Planning a Trip without Tripping Up


Ian Pshea-Smith

MPH Candidate, Global Health Epidemiology

When working in Global Health, planning a short-term trip can be a tad bewildering. We all have a hundred projects going at any given time and our collaborators that we are preparing to visit ALSO have a hundred projects they are thinking about. With this in mind, I want to list two key things to emphasize in preparing for a short-term, global health-centred trip to Grenada.

1. Prioritize Communication.

I’m busy, you’re busy, and our collaborators are MOST DEFINITELY busy. However, when planning a trip, we need to make sure that we are helping and not hurting, and that we are achieving the goals that our collaborators are looking for. You can’t do this without communication (a point everyone loves to iterate and reiterate, I know).

In our pre-trip planning, communication within our group has been a bit of a difficult thing - graduate students attempting to complete their degrees, publish papers, apply for post-graduate positions and actually have a work-life balance don’t make ideal communicators. To remedy this, creating check-ins for two or three times a week with project groups can go a long way - even if these are just short, five-minute meetings. This can help keep planning at the forefront of one’s mind and helps ensure everyone is on the same page.

Communication with partners is EVEN MORE difficult, given time-zone issues and an even greater number of calendars to cross-check. We are seeing this as a major concern - I don’t have time to add multiple thirty to forty-five-minute meetings to my schedule, and I’m sure our partners don’t either. However, blocking off times and prioritizing collaborators' needs should take precedence - they are actually in the field, working and implementing public health. Missing a class, rescheduling an advising appointment or skipping a meeting should all be considered, as the goals and objectives of the collaborators should be emphasized.

2. Contemplate the Path from Objectives to Goals. 

As I said, we’re all busy. However, we need to focus on what we are doing (and will be doing), why we are doing it, and how this will accomplish the goals set by our collaborators. Communication is all well and good, but reflecting, visualizing, and truly understanding the whole process can be just as important.

I can get lost in the weeds of a project; I love to dig deeper into what I am doing, but sometimes in so doing, I forget why I am doing something. If our partners want a literature review, it’s important to understand the reasonings for this review. If they want a new protocol for disease prevention or a nice educational brochure, we need to understand the audience, ensure the end product is meaningful, and ensure our work processes are designed to achieve this.

This brings us back to point number 1: if we don’t communicate well with the in-country collaborators and with our immediate teammates, we may be working towards the same goals but lacking efficiency, unity and vision. Sitting down with both collaborators and then repeatedly with team members, one can outline processes, line them up with goals, and set out to accomplish them in a unified, efficient manner.

In preparation for this trip, I want to keep these two key lessons in mind. They will be impactful not only within Grenada but also for future trips and hopefully for others in different contexts. Ensuring that communication is emphasized and the path from objectives to goals is clearly outlined are two key features of effective collaboration (and a meaningful global health trip). I’d like to see these points better managed by myself and also by future students looking to do similar things and achieve success.