Navigating Difficult Times as Future Public Health Leaders

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay 

If someone would have told you our current situation back in January 1st, 2020, would you have believed them? Personally, I probably would not have done so.

As public health students preparing for leadership roles, we are trained to analyze disease and behavioral surveillance data, use epidemiologic techniques, understand health systems organizations, support state and local agencies, and serve when public health threats arise. However, although we have been trained for years to face public health crisis and difficult situations, many of us were not physically nor emotionally ready for a global pandemic. Am I wrong? 

The past few days and weeks have been everything from worry to uncertainty to advocacy. As public professionals we understand the measures taken by our university, local and state agencies, and the preventative measures we need to take to flatten the curve. However, the current situation may also carry a bigger burden on us because we know what is going on, we know it will be awhile until things get better, and we know all the current and future work required to combat the pandemic. 

You are not alone. Many of us are in the same situation. We are worried about the future. We are tired (but will not stop) of telling our friends and family to stay home. We are trying to figure out how to do an entire term of online coursework. And yes, we are disappointed but understand the measures taken for our commencement ceremony. 

Amidst everything, we have to make time and take care of ourselves. We are navigating something new to all of us that could take a big toll on our physical and mental health. Below are some resources that will hopefully help you through this difficult time:

1. Mental Health: SilverCloud is an online, confidential mental health resource free for all full-time students and trainees. It offers a personal train supporter that will help you make progresses through interactive learning modules that teach cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques.

2. Physical Health: I started taking my fitness journey seriously at the beginning of my graduate program to be physically and emotionally healthy. With our current situation, I recently discovered that home workouts are not as bad as they sound, especially with great coaches. Peloton is currently offering a 90-day free trial with different workout exercises including cardio, meditation, running, strength, and yoga. It’s a great package deal!

3. Emotional Wellbeing Although you may be tired of ZOOM after the first week of 4th term, it is actually a great online platform to host meetings with multiple people at once. Remember that social distancing does not mean social isolation. You can engage with others, just virtually. Check on your loved ones through ZOOM, a phone call, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, or text.  

As evidenced by the outbreak of COVID-19, we need your expertise and passion more than ever before.  The world is counting on your unwavering commitment to the power of public health, protecting health, saving lives—millions at a time.

-Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie

Remember to make time for yourself. Take care of your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. I promise to do the same. 

The VALUE Conversation: An EQ Approach to Communicating

Caption: person having a video conversation. Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Emotional intelligence (EQ) will be required to navigate extenuating circumstances and an unusual term together. EQ refers to our ability to relate to others, even and especially, during times of stress.  EQ includes introspection to process our own emotions and then requires us to engage with others from a place of empathy.  Below is a simplified EQ  approach using VALUE as an acronym (found in this resource within our library). 

V: Validate: Honor the reality of emotions within self and others.
A: Ask questions: Investigate before making judgments and assumptions.
L: Listen: Use your whole body to listen. Hear the words, process, and then respond.
U: Understand: Consider what is not known. Ask questions to clarify. Seek first to understand, then to be understood (Stephen Covey).
E: Empathize: Find the appropriate balance of empathy to move the conversation forward. Empathy is a willingness to consider others’ point of view and experiences. 

If you need support navigating difficult conversations, don’t hesitate to reach out. Student Life is still here to support you! 



Prepare for Professional Conversations

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

By Jessica Harrington, Director

In light of tomorrow’s Career Fair (and beyond), we encourage students to prepare to connect with prospective employers and career mentors. At times, there will only be an opportunity for a simple elevator pitch . At other times, there may be an invitation to expound on one’s professional identity. To prepare for these encounters, practice articulating your professional impact, contributions, knowledge, and skills. Below are some prompts to get started.

Impact is one way to express the purpose behind your work. Impact questions include:
1.What is the impact I hope to make in public health? What changes am I aiming for through my profession?
2. Who/what populations or issues do I want to impact specifically?

Contributions are a way to describe how you’d like to advance toward your intended impact.
Contribution questions include:
1. What do I hope to bring to my field?
2. Whom do I hope to partner with in making contributions toward impact?
3. What ideas do I bring to the position/opportunity?
4. What advancements would I like to foster or be part of?

Interviews are often the opportunity to express what you already know about a position, organization, or area of expertise.
1. What do I already know about ______________?
2. How do/would I demonstrate this knowledge?
3. What do I hope to learn if provided the opportunity?

Skills are the tools you bring to the table to execute knowledge within a particular opportunity.
1. What skills have you acquired from prior positions and your education?
2. How do you hope to express those skills in a position?
3. What skills do you hope to learn in a new position?

Practice and reflect regularly since opportunities often come unannounced! If you attend the fair tomorrow, we will see you there.

Hit the Mark & Accomplish Your Goals

by: Shekeitha L. Jeffries, Assistant Director of Student Life

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels.

The start of a new year is exciting, as it provides us with an opportunity to hit the reset button and begin anew! For many graduate students, a new year provides another chance to accomplish goals, that they were unable to achieve during the previous academic year.  According to an article published by U.S. News & World report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. If you are struggling to keep up with your new year resolutions, don’t worry! Outlined below are a few strategies adapted from a article, to help you hit the mark and accomplish your goals.

  • Create A Clear Vision: Develop a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and anchor it on why you want to achieve it. For example, what is your vision as a leader in public health? What public health crisis do you want to solve? Why do you want to solve it?
  • Commit to Two or Three Goals: You may have many academic and career goals that you want to accomplish within the next 2-3 years.  However, to help ensure that you don’t get overwhelmed, begin with 2-3 goals that you believe, will have the most impact on your life right now. Be sure that your goals are SMART goals and begin working on them today. Once you have completed your initial three goals, identify 2-3 more and start again.  
  • Make A Commitment and Then Stay Consistent: As a graduate student, you may have a very demanding schedule with your personal life, classes, assignments, teaching assistantships, etc. However, you can accomplish anything that you set your mind too. Identify a strategy that resonates with you and stick with it, as commitment and consistency is key.
  • Write A Letter to Your Future Self:  Write a letter to yourself when you are eighty years old. What goals did you set? What goals did you achieve? What are you most proud of accomplishing in your lifetime? Use the answers to those questions to define your goals and action steps from there.

If you need additional support with goal setting, please contact the Office of Student Life to schedule a coaching session today.

Handling Rejections: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


“Dear [insert name],

Thank you for submitting your application. After reviewing numerous requests, we regret to inform that your application has not been selected” 

At this point in your graduate career, I’m sure you have experienced what it feels to be rejected. I have been through it countless times, but every time it happens, I am reminded that it does not feel good to get another letter of rejection. Although rejection in academia is part of the process as in any other sector, sometimes it can feel more personal. Grants, manuscripts, fellowships, scholarships, graduate programs, they all come with a yes or a no. Somehow though, it can feel more personal as a group of total strangers are judging your work and all the sacrifices you have made. 

Before going into graduate school, no one ever tells you that your initial first author paper is likely to be rejected. They do not tell you that even as a student at the number one School of Public Health, you will continue to receive rejections. But think about it: When you look at someone’s CV, what do you see? It’s like social media; all you see are the highlights of successes in their lives. No one really lists their failures in their CV (unless you are Johannes Haushofer) or how many times their manuscript was rejected. Because this is the culture of academia, very few people openly talk about their own rejections and failures. 

Because I know how it feels to get another letter/email (lost count already), this blog is to share with you some advice to help you cope with rejection in graduate school:

1. It’s okay to feel bad about it: Feeling sad, disappointed, even angry is perfectly fine. It sucks getting rejected. Don’t fight the feeling. Once you have processed it, use that fuel and energy to continue the fight.

2. Learn from it: Accept it and learn from it. Rejections say nothing about you as a person. However, there is always room for improvement. Do not let rejection define you, instead, use it to your advantage to become a better version of yourself.

3. Don’t take it personally: When it comes to a manuscript or grant, there is always that one reviewer that will give you a harder time. Remember, it’s not about you. They are critiquing the work and doing their job in helping you become a better researcher. 

4. Focus on the process: It wasn’t until about a couple of years ago that all I could see as “success” was me having that dream job. I quickly realized I would be miserable if I did not enjoy the process itself. Enjoy the process, have fun, work hard, and things will fall into place.

In a few years, you will look back at those rejections and laugh about them. Do not let the system bring you down. Rejection is part of the process; the difference is how you react to it. 

Cultivate Self-Awareness With One Simple Strategy

By: Shekeitha L. Jeffries, Assistant Director

In 2017, organizational psychologist, researcher, and New York Times best-selling author, Dr. Tasha Eurich presented a Tedx Talk, on how to increase your awareness using one simple strategy. In the talk, she discusses her research on self-awareness and her surprising discovery about human perception as well as introspective thinking. Through the findings of her research, she has been able to identify how people can truly become more self-aware.  

According to Dr. Eurich, self-awareness is the ability to see ourselves clearly, to understand who we are, how others see us and how we fit into the world. She believes that although we might not like what we see in ourselves, there’s comfort in knowing who we truly are. Self-awareness gives us power. Research shows that people who are more self-aware are more fulfilled, they have stronger relationships, they are more creative and better communicators. According to a 2019 article published on, self-awareness is a vital skill to develop that could help individuals lead a more fulfilled life.

Photo by Natasha Fernandez from Pexels.

However, Dr. Eurich’s research found that people who did more introspection were more stressed, depressed, less satisfied with their jobs, their relationships, and that they were less in control of their lives. These negative consequences increased the more they introspected. While the pursuit of self-awareness/ introspection may seem like as waste of time or depressing, it could be rewarding, because of the insight that it produces. She believes that the pursuit of self-awareness is not a waste of time, however, the way it’s being done is. 

According to Dr. Eurich, people often self-reflect because, they may be trying to figure out why they are in a bad mood, they may be questioning their beliefs or trying to figure out the why behind a negative outcome. She found that, when we ask WHY, it doesn’t lead us toward the truth about ourselves, instead, it leads us away from it.  When we ask why, we end up inventing answers that feel true but are often very wrong.  

As graduate students you may encounter negative experiences in which you question why. Outlined below are a few examples to help you understand the negative impact of why questions:

  • You might have received a low score on a recent exam or paper and may have questioned, why you did so poorly. Instead asking why, re-frame your question to, “What could I have done differently, to earn a better grade?” and “What can I do differently for the next assignment?”
  • You receive notification you weren’t chosen for a position you applied for. You are upset and wondering why the award committee didn’t choose you. Instead of asking why, re-frame your question to, “What could I have done differently to stand out to the committee?” and “What can I do differently in the next interview?”

Dr. Eurich’s research indicates that it may be best to change our why questions to what questions, because why questions tend to trap us in a negative mindset and may cause us to become stuck. On the other hand, what questions helps to shift our mindset from the red zone to blue zone and move us forward toward our future. The next time you experience a negative situation, consider looking at questions such as, what could I have done differently, what can I do to keep moving forward, or what are my resources for support. To cultivate true self-awareness and live a more fulfilled life, try a few of the strategies outlined in this article.  

Navigating Graduate School as a First-Generation Student


Last week, the Office of Student Life hosted a first-generation graduate panel with a diverse group of first-gen students as panelists. The event gave other students and staff the opportunity to hear from their stories and experiences on what it means to be a first-generation graduate student. More than anything, it was an opportunity to begin creating a community and identifying a few strategies needed to navigate academia and higher education.

As a first-generation graduate student, I understand the challenges and struggles that come with navigating graduate school. Often times, people tend to assume that if someone makes it successfully through their undergraduate degree, they will make it through graduate school at a “level playing field”. From experience, I know this is not true. 

Therefore, we want to share with you some of the key strategies identified during our panel discussion that are part of the graduate school hidden curriculum:

1. Identify mentors: As we mentioned last week in our mentorship blog post, academia can be very difficult to navigate without the proper training and guidance. Identify potential mentors among faculty, staff and/or student body that can help you through your professional and personal development. 

2. Connect with local and campus resources: There are many organizations at JHSPH that aim to support minority groups across campus. In addition, Source, JHSAP, and the Office of Student Life provide resources to help students and trainees navigate, academic, personal, and professional environments. 

3. Create a community and support network: One of my main fears moving across the country and starting graduate school was that I would not find a “community”. Thankfully, I was wrong. Finding faculty that can support you within your department and other departments, is key to your success in graduate school. Also, finding friends that you can count on not just for studying. Graduate school can become very lonely, you will need cheerleaders and sometimes you will play the cheerleader role. 

4. Remember your support system back home: As first-generation students, we’re the first to navigate these spaces. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to take all the weight on your shoulders. Although my mom doesn’t really understand my research on macrophages, she’s always cheering me from far away and understands when I’m having a hard time. Know that your family, friends, and former mentors from back home are only a text, call, or email away.

You got this! You did not get this far to only make it this far.

Manage the Overwhelm

by Jessica Harrington, Director

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Buried, defeated, and inundated are three words to describe what it means to feel overwhelmed. Given the many requirements of masters and doctoral programs, students often express their feelings of overwhelm during the academic year. The following tips are adapted from an article on what to do when feeling overwhelmed. See what resonates with you today.

  1. Practice self-acceptance and speak with compassion toward yourself.  An example from the article, “I would prefer to be able to get more done in a day, but I’m going to accept what I’m realistically able to do.”
  2. Regain a sense of your time. How are you spending it in ways that reflect your priorities or not?
  3. Manage assumptions and expectations. The article asserts that we often create rules about what others expect of us that may or may not exist (ie I must return emails immediately, someone will be angry if I say no).
  4. If your definition of success is based in perfectionism, consider redefining it based on what’s reasonable.
  5. Find time for self to unpack mental overwhelm and reflect without pressure.

Remember to reach out to JHSAP and/or Student Life whenever support is needed!

Prepare for the Midterm Hump

By Jessica Harrington, Director

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going. -Sam Levenson

We’re almost halfway through third term (insert smile or deep sigh or both here).  For many, this means deadlines and midterms (exhale). Here are 3 tips for navigating this busy time:

  1. As you’re preparing for whatever is on your schedule, consider doing a 3 minute body scan to relax and focus.
  2. Before a test, consider making a few power poses to aid in a confidence boost.  
  3. Confront negative self-talk with positive truths. Example: I never do well at timed exams.  Positive truth: It’s true I haven’t done well at timed exams in the past, but I’m open to doing my best today and focusing on the test in front of me.

Here in Student Life, we encourage you to keep going; you’re almost there!

Mentorship and the Importance of a Healthy Mentor-Mentee Relationship


Have you ever thought about the ripple effect of mentorship? Did you know that 90% of people that are mentored want to mentor others? 

As a first-generation student, mentorship during my career has had a great impact in my professional and personal life. The guidance I have received from faculty, staff and peers over the years has been vital in my training and education. 

Academia can be very difficult to navigate without the proper training and guidance. It can also be a very lonely place when you feel like you are the only one going through certain situations. Before I started my graduate program, one of the most common advices I heard at conferences and from other graduate students was on finding a good mentor. I’m sure you have heard this and know by now of the importance of having a good match with your advisor/PI. However, creating the “perfect” mentor-mentee relationship in graduate school can be tricky and sometimes difficult. 

This post isn’t dedicated to telling you how to find the “perfect” mentor. Instead, it was created to give you some insight on how to cultivate a healthy mentor-mentee relationship.

1. Know it’s worth to build a healthy relationship: You don’t want to have a miscerable time during your graduate program because of your advisor. Although it may not be easy at first, it will pay off over the years. Your relationship with your mentor will be important for your graduate years and even after you earn your degree.

2. Have an open dialogue: Be up front about what is going on with your research. Your advisor/PI has been in your shoes and they know that it means to be a graduate student. School happens, personal problems rise, experiments fail. Be honest (don’t make excuses) and he/she will understand better what is going on in your professional and personal life.

3. Learn to accept constructive criticism: Your advisor/PI wants the best for you, be receptive to their advice and learn how to take criticism. At the end, they are trying to help you prepare for your future career.

4. Show gratitude: Be respectful of your mentor’s time and efforts. Advisors/PIs appreciate when you have a clear agenda in mind, show up on time, and be honest about progress and challenges. Remember, it’s a two-way relationship.

5. Continue the mentorship cycle: For some of us, mentorship can be a form of giving back and self-care. It’s a way to give back to your community, inspire younger generations, and pave the way for other students to come.