Friday, May 24, 2013

Senior Success Stories: Emily Vreeland, '12, Public Health-Health Policy

Emily Vreeland, '12, Public Health-Health Policy, recently accepted a position with RTI International working on their health policy projects in the aging, disability, and long-term care program.  She has deferred her admission  to University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health in order to gain some practical experience in her field. At UNC she will pursue a Masters of Science in Public Health in Health Policy and hopes to transition into a PhD program. 

Emily has been working with counselors at the Gwen M. Green Career and Internship Center since graduation. Below she offers some tips for her peers.

"After graduation, I took a research assistant position at URMC. I used this opportunity as a stepping stone to build on my undergraduate research and employment experiences, knowing that a lot of health policy/public health graduate programs want you to have full-time work experience before applying.  This experience has been an asset for me as I applied to graduate programs and jobs, not only have I gained 'real world' experience, but it has also helped me to understand my areas of research interest, in addition to what I want from a graduate program, work environment, and in understanding my long-term goals.

When I decided to apply to grad school, I also applied to jobs, to keep my options open.  I had good amount of public health research and employment while I was an undergrad, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to jump straight into a program without gaining some more specific experience in policy analysis first.  

As I was applying to programs and jobs, I kept in contact with my honors thesis advisor, and  former supervisors as well as the career center.  They helped me to identify companies and graduate programs that might be of interest to me.  Since graduation, my peers have also continued to be a great resource, I still talk regularly with some of the public health majors that I graduated with, continuing to share our goals and next steps-- staying in touch with them and learning from their experiences in different parts of the country and different aspects of public health has been both helpful and really interesting in seeing how our similar education has taken us so many different ways.

I decided to take the position with RTI and defer my admission to UNC, so that I could gain more experience before beginning my masters and hopefully transitioning into a PhD program.  It was really important to me as I made my decision that I felt as though I was in a  position where I would be supported in my professional growth and development.  In interviewing at both RTI and UNC, I got that impression at all the levels (UNC from students to faculty, RTI from bachelors to PhD level).  Since health policy and public health is such a 'real time' area,  I have always found that I have gotten a lot more out of my coursework when I have had real world experiences to apply my coursework to.

My advice to current students is to look outside your comfort zone, be open to new opportunities and don’t be afraid to ask people for their opinion.  As I was in the application process for both jobs and grad school, talking with program directors and current employees was always the most helpful, they can tell you far more than any website or job description can tell you.  They have the experience with the program or the job, and more importantly these are the people that you will ultimately be learning from or working with so it's important to feel comfortable with them.  Use interviews as not only your chance to shine, but also as your chance to better understand what a company/program has to offer, when you've gotten that far in the process it's their turn to sell themselves to you a little bit too.

Use all your experiences as a chance to learn- you might not land your ‘dream’ job right away (I didn't), but with persistence, staying focused and talking with others about your goals will help you to better understand how achieve those goals,- don’t shut out an experience if it’s something that it seems like you might not want to do, keep an open mind and consider the ways that you can learn and grow from the experience.  Looking back, my greatest experiences were the ones that I thought I was going to dislike, and I learned the most from the experiences I thought were exactly what I wanted and then they weren’t—No experience is a negative experience, every experience is a learning experience.

I have also found that you shouldn’t limit yourself to your major—because of the unique curriculum at Rochester I had the opportunity to take extra statistics and economics classes, combined with my health policy major I’ve been able to put myself in a position where I have been competitive with individuals who might have majored in statistics or economics while in college because of my broad knowledge of health policy- find what it is that differentiates you, make that your strength and play to that.

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