London Dreams (part 1)

My journey into public health, the tips I gathered along the way, and reflections I’ve made

I hail from a middle-class family from the central suburbs near Mumbai, India. I had a normal education life – local schooling and college in Mumbai, and post-graduation from Pune University. I always wanted to be a Neurosurgeon but alas! I had no luck with the medical entrance exam so I couldn’t land myself up in clinical medicine. However, I always wanted to pursue a career related to the medical field, hence I decided to pursue an MSc in Health Sciences in 2010. I felt that I was made for Ph.D. in molecular biology but I don’t know why, I was not able to confine myself within four walls for hours with microbes and proteins! I loved to interact with people, and little did I know that I was going to fall in love with ‘implementation’.

During my graduation days, I was highly active in extra-curricular activities – student council, National Service Scheme (N.S.S.), which helped me in becoming a part of an event organizing team as well as a reader and writer for the visually and physically impaired students. That was my 1st tête-à-tête with social work; and I was fortunate that I was able to understand it.

During my post-graduation days, I was also able to learn more from my peers, most of whom were medical doctors coming from various parts of Maharashtra’s clinical and community medical practices.

Tip: Carry a small diary with you everywhere you go. Try to make a note or a mind map of the incidences that you felt you are inspired by or made an impact on you. Trust me, it doesn’t make sense at the time, but with due course, when you reflect on the experiences, it helps you to connect with your inner calling.

After my post-graduation, I was expected to join a pharmaceutical company. Instead, I took a decision of joining a non-profit public health organization to work on an evaluation project in the urban slums of Mumbai and Nagpur. I should give credit to my family for the support, as joining an NGO in local context is looked down upon and not considered a great, well-paying, ‘stable’ career, or “something” a person does when s/he or them having a loads of money, This is where I was able to put the concepts I had learned, into designing an evaluation. This is where I learned that Public Health and Education go hand-in-hand, and as a result, took up Teach For India (TFI). I taught in a low-income school as a full-time Fellow and did community engagement projects with other TFI Fellows. This is also where I realized that a school teacher was actually a leader in society and the work they do needs to be valued more.

During this period, I was involved in volunteering with TEDx, Wikipedia, and INK Talks in various capacities, and working with a U.S. based non-profit, Bookwallah, in their operations department to set up libraries in Pune.

Tip: Networking helps let you interact with diverse set of individuals, and allows you to know with whom you should and should NOT invest your time in the future.

Having said all of this, through the various interactions I had with many professionals, I became fascinated by the concept of Global-to-Local and knowledge-to-implementation, so met Sameer Kamat, the founder of Crystalball, to help me think about career prospects while I thought about furthering my education in a Master’s/ Ph.D. program.

Reflections I’ve had at this point of my journey:

  1. Be rational and practical when you listen to your heart because emotions can take over logic. Try to take the brain with the heart every time.
  2. Scholarships and being part of a community of Alumnus from my school were a few of the most important aspects.
  3. The location of your Master’s program matters a lot, and it can be of great help to give you access to internships, career fairs, and different organization’s offices.
  4. The amount of time it will take for you to pay back tuition fee (any loan you may have gotten) and expenses incurred throughout your studies with the jobs you take up post-graduation should be well thought!
  5. The program and the faculty you choose should cater to your interest. Do not blindly follow the ‘herd mentality’ and attend a school or program everyone is doing.

This concludes part 1 of my journey – stay tuned for the rest!

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