Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Want More? See the Latest HSPH Office of Diversity Blog

My time at HSPH may have finished, but the adventure continues for many other students. Check out http://www.officeofdiversityhsph.blogspot.com/ for stories from the 2011-2012 academic year!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Last Week of School!!

So, I really have no business blogging at this moment, but something was just sent to me that really sums up experience at grad school (no Hah-vahd exceptions here!). Credit goes to Molly Labell, who wrote this column in the May 6, 2011 entry in Thought Catalog. I'm copying the article here, but also see the original website: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/in-graduate-school-you-will/

"In Graduate School You will..." 
MAY. 6, 2011 

Feel Stressed: There will be a million things to do.

Feel Bored: There will literally be nothing to do.

Live on the Undergraduate Residence Campus: You will be too unorganized and lazy to figure out an alternative living situation. You’ll live on the fifth floor of the freshman wellness dorm with ten other grad students. You’ll only meet one other girl on your floor the entire 5 months you spend there. She will have the same name as you and one time borrow your scissors. The whole dorm will be infested with mice in the winter. You will find mouse poop in your moccasins and freak the fuck out and sleep at your friend’s apartment for three days.

Take Notes: You will get a job taking notes for the Center for Academic Achievement for undergrad classes. You will be excited that your great note-taking skills and quirky handwriting will finally pay off.  You will realize you only make $24 a week and be less excited. You will sit in a Nutrition class twice a week and watch freshman give PowerPoints on dietary supplements. You will write things in the margins of the notes—you’ll draw an arrow to the date and write “Friday! Friday! Gotta get down on Friday!” You will write “Beer before liquor, never been sicker!” on the day the class is learning about alcohol consumption.

Keep Odd Hours: Your only classes meet Monday and Tuesday at 3:30 and 6:30, so on those days you will stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning and sleep until 10 or 11. In the morning, you will wake up and look at the clock and be shocked, for some reason. You’ll say “What’s wrong with me?” to your stuffed animal and then watch episodes of, like, House Hunters online in bed until noon.

Feel Overwhelmed by Very Small Tasks: Your days will be so unstructured that when you finally have something to do in addition to reading and writing, it’ll feel like the biggest event ever. On a day when you don’t have class, you’ll decide to finally go to the post office to buy stamps. You will plan your entire day around this errand. When something else comes up—a Professor asks you to meet with them that day instead of the next, as planned—you will panic silently. You will be able to do this. Believe in yourself! You will be able to run your 15 minute errand and make it to your meeting, 4 hours later, on time and prepared.

Find Weird Things Really Funny: You will hang out with friends from class and make jokes about interrupting a hegemonic discourse and queering the space. You will leave each other Facebook comments like “I’m totes gonna queer this EZ-Mac right now ROFL.” You will discuss hypotheticals—what if we did an interpretive dance for our final presentations? What if we didn’t write this paper because words are arbitrary? You will laugh hysterically about all of these things.

Not Eat Regularly:
 You will be broke and your stomach will hurt too much to have normal eating patterns. The pants that you couldn’t breathe in when you were eighteen? They’ll be loose on you. Your dad will call and ask what you ate that day. Your mom will send you $40 with a note that says “You are only allowed to spend this on dinner in a nice restaurant. Do not spend this at Forever 21. Please get something with protein! Buying calcium supplements: okay, too. XOXO.” You will become anemic. Sometimes you’ll go to your aunt and uncle’s for dinner and you’ll eat and eat like you haven’t eaten in years. They’ll send you home with leftovers and apples and bottles of Voss and you’ll feel your body thanking you when you eat them the next day.

Feel Smart: Not smarter than anyone else, mind you, but smart in general. You will stare at your computer screen when writing your final papers and feel a headache building as you see the tight knots in theories you’re trying to unwind and the limits they’re restrained in. You will realize that you actually understand some of this stuff and feel ever so slightly proud that you do.

Feel Dumb: Not dumber than anyone else, mind you, but dumb in general. You will constantly wonder if there’s something you’re just not getting when doing your reading. You will become shyer than ever about talking in class. You will have no original or interesting comments to make in class discussions and write down all the things your classmates say.

Become Overly Emotional: You will read Barthes’s “Camera Lucida” for one of your classes and actually go “mmmmm” while you read. You will stand in front of a Rothko at the MFA on a random Tuesday and feel your heart collapse inside of your chest. You will stand outside South Station with your best friend from college and your eyes will well up with tears when she tells you about the confidence she’s gained in her artwork.

Hate the Red Sox and Love the Yankees: You will live a few blocks away from Fenway. You will see a tubby fellow walking down Longwood Avenue one day wearing a Jeter jersey and Yankees hat and you will want to hug the shit outta him. You will not do this. You’re from New York; you know not to hug strangers!

Not Do Laundry Often: You will never have quarters. You will live five flights above the washing machines. One day you’ll lug your hamper down the five flights and realize you forgot the detergent. You’ll walk back upstairs and then back downstairs and realize you forgot quarters. You’ll walk up again, and then back down again, and then realize you are one quarter short. You will say fuck it! and leave your things in the laundry room, go back upstairs, and not come down again for three or maybe four hours.

Realize You Are Religious: You will finally understand that feminism is not unlike a religion in the sense that it consumes and shapes all of your views. You will be unable to evaluate your life and your friends and your relationships and the strangers around you without placing them within this context. You will want to grab strangers on the street and ask if they’ve heard the good word. You’ll want to yell corporeal prayer.

Be Absurdly Broke: You will turn down an invite to get drinks with a friend because you just don’t want to pay T fare. You will steal an economy size roll of toilet paper from the bathroom in your dorm because you don’t want to buy tissues.

Have Some Real Good Times: You will find $100 in the pocket of a pair of jeans in a consignment shop. You will decide to buy clothes from the store with it, and discover that everything you want to buy is 70% off. You will visit the museum where your aunt works and she’ll let you touch the objects. You will go to bars with your cousin and talk about your silly fun family. You’ll go to Cambridge with your friend and browse at the Coop and drink Pimm’s at dinner and go home feeling so lucky to have her in your life. You’ll go to a concert with your college friends in Brighton and their faces will all be painted and you’ll all be drunk and dancing and you’ll feel good.

Feel Like Everything is Beginning: You will talk on the phone with your friends scattered across the country. They all have real jobs or are starting grad school or are in serious relationships or are off on some grand adventure. Everyone will sound happy and you’ll remember the history you’ve had with these people and realize how you never knew that one day you’d be sitting on this bench wearing this coat in this city talking to themand you’ll realize that you have absolutely no idea what will happen next. You will not be worried. TC mark
You should follow Thought Catalog on Twitter hereinfo

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guest Blogger: Khalidah, 2nd year, GHP (and opportunity to support HSPH alum)

Hi all! So it's been a bit of time, but we have another student post! This is from a fellow GHP SM2 candidate, Khalidah Bello, who is interested in...oh, I'm getting ahead of myself; she'll tell you about herself! She's also included some information and an awesome chance to support a recent HSPH alum in his recent initiative! It really shows the great things that HSPH students go on to do! Check it out below:

My name is Khalidah Bello, and I am a graduate Student at the Harvard School of Public Health's (HSPH) Global Health program. My research interests are broad and include infectious disease, mental health, reproductive health, along with nutrition as it relates to obesity. I am particularly interested in helping to alleviate health disparities in underrepresented groups.

My colleague and friend, physician,  Michael Schwandt shares a similar passion. Michael Schwandt is a physician that received his MPH degree at HSPH, last year, 2010. We met while taking a course on HIV epidemiology with a phenomenal lecturer at HSPH,  Dr. Daniel Halperin. Since then, Michael and I have been involved in academic work and social groups at HSPH. I have found him to be an intelligent individual who is passionate about infectious disease, and alleviating the health burden in disadvantaged communities both in North America, as well as internationally.

Michael has since returned to Toronto to complete residency and medical training at University of Toronto (affectionately known as the Harvard of the North).  I fully endorse Michael on his latest project to secure government funding so that he can tackle the global health problem of malaria in a creative fashion. 

See the details below for more information. But above all, please show your support for Michael's project, by clicking the thumbs up sign in the following link:  http://gcc.eyeptv.net/blog/2011/03/14/the-mouse-vs-malaria-crowdsourcing-for-disease-surveillance-in-low-income-countries/

The deadline for support is  April 29th

1 min, 50 seconds. Google. Research Funding. Your Thumbs Up of Approval.  Battling Malaria. 
And Assisting an HSPH alum. April 29 deadline4097945959_15f8d6beae.jpg
Caption: Michael, HSPH alum,  was active when in Boston and  finished first in a marathon called Halloween Superheroes 5-K Road Race 2010 to Benefit Cambridge Women’s Crisis Organization  (Michael is in the middle)
Credits -Cambridge TV- (http://www.cctvcambridge.org/_Superheroes_Race_in_Cambridge)
With five minutes of your time. Let's Show him the Longwood Medical community Supports its Grads!!!!!

A thumbs up from you, can help a Havard Alum tackle Malaria using Google!   It takes just five minutes.

Michael, Harvard grad, and resident doctor , now in Canada,  performed as "Jay Z" in the song  "Empire State of Mind" at Harvard's International Night 2010 last year, and now he is aiming to perform on Canada's Global Health stage.
Rally behind Michael Schwandt online, HSPH Alum 2010, and help him get selected as a Canadian Rising Star in Global Health! It is as easy as clicking the the thumbs up button on his video submission for global health funding by the Canadian government.

Michael Schwandt is an African Canadian, and aims to secure funding as Harvard's Canadian Rising star in Global Health, with an innovative idea to track infectious disease such as malaria using internet search engines such as google.

He simply needs support of individuals worldwide to hit the "thumbs up" button on his video submission to show support for his idea, if they agree of course. Video link:1 min 50 seconds.
Support  him online! Have your friends do so too!  Click the thumbs up button. Share this email with friends to Support him too.

Public voting Makes a Large difference for the online video in grant application!!  Support him with the click of one button. It takes 5 minutes. Even less!

He was a good friend of mine, and is a great person,

SM2 candidate

Optional Additional Reading (More background info)Details on the Grant Below:

 Short Proposal Description:

Michael's proposal is titled: "The Mouse vs Malaria," and in short he suggests that we can find clues about infectious diseases around the world by looking at what people are doing online -- much the same way researchers have already been able to predict flu trends with information from Google searches (http://www.google.org/flutrends/ca/#CA)

This program aims to tap into the creativity, knowledge and skills of emerging Canadian innovators to solve some of the most persistent health challenges in the developing world through scientific, business, and social innovation. We call this approach Integrated Innovation.

They are looking for inovative ideas to address complex real-world challenges that invovle a scientific or technological solution (new or existing) alone or in combination with social and/or business innovations. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why Public Health series

Hi all,

Good news! A draft of my thesis has been submitted to the department! I can't completely breathe yet (especially since we receive a grade that accounts for five of our credits!), but I do know that high GPA or not, I will graduate! Unfortunately it doesn't look like I can convince students to write about their experiences at this time of the year. However, Ned, a videographer at HSPH, shared the links to a new video series that you might enjoy. It's called "Why Public Health?" and features students sharing what got them interested in public health (and a little plug for HSPH of course). I had conceived a similar idea at the beginning of the year, but Ned's version is much more professional. He also features an array of students (although they may all be MPH-ers and thus already doctors) but regardless, take a look and enjoy!!

Nayana Vootakuru, MPH candidate
Serufusa Sekkide, MD, MPH candidate

Monday, April 4, 2011

An Unexpected Revelation at Crunch Time!

Hi all! Hope you've enjoyed the guest blogs! It seems that it's crunch time for everyone now so it might be a while before there's another post! In fact, my thesis is due in just a few short weeks (yikes!) so I probably should be doing what the rest of my classmates are doing and not blogging! Haha.

Any of you who have touched based with me (or read parts of the blog) know that the last several weeks have been particularly stressful for me. I've also tried to preface anything I say by sharing that the current stress I'm under doesn't allow me to paint an "objective" or "fair" view of HSPH. But, the most wonderful thing happened today (and brought a tear to my eye, I'll admit) that reminded me why this experience is worth it.

My mom asked me to call her this evening and said she wanted to share something that one of my younger brothers (who recently entered the teenage years) wrote. For an English assignment, he wrote about his New Year's Experience at the Kalahari Resort (which I blogged and included fun pictures of early this year). But, what really touched me was that his essay wasn't about how amazingly awesome the resort was (and indeed it was); it was about how special the experience was because his sister was there. It was the fact that even though this environment and the pressures of Hah-vahd often make you (i.e., me, students...) feel insignificant and like you don't matter, you and your presence here has an impact on someone.

I don't know if I can, in words, share how touching his words were, but it reminded me that I am a role model. I don't come from a family legacy of Harvard graduates (although I am a third-generation higher education student with extremely intelligent parents and grandparents), and I don't come from a wealthy family where this is considered "the norm." I am proudly a racial/ethnic minority and an individual from a small Midwestern community where so many people never choose or have the opportunity to leave, and I am so fortunate to have made it to where I am. I sometimes feel that systems like here at Harvard that were designed on the "Old Boys Club" mentality aren't designed for me to succeed and that they don't want me to succeed. (Ah-ha! moment: these are my perceptions of the roots of my challenges here). But the words of my brother reminded me that I have to - and I will - succeed and thrive because my success not only impacts me; it impacts so many others who look up to me.

I guess that sometimes you just need a miracle to jolt you, and I think I just got mine. I promise (Girl Scout's honor) to make an effort to be more positive over the next 6 weeks of school, and to do everything in my power to succeed. And I hope that the lessons I've learned from my time here, and hopefully the lives I've impacted, will all feed into making me a better role model and future leader of tomorrow!

Stay tuned for more posts in a couple of weeks...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Guest Blogger: Mariesa, 2nd year SM2, SHHD

This week's entry is from my girl Mariesa, who is one of the few friends that remained here for another year with me! She's someone I really admire for her ability to balance her personal, professional, and academic lives (in my opinion), as well as just being an all-around great person. She's also one of a handful of Harvard College alums, which seems to have really shaped her ability to positively harness the HSPH environment. But I'll let her share more...

It was a cold February back in the 1980s...oh wait, this blog post is supposed to give you a glimpse at being a Harvard student, not a full-length documentary about my awkward upbringing, whoops...sooooo....

I started my degree at HSPH in fall of 2009, as a candidate in the Department of Human Society, Human Development, and Health--it seemed like the most logical fit given my background and interests.  I tested people for HIV in the emergency room of a major Boston academic hospital and worked with Boston teenagers in an inner-city Boston neighborhood to urge them to think twice about drinking that soda with their meal, messing around 'just for the sake of it' without protection, and telling them why 'crack really is whack.'

All in all, my interests in reducing health disparities and understanding behavioral determinants of health landed me to where I am today.  But while I've taken a number of amazing classes with some world-renowned professors at HSPH and at the other Harvard graduate schools, some of the most impactful moments of my academic career have taken place outside of lectures and seminars.  

One thing about me is that I am a very social person, and I love bringing people together.  One thing that lured me to Harvard was Harvard UNIVERSITY--that is, the greater aspect of Harvard outside of the Harvard School of Public Health.  However, as I stepped onto campus, I was actually quite disappointed with how little the different schools interacted--there are so many students who couldn't even tell you the name of one person that goes to a grad school outside of their own.  Sure, the Provost Office works closely with the Harvard Graduate Council to have events for all Harvard graduate students--I was actually one of HSPH reps last year.  It was definitely a great way to meet some pretty amazing people from some of the other grad schools.  But because there is such a quick turn-over for many degree programs (especially like the MPH'ers at HSPH!), it can be difficult to form sustainable relationships.  While the different schools and departments may play a large role in helping to foster such interdisciplinary relationships, it is really up to students themselves to look for ways to reach out and plant the seeds to help foster a greater sense of community and build sustainable relationships.

At the Office of Diversity, one of my projects revolves around improving the quality of interaction among students at HSPH.  We've hosted monthly mixers for different ethnic groups on campus as a way to get groups of students who otherwise may not collaborate on events to come together to meet each other over some refreshments.  Based on the feedback we've gotten from the participants, the initiative has helped spur friendships among people who otherwise would never have had a chance to meet during their time as HSPH.  Even at the bus stop the other day, I ran into a few of the students from the Harvard Club of Japan and we had a nice convo on the M2 ride to HSPH catching up about school life and expressing excitement that we would all be going to an upcoming school event together!  Annnnnnd I got invited to more of the club's upcoming events :)  One thing I do appreciate about HSPH is my very diverse group of friends--not even in undergrad did I have the opportunity to connect on a deeper level with so many amazing individuals from various walks of life.  Guess when everyone's stressed and passionate about similar things, it can bring people together, eh? ;)

I also spearheaded an initiative called the Harvard Black Graduate Alliance, a consortium of the African-American affinity groups across Harvard University. Now, I went here for undergrad and because I've been around for so long, I've had the opportunity to stay in contact with some of my old friends from undergrad--who in turn invited me to various events their schools were hosting, kept me in the loop about what was going on in their own schools that might be of interest to me, and of course introduced me to a number of their own friends.  Having this pipeline of information exchange and seeing how enriched my own experience at HSPH was by connecting with various students from other grad schools, I wanted to be able to offer a similar experience to other African-American students at Harvard. I was actually really surprised and disappointed when I became a graduate student at how very little the different black communities interacted with eachother.   I'd been thinking about forming an overarching organization for some time--but then it really hit when I went to a minority-oriented mixer hosted by the Design School, HSPH, and HSGE and met some great people---only to realize realistically, I may never see them again!  And many of the Design School prospects were worried about their school not having a sizeable amount of students of color for support.  

Now, when times get rough, you often would like the ear or shoulder of someone who can more comprehensively understand where you are coming from.  And so began the process of spearheading such efforts, recruiting "reps" from all of the different schools to serve, getting administrative support, and building a working model to create a meaningful organization that would bring together various African-American students across the Harvard graduate schools by bridging interests and increasing collaboration and interaction.  In its first year, not going to lie, it has been a bit stressful spearheading such an effort and doing what you feel needs to get done so that the organization is accomplishing its goals and will become sustainable. At the very least, through a potluck, a party, small group dinners, and collaboration with the Harvard black Alumni Society (to name a few events), we've definitely helped improve communication of various events going on at the schools to be able to include students who might not otherwise know about such events.  

But a major demonstration of how the community quickly banded together was in response to a racist incident that occurred in Boston back in November, where club managers denied entrance to Black Harvard and Yale graduate students, despite the fact that the venue had been paid for and appropriate arrangements made beforehand.  The community came together and BGA worked to make sure that students and faculty were quickly made aware of the incident and internally decided the appropriate course of action to take against a blatant display of racism.  Ultimately, various Harvard administrators wrote letters in support of the African-American students of Harvard and the community, a lawsuit was filed, and of course various students initiated their own responses.  In the end, at least some form of justice prevailed in that besides receiving overwhelmingly negative publicity for a number of weeks, the club issued a public apology and was fined $30000, of which the money will be donated to groups that are oriented on higher education achievement for African American students.   In the end, it was nice to see that various communities across Harvard could mobilize very quickly--and it was comforting to know that we had the support of various Harvard deans, administrators, and friends from all walks of the Harvard community.   

 My journey here is far from over, or at least I tell myself that as graduation looms near :p...stay tuned!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Guest Blogger: Lama, 2nd Year SM2, GHP

Hi all,

So, we have our first guest blogger who wrote a wonderful piece about her time here at HSPH below! I will just say that Lama is one of the superstars here; she's very involved outside of academics (which, in my opinion, is uncommon), has a unique ability to connect with so many of the faculty here, and does so while always helping out a classmate in need. She's what I wish most colleagues were like! Anyhow, here are her thoughts:

I started at the Harvard School of Public Health as a Master's student in Global Health and Population (GHP) in the fall of 2009. It has been an exciting, turbulent, eye-opening two years that has left me often with feelings of disappointment, but also excitement for the future and a yearning to enter fieldwork.  

My interests lie in the Middle East and North Africa, and while my focus has traditionally been on refugees and (more broadly) health issues with migrant populations, I’ve grown to appreciate the complexity of the situation that surrounds refugee populations. I have become increasingly interested in rebuilding or strengthening health systems in post-conflict settings as well as much of the humanitarian response. This is supplemented by a strong interest in self-determination, allowing people to determine their own destinies regardless of the interests of outside players. This is a recurring and complex issue in humanitarian disasters and post-conflict settings.

Now, will I have a job in any of those interesting topic areas when I graduate? Probably not. J
But before I try figure out the rest of my life, let me tell you a little about my experience here.

The Good

I have learned a lot at HSPH and built up a quantitative skill set that I can be proud of, even if I never use it! I have built some very good relationships both at the School of Public Health and across Harvard. I’ve learned that some of the misconceptions I had about faculty coming in were wrong; while most of my cohort never built a strong relationship with him, Dr. Allan Hill has taught me that senior faculty members can be interesting and flexible in their thoughts as well as open to new and intriguing ideas. He is, by far, one of the most supportive faculty members here, although many people cannot believe me when I say that. He does not have the same research interests as me, but has worked in the Middle East and is really open to talking about anything and everything. In fact, I would say the more junior faculty are possibly less invested in their students because of their busy schedules and understandable constant need to make strides in their research. That is just my experience; I know other people have found faculty members that they are comfortable with.

I think everyone can find a niche here. As a progressive young Muslim Lebanese woman, I have friends that I love and who support me and even ones that, amazingly, think like me! I’ve been part of some great student organizations and have done work that I never thought I would do. Within the last year especially, I’ve been more active in groups that have really allowed me to grow and learn while supporting important movements and ideas. It has been educational and inspiring, a real one of a kind experience, and I can say that because I can’t go back in time to re-experience something different (no counterfactual)!

And lastly, I love this city. Boston <3

The Bad

Over the last two years here, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of sensitivity to, often even a lack of acknowledgement of, the voices of the people being impacted by public health measures that we are discussing.  There is an utter disregard for many of the underlying issues that are often the root of why so many programs and efforts fail. These include race, gender, culture, religion, faith and spirituality, ethnicity, sexuality, power dynamics, imperialism and colonialism -- variety, diversity, differences between people, similarities, history, all the things that make this earth beautiful.

I tell myself, maybe I just feel this way because I’m an immigrant to this country myself, because I feel like they don’t listen to the voices of people in my country. Those voices are over-shadowed by the stomping feet of the big players, as they are in other countries, and those stomping feet are usually loud and .. you know.. stomping on the people. And rather than seeing my school as a partner to the people, it really is more of a stomper itself. I will say that so many people here do have good intentions, but frankly, when people’s lives are at stake, that is not good enough for me. While we have centers at the School that work in humanitarian response or in health systems, I have failed to fully fit into those because of that gnawing notion in my mind: self-determination and, at a minimum, inclusion of populations in the decisions made about them.

And The Ugly…

I believe that the worst part about all of this is that we do not have constructive conversations, even as students, about these issues. We all know there is systemic (and not-so-systemic) discrimination at Harvard as an institution and some of us may have experienced it in person as women, as Muslims, as Africans or African Americans. HSPH may be the most internationally diverse of all the Harvard graduate schools, and so, never having discussions about race, ethnicity, gender, religion…  just astonishes me!
Because I have felt that my education is so Western-oriented and top-down, I have excelled at learning it (know your enemy J). I have also focused much more on developing my skill set: the quantitative skills that they emphasize so much, and even skills needed for economics, and some qualitative research skills. I am convinced that I may one day be able to use the foundational knowledge, apply those skills, change them, adapt them, or develop completely new methods to impact my country, my people, and my region.
Should I have expected more from Haavaad? Maybe not. J

If you’d like to have a discussion about any of these issues, or my areas of interest, my work as a Student Ambassador at the Office of Diversity (and my 2 other jobs, or the numerous student groups I’m involved with!), feel free to email me at lamahassoun@gmail.com.

Peace and love,


Harvard Arab Weekend

I got engaged over the summer!

Muslim Student Group Dinner