already known just by like, seeing how, you know, the person was acting over time that they were feeling really unhappy about something. And so it was me that approached them and kind of asked them like, “Hey, is everything okay? Is there anything that I can help you with?” And so that kind of led me to having more of a conversation with Steven just being like, “Hey, you know what, like, if we noticed that someone is not really happy about doing something that they’re working on, maybe we should see if we could give it to someone else to do or, you know, find another task or figure something else out?” And so yeah, so that’s like one example there. Any particular examples for myself, I’ve been, I’ve done a lot of different things at GSL. A lot of stuff that I’ve never been really comfortable with, because, you know, haven’t done it or haven’t gone to school for it. But I think I’ve always been able to have sort of a positive attitude about it, because I like to work at things that I’m not really great at. And I find it as a way to advance myself. So that’s, that’s kind of how I see it. But I know that’s not always everyone, because it’s- it’s easy to feel very uncomfortable doing something that you’re not used to, don’t feel qualified to do, and you don’t want to do a bad job at it.

Sujani 29:01
I think, yeah, it’s really good management to be able to identify the strengths and even where people want to go with their careers and sort of align that with the organization’s mission. So I guess, kudos to you and Steven for being great team leaders. Yeah, maybe going back to, you know, Axian, which is your three year old boy. He’s three now. And I guess I’m wondering, once you and Lagu sort of get back to work. Did you feel like things had to change with your schedules, your work or even things that you were saying yes to or, like, how did that whole process of going back to work feel for you? And maybe you’ve had conversations with Lagu and maybe you could also comment on his perspective.

Lathika 29:55
So for Lagu I think he had an easier time transitioning, but you might have to ask him. My perspective, it seemed like he had an easier time he had taken off five weeks of work. But really going back to work wasn’t too much of an issue for him. Although, of course, you know, we both, we both struggled with this where we were so used to having so much of our time after work being, you know, used for anything we wanted to do. And sometimes we actually did work outside of our work hours. But once you have a kid, it completely changes. It’s like that time that you have outside of work, it doesn’t belong to you anymore. It belongs to you and your kid and making sure that they have everything that they need. So I can speak for myself, it was a huge change for me. Going back to work, I think, I mean, I had already known that it was going to be because now there was this person that was super dependent on me and really needed me. And when I initially went back to work, which was 11 months after I had Axian, I was coming home at lunch. And so again, very lucky that I have a 10 minute walk commute to work. So this, this really helped. And what I was doing is every day I would go home for lunch, see my baby, make sure he was okay, and then go back to work. And I really stuck to a schedule at work like I would do nine to five, whereas when I didn’t have Axian, my hours were really flexible. I’d come a lot earlier, stay later, whatever it might be. And so I had more strict schedules so that I could go home, be with the baby, you know, make sure that he had dinner and was put in bed at the right time, that we played, and took him up for activities after work. And it was a huge change for me, because I’m someone that I like to work on a very flexible schedule. And so I often don’t get all of my work done in the nine to five. Sometimes I like to think about projects outside of work hours and like think about different things that I can do. And so I’d like to, you know, use some of my hours outside of work to like work on work. Or for urgent items, I would come like really early into work or stay very late. And it was fine, because I didn’t have any other commitments that I needed to go home for. And of course, that all changed. So thinking about or knowing that I had to like be on a more stricter schedule, it made me be a lot more efficient with my time at work, because I knew once I went home, I wouldn’t have any time to do anything related to work. So really needed to get everything that I needed to get done during those work hours. But sometimes, I mean, with the nature of research, you’re going to have deadlines that are urgent, and that come up kind of sporadically. And so even recently, I think three weeks ago, I did have to work hours outside of work, both in the evening and early in the morning. And I had to I just worked around my baby schedule. So I just looked at okay, Axian’s gonna go to sleep at this time, wait untill he went to sleep, so did my whole routine with him and then stayed up, did a few hours of work and woke up early when he was still sleeping and did some work. And then yeah, it sounds-

Sujani 33:26
Even like yeah, just, it sounds like being a good communicator also helps, you know, communicating with your team members that you might not be as flexible as you used to be probably goes a long way here.

Lathika 33:40
Definitely. Yeah, no, I think I let everyone- I mean, most people knew, like they understand, like, understood right away when I came back to work that, you know, I have a kid that I’m going home for lunch. That I won’t be available during the lunch hour, but also that I’m not able to work as flexibly, like after work. Like I gotta leave a five, can’t stay, you know, past that time. It’s a little bit of an adjustment even for me because it’s something- it’s a habit that I was in for a while and so just being kind of strict on myself to be like, “Okay, gotta leave at this time.” was different, but you’re right, definitely communicating that with your team and letting people know like, “Hey, these are the hours that I’ll be working in.” is super helpful.

Sujani 34:24
Yeah. And I think it also at least from what I’ve seen from like my sister and what I’ve heard from you, it really helps with your prioritization skills. I think I remember talking to you one day and you said, you know, some days it’s like okay, cleaning and a clean house is not going to be priority today’s and that’s okay. And I think for someone like you who’s always kept pristine, you know, a household it was probably a hard adjustment for you.

Lathika 34:54
Yes, definitely. Yeah, there- there are other I mean, I I’ve learned this the hard way through having a kid is that it’s just not gonna happen. Like, you have to just prioritize like, what’s the most important thing. And that is the thing that’s gonna get done that day. And everything else is kind of something that you do on another day when you have some extra time.

Sujani 35:13
Absolutely.

Lathika 35:15
But what I will say is that it’s so nice to have the support from, from my husband, from my in laws to taking care of Axian just having more flexibility. I mean, a lot of people have to work with childcare hours where they go even earlier, like and leave work earlier. And so it’s a different situation for everyone. So I’m just extremely lucky that I have people that can sort of take care of my son, if I needed to stay a few extra hours at work, or just like, a few minutes extra at work, whatever it might be, I have someone to be there to take care of my son. And recently, I went on a work trip where I didn’t bring my son, and just having my husband there to take care of my son while I was away, was just amazing. It gave me such a peace of mind being able to like go somewhere really far and be away for five days. And just knowing that, okay, like everything will be fine.

Sujani 36:18
Yeah, I was going to add that that you’ve made even work travel, both you and Lagu have made it work either. Like you’re both kind of holding down the household while the other ones away. Or you’ve both made it work so that you could all travel together to a location.

Lathika 36:35
Yeah, yeah, no, exactly. So Lagu needs to travel to Ottawa, every other month for a few days. And so it’s great, because we know like ahead of time, like when those days are, and we make sure that our schedules are okay, for those days, like, we don’t have anything, we both don’t have anything crazy. And so we’re each able to take turns of like who can watch Axian, but also we’ve made travel for work, work out for us as well. So when we were able to bring Axian with us for work, we did, and I was at a conference and Lagu was able to watch Axian for a few hours. So that was nice. And then when we couldn’t bring Axian, Lagu really stepped up to be able to, you know, take on that role of watching Axian for a few days that I was gone.

Sujani 37:25
And I guess like when, even before actually, and you were involved in a lot of activities outside of work. And I think I personally think those are quite important for your careers. And you and I are both involved in other things. And I think most of our peers are as well, for example, like a nonprofit board. So just hearing your, your nine to five job, it’s quite busy. You’ve got a three year old at home. But you’re also managing to sit on a number of boards, including the Human Rights internet and the Animal Health Association, which we’re both part of, I guess, like, I guess that didn’t really change much for you. Hey, like you were still able to commit the same amount? Or do you think you were you had to do some adjustments there as well?

Lathika 38:14
You know what, like I so, mean, first of all, you really inspired me to doing these sort of extracurriculars outside of work, and then kind of giving back to the community. So thanks, you. It’s kind of why I sought out working with other organizations, I think it’s super important to be able to do something outside of work, like you mentioned. And being part of both these organizations has always just brought me a lot of joy. And so I made it work in my schedule, I think again, it’s like if you prioritize something, you can definitely make it work, no matter how busy you are. And one of the things that I always think about is commitments, like I’d never want to commit to something if I can’t uphold that commitment. And so I looked at, you know, both organizations, what I needed to commit to them how much time it required for me. And that made it a lot easier. So when I was on that leave, I still want to participate in meetings when I could, but I knew that I wasn’t always able to do that. So what I, I told them, I was honest, I said, you know, maybe for my monthly for the first six months, I might not be able to commit to all the meetings, but I would still definitely want to be part of your organizations afterwards. So please include me in any of the important emails or any of the notices afterwards. And yeah, and I think I’ve stuck with it because I really just enjoyed doing it. And I really just tried to prioritize in my calendar, like I have all the meetings put in my calendar. So I know it’s coming up and I work around that schedule and some of the meetings do happen during the time that I’ve been spend with my son, but I asked my husband, if you can watch over an hour, and it all works out. So I think if you really want to prioritize something that you will, and, and if you enjoy doing it, yeah, that makes it a lot more easier.

Sujani 40:15
I mean, that really brings us back full circle to how I was introducing you just admiring your clarity in what you wanted to commit to. And it really shows because I think that’s been the theme of just being clear with what your commitments are going to be, how you’re going to prioritize the various activities in your life. And then a big one is communicating with people around you like your family, your work, just everyone. So I guess that’s a really good place for me to ask you to wrap up, what tips would you end off with for those of us in public health? You know, we’re we’re working on advancing our careers, but maybe in the back of our mind, starting to think about family.

Lathika 41:00
Yeah. Tips. Wow, I feel like this is-

Sujani 41:05
No pressure.

Lathika 41:05
No, no pressure, I’ll just say, from my experience, I think is having a conversation with your manager or supervisor, and being very realistic about what you’re able to do once you sort of come back from your leave. So I mean, it could be both ways, like you could have this conversation before, but I think that makes it a lot more challenging, because you don’t know what your life will be after you have a baby. So kind of come, when you come back to work, kind of having that first conversation with them saying, “Hey, like, this is what my schedule is gonna look like now, this is what I’m able to commit to, I want to do a great job. And I just want you to know, ahead of time, that this is how things will change slightly.” I think beforehand, if you are thinking of like the perfect time to have a family, obviously, there is never a perfect time. So if you are worried about your job, or what might not be there will be there, when you come back, you can always have a conversation as well with your manager to get a sense of that, because a lot of us probably do feel a little worried about coming back and like how many changes or be and what will happen. But I think the other things that like I- like that helped me come back to my job was not to put so much pressure on myself. I was worried that coming back, “I was like, oh my god, I’m not going to be as valuable as I was, when I’d left, like I’m going to have to show so much more like what I can do.” And it’s like you put all this pressure because you want to be like so great. Like, “Oh, I’m so like, really, you know, perfect person that I was before I left and had a baby.”

Sujani 42:55
Yeah.

Lathika 42:55
And honestly, you are going to be so much better. Being a mother, being a father just makes you that much better. Because you have all these like new like skills. And I think it’s, it’s, it’s made me better in my job because it’s really helped me with prioritizing time and just kind of being more efficient at work. And there’s just a lot that you can gain from that as well. And I did have a lot of pressure on myself. But over time, I realized like once you got back into things, it’s just like you remember it like you were there. And it’s- it’s not that hard at all. And yeah, and I guess my final thing is, especially if you’re coming back from a long leave of absence is to take it slow, take the time to relearn things. have as many conversations as you need with the people around you. I mean, you might come back to an entirely different team. And sometimes that can be extremely nerve wracking. But yeah, get to know everyone, you know, talk to them about who you are, and explain to them about what you did. And yeah, just- just kind of take it day by day and see how things are going at home as well. Like you don’t want to be overwhelmed at work and in your personal life. So have a really good balance. You know, talk to your friends have a good support system. Be around people that build you up. That say you’re doing a great job as both like a parent, but also as a worker.

Sujani 44:28
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Lathika and next week we continue this conversation with another individual, Lawrence. Lawrence is the associate medical officer of health at PL public health. And I sit down with Lawrence to talk about career advancement and family life from his perspective. And so I hope that if you’ve had questions around these topics that we cover, these two stories will serve as some clarity in your life. And if you have a different perspective that you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear from you, you can head over to pH spot.ca/podcast to let us know that you’re interested in being a part of this podcast as a guest and at the same link you will also find the links and information mentioned in today’s episode. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning in to PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.

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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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