How to evaluate and apply to public health graduate programs, when my own career goals are so difficult to pin down? I find it difficult to choose a topical area of interest
I'm really struggling with grad school applications.
: BA in medical anthropology, no research experience, out of college about 5 years, working as an office manager for a web design firm, have volunteered here and there at local organizations over the years: a battered women's shelter, ESL tutoring, and a local board of health. I'm a Partners in Health / Paul Farmer fangirl and have been since I was in high school (volunteered there one summer, my name's in the preface of Dying for Growth). I have a lot of debt in the form of credit cards and student loans, although I have been diligently paying it off for a few years now.
Problem A. My topical interests
are really broad. Geriatric care, reproductive health, substance abuse, occupational health, cultural competencies, global health, health care reform, community health, social marketing. This makes it difficult to evaluate programs as I feel like "gee, I could be happy at school X or Y or Z..." every school seems to have something that gets me excited. Although, I do find myself coming back to topics that are close to my personal experiences or challenges I've seen with loved ones... navigating a broken health care system when you're elderly, or struggling with addiction, is something that really grinds my gears.
Problem B. I'm having a really difficult time looking objectively at my own skills
. I feel like I really enjoy analytical projects, I'm not afraid of statistics. OTOH I feel really hungry to get out there 'in the field' and work on implementation and keep in mind I've never worked in a lab and my undergrad degree is in social science. I've picked up a lot of webby knowledge in my job, although I have not a whit of computer science training. This makes it difficult to place myself on the biostatistics - epidemiology - health policy - health education continuum (roughly moving from left brained to right brained skills). Where would I excel? My GRE scores were 700 verbal / 800 math; I started out as a physics major in college but moved to anthropology by the end of my sophomore year).
Problem C. Lastly it's really overwhelming to think about my ideal career setting
. NGO? Gov't? Academia? For-profit? I can't be paying off my student loans until I'm 80. For-profit? But, I get so worked up about social justice - NGO? But I feel like I would love the challenges and scope of academia...
I feel like I could pick one from A, B, and C, and there are so many different combinations and permutations.
- A governmental agency setting where I evaluate sex education policies?
- A communications consultant running a web forum at an NGO to raise awareness of workplace dangers for pregnant women?
- How about working in academia, investigating international health programs and studying how to effectively apply them in domestic resource poor settings?
- An epidemiologist for a private substance abuse foundation?
I can't help but see the connections, too - what programs exist to prevent alcohol abuse by pregnant women who are high-risk for miscarriage due to working in toxic urban environments and how can they be applied to rural contexts? (Stretching it, but you see what I mean...)
I'd like to do some informational interviews but I'm not sure where to look (my local board of health has mostly environmental health workers, helpful but sort of narrow.) I'm not sure I can look up "public healthist" in the phone book. I'm in Western Massachusetts. Any tips here would be good as well.
I feel like I vascillate between deep soul searching (is justice more important than salary) and self-help-styled analysis (am I a thinker or a feeler) and disorganized research (what jobs are posted for the city of new york department of health and mental hygiene? what did that one professor publish about the effects of recent tobacco control legislation?). Sometimes I feel totally passionate and ready and sometimes I feel totally underqualified and like an idiot for even starting to think I could take this on. In my lowest moments I think I ought to give up and continue just working as a glorified secretary in the dot com industry and stick to reading about health issues as a hobby and avoid taking on even a smidge more debt for my education. Am I suffering from "imposter syndrome" before I even apply? Or am I being immensely practical?
Anonymous because I have not yet told my current employer of my grad school plans.