Episode 22_ Inspired by the blog series_ What I wish I knew before I started my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, with Sujani Siva

Inspired by the blog series: What I wish I knew before I started my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree

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Show Notes

In this episode, Sujani talks about MPH (Master of Public Health) program prep! Applications for this graduate program are often due at the end of the year or early the following year. As students gear up to apply for the MPH degree of their dreams, Sujani shares two tips for those prepping for the MPH program, inspired by a blog post that we published in early 2019.

You’ll Learn

Today’s Guest

Sujani Sivanantharajah

After guiding a number of public health students and new grads since 2013, Sujani created PH SPOT to reach, inspire and support public health professionals. Sujani enjoys seeing people around her grow and become the best version of themselves! She is obsessed with elevating the people behind public health.


Other PH SPOT resources:

Episode Transcript

Sujani 0:02
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.

Sujani 0:19
Hey, what’s up everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. And today, I’m talking about mph degrees, which is short for yep, you guessed it, the Master of Public Health degree.

Sujani 0:47
Applications for this graduate degree are typically due at the end of the year, or early the following year. So I thought as students gear up to apply for the MPH program of their dreams, I’d share a few thoughts inspired by a blog post that we published in early 2019. So let me tell you about this blog post and how it came to be. As I reflected on my journey into my MPH degree. I kept asking myself, “What did I wish I knew before I started my MPH degree?”, and then during it, and then after I finished it, and I wondered how others would answer these questions. So at the beginning of 2019, in January, I posed this question to the PH SPOT community, collected their thoughts, and then published a three part blog series. And I’ll be sure to link this up in the show notes page. So I thought for this episode, I wanted to focus on the first part of the series, “What I wish I knew before I started my MPH degree”, not only will I share my thoughts, but also incorporate the thoughts of our peers that we collected in this blog post. So in general, I felt that there were two big themes that emerged when I reflected on this question for myself. And so they were, one, bring real world experience into the classroom. And two, mindset is everything. So if you’ve read any of my blog posts, or listened to some of my podcasts, you know that I completed my undergraduate degree in 2011, at the University of Toronto, and then went on to complete a master’s program at the University of Saskatchewan. Both of these are in Canada. And at the time, when I was beginning my master’s program, I had some work experience. And this was mostly in a volunteer capacity. And now that I’ve been working full time in public health for about over seven years, I often wish that I could go back to my MPH class with this experience. Because I’ll think about the assignments or the conversations we would have within the classroom, and wonder if I could have gained more from the classroom and the degree with my seven years of career experience. So here’s your first tip: Having real world public health experience will make your classroom experience much more valuable. And here’s how you can do that. If you haven’t had a chance to secure good quality, real world public health experience, one way of getting around this is jumping in and finding that public health work experience while you are pursuing your degree. So when I was pursuing my degree, I reached out to professors and secured three casual research positions to work on, in addition to my coursework, and these research projects involve the community. And so I felt that I could take this experience and bring it back into the classroom. When I learned new concepts. As one PH SPOT member said in the survey, go in with the mindset that you should not only learn the theory in the classroom, and complete assignments, you should also use the opportunity to gain valuable experience. So try reaching out to your professors or even other departments to see if there are research projects you can be a part of, if that’s not working, reach out to community organizations and offer your time. This will not only give you the best experience during your program, but it will prepare you once you graduate. So there’s two benefits, right? So with the experience, your classroom experience becomes a lot more enriched, but you also end up preparing yourself for graduation and life after that.

Sujani 4:33
So that’s tip number one. Let’s move on to tip number two, mindset. So I mentioned mindset just earlier and expectations. This was a big one for me, and you’ll see that it was also a big one for others. In hindsight, when I think back to the time that I applied to my MPH degree, I did not have a clear understanding of public health. This could have been partially because of my lack of real world experience, and partially because I didn’t take the time to think about what the program meant and the expectations I had for myself over the two years. Now that I sit and reflect almost nine years after the first semester of my MPH program, I wonder if my mindset would have been different had I taken the time to understand public health, and what it meant for me before entering the program. And so the second advice comes here, have clear expectations for the degree and a mindset that reflects it. And so here’s what some of your peers had to say around tip number two, “I wish I knew that this degree and career direction isn’t about the money. If that’s a major concern for you, perhaps this isn’t the best degree for you to pursue.”, “I wish I knew that I’d always be learning and that there are many more aspects of public health that are interesting and compelling than I thought when I had first started the program.” On a similar note, here’s something someone had shared, “I deferred my admission a year. And that created an opportunity for me to reflect and to think more strategically about what I wanted to get out of my MPH, even though I love learning content. Looking ahead, and thinking ahead on what would be best for my career, I realized I should focus on gaining portable skills that I could apply across industries and fields, that has been incredibly useful.” And so just to reiterate, tip number two, reflections and setting clear expectations for any activity that you do is quite important. But I think you know, especially important when you are committing to a number of years, with a graduate program that’s ultimately going to help you set up the path for your career. So that was tip number two. And just a reminder about tip number one, which was bringing real world public health experience into the classroom so that your classroom experience is enriched.And so with that,

Sujani 7:26
I want to encourage you to check out the three part blog series as you prepare your applications for the Master of Public Health Program. And I want to wish you the best of luck as you spend the next few weeks gathering all of the important documents and putting your package together and hitting that submit button. And I also want to encourage you to check out our resource page on phspot.ca. You will find a number of tools that will help you with the application process. We have a list of MPH programs in Canada that you can explore. We have various other tools that could help you with your application like how do you reach out to your references, for example. And then in the next little while, we should also be updating our resource page with a guide to help you prepare your intent letter. So make sure to check back for that additional resource as well. And I want to say that the blog post and this podcast episode is just the start of many conversations that I hope we can have around this topic of how do you best prepare for a master of public health programs. So I hope we can keep this conversation going in the comment section of the blog post. And if you’ve already completed your MPH degree and you were just curious about this episode, we’d love to hear from you the comments section and I’m sure your peers would also like to hear from you and so please do share your thoughts there and if you are just applying to your MPH program, let us know if there are any thoughts that came to mind when you read this blog post. And as usual, if you want any of the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pHspot.ca/podcast. And we will have everything there for you. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


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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