After my undergraduate studies, I was determined to pursue a program that would help me become specialized in one field and through that would come job security. Moreover, I wanted to ease my mind that if I had a specific title, it would garner respect asked “so, what do you do for a living?” I had convinced myself that sticking to a certain path would ensure success and fulfillment. However, this outlook suddenly changed when I was on my way to an interview for a Pathologist Assistant program and I realized “I don’t actually want to do this.” Saying these words out loud came as a great relief, as it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Yet with this newfound clarity came questions as to what path I would now chart. In admitting to myself that I did not have immediate answers led me through some interesting places to get to where I am now. At the outset, I had considered pursuing a range of career paths from a park ranger, a dog groomer, a coast guard officer, an embryologist, a pathologist’s assistant to a mortician before ultimately deciding to go into public health. While this list may seem like I consulted a magic 8 ball for guidance, I could really see myself in all of these roles, and with that, I embraced a new label – the generalist.
I chose the Master of Public Health program at the University of Guelph because of the opportunity to explore various directions. I appreciated that, unlike other schools, there was no pressure to choose a specialty before I began. Some of my classmates are certain of the direction they are headed but I am still figuring that out. I would like to assure you that there is no correct way to complete your masters. Since starting in September, I have taken every opportunity to expand my network and learn different skills. Constantly putting myself out there has allowed me to try so many new things. I have helped organize networking nights, create materials for social media and even helped review incoming student applications. My advice for future or current students is to spread yourself out like butter on toast. Dipping into a variety of fields can only increase your potential as a public health professional. As a professor once told me, “At the end of your time as a student, you are going to have to sit across the table from someone and tell them what you know”. Your masters should feel like a tornado of opportunity and you should throw yourself into it with full force.
So far, I have found that my classes are only the tip of the iceberg. The true opportunity is collaborating with professors and classmates, joining student committees, volunteering within the community and starting up new initiatives. Expanding my network into numerous fields will only strengthen me as a public health professional. I believe that other people are our best resource and that is exactly how I approach my time here at the University of Guelph. The key to any successful generalist is the ability to pivot. There are some things I am not good at, that are easy for me to admit. The opportunity in failure is to identify areas of weakness and grow from them.
I am just starting out on my journey and honestly, I still do not know where I am headed exactly. I know I will always steer myself towards avenues of altruism and gravitate to those who share my passion for public health. If you are ever questioning the path you are on or just want to chat about what options are out there, please feel free to shoot me an email and I would be happy to share my experiences.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Guelph.