Ending the HIV epidemic, HBCU institutions, and needing charisma as leaders, with Dr. Marissa Robinson

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Dr. Marissa Robinson, the coordinator of the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative at the US Department of Health and Human Services. They discuss Marissa’s education and career journey, her interest in HIV and the Black community’s access to health, and harnessing charisma in your own professional life.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Marissa’s personal experiences shaped her interest in health and the social determinants of health, specifically with HIV and the Black community’s access to health
    • How internships and global experiences further shaped Marissa’s interest in public health
  • Marissa’s experience at Spelman College, a historically Black liberal arts college for women and what factors she considered when making various choices about higher education through her life
  • Tips on dealing with rejection, self doubt, and other barriers in your professional journey
  • How charisma is essential in leadership and public health, and why it is especially important for women of colour to develop this skill

Today’s Guest:

Dr. Marissa Robinson is a strategic-leader, visionary, and disruptor within the field of Infectious Disease. She focuses on HIV/AIDS research, educating the need to increase opportunities and diversity amongst the public health workforce. She currently leads as the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative Coordinator at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health within the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy. 

Dr. Robinson is a DMV native and is trained in infectious disease epidemiology. She has conducted extensive HIV/AIDS research for over a decade. She began her federal career when she joined the United States Peace Corps as a Community Health and Malaria Prevention volunteer in Togo, West Africa. After returning to the US, Dr. Robinson worked at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in the HIV/AIDS Bureau (HAB) on global infectious disease surveillance supporting the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative. Following her time at HRSA, Dr. Robinson joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) where she conducted and maintained data analytics for a Nursing and Midwifery initiative on behalf of PEPFAR for 13 African countries. After her time at CDC, Dr. Robinson joined the CDC Foundation on the Teens Linked to Care pilot program with the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health which focused on substance use and sexual risk among youth in rural populations. 

Dr. Robinson completed her Doctor of Public Health degree as a Goldseeker Scholar at Morgan State University’s School of Community Health and Policy. Her dissertation was entitled “A Qualitative Exploration of Preexposure Prophylaxis Among Black Women Attending a Historically Black College and University in the Northeastern United States”. Dr. Robinson completed her doctoral fellowship training at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Pre-Doctoral Clinical Research Training Program. Dr. Robinson received her Master of Public Health with a concentration in global health, infectious diseases, and a certificate in socio-contextual determinants of health from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and public health from Spelman College. 

When she is not working hard on all things EHE, Dr. Robinson is teaching Zumba where her love for people, health, wellness, and dance coincide!

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Marissa 0:00
It’s a beautiful thing, because nobody on this world is as unique as you. And we all have a role to play. And public health is literally everything and anything. So no matter what you end up doing, whether it’s a researcher, whether it’s a practitioner, whether it’s a podcast host, whether it’s, you know, environmental specialist, academic person, working in the private sector, you name it. Everybody has a place in public health. And I think we have to open our arms and help each other because we’re all we got.

Sujani 0:37
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.

Welcome Marissa, to the PH SPOT podcast. This is well overdue one of my top guests that I’ve been wanting to have on the podcast, and it’s finally happening. So welcome.

Marissa 1:06

Sujani 1:07

Marissa 1:08

Sujani 1:09
So one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the podcast is not just because you have an incredible public health career, but it’s your energy. And, and I think I’ve said this when you come into our career club and do sessions there as our PH SPOT mentor, but your energy is infectious. And I just get so excited when like, my people who haven’t met, you get to meet you, whether that’s like virtually through audio or video, whatever it is, I’m just so excited because that energy you bring, and the passion that you bring to public health is contagious. And I know I leave any session, we have like super energized. So I know our listeners are going to leave the same way.

Marissa 1:48
I love that. And I think one of my biggest like mantras when I was, you know, entering into the field of public health is like, always as a black woman, and I’m super tall. So like, obviously, that gets a lot of people’s attention as soon as I get to a room. And one of the things that I learned that early age is like, if you smile at somebody, it’s really hard for them not to smile back. So I always have had like this infectious kind of energy of like, okay, if I can leave the world better than I found it or give somebody a smile, or help somebody prevent or change a behavior to help their health or well being. I think that that’s like my mission from a larger perspective. And then once I finally like, stumbled into public health, it was just like, Okay, and how can I make that be a lifelong kind of journey, but like doing something as simply as smiling at someone else, it really can set someone’s day in a completely different direction. Because it’s really hard if you see somebody smiling and then-

Sujani 2:55

Marissa 2:56
It’s like, you really have to be having a horrible day.

Sujani 3:00
Yeah, I love that. I love that. And you’ve been so great at that. I think you’ve accomplished it every single time. I’ve talked to you, and thank you to the world of the internet. We’ve- we connected and-

Marissa 3:11
I know, and it’s been history.

Sujani 3:13
I know, like, I think the first day we chatted, and it was I remember it was like, during the holidays at the end of like 2022. And, you know, we made it happen, even though we were both really busy with our holiday schedules.

Marissa 3:28

Sujani 3:28
And from that moment, it was like friendship. Right from there. Yeah.

Marissa 3:32

Sujani 3:32
And we’ve collaborated on- on lots of PH SPOT activities. Now we’re doing this podcast, we’re going to do some incredible stuff going forward. And I realized when I was preparing for this episode, that I feel like I know a lot about your career journey. But I think what I don’t know is how you discovered public health. And, you know, that’s a question I start with, with all of my guests. And I was incredibly curious about your discovery of public health and what kind of got you into it?

Marissa 4:00
Absolutely. So when I was in high school, I did a internship at the Institute of Human Biology at the University of Maryland School of medicine. It was through an NIH grant, and they’ve focused on high schoolers getting, you know, graduate school, or you know, med school kind of experiences to launch them into research. And when I did that internship, I started to learn about infectious disease. And I was specifically looking at data from a study that was looking at folks living with full blown AIDS. And when looking at that data, we were basically looking at their stress levels and how if they had lower stress levels, they had a longer life expectancy. And then when I was going through- It because that was a research assistant at the time when I was going through the data. I was like, Wow, a lot of these patients are black. And I was like, I have never heard about AIDS. I’ve never heard about HIV. I mean, I think I had heard a little bit here and there growing up. And so that was like my first real kind of inkling into like medicine, science, public health. And it was then when I was like, Okay, I know that I’m really good at chemistry. And I started out as a chemistry major in college, and then my social life was more important to me than being in a lab. And I’m just a really bubbly person. And I knew that being in a lab and doing some of those hard sciences was just not going to work and going to med school while at Spelman was the goal when I first started, it quickly shifted. And at Spelman, I got the opportunity to take classes at Morehouse, which is right across the street. So Spelman is all girls and Morehouse, all boys, but at Morehouse, they actually have a Public Health Institute- Sciences Institute. So you can have your bio stats, your public health, environmental health, Epidemiology, you know, all of those core courses for public health. And so when I was a sophomore, I kind of double minored in Public and Environmental Health track. And so through that track, I was exposed to kind of those introductory level public health courses. And I was really big in environmental justice, and like, I really thought I was gonna work for the EPA, and then quickly was like, Ah, I don’t know if I want to do that either. So I did so many different research opportunities as well in college. But that was probably my first kind of exposure to how beneficial public health is because it focuses on population of health, like populations well, and changes for a multitude of people from different backgrounds, socio economic statuses, you name it, races, etc. And I think that was when I made the pivot from being like, you know, I don’t want to be a clinician and just have a small patient list and only be making impacts. From an individual standpoint, like, I’m gonna make population change. It was at that moment that I was like, Okay, I want to be in like health. And really early on in life, I had a lot of medical challenges. And so those medical experiences, being sick at a really early age, having to have surgeries, the beginning, just like a lot of different things that I dealt with, at a really young age, and like elementary school, middle high school college, it really exposed me to being a part of the medical field and how, if you were in a disadvantaged place where you don’t have good medical care, or health care coverage, you could really die. And being a black woman, and being exposed to that so early, it was like automatically, I saw how disproportionately impacted black woman can be, even if you have a high socioeconomic status, even if you have high education. And you- we’ve seen it in the data, social determinants of health. So that was probably like early on going through medical challenges was what really catapulted me into wanting to be in health care and medicine. And then it was those internships that I did before college. And then while I was in college, where I was like, alright, public health is where I can see myself doing the most good.

Sujani 8:31
And it’s, it’s fascinating for me that you were able to kind of identify those trends, if you will, in the data so early on in high school, that, you know, a lot of the people that you’re seeing in your data, were black people, and be it faith, be it, you know, just you getting a good opportunity to be able to do that internship. And I look at your career trajectory, and almost 20 years later, you’ve continued that mission. So tell us about that. Because right now, where you’re currently sitting, you’re at the US Department of Health and Human Services, and you are the coordinator of ending the HIV epidemic initiative. So, you know, throughout those, what is it 15-20 years, I guess that passion or that mission that you identified so early on, how have you been able to kind of keep that front and center and kind of build a career with that mission in mind?

Marissa 9:34
Well, Spelman was one of the greatest decisions that I made to go to for college, and I actually chose it because it was when I was applying to colleges. Of course, my parents were like, Okay, I have a twin brother. And so he was going on a full ride for football, and he went went to the University of Maryland, which is like 20 minutes away from her house. From my dorm, my parents live so I was like, Oh heck no, I’m not going down the street because your father me young. So I was like, Okay, what school was am I going to apply to, my mom went to a predominantly white institution or PWI. And my dad went to a historically black college. And so I was like, Okay, I need to figure out if I’m gonna go to a HBCU or am I going to go to a PWI, but the PWI, I did get some funding from some different schools. And I knew I wanted to go out of state. So automatically, my parents were like, well, you’re gonna have to take out loans, and we’ll help you but like, you need to make a decision that’s best for you. So I started out as a chemistry major. And so a lot of schools were offering money, if you, you know, wanted to be in the STEM or science, technology, engineering or math. And so I knew that there was going to be funding if I could stick as a chemistry major, but I did not, as I already said, but I knew that Spelman was the number one historically black college and university so I was like, if I can’t get into an Ivy League, or I didn’t even apply to get into an Ivy League, like why not go to the number one HBCU that was built on the ideals of free thinking woman and black woman around the globe. They’re doing so many different things. And Spelman, a Spelman network, and the experience, everyone has a unique experience. And I think it really showed me that in my own culture, and in my own race, how diverse we can be how many different backgrounds, I mean, different generations have gone to this institution, and it’s withstood so many different turbulent times, including, you know, most recently COVID. And so just seeing how the fabric of this institution has done so much for black woman, I knew that I wanted to have a unique experience. And it was, like I said, one of the best decisions that I could have made for myself, and it’s so funny. My senior year, I did a- Well, my junior year going into senior year, I did a pageant. And so pad culture at HBCUs is really big. And our student organizations on campus are very, very important to like the culture, and you being a successful, you know, student. And so one of the things that a lot of students will participate in our student organizations, Greek life, or sororities and fraternities, but also pageants. And so I did the Miss Bowman pageant. And we had something called an unveiling, which is basically, you know, a reveal of like, who are the contestants going to be because it’s usually a very rigorous process, interview, there’s multiple things that you have to do. But the fun thing about the unveiling is you get to kind of showcase, okay, I’m running for the pageant. I have these qualities I come from this place, or the state. And it was really fun. And my brother, he and four of his teammates came down and me the same weekend that the unveiling was, so they got to see the unveiling, they got to go to several parties. And that was his first time actually visiting me on campus during school. And he was like, wait a minute, I guess kind of let down here. I could have I could have maybe you went to HBCU. And of course, all the girls on campus are like, Wait, who are these guys? We never seen them born Marisa who- Who are these men that you walk around campus with? But it was a great experience. And I think we both chose what was best for us, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Wow. So where you’re sitting today as the coordinator of this, you know, great initiative, you got involved about just less than four years ago. And so prior to that role, what were kind of some experiences, I guess, you were building? Were they all around kind of like HIV and AIDS and you know, the population of black people in America, is that what you are predominantly focusing on?

So I’ve done so many different things. So in college, I did several independent research studies, participated in like symposiums did one of my most memorable experiences was doing a summer program that was sponsored through CDC, but it was called the cups program. And it basically was like an undergraduate Public Health Series that University of Michigan, Columbia University, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Morehouse College, and I believe, I think there was a fifth school. There were five schools that were associated with this program and it was a summer program you got to spend three months at whatever school that was hosting you. I got accepted to Columbia’s program. So I was at Columbia I was taking graduate school courses study for the GRE. We also got to to internship to work at a public health organization so I worked in a nonprofit that was environmental justice project called We Act. And we looked at environmental health issues. I wrote some blog posts there. And it was that opportunity where I really got exposed to all the different gamuts of public health because we had the academic side, we nonprofit site, and then we had, like, some implementation. And so it was there where I was like, Okay, I definitely want to go into public health. And I knew I wanted to go to grad school. And when I graduated from Spelman, I applied to grad schools, and they laughed in my face. And they were like, Huh, you need experience? And I’m like, How can you ask me for experience when I’ve had experiences every summer and throughout all of my schooling that I’ve had, you know, internships, but that they wanted real work life experience, like outside of school. So I took three years. And within those three years, I worked at Hopkins, Johns Hopkins Center to eliminate cardiovascular health disparities and worked on some non communicable disease work. I also worked at the APA, American Psychological Association and their office on AIDS. And then while I was doing all of those internships, which were one was unpaid one was paid. I applied to be in the Peace Corps, because I knew that I wanted to also try and get some global experience. And then because I was really fascinated by the thought that you could go to a foreign country, and you could teach health behaviors or water and sanitation and hygiene. And so I got into the Peace Corps program in Togo, West Africa, which is Francophone. So they speak French, I spoke zero French girls, I was like, well, it was a learning curve there. But the beautiful thing about moving to a foreign country and being in a different culture is you get to observe. And one of the beautiful things about me is that I love to dance I love I’m a very funny person, even if you can’t, like, understand what I’m saying, I like I can still communicate very effectively. And you know, 90% of communication is nonverbal. So it was great to immerse myself in a different culture, but also think that going in I thought I was going to make this huge impact and all, but really, the individuals who I was living amongst who I was helping the hospital and was doing community health and malaria prevention, I worked on HIV work, I worked with in maternal child health, I was getting vaccinations. It was- it was just a really life changing experience. And it really showed me that I love working with people. I love communicating effectively. And I love trying to help people’s well being and health be improved. And from that experience that brought me into the federal government space. And I worked at the Health Resources and Services Administration, HRSA, HIV and AIDS bureau. And it was there that I got to work on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, I got to travel to several sub Saharan African countries to do federal government work. And since then, I left HERSA I came in, went to grad school and got my MPH at Emory. And while I was at Emory, I had several different internships again, I worked at CDC, I worked at CDC Foundation, also worked on some other PEPFAR programming there. And once I got out of grad school, I was like, okay, so no one and then I was like, sike, I’m not done, I, I need to finish and get my terminal degree. At Emory, I knew that a lot of the professors had PhD. So I did a lot of informational interviewing with my professors to see, okay, did I want to do a PhD or DrPH, and not many professors had a DrPH, so I did some more research, I applied to several schools while I was still at Emory, and I actually got into Morgan State. So I moved home to Maryland. And I started both school and my current job that I have now as themcoordinator, and I started the DrPH program. And so that journey was four years, it was great to kind of go through the doctoral level, but also a lot of what I was learning in the classroom, really, I was seeing firsthand in the work I was doing at the federal level. And at the federal level, we do a lot of different public private partnerships. We work with nonprofit organizations, we work with grassroots organizations, we work with community based organizations, we work with state, local, and all sorts of ministries of health. And so all of this work, and the theme that I see through all of these positions that I had prior to the one I have now is working with people, being able to communicate effectively, be able to improve lives. And I knew that that was going to be a longevity thing for me. But also while I was in my current role, I saw it that there was a huge gap with black woman. And in the HIV prevention space, there are medications that you can take to prevent HIV transmission. Because again, black communities are disproportionately impacted by HIV. And seeing the work that I was doing and identifying a gap, I felt like the one thing I can also do, while I’m also working is create a study that would highlight some of these disparities and bring awareness to them, and add to the body of knowledge that currently exists. And I think that’s what most public health folks do, right? We don’t glamorous, we don’t do it, because sometimes it pays well, sometimes it doesn’t. But we really do this work to change lives and create changes and make a better world to live in for others. And ultimately, that’s what I tried to do with my dissertation, which focused on black woman and, and prep uptake, which is the medication pre exposure prophylaxis that can prevent HIV transmission. And this uptake issue is not unique to just black women. It’s also a black man, it’s also trans women as well, men trans masculine folks as well. So it’s not a one size fits all solution. I knew that if I can make a small impact and change, especially in a population that I care deeply about and identify with, that could be something that I could be passionate about for a very long time, which you need to be passionate for very long time if you want to dive into a dissertation. So.

Sujani 21:36
Yeah, I remember that one line that you shared with our career club members, when you we ran that DrPH session where you said, you got to think like no one can take my passion away. And I keep repeating that since that session. Because it’s absolutely true. And for many of our listeners who are early in their careers, they’re listening to you talk about this new, incredible 20 year career and all the incredible work that you’ve done, the impact you’ve had, and they’re thinking like, wow, there’s no way I can do this. Because in hindsight, when you kind of go through and kind of say, Okay, I did this, and I did this, it just sounds like a perfect journey. And you and I very well know that, you know when- No, it is not. So tell us maybe about you know, some of them, some of the periods of your life where you did face challenges, or maybe like you had to make tough decisions for just so that we can kind of paint a picture for our listeners. So they’re not feeling defeated, because they’re seeing this like incredible journey. And they’re thinking like that’s, that’s just something I can’t do.

Marissa 22:47
Absolutely. Well, first and foremost, in this day and age, all social media and media sources show you highlight reels of other people’s lives. And a lot of people are not vulnerable, and show you the ugly sides or the sides, where they’re not successful. And they don’t show you all of the pain and the tears and the disappointments and the rejections and all of those things. And I think it’s really important that we ground ourselves in some form or fashion, whether that’s taking a break from media altogether, if that’s going outside, if that’s working out, if that’s traveling, whatever that is for you, as a listener, as an individual, as a public health practitioner is so important to keep your mental health at the forefront of what we’re doing. Because in so many ways, if we don’t focus on ourselves and ourselves, how can we help others if we’re not even helping ourselves and staying grounded? So first and foremost, we have to always put things into perspective that a lot of what we see right now is the highlight. So that’s first and foremost. But many of the trials and tribulations I will say I’ve received several rejections, you know, right out of college, of even just job opportunities, and even run out of my master’s program, received several rejections and you know, the job market is super competitive, it has always been competitive. And now that public health, it’s a very, an attractive field, excuse me, to be in right now. Because we are currently living through an entire global pandemic. There are other emerging infections and diseases that are popping up left and right. And the job market is saturated with highly over qualified individuals that are looking for jobs. And I’ve always experienced at some point, whether it was an undergrad from my masters or my doctorate, whether it was some form of rejection, and the beauty about public health is that anything can be public health. And so some of the ways that I tried to turn those things into lessons is like, Okay, I didn’t get this opportunity because I needed to move in a different direction. And sometimes the rejections that we receive, it really hurts our ego, and even our mental health, because it’s like, well, I’m overqualified for something, or I saw someone, so do it, and there may be less qualified than me, or this person doesn’t have as many experiences or isn’t as unique as I am. And they still had an opportunity. So what the heck is going on? And the self doubt and worth and like, Am I good enough? Am I worthy, have I done enough, all of those things have popped into my head at various points in my career, and being grounded, and I’m a spiritual person as well. But also, mental health is super important. So having some sort of mental health provider to talk to, to was really important, journaling is something that I do as well. And just having those outlets have made it a lot more manageable to do. And then having a really strong support system. I have academic support systems, I have family support systems, I have religious support systems, I have friends support systems, and it’s so important to have different types of support systems, because you don’t want to drain the one support system that you have, right, like every support system has like serves a different role. So I think that that’s been super helpful. And then obviously, when you’re going through school, especially as an adult, that can take a toll on you in so many different ways that I don’t think a lot of people talk about, and are aware of. And obviously, at the graduate and doctoral level, you have people who are full time working individuals, you have people who are mid career, and we’re gonna go back to school, you have people who are mothers, fathers, you know, there are so many different hats that people wear in terms of being caregivers or other things that you don’t get to see just because they’re a student, and like how that plays, takes a toll on you emotionally and physically, is really important. And we really have to highlight that as public health folks, because we can’t just work in these silos like, oh, yeah, we’re trying to make the world a better place and like, forget our own health, and wellness. So I think that as I’ve gone through all these different experiences, being able to vent to other students, because they understand what I’m going through, and understand what it’s like to be stressful, and have 1000 different competing priorities, and be working, and have, you know, relationship issues on top of that, or a tiff with a girlfriend or a boyfriend or, you know, like all of those things and navigating that simultaneously. All, I think is, is huge in terms of what is not talked about, but actually happens in a lot of people’s lives. Being a student in undergrad, you know, people might not even treat you like an adult. And then when you are an adult in like a graduate program or a doctoral program, sometimes your professors will treat you like you were still an undergrad. And I was like, man, I’m a grown woman, please dial that back. You know what I mean? But no, some of those experiences, I think, help us as students and learners, because we are always learning and even if you get these degrees, right, people sometimes still will not respect you will not call you by your correct title, will do micro aggressions, will belittle you because you’re a woman or because of your race or your ethnic and gender or sexual orientation. And I think that that’s something that we also all have to be prepared for. And being realistic, in the world that we live in. it’s a nasty place. And in public health, we might think it’s all butterflies and rainbows because we’re trying to make it a better place. But everyone is not on the same page as us, right? And it takes a certain person, like you and I to be like, we know this world is broken. We know there’s so many things that we need to fix. That’s why we’re here. And it takes folks who are driven, who are dedicated, who are grounded, who are intelligent, who are passionate, but who are also leading with cultural humility, and are putting themselves in other people’s shoes and being reflective of the work that they’re doing and are reminded that data points are also person’s lives and person’s lived experiences.

Sujani 29:44
I think you know, every time you talk, I go back to that, that one phrase about knowing what your passion is and going through your career journey. Facing rejections, facing barriers, whatever it is, you got to keep thinking about kind of that the fight that you’re fighting, and just remind yourself why you’re doing it. And, you know, to your point about everything online being a highlight reel, I want to also remind people that that’s for LinkedIn as well, right? You know, you see, such a perfect resume on people’s LinkedIn profile, myself included, you know, we try so hard to make that look so perfect. But in reality, it’s not. And, yeah, no, leaders like myself, Marissa, and a lot of our listeners, we gotta keep fighting that good fight. And that reminds me of this excellent podcast episode, Marissa, that you posted in the member portal. And I remember, you know, liking it, added it to my queue, but never got around to listening to it. Until last week, I had a long drive to the airport to pick up my husband. And this one just turned on. And I’m so glad it did, because I was hooked. And we’ll link it up in the show notes page, so that, you know, our listeners can go and listen to it, because I think you need to go and listen to that original one, even though, you know, Marissa, and I will kind of give you our commentary on it. But it’s called the It Factor, how to hack charisma and use body language to boost your influence, income and impact. And there were a couple of points that really stood out for me. And it’s this idea of this it factor in how some people have that, that makes us automatically trust and like them. And you know, in that Mel Robbins, she speaks with a researcher and I can’t remember her name. And they go through the research. And it’s just incredible. And they talk about how, you know, research had found that charismatic people are more influential, earn a higher income have bigger impact at work in their communities, and in their relationships, and that you can actually, like, become more charismatic, using some of the hacks and tips that they share. And you and I have talked about this quite a bit, Marisa about us, you know, being from these groups, you know, women of color and wanting to lead in our communities. Why do you think that it’s, you know, incredibly important for us in public health, and especially important if you’re a woman of color to spend some time to develop this It factor or charisma?

Marissa 32:33
Absolutely. So the scientists name is Vanessa Van Edwards. She is a author or researcher, and she has a behavioral lab called The Science of People. And it was great in the podcast, because they really touched on how, you know, some people just have it, right? And how you define “it” is unique to each individual. But as women, and specifically women of color. A lot of times those that we look at as having the It factor are influencers, celebrities, like people who have multimillion dollars, people want to talk shows and people who are in the media or people that we see a lot. And quite frankly, you and I and those listening to this all have an IT factor, right. But how we all define it might be different. And one of the analogies that they made in the podcast is, the other thing about an IT factor can also be called charisma. And how can you show charisma when you are on a virtual screen, or on a podcast and you can’t see somebody or you can’t physically touch that person, or you can’t really see their body language. And I think one of the opening comments that the Vanessa ate was that in a zoom call, within the first about 30 seconds of the call, if you have somebody that’s presenting, if you don’t see their hands, you automatically don’t trust them, or you automatically don’t believe anything that they’re saying. But if they come in waving, and you can, you can hear in their voice, like the inflections, and you can see a smile. And you can see the hand movements automatically, you’re automatically tuned in more so than you would have been had you not been able to see their hands. And so on this podcast right now, you can’t see me right? You can’t see Sujani. But you can hear us having a conversation and more likely than not you trust us, because you have heard our voices before you’ve seen our faces before and you have some level of trust. But even in my voice inflection. You can tell that like right now I’m smiling. You can hear it in my voice. But if I’m frowning like this, you might also be able to hear it in my voice. So it’s just different things that they talk about throughout the podcast, where it’s like you are giving first impressions. And you can give off certain energies without even trying. And it’s important because these individuals that they highlight in the podcast like folks like Oprah, Martin Luther King, Dalai Lama, individuals who everybody knows, and are known around the globe, but also have this IT factor and are charismatic, are friendly, are very inviting, you’re captivated by whatever they’re saying, us in the public health world, we have to have these qualities in order to make a difference. And if we don’t have it, a lot of times you don’t get the microphone, or you don’t get that policy passed, or you don’t get to speak at the meeting. Or you don’t get to provide resources or grants or funding to something for somebody else. Or you don’t get to create that behavior change or whatever change you are trying to see in the world. And so from my standpoint, I was put on to that podcast by my executive leadership coach whose name is Chris Risley. And she is fellow DrPH as well. But she also told me, you know, these types of factors that we consider if we can trust somebody, or listen to what they’re saying or believe, whatever mission that they’re trying, or behavior change they’re trying to implement. It’s important that as public health practitioners, we all have something to offer the world. And that can look completely different between you and I, that can look completely different to our listeners. And it’s important that we hold space because everybody’s opinion is valuable. And everybody’s life and mark on the world is significant. In all, the biggest takeaway I think I had, was that, okay, so when I’m going to zoom, I’m going to make sure I show my hands, smile, I’m going to make sure my voice inflection is a certain way. And they talk about all of those things in the episode, which I hope that all of the listeners get a chance to tune into. But-

Sujani 37:18

Marissa 37:18
It’s gonna take things like listening to podcasts, it’s going to take us to have the sorts of conversations and just be honest. But the journey is not a pretty one. But when you find whatever your niche is, it’s a beautiful thing, because nobody on this world is as unique as you. And we all have a role to play. And public health is literally everything and anything. So no matter what you end up doing, whether it’s a researcher, whether it’s a practitioner, whether it’s a podcast host, whether it’s a you know, environmental specialist, academic person, working in the private sector, you name it, everybody has a place in public health. And I think we have to open our arms and help each other because we’re all we got.

Sujani 38:09
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I might mention a couple other things from that episode that I’m hoping will really encourage people to go in and listen to it. And I think, you know, there was like, elements of competence and compassion that people assess. And, you know, there’s all of these pieces that they talk about, and they share examples of, you know, someone with high competence and low competence and compassion and how people end up assessing them. And so, you know, if you can’t just have that it factor by, you know, smiling your way through zoom, for example. And when I was listening, I was thinking about myself when I first started off in public health, you know, very early on in my career, and I kept thinking, like, I wish I had been taught some of this stuff early on in my career, because I remember clearly like trying to play it small like I was, I was a shy person. And so hearing that you can actually have charisma in this it factor. Even if you’re like an like, you don’t have to be an extrovert. You can be an introvert and still have charisma. And so, I know that if I had practiced some of these things, from this episode, that I may have had opportunities that I didn’t have, because I clearly remember like, trying really hard not to be seen, like I didn’t want to be called on to talk at meetings, right? Like some of these things that takes a while to kind of break out of when you’re so early on in your career, because you’re not confident in yourself or you don’t think you’re competent enough or people may say things possibly that makes you question your competence. So just a lot of those things kept coming back for me and I really want our listeners to go and listen to this episode. You know, there are like Marissa said, like actionable things you can do starting as immediately as today, once you listen to it, to then implement it at work. And so you know whether that’s at your next interview or next meeting or your next salary negotiation, like whatever it is, these are some very helpful tips for that.

Marissa 40:15
Very helpful, and it’s gonna take, I think it’s less than an hour, the whole episode, even if our listeners don’t have like a full hour where they’re not able to listen to it, listen to, you know, as much as you can, if you want to do 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. But I think the point that we’re both saying is, once you listen to it, there are actionable things that you can take away from it that you can implement in your own lives. But it also gives you some suggestions about how you can move forward with nailing an interview or major mistakes that you’re making when you do speaking engagements or how you don’t need to fake a smile, or if you are introverted, how to kind of use these tips as an introvert and still be successful.

Sujani 41:04
Well, thank you so much, Marissa, I know you’re at a conference today, and yet you made the time to podcast. I love it. And I love you. And thank you so much. Thank you so much for doing this. And I can’t wait to have you, you know, come on and chat some more and share all the wisdom and knowledge that you have with our community.

Marissa 41:27
Absolutely. And for those listening, please, please, if you don’t already have me on LinkedIn, please add me Dr. Marissa Rob on LinkedIn, also on Twitter, and drmarissarob@gmail.com. If you have any questions or want to, you know, talk about one on one, always happy to mentor help with grad school, talk about DrPH stuff, talk about infectious disease, or just talk about being a woman of color and occupying spaces and taking up space. But also, you know, trying to create behavior change and promote wellbeing for all.

Sujani 42:03
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pHspot.org/podcast. And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I want to tell you about the public health career club. So if you’ve been looking for a place to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, from all around the world, you should join us in the public health career club. We launched the club with the vision of becoming the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build those meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, the club also offers other great resources for your career growth and success, like mindset coaching, job preparation, clinics, and career growth strategy sessions in the form of trainings and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. So if you want to learn more or want to join the club, you can visit our page at pHspot.org/club. And we’ll have all the information there. And you know, as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals who are not only there to push themselves to become the best versions of themselves, but also each other. And with that, I can’t wait to see how this is going to have a ripple effect in the world as we all work together to better the health of our populations and just have immense impact in the world. And I hope you’ll be joining us in the public health career Club.


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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