M1 Year Reflection: Jalpa Shah

Perhaps, like many of my classmates, I came into my first year convinced that I knew exactly I wanted from my MPH and where I was going with my studies. Coming from a background of working in health promotion and programming I was sure that I would ultimately specialize in the social and behavioural sciences of public health.

Little did I know that I would enjoy aspects of each of the sectors of public health that we explored during our first year, ranging from maternal and child health, to health economics. Part of this enjoyment went beyond the lecture material and academic knowledge I was exposed to. In fact, it was the experience of being surrounded by classmates with a diverse array of academic specialties, and often, widely divergent opinions. Through these interactions I was able to gain firsthand insight into a global perspective of public health, but also to become familiar with my own biases, and limitations. In this sense, my first year was an integral learning experience that has allowed me to push my own boundaries in ways I never would have considered if I were surrounded by people with opinions and experiences similar to my own.

Were there times when I was completely opposed to a classmate’s opinion or frustrated that I couldn’t convince a colleague of my view? Of course! But that is the beauty of being in an international program, in a sense, we’re all outside of our comfort zones, whether it’s because English is not our first language, or a particular subject is not our specialty. The most important thing throughout my first year and the only advice I would give to incoming students is that it is very important to voice your opinions and ask questions. If you have an opinion, share it! Your classmates’ responses will help everyone develop a more thorough understanding of a public health issue or subject and can even lead into further discussions that expand everyone’s expertise.  If you have a question, it is quite likely that someone else in the classroom has the same question, and that the answer will help more than just you.

Looking back over the year, as many of my classmates can confirm, I switched from wanting to specialize in epidemiology, to health policy, to environmental health. In the end, I realized that I didn’t want to specialize at all, but rather to take a mixture of second year courses that I was most interested in and through my own passion for these subjects, I would be able to work towards my next steps in my public health career. In fact, my internship throughout the summer has helped me refine my focus a little more. For now, I’m leaning towards becoming a social epidemiologist, but I won’t limit myself to solely this field and will continue to explore all that public health has to offer as a dynamic, global field.

Good luck incoming M1s and M2s; I look forward to meeting all of you over the next year.

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