Category : PROspective
From Dr. Lauren McCullough, Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology
I love the start of a new semester. As a kid, it meant new school supplies. In college, it was a fresh beginning. Now, it represents an opportunity to reflect on what is important to me. How much progress do I want to make on that research paper? What new skills do I want to learn? A new semester brings a fresh set of goals.
Goal setting is a helpful way to establish a marker for success and measure your progress. Yet, your journey may be inefficient or ill-conceived if your goal setting strategy is missing some crucial steps. Over the years, I have refined my strategy for developing and achieving my professional goals. (1) Who are you? (2) What do you want? (3) What is your plan? Below, I outline some goal setting techniques that are easy to implement and may be useful in your own journey towards success.
Who are you?
The goals and aspirations of your colleagues may be different than your own. Think about what brought you to public health and imagine your future self. This will serve as a guiding light. What are your passions, interests, and values? What skills do you have or want to gain? Staying keenly aware of who you are will allow you to forge a path that is uniquely yours while maximizing the opportunities Rollins and Emory have to offer.
What do you want?
See the long-term goal (the BIG picture) and develop specific short-term goals to get you there. For many of you, this may be a time to figure out the big picture, and that’s ok! During my MSPH, I spent a whole semester conducting informational interviews with professionals I respected and admired to better understand their path, perceived opportunities, and challenges. Guided by my passions, interests, and values, I ultimately figured out what I wanted… to improve cancer outcomes among African-Americans through research. That’s a HUGE goal, and I’m still working at it! So along the way, you should set some short-term SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based) that will get you there. For me, that meant getting research experience—taking an unpaid internship with an epidemiologist at a major cancer center—and finding ways to connect with affected communities. Importantly, think in chapters. You can’t possibly do everything now. Maximize your current environment or opportunity to its fullest potential and know that some things will have to wait until the next chapter.
What is your plan?
The best goals are inconsequential if they can’t be executed, so I consider this last section the most important. Let me start by saying that strategic planning is a SKILL! It requires intentionality, practice, and repetition. Once you have a short-term goal in mind (i.e., reviewing the literature for a thesis project), the planning process can be accomplished in 4 easy stages.
- Map the steps—these are the specific tasks that are necessary to achieve the short term goal.
- Integrate into your calendar—allocate specific time to work on these tasks. Literally, put it on your calendar like you would a meeting!
- Create accountability—check-in with yourself or an accountability partner. Did you accomplish the task? If not, why? If so, find a way to celebrate!
- Refine and repeat.
Finally, for additional inspiration, take a look at this article from Inc.com on SMART goal setting.
Dr. Lauren E. McCullough is Rollins Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health. Her overarching research interests are in the life-course epidemiology of cancer (breast cancer and lymphoma), specifically the contributions of obesity and physical inactivity to the tumor epigenome and microenvironment, as well as disparities in cancer outcomes.