From biomedical engineering to Public Health, with Shantanu Mishra

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In this episode, Sujani sits down with Shantanu Mishra, a biomolecular engineer and a current MSc Public Health for Development candidate. They discuss Shantanu’s work in public health after completing his engineering degree, his current experience as a Chevening Scholar at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical, and advice for gaining public health work experience for those considering a career in this field.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Shantanu’s early interest in biology and how he went from chemical engineering to biomedical engineering to public health
  • Shantanu’s work in health education with Teach for India and Triggerise
  • Advice on landing public health or health adjacent jobs without previous public health education or experience
  • Tips for effective networking and being diligent in your everyday tasks
  • Shantanu’s experience as a Chevening Scholar at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and what he is working towards in his public health journey

Today’s Guest:

Shantanu Mishra is a Biomolecular Engineer, currently a MSc candidate pursuing Public Health for Development as a UK government Chevening Scholar at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. With over 5 years of work experience prior to graduate school he was working as an Assistant Consultant within the Public Sector Governance portfolio at Oxford Policy Management in New Delhi at the intersection of governance and health systems strengthening with a focus on Bihar. He has worked on evaluations and big data across cross-cutting themes of WASH, Climate adaptation and business reforms during his time in the non-profit space.

Featured on the Show:

Episode Transcript

Shantanu 0:00
In like early years of your career, if you feel like it’s not giving you what you need, it’s okay to like take a step back. And it’s okay to let the condition out. You don’t have to stick it out there because it’s not like time is running out. But like, you know, it’s such a formative experience for you when you just start working initially, that if you’re not happy somewhere, move, because it just takes away time from you truly, I think discovering what is it that you really want to do.

Sujani 0:30
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.

Hi, Shantanu. And welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. It’s so lovely to have you here with us. And I can’t wait to get into your public health journey today.

Shantanu 0:55
Thanks, Sujani. Very excited to be on this and happy to share whatever experience I have.

Sujani 1:00
Yeah, from like India to the US to London and you know, your your experience spans multiple different countries, which is super interesting for me, and I’m sure our listeners will be able to gain a lot of great insights from your story. So I know that you have a bachelor’s degree in engineering. So I’m curious to know, when you discovered public health, did you know about this field of public health? Even you know, as you were entering your Bachelor’s education? Or is this something that you discovered much later on? So tell us a bit about your discovery of this field.

Shantanu 1:41
Thanks. That’s a great question to start with. So I think my journey was a little interesting, just in terms of the fact that if you grew up in an Indian household, you probably may be aware of that as well. It’s sort of by de facto, you know, two or three choices are made for you. And you sort of pick from them. And I think engineering was like one of the choices that I had all it was being a doctor. And I actually started with chemical engineering. And I started that off in India. And there was this like twinning program, which was supposed to be two years in India, and then two years in a university abroad. But when I finished my two years in chemical engineering, I realize it’s just incredibly dry. It’s just not for me. I always had sort of this, like deep rooted interest in biology all the way up to high school, my mom actually did undergrad in biology. And I mean, maybe there’s a little bit of the interest came from was from her, but also that I just generally enjoyed that, I did not enjoy math, maybe physics as much. I think when I moved to Milwaukee in Wisconsin, which was supposed to be my third and fourth year of engineering, I completely switched. And I chose something that was sort of at the intersection of medicine, engineering, and biology, which was Biomolecular Engineering. And I think it allowed me to sort of not be restricted to just like core engineering, but it allowed me to draw in from many different fields. And also just keep biology within it, because that’s something that I’ve always been super interested in. But obviously, it wasn’t a super lucrative option, you know, you don’t really consider that as a quote unquote, serious career path. And so I think that’s where sort of my first sort of dip in the pool of maybe health from the side with engineering came in. And that was in the US in Milwaukee, where I started my undergrad, since I switched over, I ended up spending five years, redoing the whole degree, because I just switched from chemical to biomolecular which had nothing to do with each other. So like none of my credits really transferred. It was a difficult choice. But I was happy that I did that. Because in hindsight that now I look at it. I think that was sort of like the first sort of key decision I ever took on my own, which was very important for me, I think, just to have that agency to decide, like, Okay, this is what I want to choose, because like a lot of choices for me were like need growing up. And that was the first time I made a choice for myself. I felt very comfortable in it. And I think to the state that sort of like I think been the starting point for me to get into health. But yeah, that was sort of the starting point of getting into engineering, finishing that up. And then you know, moving back to India, and working in something that has nothing to do with engineering. So that was the start of my job.

Sujani 4:24
Do you remember, I’m sure your mom would come and reflect on her day and if she had kind of studied biology, was she like talking about pure sciences, or did you get many lessons around like public health and kind of like the larger system?

Shantanu 4:42
So she specifically focused on sort of the plant world of botany that’s specifically on with that in and a lot of like our conversations like I always found myself really drawn to like communicable diseases for some reason. And it was- it was kind of like a weird thing for like 15 or 16 year old to be interested in. But like, I think a lot of my teachers specifically, I think teachers that taught biology and then like my mom, they were quite patient with me, like a lot of really sensitive topics, they would also sort of take the time out to like, explain it to me. And I think that is where I mean, you know, I had an interest in it. But it was good that someone actually nurtured it on the side, because you know, you’re sort of going through the motions of the day, you’re like doing everything that needs to be done, like you have these other six subjects that you need to focus on. But that’s the one I really enjoyed. And I think it was just like interested in like communicable diseases, that in general, just sort of like all this piqued my curiosity.

Sujani 5:41
And I noticed that, you know, you started your undergraduate in Milwaukee in 2017. But even before that, I noticed that you had internships or volunteer roles are you did like a summer program at the University of Geneva. And I am noticing that there was always like an element of health kind of sprinkled in some of those experiences. So it sounds like you were curious to follow that interest of yours? Or was it that those type of roles were what just landed on your table?

Shantanu 6:16
Like, in my undergrad, I was working on stem cells, which was like, really interesting for me, because it just felt like this, like, miraculous cure all for everything. And I think from that, like, I was like, okay, like, how does this get applied in real life? Right, like, what happens when it’s outside of the lab? And like, how to actually use this? And I did not find like a lot of answers to that just yet, because there was something very new. So I was like, Okay, let me try it and see what works and what happens with public health in the field. And like, I think some of the experiences that you’re sort of referring to, we did like these public health brigades, which is where a couple of us across different majors we’d get together, they pick a specific country in Central or South America. So the first year, I think it was Honduras, and the second year, it was Nicaragua, where we would go in and, you know, we’d spend a week in the communities and set up these makeshift, like hospitals, or work camps, we would have water brigades where you would sort of dig a trench to bring water safe, clean drinking water into the communities. So I think that was something where I think it was a very formative experience for me, because it was the first time I saw, okay, like, everything is sort of connected. It’s not just about delivering medication to someone, right? Like, if you don’t have clean water to drink, it doesn’t matter, you know, how often or how much medication is available, you’re gonna keep getting sick, sort of like the root cause of public health. I mean, so I started seeing it as like more than just oh, it’s like a doctor sitting there and giving someone writing a prescription off to someone, versus how it’s so completely interlinked. And I think there’s this whole concept of like one health, which is sort of very new now where you’re sort of linking the environment, you’re linking the food that you eat, you’re linking the animals that you live around with your lifestyle, everything together. And that sort of weaves into like, how do you deal with public health for people that was like the first sort of formative years experience for me, and releasing it in the field was really, really helpful. And I do hope that like, for people that are exploring something like this, they do actively seek opportunities to do that early on in their career, because you know, you’re a lot more malleable at that point, you’re gonna absorb a lot more, you’re less jaded, you’re less set in your ways, like, Okay, this is what the world is like, this is how it’s going to be. And maybe the younger you do it, the better because you’re more open to like and solving things.

Sujani 8:37

Shantanu 8:38
And that really helped me at that point.

Sujani 8:40
It’s absolutely true. As you’re kind of doing your biomedical engineering degree at Milwaukee, what did you kind of imagine yourself, like doing like, what was the career that you envisioned for yourself at that point?

Shantanu 8:52
At that point of time, a lot of my thinking was really developing from my classmates. So like the people that were around me pretty much most of the day and the professors that were in school and the focus of the entire school, a lot of it specifically my maths or my undergrad, the focus was, a lot of it was on research because it was a new and upcoming field. So like working as maybe like a clinician or like research scientist in one of these labs that work with maybe stem cells or work with like vaccines. Those are sort of the things that a lot of people aspire to. So it wasn’t like a wider public health thing, but it was like one small subset that people wanted to go into. And like, for me, it was like, Okay, maybe I’ll go work in a lab. Not sure what I’m gonna work on or what specific fields want to be in. But I wanted to work on the research and development side, the research part of it was something that I’m still sort of do it on the policy side of it. But that’s sort of been like something that stuck with me, like research was something that always interested me, and something that sort of came a little more naturally to me. And so that’s the kind of role I envisioned for myself when I was in undergrad.

Sujani 9:58
I think you were saying that but you were thinking of doing that work in the US itself. But then you ended up moving back to India and join Teach for India at that year. Yeah. What happened? Yeah.

Shantanu 10:11
Yeah. I mean, so I did try. I mean, initially, I was, I mean, it was just exhausting, like navigating the immigration system of the US. And then I sort of had to make this decision for myself, I was like, am I going to waste the best years of my life being stuck in sort of like this, you know, cycle, where maybe the next year I’ll have a stable job, maybe I’ll have to go back home because there’s none, or someone’s not going to sponsor me. And I was like, Okay, I’ve just freshly graduated, thankfully, like my parents had, like, paid for my education. So I did not graduate with any debt. So I had the comfort and the privilege to be able to take any job that I wanted, irrespective of maybe how much I paid. But it was also like, important for me to be able to find a job that was basically anything that was not in the for profit sector, because that was something that I wanted to stay away from. Unfortunately, most of the research jobs were in the for profit sector, because they work with like pharmaceutical companies, and you know, the primary target for them is obviously maximizing profits. So that sort of was like the first sort of thought that I had, I think, at that point of time.

Sujani 11:20
And so with that, Teach for India, were you able to kind of like still delve into elements of public health? Or were you even thinking about it? Or did you just kind of immerse yourself in the role that they gave you there?

Shantanu 11:34
No, it was quite interesting, because like, you know, like, the thing that I said before, right, like public health, you think of public health as this thing that you give to people. And you know, it’s like one person, like maybe medical profession doing it. But then like, when you step into a classroom, especially when you step into like a low income government classroom, you start to realize that a lot of the schemes that the government runs, specifically like de-worming schemes, these IFA schemes for folic acid, distribution of sanitary pads, so I was teaching an all girls classroom, and it was like 70 girls in the class. And a lot of these government schemes were delivered through teacher so we were inherently sort of the middle person of being able to transfer these things to them. And it made sense, because I mean, also, like they were in grade 10. So a lot of people were starting to figure out, okay, like, you know, I’m going to start menstruating at some point of time, or like, what is this happening to me? So there were a lot of questions around that. And so it wasn’t just about maybe teaching, it was a lot about also dealing with like people that are teenagers, really, and teenage girls, especially that come from our communities, and how are you able to sort of deal with the other health aspects of it, because if they’re not feeling well, they’re not going to concentrate in class. So a lot of it was really linked. So I think doing these deworming, these IFA tablets, distribution of sanitary pads, a lot of these things, elements came into it. And I think, you know, it was just good to also be able to have that because I felt connected to like, okay, like, I’m still indirectly but unlike working on something that is a smaller part within the larger public health scheme of things, but it was- it was indirectly happening. So it was in a small, smaller measure. But it was going on through the years that I thought.

Sujani 13:19
Yeah, essentially, it’s like a community health worker, right, like your community, are those grade 10 students. Yeah. So going from Teach for India. And there’s about like, four years that go by before you decide to pursue a Master of Public Health degree. So what kind of made you leave Teach for India, and then kind of get involved in these, all these other experiences that you were involved in, and then eventually decide to go back to school for a public health kind of master’s level education.

Shantanu 13:52
I mean, so to each one, it was very formative, right? For me, I was- I was a young professional, it was my first job right outside of college. And it was well, indirectly related to public health, but not nearly completely. And then I realized that I like I really missed the research part of what I had been doing in my undergrad. And that sort of got lost a little bit somewhere. But I also wanted to spend time in the field per se. So I wanted to like be able to a, I think, develop my sort of quantitative skills, because that’s something that seems to be quite highly valued, I think broadly across the policy space. But then also, I saw like my job right after that had to do with just collecting primary data for different evaluations. And these evaluations were across sectors. So they were in health, they were in nutrition. We were in psychology environment. So I really cut across different things. But I do remember there was this one specific project that I worked on. The lead investigator was this really wonderful. I mean, really I consider her- her sort of like a very early mentor for me, she- she was- she is this breast cancer surgeon. She’s from the University of Oxford, and she was leading the study. And it was to do with non communicable diseases in the state of Bihar, which is one of the poorest states in India. Also, the state that I’m from and I was born in, it just was, I think, one of those moments like, you know, when you’re in field, and then you start to see everything sorted, that you’ve like, learned in textbooks are starting to come together. And I think it was we just went around a couple of different villages, you’re collecting data on BMI, the people’s blood pressures, and the dietary habits and things like that. And it was really interesting to me to see that there’s this whole thing that’s to emerge, which was like the double burden, which is where Indians- India is transitioning from, you know, the whole being low income, middle income country, and it’s going through that sort of income transition. But what’s also happening is that while maybe communicable diseases are still around, non communicable diseases are going up, because people’s eating habits are changing, people are moving less, they’re sitting more, they’re smoking more, they’re eating more processed food. And that’s starting to become a problem in the villages because the access is quite poor, especially in Bihar. And for me, it was really interesting to see that we’d measure people’s blood pressures, and they would- we tell them there was high, we report that to the ASHA worker in the village, but they would just like brush it off as oh, it’s just, you know, I get stressed sometimes. So it happens. And so it just like the lack of knowledge, lack of information, but also the fact that they don’t see it as something that’s like happening to them. Because you know, it’s not, it is not that visually prevalently, or it’s not like a communicable disease, where you see things happening, you know, it’s like, no goes on in the inside. And so that was really interesting to me, that was actually one of the things that I still remember to this day that we published that project actually, the paper that’s published now. And it was just incredibly eye opening for me to like to be able to see that it really like I think, kicked off sort of got the juices flowing, and really got me excited, you know, just jumped into the public health field, because I was like, Wow, there’s so much to do in this. It’s so exciting. But there’s also sort of this, like, you feel like you’re doing something good that you’re doing. And that something is that like, it keeps you going maybe even on like, you know, days, when you’re not like that excited to get up and go to work, you’re like No, the work that I’m doing actually matters. So I think that was a very exciting project for me that stuck with me. And then from there, I moved on to this place called Triggerise. It was a Dutch NGO, I worked as a data analyst with them. But the work, I worked there for a short period of time. But it was really interesting, because it was a nudge intervention that we were working on. So it was just like getting women to in tier two and tier three cities in India, to take up more sexual and reproductive health services and products. So getting the ANC checkups done, getting access to contraception, and then we would sort of incentivize them every time they would avail one of these services. So it was really interesting, because I’d read about nudge interventions, right, but to see it happen in real life, every time someone’s picking a service, they, you know, it’s sort of like the cashback that you get. And then that account, they can cash out that amount at the end of the month. And they can start to buy other services, maybe like a you know, a beauty parlor service or like, some groceries for the house and things like that. So to see that really that nudge intervention happened in like real life, something I’d only read about in books was like, incredibly exciting to like, see, okay, this is how it works. This is how we tweak it. This is you know, this is how you there’s red flags and how people can maybe game the system as well. So just to be figuring out like the nuts and bolts of it was really exciting to me, it was a short stint about three, three and a half months. But it was quite exciting to do that. And then finally, I think where I probably will the longest and I think I’m hoping to actually probably just go back to the same workplace was Oxford policy management, but I worked in New Delhi for about two and a half years. That was- It just I completely that was the point I realize, okay, I’m like completely going to immerse myself in, so in November 2019, I joined also policy management. The only issue was about four months later the lockdown started. And so a large part of my experience in Oxford policy management was a lot of it was virtual, because we are in office quite a bit. But it was really interesting because here I was working on like health system strengthening, funnily enough, the project that I worked on was in Bihar again. So it looks like the state men keeps finding me in different ways. And we working on health system standing there. So that was a lot more macro level project where you’re working with bureaucrats, you’re working with health facilities, you’re working with people that run these facilities, to help them run these better, to maybe be able to, you know report stock outs or medication, to maybe be able to handle any day to day issues. We all use MIS systems. So it was really interesting to be able to do that. And I really engaged on that project, I think one thing that’s really important is to maybe like, if you find something that you like, especially in public health, because it’s such a broad field, right, there’s so much you can do about it, if you like, one specific thing that you really, really enjoy, try to get yourself as involved as you can in that can and in many different aspects. So I worked across maybe like three or four different types of studies, but it was all within that one single project. So I really sort of immerse myself in that. And it was really interesting, because, you know, you get to see all these aspects of like, okay, you know, people are working on, how do you re-stock medication atlases? How do you get the doctors and supervisors to show up? How do you get people to report grievances and, you know, feel safe in being able to do that. So I mean, it was really exciting to be able to do that, specifically, in Bihar, where there’s a lot of work happening, a lot of different donors have put in a lot of money to like help support standing the systems out there. And that’s something also that I’ve seen across like, now more that I see in London, that a lot of the money is based in the north, and the work always tends to happen on the south. So a lot of decisions get made over there. And just sort of like implemented, obviously, people are trying to move away from that. So even like with the donors, as we worked in Oxford policy management within Bihar, they did look for- they asked for feedback, they wanted to know what’s working, what else is there that we can find, or we can look into, it was a really exciting and interesting time for me, obviously, all of this was happening in the background of the COVID pandemic. So they were, were shot. But what became clearly apparent to the government and a lot of different people is that you need public health and- and the fact is that these things, you know, all these reports, saying that things are gonna become more frequent. Public health had been relegated to this, like background science, which was like the middle childhood hierarchy of medicine. And then suddenly, it was- it came to the forefront of like, okay, like, how do we deal with a raging pandemic, right, and then that made me like, I always thought there was value in what I was doing. But that made it even more important for me, because I could see that people needed more professionals that there weren’t enough people that could maybe handle something like this in India. So I think that like what even more excited to like, just continue as I- Okay, I feel like I’m on the right track, like my interest is there, but it’s also matching up with like opportunities now that I’ll be able to get because people are seeing the value and having public health professionals in this space. So I think that what we continue to get me really excited, I thought about applying in 2021. And then I decided not to because the pandemic was still raging, I was just, you know, not in a good mental space, I think with everything happening around the world, and you know, in the country and with family. So I decided to push it by. And I think, you know, I always believe that everything happens for a reason. And I think the reason was that I just needed another year to just work more clearly deepen my understanding of you know, what public health means, what it means for me, and what is it that I’m really interested in? And I do find that- that extra year that I spent really working in crafting out, what is it that I’m interested in, helped me write more clear essays helped me write mature applications, because I had this clarity that I probably didn’t have about two or three years ago, you know, it was just an idea or something I wanted to do it crystallized around, you know, okay, now, this is actually what I want to do. And this is the subset of public health that I’m really interested in. So it really helped me think and reflect. But it also gave me clarity, something I didn’t have.

Sujani 23:40
Yeah, I think that’s so critical. Because when you come out of undergrad, and like I did this and when I reflect on it, in hindsight, I, I know that my master’s experience could have been better, more enriching, if I had had more years of experience just to kind of like understand Public Health from like, an applied perspective. And the four years that you took to kind of really discover what this field meant for you, and then to go sit in a classroom to then, you know, pull in all of those experiences that you’ve had against that theory makes that program so much better, and makes you a much better public health practitioner as well.

Shantanu 24:23
Yeah, no, definitely. And I think those were the times that undergrad is not really a time when most people are really aware of what they’re gonna do. For some people, they’re very lucky, have that clarity at 1718 years of age, but I didn’t have that I feel like only when I started working, and you know, testing out different things. I think that’s what it was right? Like, I decided to not just stick to one thing I moved across jobs relatively frequently in the five years that I work, but that was only because I was like, okay, like this is not giving me what I need. Like I’m in this early part, early phase, a fun time. And like a lot of my managers that is for two after that some people has been like quite pivotal, guiding me and helping me out to show me that in like, early years of your career, if you feel like it’s not giving you what you need, it’s okay to like, take a step back. And it’s okay to let ambition out, you don’t have to stick it out there because it’s not like time is running out. But like, you know, it’s such a formative experience for you when you just start working initially. But if you’re not happy somewhere, because it just takes away time from you truly, I think discovering what is it that you really want to do.

Sujani 25:30
I’m sure, like, a lot of people’s questions are, how do I even get work experience to build that experience for myself out of undergrad, for example. And for you, you came with an engineering degree, and then you go and work for Teach for India. But you were able to land that role with outlining the ad doing some qualitative research and so how did you convince the employer that, you know, you can actually do this field work in public health research coming from, like a background with engineering and teaching for India? Like, how did you communicate what you are capable of doing to land a role like that? And like, what are some tips that people can take away when they are at that point in their life where they’re like, Okay, you’ve convinced me that I need to go and get some work experience. But how do I do that if I don’t have any true experience to show that I can do this work?

Shantanu 26:25
Right. So I think two specific tips. The first one is networking, but genuine networking, like you don’t just work with people, just because you think someone’s important enough that you shouldn’t go speak to them. And then I think the second thing was, whatever job you’ve been given, you want to do it? Well, because someone’s watching at any given time. And you don’t know when someone’s looking, and you know, they see you doing something well, and they will be like, okay, great, I have a role. Maybe this person, they know they’re doing something different now, but I can see that they doing this really well. Maybe they will be good for this role as well. So funnily enough, the first day actually, I was interning, when I was also interning, I was working with this thing called as Innovative, which is where all these people are these fellows basically, that finished their program, if they want to become entrepreneurs, and they want to open up their own social nonprofit in the education sector, and my job was to help find ways and mentors for them. And funnily enough, one of the mentors on that was paid now, who is the founder of Outline India, and sort of I spoke to her I actually, I interviewed with her for a role. I couldn’t take it at that point of time, unfortunately. But then I remembered that hey like, you know, she also started her own business on her own, she was also she brings color. And she’s started her business, sort of from the ground up. And it was really interesting. Because as I thought that okay, maybe this is a great person to speak to also, there’s usually this gender imbalance in the entrepreneurship space in India specifically. And I was like, female founders are rare, it’s getting better. But she, you know, she was navigating this space that was usually very heavily like meal LED. And it was, I think, good to be able to bring that perspective as well, for the people that were being incubated to run their own organizations. And then so we invited her. And through that course, we were just talking and, you know, we sort of built a genuine relationship, and it wasn’t like forced or anything, it was just that, I think what’s important is you have to when you network, right, like, a lot of people will just go around handing business cards. And that can be very disingenuous, maybe that’s how I perceive it, that it’s just that then it just becomes a numbers game, right? Like how many people have your card, versus like, Okay, pick one or two people that you really appreciate their work that you sort of maybe look up to, right, and then you spend time and really getting to know them the work that they do, what they’re interested in, and just do it without the expectation that they will give you something in return. Because usually, if you do build a genuine relationship, and if your skills are a match for what they’re looking for, they would themselves be really interested, you know, you’d rather have someone that you build relationships with, know a little bit and then hire them, versus maybe just someone you know, someone that’s just like a CV on there. So networking really, really matters when genuine networking matters a lot more. It’s about like how you make the other person feel when you’re interacting with them. So if there’s a way to reduce down maybe the transaction side of it, that’s what I found to be really helpful for me. And so I think I was- I was working to Teach for India. And towards the end, I just reached out to her as like, hey, like, you know, I’m thinking about like, maybe coming and working here. The work is really interesting. It’s finally data collection, I’ll get to travel around, explore things, and really interact with the data, see how it gets collected on feed. And she was very interested in that. And she was like, hey, like, no, that’s great. Like, I’ve seen your work. It’s exciting. We’d love to have you maybe for a project. So I came in for one project. And I just worked on that project. We went to childcare and I think- It was to reduce basically increase kids going to school and moving them out of basically being the mining agents in Tarkin. So a lot of kids are involved, quite unnecessarily get involved in the mining, because of the levels of poverty there, but one of these interventions that you’re working on over there. And then so I went there worked on that intervention, collected data for it, they liked my work. And then so when I came back within like a week, sort of highlighted informal interview, and then they said that they’ll be, it’d be really interesting to maybe have me on board. And so that’s how, like I sort of bought in, the good part was, you have a little bit of sense of the organization before you come in, if you have spoken to the founder before, if you’ve interacted with them in informal spaces. And so I think that was really interesting, exciting for me, and I’ve always found like going into a place, knowing some of the people even before you join the place is always helpful. It just gives you a nice smooth start. But it also helps you develop like a good working relationship with your colleagues. And for me, it’s always been important that honestly, 80% of my experience comes from the people that I work with, and 20% is the actual work that I do. And for me, it’s quite important to have good people around me. But for you to be able to have good people around, you also need to like attract the same thing. So I think genuinely networking with people, always always comes in handy. But just do it without the expectation that you’re gonna get something back. If it works out, you probably will. But that shouldn’t be the primary goal. And then maybe the second thing I would say, was really being able to do something really, really well. Like, I mean, I had some very simple tasks when I was, you know, working at each vendetti, especially the internship, where I was like, I just have to set up like the auditorium really nicely, right, I had to like, make sure all the panelists knew where they had to go, when they had to come, write off these one pagers about the schedule and stuff like that these were relatively simpler tasks. But I made sure that I did them really, really well. So much so that they leave, they just wanted me to do it the next time, and they just gave the whole thing to me. So I was really happy about that. And that was sort of like a natural fit for me, because I generally in life I enjoy like planning things and like planning, whatever it is, right? So I just put that to this exact task that I was given. And so it was really interesting, it was an exciting. So that was really being able to do the small tasks that were given to me really well. And then, you know, I did see that a lot of people that I was working around, like we’re noticing, and they were coming up to me, and they were saying, oh you did a great job with this thing. It was set up so nicely, it was very smooth. And so I was like, Okay, well, this is a skill that people value, actually. And these are like people, entrepreneurs, right, they were starting their own organization. So being able to get that feedback from them, like informal feedback was really helpful, because I was like, okay, so this is something that people value in our future employee. So being able to sort of just have that mental checklist of like, okay, these are really the skills that I should work a little bit harder. And like, Oh, this is something that I’m missing, you know, someone was, maybe they gave me feedback on like, oh, this could have been a little bit better. So I think just being able to do that, and to you know, be able to take feedback without feeling being defensive. It used to happen to me a lot initially, because everyone says you should be able to take constructive criticism, but it’s not that easy. Like, you know, you always feel like it’s a commentary on your work and what you’re doing. So it feels very personal. But in the long run, that really helps, especially when you’re like building just building your early career. Obviously, not everyone is going to have your best interests at heart, right. So you also have to be careful about who you take feedback from. And so just being able to weed that out and being able to find the right people, right, and they might be direct with you. But it’s important to be able to take that in, and then you choose right what you want to keep, what you want to throw away. But just we will take that without feeling personally effected, I think was also quite important for me to I had to unlearn that actually to like not feel offended. And to just take it for what it is. It’s just someone telling me that, okay, your work would be a little bit better. But also, it’s important to remember your own self worth, because there’s a fine line between that right, like at one point in time, you might just end up taking so much feedback that you lose track of like, okay, this is how I want to do things. So I think that whole like early career journey, especially in a field like public health, right, which is still kind of new and upcoming. It’s not like engineering or medicine, right, which has been done for like, you know, 360 years now, especially in India. It’s something that’s new and upcoming so we need to find the right mentors. I think it’s important very key and I was very lucky to have found those people early on that were in my corner and were like helping me navigate the space. And I think that was really helpful for me in the long run.

Sujani 34:39
Thank you for sharing that experience you had of how you like met somebody in a previous role and your reputation kind of you know, spoke for itself when you went to this individual and kind of shared a little bit about what you’d like to get involved in that was like an easy yes for them automatically was able to kind of bring you on board and I think that’s, it’s key because like you said, you want to be genuinely curious, genuinely kind to everyone you meet, regardless of whether they’re going to give you a job or not.

Shantanu 35:10

Sujani 35:11
And then like, you really never know who’s watching you. And regardless of if you’re in a public health role right now or not network with people around you speak to the people that you- that you meet, go out of your way to do excellent work, because people are going to see that they’re going to recognize it. And you never know when you’re going to cross paths again.

Shantanu 35:30
Right, right. No, well, thank you.

Sujani 35:35
That’s like, my number one, career advice hands down, is meet as many people as you can. And it’s not just to help you find the next job or a job in the future, because I’ve benefited so much from mentors and people and peers, even just when you’re like, at a crossroads and need to make a decision about your career, right? Like, you can lean on these individuals, or you need to talk through some problems at work, the people are the ones that are gonna help you out, like you said, Shantanu, like 80%, of what you’re getting out of all these opportunities are from the people versus the work itself.

Shantanu 36:12
Yeah, and it’s very, I think, like the thing that you touched on about the mentors, right, like, that’s, that’s sort of maybe like a third piece, but probably like, one piece that will like run with you across for your entirety of your life is having good mentors, I mean, the same managers, my ex managers that I- from Oxford policy management, I’m still talking to them. And I love working there so much that like I spoke to them. And they also like excited about, you know, exploring opportunities to maybe come back and rejoin in a different role. So I think it was just if you have good mentors, if you have people that genuinely care about you, outside of what you can give them and what you can get from them, I think that really, really helps like your relationship with eventually transition from being something that’s very formal within the workspace to also informal, so then your colleagues, but also friends, right, so it sort of, obviously becomes better. And it’s just easier, I think, than to come to them with problems, because sometimes the problems are not immediately. A lot of the times, it’s mostly people problems, like I mean, most managers spend like a vast majority of the time resolving conflicts between people, like, that’s literally what happens, I think in larger spaces, but we will have then a manager, if you’re having an issue that like sits down with you explains things to you, and you know, for you to even feel comfortable enough to share with them that you’re facing an issue, you know, without having a backlash or anything like that. I think that’s very important. So identifying someone that’s like a safe space for you. And building on that relationship, like it’s, I mean, it’s good for your job, it’s also good for your mental health, it just overall broadly keeps you happy, I guess, in your work, you know, that whole work life balance that we can do. Because if you’re happy at work, you’re going to be happy at home, and vice versa. So the thing, it’s very important. So people do that, especially in upcoming field, like public health, where, you know, a lot of things are not really set in stone. There’s not a lot of structures just yet. And people come in from all sorts of backgrounds, right? Like my managers were like journalists, and some like were finance professionals. So people come from all sorts of backgrounds, and in sort of conversion to public health, just with the interest of wanting to be there. So the most people that I’ve met in public health are there because they want to be there. They’re not there because they’ve been forced to, or they’re trying to pay off a loan or something like that. Right? So that is something that’s really come across with a lot of people that I’ve met.

Sujani 38:36
Now it’s- it’s right on point. So today, you’re at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, England, working on your Master’s of Public Health degree, and you’re also a Chevening scholar or cheavening, we were trying to figure out how to pronounce that. But I’m gonna go with Chevening scholar. And as I understand it, it was like established in the 80s. And it’s essentially, you know, selecting individuals, outstanding individuals who have leadership potential from around the world to then like, bring them to study at universities in the UK, and you are one of these individuals. So yeah, could you tell us a little bit about that? And we can wrap our conversation today with this piece?

Shantanu 39:20
Yeah. So I think it was very exciting. I mean, it was sort of like the dream for me. Because you- when you apply to things like these that are incredibly competitive, you wonder like, what kind of people get it right in the first place. I was like, I don’t think I’m like, you know, the things that they write in the days I don’t think I’m any of these things like I’m just a normal guy trying to get funding for my education, right? And something that I’m really interested in. The thing was that a lot of people that worked with each vendor had also been juggling scholars or Commonwealth scholars. So a lot of people did manage to get that scholarship straight out of the fellowship. There was that reference point for me where I was like, okay, there are some people around and I sort of- You know, I knew I knew a little bit about them the work that they’ve done. So I was like, Okay, maybe this is achievable, right? So then first step was always you start talking to people and figuring out, okay, like, why did you decide to do go for this? How was the process and everything else? I think what was really good for me and interesting for me was that it was fully funded. So I haven’t had to spend a penny, like everything was taken care of, from the moment, I got onto the flight to like my return flight, that’s everything’s like booked by them. So I think that’s what I wanted. I was like, Okay, I do not want to graduate with debt, because I don’t know, like, the pay can be quite variable in public health in India specifically. So I was like, okay, like, so this is a chance I could definitely take I mean, you know, it’s free to apply, right? So I was like, Okay, I’m just, it’s not going to cost me anything to apply to this, I’m just going to try it for it. And then I worked on the applications, it was a long one year process, it was kind of, I think, one of the most stressful years of my life. Because every day, it’s like a very long process where they go through like three or four stages. And you know, you do stuff, you submit it, and then there’s just like, waiting. So you know, one day, there’s gonna be email in your inbox, and then everything’s gonna change after that. So I think it was like a long process. But it was good, because it really made me reflect on my public health journey. When I was writing those essays, they were like four or 500 word essays, right. So I had to check on that leadership management, different things, like my future plans, you know, when you start working, and then you just like working on the rest of it. So you’re just like getting from one project to the other, you don’t have time to sit and reflect, okay, like, I’ve actually come this far like these all the experiences I had, right? So scholarship gave me the time to just sit down really reflect on all the things that I’d done, and also what I want for myself in the future, what are the things that were still pending for me, you know, it was good, because I was able to put down paper for me, like from the LGBT+ community, so me that’s important, like, public health services become more inclusive. So people from the community in India, specifically, like my thesis, even that I’m working on right now focuses on the transgender sex workers community in India. And then for me, like to be able to drive those essays out, I think it was sort of cathartic hormones, because I really got to sit and reflect on okay, this is where my journey started. And now, this is what I want in the future. But I would also suggest people to not do what I did, which was I did not share my essay with anyone, I wrote it, I was like, no one knows my story. So it’s mine to write. So I just said, I’m not going to get any feedback on it, I’m just going to submit it. And I just submitted and I forced myself to forget about the fact that I submit, because that’s what people have told me that you just need to forget that you’ve submitted an application, you’re gonna go crazy thinking about it. So I submitted and I just ran back to work. And I was like, Okay, I’m gonna get back into my normal routine of things. Yeah. And then one after the other, the stages are cheering up. And you know, you don’t believe it until it happens. And I think like, one year ago, sometime in July, I think, like, the email landed up in my inbox, and I think it was like, it was incredible, because I was like, Oh, my gosh, it’s finally happening, you know, this one year’s worth of wait. And that was, like, exciting and interesting. But it was also very stressful journey. And I think being able to have mentors, being able to have people that supported me. And also knowing that, you know, even if it doesn’t work out, I still have a job, I can still continue being here, I can maybe apply next year, or maybe a different path. But I think that was what kept me grounded from going insane, I think waiting the whole year. And then that worked out. And then the scholarship itself, like there’s a lot of support around the scholarship, it’s incredibly transparent. There’s a lot of people that have gotten through, and alumni are super helpful, like anyone that you reach out to which evening on LinkedIn, and they have shinning on LinkedIn, and they will help you out. I’ve had some people reach out to me after that, and I’d be more than happy to like, you know, share whatever support I could with them. So I think that was something really good, really supportive, but also then it builds a larger network, right? Like, they had like 65,000 people that applied the other night, and they chose like 1500. So I was like, Okay, I’m like part of this group now. And then every year is a new group. So a whole new group has already been chosen for next year, I just finished that to a whole new set of chosen chevening posts. And then like your network, obviously only increases with that was I have access to this chevening network, which is massive, right? It’s across continents. It’s across countries as across organizations. And then I have access to this London School of Hygiene network, which is like I mean, the current president who like graduated from here, that’s one of the selling points as well that like hey look like this is a possibility like if you graduate from here, so it was so then you have access to these networks, right. So then you become part of these multiple networks and at some point of time, they will start to overlap or intersect will not be- Public health is not a massively big space. Mostly most people get placed within the country you will end up knowing who the big players are who’s doing what. Yeah, it’s been really good backbase to be able to have now access to this network that I can really tap into as in when I need it. But also, it’s something you can bring back to your employer, right? Like you have access to this great big network next time you need consultants for this or you want to-

Sujani 45:13

Shantanu 45:14
You’re looking for some in country office for a specific project that you don’t have a footprint in yet. You can tap into this network. And they do actively encourage, like networking. They create these events where we go in and we talk to scholars from across the world. And it’s quite incredible. Actually, I don’t think I’ve been part of something more global than that. It’s definitely an incredible experience.

Sujani 45:36
That’s incredible. Congratulations again, Shantanu. I know you’ve been in the program and scholar for just about a year now. And I’m sure there’s more exciting stuff ahead for you. And I just want to say thank you for coming on the podcast, sharing your story with us. And then also, we’re excited to see what you’re going to do out in the world after this.

Shantanu 45:57
Great, thank you so much. Thank you for having me. I hope this helps someone that’s been confused as I was when I started with all this. And I hope it gets them to get where they need to be a little faster than I did. Thank you for having me.

Sujani 46:12
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 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 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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