Author Archives: Timothy L Lash

How to Introduce Yourself

Category : PROspective

Welcome to the Department of Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health! To returning students, we are delighted to have you back! Returning MPH and MSPH students have a busy and exciting year ahead, culminating with commencement only nine months from now. Entering MPH and MSPH students also have a busy year, as you begin to gain the knowledge, skills, and philosophy needed to be influential public health practitioners. Our department staff and faculty welcome you all and look forward to doing all we can to make the year a success!

For new students, this might be your first introduction to the PROspective column. This short column appears each week and provides some sort of tip or encouragement on honing your career skills. According to this site: 

“career skills are the abilities that enable you to do your job and to manage your career. These are over and above the skills and technical knowledge you need to perform the tasks that are part of your job.”

The site categorizes career skills into three groups: communication, operating style, and career development. The University of Colorado provides a nice summary of 10 essential career skills needed for career success.

Career skills are as important a determinant of your career success as the knowledge, skills and philosophy that you learn in the classroom, but career skills are seldom included in the formal curriculum. To meet this gap, our department provides this column as a weekly reminder of their importance and to help students prepare for their careers after Rollins. Take some time over the coming months to browse the PROspective archive.

Since we are in the midst of meeting one another, today’s career skill focuses on the task of introducing yourself. You will be doing a lot of this over the next weeks, as new students meet one another and meet their course instructors. This Harvard Business Review article suggests a three-step process. Say something about your present self, your past, and your future aspirations. None of the three parts needs to be long, but this simple formula gives the person you are meeting a good idea about who you are, why you are here, and what you aspire to do. Like every career skill, practice is the key. Try out introducing yourself at home to a mirror; you’ll be ready the next time you are asked to introduce yourself in person.


Organizational Socialization

Category : PROspective

In 2009, I joined the faculty of the Department of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. Soon after I started, I noticed that it was common to receive an email from someone in the department saying that they had brought bread to work, and then announcing some good news (birthday, work achievement, pilot’s license, new home—it was a long list). Danes make great bread, so this was always a welcome email, but what was different for me was that the person celebrating was also the person announcing the good news. In the US, when we celebrate with food (more often cake), the cake is usually provided by someone else or by the department in recognition of another person’s good news. Learning this change in who brings the carbohydrates was part of my organizational socialization.

I was reminded of this experience while thinking that so many students in our department will soon be joining another organization, whether as graduates in full-time employment or as students participating in research or practicum experiences. Whenever you join a new organization, there will be a socialization process. According to Wikipedia, “Organizational socialization is the process whereby an employee learns the knowledge and skills necessary to assume his or her organizational role. As newcomers become socialized, they learn about the organization and its history, values, jargon, culture, and procedures.” Some organizations are better than others at helping newcomers with this organizational socialization. Formal orientation sessions are one mechanism and tend to cover the policies and procedures. Learning the culture and unwritten rules is a bit different. In our department, new faculty are assigned a “coach” to help with the process. This is someone that the new faculty member can ask about everything from the department’s policies and procedures to where to find a good lunch. New students are offered a chance to pair with second-year students with the same goal. If you join a new organization and find that it is not well-prepared to help you with socialization, you can take matters into your own hands. Find someone with whom you think you will have a good connection, and ask them to help coach you through it. Most people will be flattered to be asked.

Like so many things, preparation is key to success when you start a new job. Be prepared to make a good impression (I liked this video). And be prepared for the organizational socialization. More reading about organizational socialization here. Your socialization to the organization will happen. To make it easier and quicker, be prepared for this aspect of your new experience. It takes energy and investment of effort, so plan to use some of your starting time towards it. And if you feel that the available programs are leaving you short, seek out help. Everyone you work with has gone through the same and at the same workplace. They may well recognize the need to do better and will be open to helping you with an easier take-off.

Featured Image by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

 


The Competencies of the RSPH Epidemiology Department

Category : PROspective

Welcome back to the Spring semester 2022 at the Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health. As we anticipate commencement at the end of this semester, I have been asked to describe what MPH and MPSH students should expect to be able to do by the time they graduate. In one respect, this question is easy for me to answer, because the Department and the Rollins School of Public Health have spent a lot of time describing the program competencies. These are the exact and complete answer to the question. The high level competencies for each degree program can be found in the student handbook, which is posted on the MPH/MSPH program Canvas page. For each high level competency, the department has a set of sub-level competencies, which go into greater detail.

For each competency, the department has a grid that ties the competency to specific courses, and even specific evaluation aspects of that course. For example, one high level competency that applies to all degree programs is “Formulate a research question and study aims.” This competency, and its sub-level competencies, then tie to specific degree requirements, including for this one completion of the Integrative Learning Experience. Every course syllabus must name the competencies it addresses and describe the specific sections of the course and evaluation methods that address them (this makes up the grid). All of these competencies and the grid were reviewed by a visiting committee put together by the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health, (ASPPH) which sponsors the Council for Education for Public Health (CEPH). CEPH is the accrediting body for MPH, MSPH, and similar degree programs at schools and programs in public health in the United States and elsewhere. The Rollins School of Public Health went through its accreditation renewal in the fall of 2019, and was awarded the longest possible accreditation of seven years in 2020. The review found no educational aspects that required reconsideration, which is a remarkable achievement and indicative of the emphasis on education at RSPH. You can read the complete RSPH self-study and the accreditation report from CEPH at this link.

The evaluation of the curriculum is an ongoing effort. We regularly review changing methods and areas of educational emphasis in public health. For example, in 2020 the department reviewed its accredited competencies to see whether they adequately addressed racism as a public health crisis. Although the existing competencies did address the topic, our view was that the existing competencies should be improved. New competencies were developed by an ad hoc committee – we are fortunate to have on our faculty experts in this topic, and they contributed substantially to these competency revision. The competencies were reviewed and unanimously approved by the department faculty, and we are now implementing them into the curriculum requirements. As leaders in this development, the department was invited to present the new competencies to a joint meeting of the ASPPH curriculum and diversity & inclusion committees. They have also been shared with the CDC’s educational programs and with program directors and faculty at peer institutions. We hope that they will be influential as these colleagues develop their own competencies, and we know that our own competencies will undergo constant reevaluation and improvement.

I suspect that this column is not what was expected! You might have thought that I would provide a list of the knowledge, skills and philosophies that MPH and MSPH students should expect to master when they graduate. I would be remiss, though, to provide such a list as a single member of the faculty. Our department’s faculty and its committees have spent long hours considering this question and arriving at consensus views. A second group of faculty spent long hours arriving at the processes by which the competencies would be implemented and achieved in the curriculum. The school and department invested substantial time to prepare for the CEPH accreditation (the RSPH self-study document is 410 pages long!). CEPH spent long hours reviewing and evaluating the program, including a days long site visit (the CEPH report is 109 pages long!). And the process of self evaluation and improvement is ongoing, as illustrated by the recent revisions to competencies on racism as a public health crisis. I would be remiss to substitute my solo views for this body of completed work and ongoing effort. Hopefully this description of the effort provides an adequate substitute for the expected answer. I invite you to review the student handbook and accreditation documents, and we welcome your input as we continue to evaluate and improve the programs’ competencies.

 

Featured Image by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash


How to Avoid Common Interview Mistakes

Category : PROspective

I have previously written a PROspective column with tips for online interviewing (https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/epi/prospective/preparing-for-interviews). Even as the COVID-19 pandemic diminishes, many organizations have kept to online interviewing, especially for first round applicants. It makes a lot of sense. Online interviewing is more time efficient, allows interviews for more candidates, and reduces the carbon footprint attached to recruiting. I suspect that online interviews will remain the norm, especially for first rounds of interviews, so these tips remain relevant. Many of them apply also to in-person interviews.

Today I have been asked for tips of what NOT to do during an interview (online or in-person). For the most part, these ideas apply to first-round interviews, and they fall into three categories: don’t be unprepared or generically prepared, don’t be presumptuous, and don’t try to stand out for reasons unrelated to the job.

Don’t be unprepared or generically prepared. To prepare for an online first interview, be sure that you have a good idea of the job description and the organization. Do some research in advance to understand both the job and the larger mission of the organization. As I wrote in the earlier column, you will almost certainly be asked what appeals to you about the position or why you think you might be a good fit for it. Since you know this question is coming (and a few others; see earlier column), you should be ready with a compelling answer. Do not just repeat back elements of the job description. Tie elements of the job description to work you have done, classes you have taken, or other experiences. Imagine the job description says that summarizing and interpreting epidemiologic data is part of the work. If you answer, “I like the idea of summarizing and interpreting epidemiologic data” when asked why you are interested, you have only repeated back to the interviewer an element of the job description they wrote. If you answer, “I really enjoyed analyzing data for my practicum on XXX, summarizing it for a poster, and then presenting it to students and faculty. I remember one conversation where we talked about YYY and it gave me ideas for ZZZ new directions. I think I can bring those skills to this position” – now you have really tied a specific experience and skill set to an element of the job description. Since you know this type of question is coming, you can be ready in advance with a specific answer that shows you are ready for the job and enthusiastic about it.

Don’t be presumptuous. One of the great hazards of first interviews is to ask questions that presume you might get the offer. Avoid asking about salary, start dates, benefits, vacation time, etc. These questions are important, but should be reserved for a second interview. The only fair question in this space is to ask what their timeline is for next steps (don’t ask about timeline for an offer – next step will often be another interview or in-person meeting). You have good reason to know their schedule so you can coordinate with other opportunities you might be pursuing. Skilled interviewers will always say when you will hear back, so keep even this question to the end and ask only if the information has not been given by the interviewer by the time the interview is closing.

Don’t stand out for reasons unrelated to the job. It is tempting to think about something memorable that will make you stand out. Do not put something clever in the background of your zoom camera or hanging on the wall behind you. Do not ask a question you might think is clever (like “What types of restaurants do you visit when you travel?” – someone actually asked it; it has nothing to do with the job). Don’t share horror stories about your previous job or supervisor – if you complain about past jobs, interviewers assume you will eventually complain about this job. Don’t search the internet to find clever questions or things to say at an interview. Be your authentic, professional, and collegial self – it’s more than enough to land the job.

Featured Image by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash


Flexibility, Empathy, and Patience: A Year Later

Category : PROspective

A year ago, I wrote a PROspective column to welcome students to the Department of Epidemiology at the start an academic year that would be largely completed by virtual learning. This year, we are fortunate to anticipate an academic year that will be largely completed by in-person learning. It is a big and important step towards the lives and learning styles we remember from before the COVID-19 pandemic. But we are not all the way back to the before times. The column below contains many of the same messages from last year, with updates to reflect what we have learned in the last year and what we anticipate in the year ahead of us. We will all be learning, adapting, and improving as we go. That process will accrue benefits most rapidly if we recognize and practice flexibility, empathy, and patience in our endeavors and interactions. Humans are remarkably adaptable and resilient, much more so than we sometimes realize, especially when we can recognize common goals, reorient quickly when necessary, and maintain composure in the face of hardship. With that in mind, I want to take this opportunity to share a few suggestions that, in the past, have helped students to make the most of their Fall semester at Rollins.

Stronger Together

One of the great strengths of the science of epidemiology is that those who study it come from widely different personal and professional backgrounds. We embrace the diversity of perspectives as a strength. In our previous educational experiences, some of us studied public health, while others studied biology, mathematics, economics, psychology, languages, or arts, among others. What you already know will help you with your curriculum this semester, so let it shine through. Bring your unique perspectives to your classrooms and share it with others, and listen to the unique perspectives that others will share with you. Realize, also, that because of the differences in earlier education and experiences, some parts of the curriculum will come easier to you and some will be more difficult. This too will be an individualized experience.

There is no point in comparing your academic progress with your peers; you will only steal your own joy by making such comparisons.

Commit to growing your network

The ongoing social and physical distancing related to the pandemic response will make it more difficult to develop a professional network. We humans are pack animals and having six feet or a computer screen between us is an unnatural way to socialize. It is critical, though, that we adhere to these public health requirements during this pandemic – to protect our own health and the health of our entire community. Finding solutions and strategies for how to develop a social and professional network despite the barriers starts with realizing that it is a problem, and you will have to invest more than the normal effort to solve it. Get to know your peers in the program through the shared experience, even if less than optimal. Imagine how nice it will be to one day greet them with a smile not hidden behind a face covering. The department’s Canvas site provides guidance on how to network with faculty. The guidance suggests that your initial contact with faculty include a specific request. My friendly amendment is to keep the bar low for that ask. For example, many faculty members hold regular meetings with their research groups. Rather than asking to join their groups, ask to listen in on one of their research group meetings. That is not difficult to arrange and provides a point of entrée to the group’s network.

Don’t forget career skills

The department’s overriding educational goal is to prepare students to be influential public health practitioners. The knowledge, skills, and philosophies that you will learn in the classrooms will be instrumental in achieving this goal. Important, too, will be the career skills that, despite often being complex and nuanced, are seldom part of the classroom learning experience. This PROspective column has often addressed these skills, so I encourage you to read the archives and begin work on honing these professional competencies. Once again, the artificial social interactions related to pandemic response will make it more difficult to practice these skills. Recognize the problem, and plan to solve it. Realizing the importance of career skills and learning how to practice them will be instrumental in your success while at Rollins and for many years thereafter.

We can do it!

Welcome to the department and thank you for your faith in us to provide an excellent learning experience this semester. The faculty and staff have worked hard to prepare, and are ready to change and improve as the semester progresses. We look forward to working with you to make it a success.

 

Featured Image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


Preparing for Interviews

Category : PROspective

By Timothy Lash, MPH, D.Sc.

 

The spring season often brings a calendar with interviews for Applied Practice Experiences, summer internships, post-graduation jobs, and graduate school admissions. These are an important part of the path towards achieving your career goals, yet are also unfamiliar territory for students early in their careers. Like most things, preparation and practice are the key to success. Here are a few tips to get ready.

 

Questions to Prepare For

 

First, most interviews will start with some variation of the question “Tell me about yourself.” Because you can count on getting this type of question early in the interview, it’s an opportunity to be prepared and practiced. This week’s suggested reading (Entrepreneur, 2019) gives concrete advice about the importance of this question and being prepared for it. Avoid simply restating the chronology on your resume or CV – the interviewer has already seen that. You will want to give a brief biography, but focus on your career interests and how they fit with the position. Talk about anything in your work or education history that is particularly relevant to this position. Conclude with a clear statement about your interest in the position and how well suited you would be to it. Most important, prepare for this question, even if you write out the answer. You do not want to read it during the interview, but you should be prepared for this question and ready to answer it effortlessly when it comes.

 

Second, there will almost always be a question about why you are interested in this particular position. Again, because you know this question will be asked, you can be prepared to answer. Research the position and what will be required so that you can tie particular aspects of your knowledge, skills, and experiences to what you think will be required to succeed in the position. A subtle but important point is to frame your answer (and the whole interview) in terms of what you can do for the position, not what the position will do for you. This is a subtle reframing that becomes important as you advance in your career. Early in our trajectory (college and graduate school interviews), it’s only natural to think about why you would like to join a particular educational institution. However, once you have a graduate degree, interviewers want to know that you will add value to their organization. They are less interested in what the organization can do for you. So frame your answer in terms of how you will help the organization to achieve its goals, and less so on how happy you will be to have the position.

 

Third, there might be a question about how you would define your ideal workplace. Here it’s important to be authentic about the type of work style where you are most productive. Unless specifically asked, avoid answering in terms of the physical workspace (office, cubicle, open office, remote work). It is better to answer in terms of the work style. Do you prefer to have several projects at once, or one project at a time? Do you prefer to work regularly with a team, or do you prefer to work alone and then combine your work with others. Do you prefer to travel often for work, or to spend most time working near to home? These are all elements of an answer that you can give that demonstrate that you are self-aware of your work style that is productive. Wherever possible, it’s best to answer these questions as a  balance, not one or the other. For example, instead of saying “I work best when I have only one project at a time,” you could say “I work best when I have one project that is my focus, and I usually expect there would be several other smaller projects ongoing at the same time.” The second answer demonstrates that you are not rigid about this work style, and still conveys your authentic preference.

 

Fourth, there will almost always be a question at the end such as, “Is there anything else you would like to discuss.” Many times candidates pass on this question and answer “No, I think we have talked about everything I had in mind.” This is then a missed opportunity to seize the moment. Again, with some preparation and practice, you can take advantage of this opportunity to leave a terrific final impression. Instead of answering with some version of “No,” answer with “I would just like to reiterate that I am enthusiastic about this opportunity, think it’s a great fit for my skills and experience, and that I would really do a terrific job working with all of you.” With this answer, you leave the impression of your enthusiasm for the job, confidence that you can do it, and understanding that you will be joining a team that aims to succeed. Avoid using this opportunity to ask about salary, start date, or when you will hear back from them. Skilled interviewers will tell you as the interview wraps up about the process moving forward. If they don’t, you can always ask before saying goodbye. I advise against asking about salary or start date, or any of the other offer terms, at a first interview. If you are asked, it is fine to say what you expect.

 

Getting Ready for Zoom Interviews

 

Given that these interviews now occur by video (and that may continue for first interviews indefinitely), there are a few tricks to keep in mind. First, be sure that you are professionally dressed and that your background is clean and orderly (or use a background). Second, be sure that there is no window or bright light behind you. You want the light in front of you (even if you use a background). Third, raise the height of your camera so that it’s level with your forehead. It gives a better impression to be looking up at the camera than to be looking down at it. Fifth, and this one is difficult, try to look at the camera and not at the screen. Looking at the camera gives the feel of eye contact, whereas looking at the screen does not. It’s difficult because looking at the person on the screen feels like you are making eye contact, but it does not look like that on the other side. Try it out with some friends and you will see a big difference. Finally, it’s possible to write some bulleted notes and tape them to a wall behind the screen. You can glance at them during the interview to be sure you covered the points you prepared to answer. No one will know it’s there (so long as you do not use it to read!). Do not put the notes on a paper on the desk or table in front of you – then it will be easy to see that you are reading.

 

Finally, the most important part of the interview is to be your authentic self. People are very good at seeing when others are not being authentic. You are prepared for the job and the interview, try to enjoy it and that will allow you to be the best version of yourself. 

 


 

Dr. Lash is the Chair of the Department of Epidemiology, co-author of Modern Epidemiology, 4th edition and Applying Quantitative Bias Analysis to Epidemiologic Data, and the Editor-in-Chief of Epidemiology

 


 

Join the Conversation!

Are you an alumni or current student in the Department of Epidemiology? Do you want to share your professional advice and experiences with a large audience of your peers? We want to hear from YOU! Consider becoming a contributing author for PROspective!

To inquire, email your article idea directly to the editors at Confounder [at] emory [dot] edu!

 


 


A Mentee’s Journey

Category : PROspective

In last week’s PROspective, our department’s Vice-Chair described her career-long mentoring relationship with Professor John Boring, our department’s first Chair. Her moving description prompted me to reflect on my good fortune to have had outstanding mentoring beginning even as an undergraduate. Today, I will share a snippet from the three main mentors I have had and what I learned from each of them. The main theme is that it is important to learn to take constructive feedback and to act on it.

Rigor


For my undergraduate research opportunity project, I worked in the laboratory of Marie Chow. She was a newly appointed Assistant Professor, and she focused on the genetics and protein structure of the polio virus. She and a post-doc in the lab were the first to sequence the polio virus genome, a result they published in Science while I was working in the lab. At any given moment, Marie might come into the lab and ask what you were doing, what each step in the experiment was meant to do, the importance of each reagent, how you made the reagent, and to show her where you had documented it all in your lab notebook. At first it was terrifying and felt confrontational, but she was an equal-opportunity interrogator. I got the same treatment as the two post-docs, PhD student, and technician. We all heard one another go through it. We became used to it, and came to understand that she was setting a standard for rigor in her laboratory that was paying dividends. When you hear me talk about the importance of rigor, you are hearing me channel Marie Chow.

Sponsorship


My first full-time job was at an environmental health consulting company owned by Laura Green. Laura and Marie were friends from their post-doc days, and I later learned that Laura would never have hired me without Marie’s encouragement. Sponsorship is an important role of a good mentor; Marie made a difference again for me at this critical time. My first writing assignment was to prepare a summary of the carcinogenicity of trichlorethylene. I did the research, wrote what I found, and handed it over for Laura to review. The next morning, she sat down across from me and said, “Did you write an outline?” I thought I would be fired. Instead, she worked with me to improve that piece and many others over time. Laura has outstanding interpersonal skills. Watching her over ten years set standards for communication that I still aspire to meet. She and I talk a couple times each year and I learn something new and important every time.

Collegiality


My first academic job was as a project manager working with Professor Rebecca Silliman. Becky had a growing research program in breast cancer survivorship. She was ultimately a member of my PhD committee and has been a mentor to me throughout my academic career. She is retired now, but I still talk with her every second Monday and value that time immensely. I realize that she is the one person who has only my interests in mind, and she has seen it all in the academic environment. Just last week, she kept me from making a mistake by anticipating the long-view fallout. I once asked her what she thinks was her main secret for success and she answered, “I choose my collaborators well.” When you hear me talk about the importance of collegiality, I am channeling Becky Silliman.

So I have been immensely fortunate to have outstanding mentoring for a long time. There have been others, but these three were easily the most influential. On my side of these mentoring relationships, I have had to be willing to hear their constructive criticism. That is a skill that does not come easily to me, nor to most people. It is a skill, and it can be improved. This week’s extra reading provides a place to start.


 

Join the conversation…

Are you an alumni or current student in the Department of Epidemiology? Do you want to share your professional advice and experiences with a large audience of your peers? We want to hear from YOU! Consider becoming a contributing author for PROspective! To inquire, email your article idea directly to the editors at Confounder [at] emory [dot] edu!


 


To be an Epidemiologist in 2020

Category : PROspective

2020 has brought many challenges for students, staff, and faculty. These challenges resonate with the experiences that people throughout our society have faced. We are working and studying without the usual social supports and infrastructure to assist us, and all the while anxious about our own welfare and the welfare of others. Many are simultaneously juggling dependent care, which compresses a difficult schedule into even fewer hours.

Most of this is true for most people. Epidemiologists and other public health and health professionals have had an added challenge, which is to participate directly in the pandemic response. Towards the end of the summer of 2020, the editors of Epidemiology (I am Editor-in-Chief) decided to solicit short commentaries from a diverse group of epidemiologists, asking them to describe “What it has meant for them to be an epidemiologist in 2020.”

We were not asking for anyone to speak for the profession; rather the goal was to get an overview at the cross-section of a number of personal views. We nominated a long list of potential writers, and then selected a short list with the aim of obtaining a diverse set of views representing a range of backgrounds, work settings (academic, government, industry), and geographic regions. To further diversify the set of writers, we asked each invited writer to nominate a second writer, with the emphasis on suggesting someone whose voice might not usually be heard. Using this process, we obtained 20 short commentaries, which are accompanied by an overview editorial by Sonja A. Swanson, who led the effort for the journal. The entire compilation is available here.

I hope you will find time to read through them – many of us will find a writer whose experiences resonate with our own, and we hope that provides some comfort, inspiration, and maybe even a sense of solidarity as we approach the final stretch of this unprecedented year.

 


 


Compartmentalizing

Category : PROspective

The Fall 2020 semester has already brought new challenges and new successes. Students, staff, and faculty have implemented and improved new modes of learning and communication, all without the respite of a fall break or holiday, and all without the usual means of interpersonal social support. There is room to do better, and we are all working towards that, but it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate how well we have done overall.

Planning for the home stretch

The last part of the Fall 2020 semester overlaps with the US election season, and we ought to plan accordingly. Our department community is engaged in the voting season, and we are especially grateful to student leadership to promote civic engagement. The voting season ends November 3, but that may not be the end of the election season. November may bring longer than normal waits for election results, and then these results may be contested in courts and legislatures. This waiting will likely stoke anxieties and distract us from the classroom, at exactly the time that we are all working to finish a difficult semester. Each of us needs to have a plan.

What’s your strategy?

Your plan may profit from the strategy called compartmentalization. Compartmentalization is a defense mechanism used to prevent mental discomfort and anxiety caused by having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, and demands. Compartmentalization is not about being in denial; it’s about putting things where they belong and not letting them get in the way of the rest of your life. As described in today’s reading,

“Compartmentalizing is one of the most important strategies for setting healthy boundaries. It allows us to establish mental barriers between one priority and another so that we can direct all of our energy into what’s right in front of us.”


In this week’s article, the author outlines five steps to become better at compartmentalizing. TL;DR, the main points are to:

  1. recognize the conflicting emotional and structural demands on your mental energy, and
  2. give all of them their own individual space in your day.

Compartmentalization in practice

There is a 24/7 news cycle these days, but election news is unlikely to change much minute to minute. Schedule the times that you will check in on the news, and then work on the semester at other times. You may choose to exercise your right to peaceful protest (while taking care to protect yourself by following pandemic protocols). Schedule the preparation and protest time as a compartment, and keep that time separate from the time you spend following the news and the time you spend on finishing the semester.

The Road Ahead

We are all hoping for a just and swift election result. If there is uncertainty, the period of uncertainty will overlap with the end of our semester. Spend some time in October planning for how you will react and how you will assure that all of the demands on your mental energy and time will be met, and your mental and physical wellbeing will be preserved.

The Fall 2020 semester is unlikely to be the last time that the sum of your personal, social, and professional lives demand more attention than you can deliver. Honing the skills needed to meet these challenges will serve you well later.

 


 


Managing Up

Category : PROspective

These PROspective columns are meant to help RSPH EPI students to be more influential public health practitioners, especially after they graduate and join the public health workforce. Our department works hard to assure that students’ learning experiences prepare them with the knowledge, skills, and philosophy to be influential, but career skills are often as important in determining influence and success once graduated. This week’s PROspective takes on the difficult topic of how to succeed when your workplace supervisor stands in the way.

Supervising in Epidemiology

Poor supervisory skills can emanate from many sources, as described in this article from Harvard Business Review. One possibility, especially in some pubic health workplaces, is that the supervisors have never had any help preparing to manage. They may have risen to their position because of the skills in epidemiology, which typically provide little foundation for managing others well.

So how do you cope in this circumstance? I have written in a previous PROspective column about how to disagree, and many of those same skills may apply here. But beyond disagreeing about work products or workplace priorities, poor supervision often emanates from failure on the supervisor’s part to set clear expectations.

Setting Expectations

Expectations are the sets of goals and standards that your supervisor expects you to achieve, with some understanding of which are most important and should receive most of our effort. Failure to set and enforce standards and expectations is one of the most common management failures. If you are working without a clear understanding of what is expected, then it will be difficult for you to feel satisfied with your work.

Fortunately, failure of your supervisor to set expectations is something that you can help to address. If your supervisor has not set the expectations, you can take the initiative and suggest them. You can write out short and long-term goals and deadlines and ask for your supervisor’s feedback. Be sure that these pertain to the organization’s goals and priorities, and not to your own career aspirations. It’s a good idea to write these down also, and maybe to share them with your supervisor, but that’s a separate task. Hopefully the two will align.

Soliciting Feedback

Failure to provide constructive feedback is a second common failure associated with poor management. Again, it is something that you can help to address. When you reach a milestone, or complete one of the short or long-term goals on the list described in the previous paragraph, you can ask for feedback. Be sure to ask more than “Was my report okay?” You will probably only get back “Yes, it was good.” That’s not feedback that will help you to improve. Ask a question that requires a longer answer, such as “How can I do this task differently next time so that it will be even better?” Importantly, do not tie these requests for feedback to requests for additional compensation or leave time.

Zooming Out

Last, if your workplace dissatisfaction continues, it might be worth a self-check about whether your values align with the values of your supervisor or organization. If your values differ from theirs, it will be hard to ever feel satisfied with your work; a change may be needed.

 


 


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