Always stay focused on why we’re doing this work – Global Health Alumni Interview with Veena Sriram (WCAS 2006)

Name: Veena Sriram (2006, WCAS)
Major: History
Minor: Global Health

Veena during an interview in Ghana in 2007

What did you do after graduation and where are you now?
After graduating from NU in 2006, I moved to Accra, Ghana for a year on a Fulbright scholarship. I studied sexual and reproductive health in urban Muslim communities, and also interned with the United Nations Population Fund. It was a fascinating experience and gave me a great overview of some of the possibilities and challenges in global public health.

I then went to Columbia University where I completed a Master of Public Health degree in 2009. I am currently a first-year PhD student in the Health Systems Program at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

How did your global health studies at NU influence your career
 choice and even life in general?
My global health studies at NU had a significant impact on me. I began the minor with little more than my own ideas of what global health, and public health for that matter, meant. My classes gave me an excellent framework for thinking about public health theory and practice. They also helped me organize my thoughts, which I think is important when entering a field with little or no experience. Faculty members were also very encouraging and gave thoughtful advice regarding career plans.

Which program did you choose for your studies abroad and how 
has it influenced you?
I did SIT’s summer program in Morocco. Although short, it had a tremendous impact on me. The biggest lesson that I learnt was the need to balance adapting to and absorbing different cultures while maintaining one’s own sense of culture and identity.

Veena during a field trip in Chhattisgarh in India in 2008

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?
There are so many paths to global health, and everyone’s journey is different. Three pieces of advice were very helpful to me as I was (and continue to!) figuring out my path.

  1. Get as much field experience as possible – given that our focus is international health, nothing is more important than working through questions, ideas and solutions in the field.
  2. Be open to opportunities, even if it is not necessarily aligned to your career goals – some of the more unexpected professional experiences can profoundly influence your career choices.
  3. If you are considering an MPH, work for a couple of years – from what I’ve seen, folks who work for a while come into programs knowing what they want out of it.

What’s one life lesson that you have learned since you started working?
To always stay focused on why we are doing this work. And to never take things personally. When things seem rough, keeping that in mind will help clear your mind and focus on how to move ahead.

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