My PhD advisor was a creative and
engaging storyteller. Negative results in our vaccine experiments were
interpreted as “damaging to the immune system” or “dangerous in the clinic.”
Positive observations meant that an experimental vaccine “worked like a charm”
or “could save countless lives.”
Never mind that mice are not humans.
I quickly learned that my PhD advisor
was extremely successful in obtaining grants to fund her research and
attracting press coverage to publicize her research worldwide. Knowing that I
would not continue the career path of laboratory-based basic science research,
I needed to spin a good story about my passion in public health.
However, just as my PhD advisor would
never approve a press release unless experiments had been repeated and journal
articles were peer-reviewed for publication, I too needed the facts to back up
a good story.
My “extracurricular” activities in
graduate school constructed the key facts in my story:
Education – Elective courses were
tailored to my new interests; “translational medicine” was more appealing than
“protein biophysics.” When necessary, I justified courses to my graduate
program; after all, biostatistics is invaluable for data analysis. I took
public-health courses when possible and audited them when not possible.
Experience – Getting into the trenches
of public health, I persevered through crowds of protesters to volunteer at a
reproductive health clinic. Health policy hit home when I participated on
advisory boards that evaluated student health insurance. I helped a fledgling
association of local health organizations apply for non-profit status.
Networking – I cultivated
relationships with public-health professionals through informational interviews
and regular emails. Encouraged by my public-health professors, I sought
networking opportunities at local and national public-health conferences. At
home, I met and worked with people across campus in student government
Generating the facts of a good story
was hard work, but these facts made that story much more convincing and easier
to tell when I was ready to make the move to public health.
The views expressed in this column are
those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the
Lin, PhD, MPH, is a fellow in the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the
National Cancer Institute. Prior to joining the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch
in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Wenny earned her MPH
from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2009 and her PhD in Cell &
Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.