On Taking Opportunities — Global Health Alumni Interview with Jenna Golan (WCAS 2006)

Jenna Golan, WCAS 2006
Major: Anthropology
Minor: Global Health

Jenna Golan graduated from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 2006 with a degree in anthropology. After Northwestern, Jenna attended Columbia University and was awarded a Master’s in nutrition, and later a Master’s in epidemiology from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Currently a research analyst at the International Food Policy Research Institute, which researches solutions to poverty and hunger in developing countries, Jenna previously served as a research adviser at health and family-planning nonprofit Population Services International. 

What did you do after graduation and where are you now? Looking back, how do you see your path from Northwestern to your current job?

Jenna interviews program beneficiaries in Tanzania as a research analyst for the International Food Policy Research Institute.

It was only during my senior year that I became very interested in nutrition and the long-term consequences of early childhood health. I started by pursuing my interest at Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition where I narrowed down my focus to public health. I enjoy math and research, and subsequently pursued a degree in epidemiology from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. From there, I just kept saying yes to random opportunities. I got my first real job in the field through a casual conversation with a professor in the cafeteria, my next one unexpectedly over drinks at a friend’s, and my current one at a dinner party with a donor of one of our collaborators. I haven’t had a straightforward path, but I’ve always been open to opportunities in front of me and it has worked well!

What projects are you currently working on? What’s an average day like for you?

I am currently working on two impact evaluations. One is for a homestead food production project and the other is an integration of therapeutic and preventative treatment of acute malnutrition. My days can vary widely, depending on where we are in the project cycle. I am currently writing from a hotel in Mwanza, Tanzania where I am preparing to spend two weeks in the field observing one of our projects. I spend a lot of time cleaning and analyzing data, writing reports, designing survey tools and conducting trainings for our collaborators in the field.

How did your global health studies at Northwestern influence your career choice and even life in general?

My global health studies piqued my interest in the field. Prior to coming to Northwestern, I thought my only option to work in health was as a practicing clinician. I learned about the multitude of factors that influence health and realized that I was more interested in preventing disease in a population than I was in treating it on an individual basis.

Women discuss the importance of micronutrient powder usage in Sengerema, Tanzania.

Where did you study abroad and how has it influenced you?

I studied abroad in Paris. It helped expose me to other ways that countries approach and prioritize health care. We also took a field trip to the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, which was amazing! I learned a lot about global health in practice.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for current global health students on how to get involved or how to choose their career path in global health? What about advice for students looking for work following graduation?

It can be difficult to get started working internationally. Living and working in developing countries can be very difficult and employers aren’t always willing to take a gamble on someone who hasn’t spent much time abroad before. If you are given an opportunity, take it! Even if it’s not exactly what you had in mind. There is no one career path that is right for or works for everyone. I have met people with a wide variety of backgrounds and diverse career paths. Be flexible.

What’s one life lesson that you have learned since you started working?

Be flexible and have a sense of adventure, but always make sure that you are looking out for yourself.

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