PhD Pre-candidate, Health Behavior & Health Education
I was Pre-Med in undergrad. I was all set to go to medical school. I had taken the MCAT, applied to schools, was getting interviews. But then I took a public health class the first semester of my senior year at Michigan. It oriented me to looking at things through a different lens. We were talking about health, not medicine or pathogens. I thought, “This makes so much more sense.” I decided to stop going to med school interviews and look into public health graduate programs instead.
Michigan wasn’t actually my top choice for my PhD. But the reason I came here was the investment I felt from the school, the faculty and my advisor when I was accepted. They showed me that I could come here and do the work I was passionate about, and that they would support that.
The fellowships I have received have allowed me to focus on my own research interests, which is setting me up to become an independent scholar and researcher. This is what a PhD program is all about.
Right now, I’m working with the LGBT community in Macedonia, Serbia and other Balkan countries. My parents are from Macedonia. I think they’ve come to appreciate me trying to make change there.
My research focuses on looking at the fundamental structural factors that impact health, through a human rights framework. For example, when we say that LGBT people have more mental health issues, I ask why. What are the underlying things—societal structures and human rights issues—that are causing this?
What inspires me is the resilience of populations who, because of dominant cultures and society, are marginalized. I actually don’t like the word “resilience” because nobody should have to be resilient; resiliency shouldn’t need to exist. The world should be equitable, but we aren’t there yet. And the reason we need resilience as a concept is precisely because of inequity. But, wow, it is breathtaking and remarkable when I work with my populations, hear their stories, see everything they have been through—and yet they push through, persevere and continue living. The human spirit is truly remarkable!
My friends and I sometimes joke that public health is ruining our personal well-being. In the field of public health, everyone’s really stretched thin. Funding is scarce. You need to work hard. At the same time, it’s important to take care of yourself.
My favorite hour of the day is when I’m doing CrossFit. It’s a time when I’m not thinking about public health, politics or wars. And it’s an amazing community. You make connections with these people, and you’re really rooting each other on while you’re working out.
After I’m done here, I could see myself going into academia. But I also wouldn’t mind doing work for an organization like the UN. I like working more directly with the stakeholders.
My biggest fear is not changing. I think the worst thing for a person is to not change or evolve. Our humanity revolves around improving on previous conditions. If we don’t change, we don’t advance and we don’t progress.
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