Should I pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree?, with Elizabeth Loftus

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Show Notes

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Elizabeth Loftus to discuss Elizabeth’s options for her potential career in public health.  Elizabeth holds a BA in Health Studies and through this conversation, Sujani answers Elizabeth’s questions about the field of public health. 

 

You’ll Learn

  • What drew Sujani to pursuing a Master’s in Public Health (MPH) over a Master of Science degree
  • Sujani’s advice for people who are equally interested in both research and practice in the field of public health
  • If Sujani could do her MPH again, what would she do differently?
  • What advice Sujani has for students who are afraid of making the “wrong choice” for their graduate programs
  • Is an MPH degree a good fit for people who have a background in public?
  • More on the financial reality of pursuing a career in public health
  • If pursuing an MPH is the right fit for you
 

Today’s Guest

Elizabeth Loftus

Elizabeth Loftus currently works at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto as an Administrative Assistant for the Centre for Global Health and Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases. She holds an BA in Health Studies from the University of Toronto (2019). As a student, she was involved in a number of student-led public health publications and organizations, and worked as a Research Assistant at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, St. Michael’s Hospital, assisting with research on the health of individuals experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and mental health conditions. Elizabeth is interested in pursuing work and research in the areas of sustainability, women’s health, chronic diseases, mental health, and social policy, at both local and global levels.

Resources

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Episode Transcript

Elizabeth 0:00
I am lucky in that my job since graduating undergrad has been still within kind of an academic setting. So I get to see so many people who, you know, are faculty who are, you know, out working in the field or positions or have so many different jobs but then still have that, you know, academic appointment where they’re getting to do. They have kind of those dual like practicing research and

Sujani 0:23
Yeah.

Elizabeth 0:23
You know, I think there’s- there’s always like that it’s important to have the relationship between the two because if your research to be representative, I guess of what- what’s actually going on in public health.

Sujani 0:36
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.

Hey, 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.

I am super excited to welcome you to this episode because it’s set up a little bit differently and I hope I will- it will be the beginning of many other similar episodes. So I often get asked by the PH SPOT community members for a chat from time to time, and these chats could be to work out a crossroad that they may be facing with their careers. And if I have the time, I will often say yes or guide them to some incredible guest posts on our blog, or podcast episode to help out community members with their career questions. When Elizabeth Loftus reached out to me, I had this great idea of bringing in our listeners on the conversation that Elizabeth and I would have. So I asked her if she would be interested in hitting record for this podcast episode. And without hesitation, Elizabeth agreed to do this. So first off, thank you to Elizabeth for agreeing to jump on this podcast episode to let others, especially her peers, listen in on the questions that she had about her own personal career. And so to tell you a little bit about Elizabeth and how she discovered PH SPOT, it was really during her undergrad degree. And she’s been a member of our community ever since she graduated from the University of Toronto’s Health Studies Specialist Program in 2019. And then has decided to work for a couple of years before going into a master’s program. And at the time of recording this episode, which was in spring of 2021, Elizabeth was in the exploration phase of deciding what she’d like to do. And by extension, what master’s program would be the best fit for her. And so on this episode, we talk through a few questions she has for me around the all encompassing question of, “Should I pursue an MPH degree?”. And so before I play our conversation, I do want to mention that if you’re interested in a similar conversation like Elizabeth with me, where you and I speak through a career question you have, please do reach out. And let us know at hello@pHspot.ca. And we’ll be sure to schedule us in and do something similar for your peers to listen in. And so without further ado, here’s our chat.

Hi, Elizabeth, thank you so much for joining me on the PH SPOT podcast. And welcome.

Elizabeth 3:43
Hi, Sujani Thank you so much for, yeah, for having me. It’s an honor to be here.

Sujani 3:47
Yeah. And I think as we were chatting about this episode, and right before we started, this is kind of the first time I do kind of a career chat with someone who’s trying to, you know, pursue a journey within public health. So this will be exciting. And we thought, instead of just the two of us chatting, it’d be nice to jump on a podcast recorded for other, you know, early professionals to also sit in and listen in to some of the great questions that you had about pursuing your career in public health.

Elizabeth 4:22
Yeah, and I, you know, I’ve seen so many of PH SPOT articles throughout the past, you know, couple of years about this kind of subject area, and I think it’s, you know, it’s exciting, or I would be interested personally, to hear other people’s, you know, stories about this area. So yeah.

Sujani 4:38
Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s been the best part about our blog, especially from the early days is that it’s been community generated. So a lot of the content, a lot of the advice and tips and just reflections about people’s careers have come from our own peers, which I think is the best way to learn.

Elizabeth 4:56
I agree.

Sujani 4:58
Awesome, so maybe we’ll get started. with people just getting to know you a little bit better. So, you know, I know a little bit about your background, but why don’t you tell us a little bit about just the educational journey you’ve taken and the current place that you’re at in your career?

Elizabeth 5:15
Sure. So my name is Elizabeth Loftus, I usually go by Liz, I’m 24 years old, soon to be 25, which is crazy. And from Markham, Ontario. So in terms of my educational history, as I had mentioned to you, just before we hopped on, I started off at the University of Western Ontario, in their studying linguistics. And then I decided to take a year off after I decided that that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do. And I ended up transferring to the University of Toronto, at their downtown campus and happily found the Health Studies Program, which I believe you also have a background in. And yeah, so that was a Bachelor of Arts program. So it was more social science focused. So there was, you know, some statistics and epidemiology, but it was mostly focused on like, the social determinants of health and health policy. Yeah. And so I graduated in 2019 in November, so got a bit lucky. Because I know that was the last in person convocation before- Before COVID-19. So-

Sujani 6:26
Yeah.

Elizabeth 6:27

  • yeah, I feel lucky about that. And ever since I started to work in my current job as an administrative assistant at the Center for Global Health and the Center for vaccine preventable diseases at the Dallana School of Public Health at U of T. So I started there in July of 2019. And, and have been there since. Yeah. So that’s a bit of my background.

Sujani 6:52
Quite the path. Yeah. And I don’t know if it was the same for you. But I kind of accidentally discovered public health. Was that how you also discovered at least health studies in public health?

Elizabeth 7:04
Yeah, yeah. So I actually, when I went to take that year off in between my first and second year, I had initially thought that I had wanted to go into I know, U of T has their life sciences, like it’s called their global health program. And then they- I was also looking at like environmental sciences, because that’s a bit of an area of interest for me. So I was moreso thinking, you know, in order to study health, it had to be come from that kind of scientific perspective. And then I don’t actually know exactly how I think I was just like, kind of obsessively scrolling through U of T’s programs, and just happened to see health studies and looked a bit more into that program, and then ended up actually kind of looking at the LinkedIn profiles, actually, of past students who went there, and was pretty interested in that more social science approach to thinking about health, my interest in kind of strengths, I think I’ve tended to more so aligned with that area, and like the humanities, over, say, the hard sciences or math, for example. And so yeah, I was I was intrigued as to what exactly that would like, you know, where it would take me, but But yeah, that’s how I found it.

Sujani 8:26
Good. And I guess you’re at a point in your career, when you reached out, you’re kind of thinking about whether to pursue a master’s degree and what that path could look like for you. And that’s kind of the reason we’re chatting. So tell us a bit about where you currently are kind of sitting just mentally and in terms of your career, what you’re trying to navigate?

Elizabeth 8:48
Yeah, for sure. So I do definitely, like, I know that I want to go back at least for a master’s maybe, maybe beyond, we’ll see. But my- I guess my pain point right now is kind of that, you know, deciding between more of that professional master’s of public health gear direction, as opposed to something that’s a bit more research-dominant. And so yeah, so I knew, throughout my undergrad, I had kind of heard, you know, from people who were in the Masters of Public Health Program, or were kind of considering that that perhaps, for people who came from a background in something like health studies with, you know, where you kind of are aware of the social determinants of health and you have some background and that it might not be the most, like it might be repetitive or there might be some significant overlap in terms of the content. And so I think, somewhere around my third, fourth year, I was like, no, I’m not going to do a master’s in public health. I’ll go on to do a master’s in something else and then try and find my place in the public health sector or area, I have an interest in writing, for example. And so I thought for a while there that I wanted to go and do like a Master’s of Journalism and kind of do health writing. Anyways. So, so that kind of, I had that thought in the back of my mind that pursuing an explicitly public health focused Master’s might not be the best fit, however now. So I’m two years out, and I’ll, I’m hoping to apply to grad programs to get in in 2022. So I’ll have a total of three years out, I have definitely felt gaps, I think in some of the more, yeah, some of those like harder skill sets, such as in biostatistics, or in epidemiology, or even in program evaluation, and thinking more about policy and kind of a structured, strategic sort of way. And so, you know, I think, yeah, I have this little dance in my head all the time about, you know, is, you know, just kind of about that, like, would getting skill sets in another area, and then coming back to public health be better? Or is there, you know, could I do enough with an MPH? So I, yeah, I have recently been trying to reach out to people who are working in various areas in public health, just to try and learn, you know, about what these different career paths that I’m interested in are actually like in practice, and, you know, trying to get a little bit more out of my head about thinking about these things.

Sujani 11:42
Yeah.

Elizabeth 11:43
Which is why I’m excited to be talking to you.

Sujani 11:46
So, yeah, I think when you sent me that question, that was interesting, because I, I hadn’t thought about it that way. You know, I pursued, as you mentioned, Health Studies major, in addition to a biology major when I did my undergrad, but I think my- my major in health studies, I didn’t feel like I got everything I needed to to pursue a career in public health. So that was an interesting question for me when I was reflecting on that, and exactly what you said, if you go deeper into the different master’s programs that you’re trying to look into and explore for yourself, I think, pulling out those courses where you know that you have gaps in your skills and your knowledge, especially if you can find kind of your ideal job posting, for example, right? You know, in the next few years, or right after I graduate, this is a job I want to be in and then two or three years from then, this is the other job I want to be in. So if you can compare all of those job posting, and if you see a pattern there where there are skills that these jobs or these employers are asking for, then, you know, it’s a good indication that perhaps that’s the route that you can take. So, you know, for me, and I think similar for you, as well, I didn’t feel trained well enough, in biostats, or the epi methods or program planning and evaluation, those were not courses. Well, there were some introductory courses in my undergraduate major in those areas. But it wasn’t kind of a thorough, I didn’t feel like I had a thorough understanding of those. So you know, you are comparing an undergraduate course to a grad studies course. And in addition to that, I think the thing that I really valued from a grad studies level training were the people and the connections and learning from their experiences. So, you know, just to summarize that part, I would say, like you’re doing all of the right things, which importantly, is talking to people who have been in the situation that you’ve been in, and also knowing that when you talk to each person, each person only comes from one perspective, right? Like, with me, I’ve only done an undergraduate degree in biology and Health Studies at the University of Toronto and went straight into an MPH degree. So that’s one unique experience. And so you want to supplement my biased perspective with other individuals and kind of create that path for yourself. And I think just to summarize that, I’d say like, the best thing that’s worked for me is identifying future jobs that I’d like to be in and seeking out training and updating my skills in areas where I know I don’t really match the requirements of that job posting. Does that kind of, yeah, makes sense?

Elizabeth 14:46
Yeah, no, that- that makes a lot of sense. And yeah, that’s also something I’ve been trying to do is scroll through there some. Yeah, lots of you know, postings, of course on places like LinkedIn and it’s always great to, to see just how much work there is to do before I’m qualified for some of these great looking jobs. So

Sujani 15:07
Yeah.

Elizabeth 15:08
No, I think that that’s great advice.

Sujani 15:10
And I think you were also talking about, what if we’re afraid to make the wrong choice, right? Like, I think that’s also the decision paralysis that we get into, and we’re weighing so many different options. We fear that we’re going to make the wrong choice. Yeah. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Elizabeth 15:32
Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I think it was, you know, what advice would you have for students who, you know, have, like, for example, I know that I’m interested in public health, and I kind of know, areas where I think I might, you know, have a fit. And therefore, what kind of grad programs would be, you know, a good precursor to that. But I do have this and it might just be a me thing. Like, I do tend to kind of run anxious, perhaps. But-

Sujani 16:02
Yeah.

Elizabeth 16:03
But yeah, I do have a bit of that decision paralysis or just being afraid of, you know, making the wrong choice in terms of the location of the program, or that kind of MSC versus mph thing. And, you know, I think logically I know, like, nothing is irreversible.

Sujani 16:26
Yeah, exactly.

Elizabeth 16:28
Definitely, right? Like-

Sujani 16:29
Yeah.

Elizabeth 16:29
There’s so- there’s so many ways that you can get to, to a given career. But I come back to my like, you know, maybe this is just me being a little bit too anxious about this as I guess it feels like such a, or at times, it can feel like such a consequential thing. Like, I’m like, cool, I’m going to be entering grad school, and I’m 26 at the earliest. And, you know, I’ll be graduating when I’m 28. And so, like, I don’t know, I think-

Sujani 16:58
Yeah.

Elizabeth 16:58
That- that is also a factor which may not be- may not be relatable to some- to some students if they’re thinking about entering grad school a bit earlier. But- but it is something that I, you know, I feel like, my next choice has to be like, the right one. But what does that- what does that mean? Like? So.

Sujani 17:18
Yeah. No, I’ve definitely battled with that. And I have this problem of wanting to plan every single part of my life. So I completely can connect with you on that. But I think one of the best advices that I’ve received, I want to say it was probably well before my undergraduate degree, or even at the very early years of it is part of the- part of the journey of knowing what the right choice is, is making some wrong choices. And what I mean by wrong choice is exploring experiences and paths that you know, for a fact that you will not like, right? So, you know, when you say yes to everything, and I’m going to quote one of our blog post contributors, I don’t know if you read Lawrence Loh’s blog post on-

Elizabeth 18:07
Yeah, I did. Yeah.

Sujani 18:09
Yeah. Say yes on everything. And I think he also came on a podcast episode. And he said, exactly what you said is nothing is irreversible. And just knowing that and being comfortable knowing that if you do take one step forward, and it feels like it was a step backwards, that you can still keep moving forward, right? So I think-

Elizabeth 18:32
Yeah.

Sujani 18:32

  • if I reflect on my journey, I initially went to undergrad- into my undergrad program thinking I wanted to go into dentistry and took a bunch of courses to align with being able to take the DAT exam and applying to dental school and partway through realize I absolutely hated all of the courses I was doing. And so, you know, quickly shifting at and pivoting a little bit and see, okay, what other areas interest me and that’s how I discovered health studies and was able to, you know, just with additional courses over the summer, make that degree workout in the four years and then thinking epidemiology and being in infectious disease outbreaks was the path I wanted to go into. And so I had my eye on a specific job I graduated, got that degree applied to the department I wanted, I got in, I worked in there for four or five years and realize, okay, maybe I wanted to do something different. And so I then went on to do some work in opioid overdose surveillance and doing that for a while I kind of you know, you are constantly reflecting you’re constantly thinking about what’s the next step you want to take in your career and I don’t think it’s ever linear. And also your interests change. As you get older and you meet different people you experience different and life events and just you know, everything that you learn is going to impact your next step. So the- I feel like the path that I want to take now is more on the policy angle, not something that I ever thought that I wouldn’t be going down, I thought I would be, you know, epi focused. And what I’m realizing now is that hardcore epidemiology is not what I’m completely interested in. And there is a part of me that really enjoys policy and communication. And you talked about journalism, you know, writing, those are some other new interests that I have come up and had I not gone through this path, I wouldn’t have discovered the other interests I have. So I think what I’d say is, there won’t be a wrong choice. I think there is a right choice for you now, because it sounds like you know what your immediate interests are, and you want to pursue that. And then as you gain additional experiences, meet people, start working, you’re going to shift your path a little bit. It’s never going to be linear, I think.

Elizabeth 21:05
Yeah. Yeah. And actually, I guess, hopping back to what you had said at the beginning about Lawrence’s, I think he also, I think I remember that episode, he said something to the effect of like, you have to kind of go through one door to like, open others sometimes. And that’s like, very much how I feel almost like I can kind of see that door of, like, you know, I think, in my head, I kind of have come to terms with, you know, the right direction for right now. And that, like there are just, you know, experiences that I need to have in order to determine what, you know, the step beyond this next step looks like. But yeah, and I think it’s really like you’re, you have such a, like an interesting kind of career trajectory. And your experiences speak really well to that idea of just, you know, constantly like reflecting and being mindful of where you’re at, and how you’re feeling about where you’re at, and, and then pivoting when you need to. And, and I mean, I definitely feel like, you know, I’ve, you know, when my I transitioned from kind of the linguistics thing to public health, that was definitely a pivotal moment. And I don’t know, I guess maybe as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a little bit more risk averse.

Sujani 22:22
Yeah.

Elizabeth 22:23
I have to work through that. But, but yeah.

Sujani 22:25
Yeah. And, you know, another thing that I discovered going into my grad program was entrepreneurship. And that wasn’t something that I was ever really interested in when I was younger. So I think, you know, just even seeing different problems in public health pushes you towards a different direction. So I think you’ve done it once going from linguistics to public health. So I think you have it in you to just pivot quickly. And I think you just have to keep exercising that muscle, I think it’s a muscle that if you don’t use, you become a bit nervous. And you get into that decision paralysis that we talked about. I’m always a big proponent of just take that first step. Because if you don’t, and you keep thinking about that first step, it’s never gonna happen.

Elizabeth 23:18
Yeah, no, I think that that’s very, very true. And that, you know, I guess this is kind of a- I started, I did come very close to submitting some applications last fall, but ended up kind of for some personal reasons, but also, because I just feel like, the way that I learned just wouldn’t jive with, you know, remote learning. And so I figured that maybe waiting another year, gets more experience. Help with the savings a little bit. But yeah, no, that’s, yeah, I think that that’s good-

Sujani 23:54
Yeah.

Elizabeth 23:54

  • sound advice.

Sujani 23:56
And I think you also, you know, touched on the MPH versus MSC? And do you want to be trained in research versus a more professional degree? I think that’s a question many people have as well. And, you know, I’ve seen people with both degrees doing very similar jobs. Of course, the MSC does give you a lot more training in the research areas. But what I think I would, what I would tell you is that, you know, different mph programs, for example, you know, if you are leaning towards the applied public health degree and want an element of research to be part of your training there, you know, the program that I did, did have a thesis option. So you could do an MPH plus the thesis so there are ways around getting both types of training but also, knowing that you could go out, build that specific skill that you’re looking to build through work opportunities during your masters or are even doing some self learning. You know, there are tons of tons of new tools out there with data camp being one of them where you can learn AR, for example, or even YouTube has so many great videos, I think it’s just where what you want to do and what are the skills that you want formal training in versus what other ways could you gain that sort of skill set?

Elizabeth 25:27
Yeah, no, it’s definitely a bit of a tricky. When you’re at that kind of decision point of like, what kinds of programs are you going to be applying to? It does feel very again, the word like consequential comes to mind of like, where do you want your, I guess, primary training to be? Is it in that practical, you know, applied public health sort of sense? Or is it more in that academic research side? And I know, for all mph programs there is that, you know, practicum element, and-

Sujani 25:57
Yeah.

Elizabeth 25:58
And then there’s always sort of like you can do a research practicum or can be doing kind of RA work on on the side. So yeah, I guess with respect to that kind of MPH and MSC sort of, you know, research or practice, it seems like, I guess the more people I talked to, and it does seem like there’s just not necessarily a right, yeah, right answer or one- one way, there’s, there’s so many ways that you

Sujani 26:26
Yeah.

Elizabeth 26:27
Well, and there’s also, I mean, so many people who just do both, like I am lucky in that my job, since graduating undergrad has been still within kind of an academic setting. So I get to see so many people who, you know, are faculty who are, you know, out working in the field, or physicians or, you know, have so many different jobs, but then still have that, you know, academic appointment where they’re getting to do, you know, they have kind of those dual, like practice and research. And-

Sujani 26:57
Yeah.

Elizabeth 26:58

  • you know, I think there’s- there’s always like that- it’s important to have the relationship between the two because if you want your research to be representative, I guess, of what what’s actually going on in public health. And so-

Sujani 27:09
Yeah, I think you’re, you’re situated in such a great place right now working at the vaccine preventable disease. So I think it was the Center for Global Health right, or?

Elizabeth 27:21
The two- the Center for Global Health and center for vaccine preventable diseases.

Sujani 27:27
Yeah, and it’s great that you’re sitting there because you do get that sort of exposure. And like you said, you can’t just do the research in these two areas, you need to be out there. And I think just observing your, your colleagues, you could kind of pull out different aspects of each person’s career that you’re enjoying, witnessing and then mimicking your path to there. So you know, there, there might be some people who are just focused heads down on doing the research. And then you might see other people out there doing some policy work or knowledge translation stuff, and you want to gear your career more towards that. And I think you’re in a great place, and you have a ton of great people to learn from. So you probably already know this, but don’t take that for granted.

Elizabeth 28:16
Yeah, definitely. It’s, I’m trying to, you know, be sponge like and just take it all in while I’m there. Because, you know, I think it is a pretty great place to be in kind of an early career in public health. So.

Sujani 28:29
Yeah, so- So at this point, I’m curious to hear is there a certain path that you might be leaning towards either that has come from what we’ve talked about, or just you already knew which direction you kind of wanted to go through and just want to talk to more people about it?

Elizabeth 28:48
So it’s kind of even evolved over the past year? I think, if I- if I think to like where my skills align, I do think something involving research, something involving, which I didn’t really know that much about but knowledge translation sounds pretty interesting. Maybe policy, so those are kind of like the maybe approaches but because of like the topics that I’m interested in, I’ve become more I guess, due to actually personal experiences over the past year, quite interested in I guess women and women’s health, especially with experiences related to NCDs and non communicable diseases and kind of chronic conditions and also, you know, experiences with the diagnostic process and with, yeah, women have to like, now women do or women and gender non-binary, non-conforming individuals kind of navigate the you know, medical and public health system and trying to have to be healthy. And so that’s something that, you know, prior to last year, I was interested in, but didn’t necessarily see like a future. And, but, but that’s changed. And so ties to environmental health. And I mean, climate change is hard, not- hard not to think about.

Sujani 30:24
Yeah.

Elizabeth 30:26
I think I’m still still definitely figuring it out. But somewhere in the in that realm of topic, area and subject, but-

Sujani 30:37
Yeah, see, there’s there’s never a wrong choice. So the break that you’ve taken from undergrad to now has certainly helped you kind of refine your topic areas, or at least your interest areas, right?

Elizabeth 30:49
Yeah. Yeah. And maybe one thing I can alive here, which isn’t necessarily about like, my, like, grad school, or like career interests, but it’s, it is also about like, I guess maybe I’ll speak here to the people who are maybe perhaps like the non traditional grad students, or students who have taken some time or who are going back. One thing I know, I needed, I think I maybe didn’t explicitly know, when I graduated, or when I was in my last year of university, but I’ve definitely reflected on is I just needed some time, like for my my own, like mental health, like burnout, and, and also to kind of figure out some kind of health things. And, yeah, I guess, for anyone who’s listening who is feeling like going straight from undergrad to grad school, but who just for reasons maybe that are even outside of your career, just to do with your own, like life circumstances, if you feel like you need to take some time to- to deal with that first, like, that’s now you know, it’s okay. And I have moments where I’m still like, oh, my gosh, I’m, I’m so old. But it’s, it’s, you know, it’s also about being able to go into a program and be feel like you’re in like the right place and also feel like you’re resilient enough to to, because it’s quick that fast paced. Yeah, from what I’ve observed with friends, grad schools, want to hit the ground running.

Sujani 32:22
Yeah. And I think there’s a level of maturity that you bring in once you take that couple of years off, especially with just life experiences and everything that you gain in those two years. And it’s something I think you also pointed out in one of my blog posts and podcasts episode, if I were to redo my kind of journey of going into my master’s, I think I might, although I don’t know how, especially because I’m such a planner, I don’t know how much I would have really pushed myself to do this. But-

Elizabeth 32:56
Yeah.

Sujani 32:56
Some real world experience, taking some time off would have definitely I know, changed my experience in my grad school, because I did feel like maybe I was a little too young when I went in. And just going straight from undergrad to my masters without too much experience. I mean, I had seen the lab experience that you gained through undergrad and work with nonprofit organizations. But I know that my grad experience could have been a little bit more enriched had I had additional real world experience. And, you know, with age, I think in the grand scheme of things couple years isn’t such a- such a long period.

Elizabeth 33:38
No.

Sujani 33:39
So yeah, I’m giving you this advice. But I know I also count age, when I was- I counted my age, when I was kind of thinking about, okay, I’m gonna go into a two year program, that means I’m going to start working at this age. It does creep in, unfortunately.

Elizabeth 33:54
I think this is something that also like, there is a kind of a gendered element to that, or something that I’ve been reflecting on recently is, or I think a large part of my kind of age related anxiety does come from, you know, I’m still not 100% sure that I like want to have, you know, X number of kids and-

Sujani 34:16
Yeah.

Elizabeth 34:16
But- but I do want the flexibility, should I so choose to be able to have a family and so I do a part of the kind of fears around this area is very much like, you know, I’ll be finishing my master’s when I’m 28 and then you know, you’re going on to do a PhD and further study that’s another five years and then there’s postdoctoral fellowships. And, and so then it gets into, you know, kind of those critical years in terms of that, you know, reproductive health and, and that’s something that I think is is a unique experience for some that maybe it’s a male, there’s might not resonate so much with but it is that kind of I don’t know.

Sujani 35:03
Yeah, it’s certainly a factor that weighs into individuals’ decisions who do want to build a family. And yeah, I think again, going back to that episode, we recorded with Lawrence as well as there’s one with latika, both of them talking about balancing family and your career. I think it gives you a perspective of what it can look like. And yeah, I think just knowing that having kids in the picture is not going to be the end to your education or your career. And for sure, yeah, for me, it was a nice, nice perspective, just hearing from both of them.

Elizabeth 35:43
Yeah, no, I agree. And I even have, through my time, no working, have gotten to see people pursuing, you know, PhDs, and having that kind of, you know, young family components to their lives as well. And so that’s definitely gonna help to comfort me a little bit. But-

Sujani 36:00
Yeah.

Elizabeth 36:01
Yeah.

Sujani 36:02
And yeah, I didn’t want to add that actually, earlier on, I have had managers who have, you know, completed an undergrad, come as far as he could in their career, and then gone back to do their masters while balancing their families and work. And then also, I’ve got friends and peers who are pursuing a PhD, you know, 5-10 years after being in the workforce, deciding that they’d like to now pursue additional education. So, yeah, you’ve at least like we’ve both seen that out in the world. So it’s not impossible.

Elizabeth 36:38
It exists, it exists. But it is, you know, there’s quite the narrative, I think, or, and this also might just be the people that I’m surrounded with. And, you know, it’s not necessarily the norm.

Sujani 36:49
Yeah.

Elizabeth 36:50
Good statement. But like, I think that there’s, there’s so much representation of people doing that trajectory of going from undergrad right to grad school, and then you have to do any further study. And, and it is a bit there, you have to do a little bit of digging to find those other stories, but they’re, they’re definitely out there. And and of course, there’s many people who’ve never had to go to grad school or just choose not to, and-

Sujani 37:14
Yeah.

Elizabeth 37:14
So it’s perspective, I guess, trying to keep-

Sujani 37:16
Yeah, I mean, that. Yeah, there’s excellent public health professionals who haven’t pursued a PhD, for example, that I’ve come across at least. So it’s possible, it’s possible to be an excellent professional without needing those additional degrees as well. I think there was another interesting question that you had brought up. It was around the financial aspects of pursuing a career in public health, which I don’t get to talk too much about, I think there was maybe one blog contributed by someone around this topic. But yeah, I think it’s a good topic that we can probably chat about in the last few minutes. And, you know, I can, I can jump in to say that. I don’t know if it was such a big decision factor for me, right from the beginning. But also, you know, when you look at yourself and your lifestyle and assess for yourself, what sort of a lifestyle you want to pursue is probably the first step in determining whether finances are going to play a big role. I mean, okay, I should probably worried it as finances do play a big role in our life. And living in Toronto is getting more and more expensive. And I think you identify that too, in your notes.

Elizabeth 38:36
Yeah?

Sujani 38:36
I think just knowing what your lifestyle is going to look like and what you want out of your lifestyle and working out a plan to see if you know, the career that you’re going to pursue is going to meet that sort of lifestyle. But yeah, let me- let me hear it from your perspective. And then maybe I’ll add, I’ll add what I’ve kind of gathered from my own journey.

Elizabeth 38:58
Sure. Yeah. So I guess, from my perspective, pretty much any career path that I see myself taking really isn’t like, lucrative and like my interests do tend to be you know, have interest in writing and like journalism, which is not the as a sector is struggling a bit at the moment and, you know, some of those more kind of helping or like, helping professions, but for example, I don’t necessarily have any interest in going into corporate law or, or accounting or anything like that. And, and I’m also just generally not money driven, like, I don’t really care to earn money for the sake of it or to, you know, to have a nice, you know, mansion and multiple fancy cars and all that but in the same way, like I want to be financially stable. And again, I guess going back to that starting to think about, you know, in 10 years is family considerations like, you know, would want to have stability to be able to Yeah, to comfortably, like, support a family? Should that, you know, be something that I choose. And so so it is. Yeah, I guess it’s kind of hard to, you know, when you hear of how just chronically and unfortunately, underfunded public health is like.

Sujani 40:22
Yeah.

Elizabeth 40:23
Because I think that it comes back to that, like, age old enough public health is working well, then it’s, it’s invisible, and you don’t really notice it. And so I think, unfortunately, over the past couple of decades, like, that has resulted in significant cuts to funding of public health programs and research. And so I know, this is not, you know, a unique to me problem. Like, it’s very much a many of my peers, I think, in public health are are also aware of this. And then I guess, yeah, like, I had mentioned to you that, you know, my family’s from the GTA and, and so this has kind of been, you know, my home base for the past 20 plus years. And so, I know, it’s just a generally unaffordable area. And you know, we’re notorious, I think worldwide now, like for having some of the most cost of living just does not match the stagnant wages. And so it’s- it’s not even a unique to public health sort of thing. But yeah, I guess it just interests me. I know, finances are kind of a subject that really doesn’t get enough, I think, explicit coverage. And so I, yeah, I’m always interested to hear about like, how, I guess how people navigate that, and-

Sujani 41:38
No, yeah, no, it’s a excellent topic. And a topic that I’ve recently become more interested in, I’d say, I’ll preface this by saying I’m by no means an expert in finances, or to give financial advice. But whatever, whatever I’ve gathered from a very, I guess, a partner who’s the exact opposite. He’s very, I guess, conscious of finances, and has always been from a young age and reads a lot. And really, you know, he’s a big proponent of financial independence. And yeah, and I think I don’t have the stats on hand. But I think women kind of lag in that area as well, in terms of finding financial independence, and, unfortunately, are often the ones who get the shorter end of the stick. So for those reasons, I think I’ve become a lot more interested in the area. And still, I guess, learning. But what I’ve realized is that, I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks for public health. And what I mean by that is, you know, you could go and see the salaries of public sector organizations, right?

Elizabeth 42:55
Yeah.

Sujani 42:55
So, you know, if you’re looking at the federal government, for example, in the public health departments, you can go and see how your career trajectory will be matched, financially. So typically, for public health professionals, you’re in a categorization called economics and social sciences, I think, is how the federal government has categorized it. So it’s at the EC level. And often with the master’s level degree, you start at the EC three or EC four level. And I want to say your salary could start somewhere around the 16,000. So you work your way up. And I think as a as a mid career professional, you could be at the EC six, seven, which gives you upwards of $100,000 at the federal level. And I know there are similar charts in municipal and provincial governments as well. So I think if you’re curious to know what my salary could look like, in the next few years, I think that’s a good place to start. And then the other side of that is, I’m seeing public health and being embedded into the private sector as well. So you know, we’re just thinking about the pandemic right now. I think there’s a larger need for public health professionals within private sectors as well. Just the other day, I saw that the Harvard School of Public Health released a certification program for private sector companies that are not in public health for them to learn public health so that they could set up their companies to be a lot more, I guess, ready for the next public health crisis. And it’s meant to be a certification for sea level or executives in private companies to just learn more about the concepts of public health and so with that, like, or with how COVID has shaped our world and just seeing some major institutions like Harvard, coming out with, I guess resources in public health for non public health organizations, or people with no public health background tells me that there might be opportunities in the private sector for those individuals, I think, who aligned themselves with more of those types of roles. So I think our opportunities are going to maybe go up with COVID. And also, I think entrepreneurship is another route, there are so many public health problems that could be solved with, say, technology, or just other innovative solutions that requires public health professionals to be the, the forefront of the learning- face of those companies, and to really run those companies. And I also see kind of in the future, maybe those kinds of opportunities popping up. So yes, there is the side where there’s cuts to public health on the public side of things, but I also see more opportunities on the private side of public health. So, you know, that’s, that’s one way to look at it. And then in terms of to does the public or salary in the field of public health match up to, I guess, both of us are in the GTA. So life in the GTA? Yeah, it’s hard. I think, you know, we’re at a point as well, where we’re kind of since we had moved back from Winnipeg, closer to family, we’re at a point as well, thinking about where do we want to buy a home, for example, and the GTA is, or does not sound like a reasonable place, especially if you’re kind of evaluating the different things you want for your family. You know, do I want a large yard? Or do I want to be near my parents? Right? So I think those are things that we’re also dealing with right now and trying to evaluate, and I can’t say that we’ve figured out the right answer for ourselves. And I think it’s going to be something that each individual is going to have to figure out. And maybe there are things that you have to give and take, for example, I know if we do want a much larger yard, for example, that we might have to drive an extra 20 minutes to see our parents. So those are some- some considerations that we’re thinking about. But I say just kind of in summary, the financial aspects of pursuing a career in public health, it hasn’t been a huge concern, but it has kind of, I guess, at times annoyed me when I see friends and family members in the private sector, for example, doing equal amount of work, or maybe less, but then maybe getting paid more than the public health industry. So, you know, there’s that side of me that’s like, oh, we do really good work, and I wish people could be compensated. I think we just, we need to think about that question a bit more.

Elizabeth 48:07
Yeah, well, there’s like saying of like, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And like, I think, you know, really, we should be acknowledging just how important public health is and like, you know, allocating appropriate and, and, you know, the, the right amount of resources to that. And I think, you know, I would like to see, I think, as most people in public health would like to see increase investment in it, because, because, you know, if we’re, we have massive problems with chronic disease, environmental health with, you know, and if we’re able to prevent things from getting to the point where we need to invest so much in care and treatments to to reverse those.

Sujani 48:54
Yeah.

Elizabeth 48:54
Seems like, you know, everyone would be better off for it. And, and, yeah, so I definitely- it resonates with me trying to learn more about like, the finances and, and, and also the kind of conundrum of being- being from or trying to live in the GTA because,

Sujani 49:14
Yeah.

Elizabeth 49:14
It’s an exceptional little little area that we’re in.

Sujani 49:20
It is and yeah, just having lived in Winnipeg for two years prior to moving back to the GTA, and it was significant difference, I think, you know, just thinking about rent, it was half the price. And in Winnipeg, we were living very much just right, like steps outside of downtown Winnipeg, for example, in a good area. And we were able to yeah, for half the price of what we pay here have a similar sized space so

Elizabeth 49:50
Yeah.

Sujani 49:51
I didn’t, yep.

Elizabeth 49:52
Yeah, no, I have. When I think back to my undergrad years and, you know, hearing about friends in London, Ontario having these nice little two bedroom apartments with only one roommate, and they’re paying $500 A month each. And- And meanwhile, I’ve only ever had at least three other roommates in some questionable apartment buildings with some little past friends sometimes. So some-

Sujani 50:19
Yeah, for maybe double the price at times.

Elizabeth 50:23
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, minimum. So I got lucky I, you know, or not lucky. But I have typically paid around $800 a month for, for that. So it’s, it’s been, quote unquote, affordable for Toronto. But yeah, but you know, with many other roommates all the time, so.

Sujani 50:39
Yeah. No, it’s a good topic. And thank you for bringing it up by hoping we can have more of the discussions around just finances and around pursuing a career in public health. And, yeah, I think we can open up those conversations and hopefully get more of our peers to contribute. But I think I’d say it’s, it’s not a horrible field, and you can be financially secure, and I think well compensated in the field. And I just see more opportunities. And I think if you can get creative, you can earn more in public health is kind of what I would summarize that question with.

Elizabeth 51:18
Yeah, yeah. And I’m definitely interested to see, like, as you kind of alluded to earlier, is how things will change also, you know, with- with COVID, and knowing that, you know, public health has gotten more airtime than, you know, I’ve ever seen. So, yeah, that is a, it’s further opens up that discussion.

Sujani 51:38
Sure. I guess. Yeah. Just the last couple of minutes. Were there any other questions or topics you wanted to chat about?

Elizabeth 51:47
I think I covered it. Yeah, this has been very helpful and reassuring in many ways. And so thank you so much, Sujani. For, I mean, for all the work that you do with PH SPOT, and for, you know, helping, you know, these stories come come out to see and allowing people to kind of hear from others. It’s a really unique space that you’ve created. And so thank you again, you.

Sujani 52:11
Thank you, means a lot. And yeah, I really hope more people will feel comfortable after hearing your episode to come out and have such conversations. I think just the- the openness that you’ve been able to share on the podcast is going to benefit a ton of people. So thank you for that.

Elizabeth 52:31
Thanks.

Sujani 52:34
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Elizabeth and had a few of your own questions answered around whether to pursue an MPH degree or not. And as usual, we will make sure to link any resources we mentioned on this episode in our show notes page, which can be found at pHspot.ca/podcast. And as I mentioned in the introduction, if you’d like to have a conversation with me about your career, and also make it available to your peers via this podcast, please do reach out to me at hello@pHspot.ca. And let me know that you’re interested and we’ll schedule something up and have a great conversation. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.

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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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