Public Health Graduate Students Reflect on ‘Rewarding, Informative, and Motivating’ Conference Experience
Several Chargers recently attended the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, where they networked with professionals in the field, built their confidence, and learned more about the myriad career opportunities within the field of public health.
January 18, 2023
By Dr. Pradeep Rajbhandari MPH ’23, Priyanka Srirangam ’23 MPH, and Muskan Kohli ’24 MPH
Late in the fall semester, a group of public health students headed to Boston to attend an annual conference hosted by the American Public Health Association. There, they learned about current research taking place within the field of public health and networked with other students and industry professionals.
Below, three candidates in the University’s Master of Public Health program reflect on their experience at the conference.
Dr. Pradeep Rajbhandari MPH ’23
It was such a great honor for me to be awarded the enrichment scholarship from the student assembly of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in Boston. I was the top scorer among 30 award recipients selected from 150 applicants from all over the U.S. I was so glad to represent the University of New Haven on the platform of the award recipients. I felt so honored to be called to the business meeting of the student assembly during an announcement ceremony.
I consider myself so lucky to have won two scholarships in a row within a year of being admitted to the Master of Public Health program at the University of New Haven. I also received a Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) student scholarship in June and attended the SOPHE advocacy summit held in Washington, D.C., in October.
It was an awesome experience attending such a large-scale meeting in Boston. The five-day annual conference with the theme “150 Years of Creating the Healthiest Nation: Leading the Path Toward Equity” included more than 11,000 participants, and this mega event was the first on-ground annual conference of APHA since the COVID-19 pandemic. Being one of the participants in the annual conference was a privilege, and being a scholarship winner was an awesome moment.
My journey from an ear, nose, and throat specialist and head and neck surgeon to an aspiring public health specialist has been fortified by my conference experiences. The scholarship boosted my morale to continue with a high spirit to serve humanity, prevent human suffering, and fulfill the prime duty of being medical personnel in the community.
I, along with my fellow participants from the University of New Haven, was able to interact with multiple people from different backgrounds representing the public health community. The brainstorming session, oral presentations, and interactive hours in those five days helped to broaden my perception and to better understand the horizon of public health and the diversity in it.
The conference was a big push for a clinical research enthusiast like me to begin the research I have been planning since I joined the program at the University. The take-home message from the conference was to create a society with equity that is free from disparities, and, I am sure, I will be able to contribute to the theme of the conference. I am thankful to my professor and mentors at the University of New Haven for their constant motivation and support.
Priyanka Srirangam ’23 MPH
It was a privilege as a graduate student to attend the APHA annual meeting and expo and also be part of its 150th anniversary celebration in Boston. The conference served as a platform for students to build networks, discover their field of interest, learn about ongoing research in public health, and discuss the current challenges concerning health. At the conference, we were able to interact with public health experts and students from other universities.
Although the conference was hectic since multiple things were happening at the same time, it gave me a clear picture of public health and what I want to do in this field. We had the opportunity to listen to speakers who are working in different areas of public health and learn how they are addressing and finding solutions for some of the current issues.
In the discussion panel, we learned about the research that public health professionals and students are currently doing, and there were Q and A sessions after the discussion during which we could ask questions of the speakers. One of the best things about the conference was that we could pick the sessions based on our interests.
What I found interesting and most interactive was the roundtable sessions in which each table was given a separate topic and we were asked to give solutions to a problem. Some of the roundtable sessions also involved students and public health experts discussing their research, which I found clarifying and interesting.
We also took part in mentoring sessions, where my questions about internships, job prospects, or further academic progress got answers. I also had the opportunity to interact and build a network with Ph.D. and post-doctoral students from different universities and ask them about their experiences in public health, which was helpful for me to determine what I want to do in the field.
One of the sessions featured past APHA presidents discussing key public health issues, and it was one of the best sessions I attended at the conference. In addition, we also got to meet Dr. Chris Chanyasulkit, who was elected president of APHA at the conference. I still remember her speech at another conference that focused on three main goals: play for health, read for health, and vote for health. This inspires us to work hard and to serve the community and contribute something from our knowledge and experience.
Two things that I took away from this conference are that public health is not just one or two fields, it is very vast and there is so much one can do that will benefit the community. Second, networking is most important. I have always been hesitant or shy to talk to others and ask questions, but this conference helped me a lot in overcoming these barriers to participate and build networks.
Overall, it was a very great experience, and I encourage other students to attend these kinds of conferences. It was a positive experience and provided a good platform for learning and networking.
I would like to thank Dr. Alvin Tran who encouraged us to go to this conference and provided support throughout it.
Muskan Kohli ’24 MPH
Being a WeEmbody fellow at the University has aided in my learning about and accessing a variety of public health opportunities, including the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in Boston. It was my second time attending an APHA conference. I was hoping to network with and learn from outstanding and knowledgeable public health officials and activists.
With numerous academic sessions, roundtable discussions, oral presentations, poster presentations, social events, and an expo all taking place at once, it was both an overwhelming but well-organized conference. Almost all current public health issues, including mental health, addiction, dental health, food insecurity, research, and others, were addressed in sessions. As a member, I got access to the complete event schedule in advance, which allowed me to plan the day according to my inclinations.
It was a stimulating conference with tons of opportunities to learn and advocate. There were many remarkable leaders and experts who discussed their views on the most pressing public health concerns. A few instances from the program stood out for me. First, I had the opportunity to meet with and interact with Dr. Chris Chanyasulkit, the current APHA president, who is a youth leader who is modest and fiercely committed to giving back to the community. She was announced as the APHA leader at the ending ceremony of the conference, and my heart swelled with pride and joy as I listened to her speech in which she espoused the mantra play for health, read for health, and vote for health.
I also came across an association for South Asians, called the South Asian Public Health Association (SAPHA). As a member of a similar community, it helped me connect with leaders and professionals who have more in common with me and are cognizant of the challenges faced by international students in the United States. Additionally, I had the chance to partake in a couple of mentoring sessions, which were very beneficial in helping me discover my areas of interest and providing me with advice on how to proceed.
While there were several opportunities for students to learn and network, the early career professional workshops held at the conference were one of the key highlights. The workshop had mentors who were coaching and clearing all the queries about the use of LinkedIn, creating resumes, and creating cover letters. The workshop also offered excellent tips for prospective job interviews and prepared the attendees for their upcoming interviews.
After several incredible days of countless educational sessions, numerous presentations, a few social engagements, and establishing plenty of networks, I finally took one day off with my friends to explore Boston and unwind.
The entire conference was like an open school, and I was always on the go because I wanted to attend everything presented. It was a rewarding, informative, and motivating experience, as well as being an unquestionably a wonderful chance for networking. This experience helped me as a student to break out of my shell and exposed me to a larger world full of opportunity and acceptance. The whole experience motivated me to work harder to help the community. I am delighted that I was able to attend this conference, and I urge all students to do the same to broaden their horizons.
Pradeep Rajbhandari MPH ’23, Priyanka Srirangam ’23 MPH, and Muskan Kohli ’24 MPH are candidates in the University’s Master of Public Health program.