The Quarter Life Crisis

Most of us have heard of the term “mid-life crisis” before, but I think the more appropriate term that most people at our stage in life can relate to is the term “quarter-life crisis.” Now how does one define this syndrome? Well, it’s simple. It’s a period in your life, I would say anywhere and anytime during your 20s although it could occur earlier or later, when you ponder about the most basic question, “what am I doing with my life?”

Then, you freak out.

Have you experienced it before? Are you experiencing it now? Will you experience it in the future? Chances are that you have or will be afflicted with this at some point. The severity will vary depending on the person. And that’s okay. You’re not alone.

I am reminded of this phenomenon after talking to a friend of mine, who probably introduced me to this term – jokingly of course – a few years ago. We’ve been friends since undergrad and every so often, like good friends do, we just talk about the future. Our goals. Our visions. Our aspirations. Of course, many of those ideas like starting my own film company or creating a reality show called “Idiotic or Genius” haven’t quite gone into fruition yet, although you never know what tomorrow brings. But others have.

For me, my freak out moment wasn’t just one isolated moment when everything clicked. It was a series of events starting with just my experiences working at a very small non-profit mental health center. I was doing community outreach workshops for ESL refugees for an entire year. And when I graduated, the program was terminated. Done. Over. Those ESL refugees? They didn’t get any of the programming that we provided them. While things like this happen in the real world, I was just more shocked at the price tag for my program. The only payment I received was a subway stipend, which amounted to about $150 a semester. We didn’t charge the refugees for the workshop. Someone deemed that paying $300 a year to help about 15 patients wasn’t going to be worth it anymore.

About two years later, while working at a very large non-profit mega organization, I began to experience back pains. While I joked about how I was getting old, the real reality is that no 20-something year old person should be experiencing back pains at work and that something was wrong. My department sent in an ergonomic consultant and after some examination, it was determined that my chair was always broken and was causing my back pains. They sent me to the chair department (I am not kidding), whose job is to order chairs for people. I tried a few out and ultimately I chose a chair that gave me the sense of power. And by power, I really meant the ability to swirl. The department lady said she’d take care of it and I asked how much it’d cost. $600.

That cost value always stuck with me, especially after I applied to public health schools in epidemiology. One chair at this company would equate to about two years of outreach programming at the other company. Pocket change to one company would mean a lot elsewhere. However, a larger issue is that even if that mental health center had the money, would they make the most out of it? To me, efficiency problems and the lack of skill set was going to sink the center regardless. For every dollar they had in the bank, they would only really get 10 cents out of it. But why not 30?

To me, it didn’t seem right. Another friend of mine always joked that when you leave Berkeley, every student has a “save the world” complex. Well, while fixing these inefficiencies wouldn’t necessarily save the world, it was a step in the right direction. It will make a difference. And this vision is what led me to leave my job, leave my interest in research/epidemiology behind, and pursue health management so I could learn the vocabulary of that world and hopefully go back to institutions like that mental health one and make a difference. It felt right to me.

Now, a little over two years after I made that decision, I find myself with a MPH degree, over a month into a new job at a hospital, and living in a city that I never fathomed being in since I hate their baseball team so much (still do). I have no idea whether this career path that I’m on now is the final career path of my life and my calling. I don’t even know if hospital administration is my thing, let alone carrying a Crackberry around (my gut says that this is not). But I think the key thing is you have to figure out your overall interest and then take chances to see if the environment, work, and lifestyle can help you develop that interest further. For me, I know health care is where I want to be. In what capacity remains to be seen, but going back to school was how I addressed my quarter-life crisis and made what I call a “life course correction” in order to get on the path that I wanted to be in… which was to do something that mattered to me.

I have thought a lot about my friend who introduced me to the “quarter life crisis” term as she is going through it now. She mentioned the frustration and pressure she feels given her perception that everyone she knows has it together and is focused in their lives while she feels that she is not. I have thought about the stories I’ve heard from friends I’ve made in the past two years at school. Some of these friends are going through similar issues and questioning whether the path they took in going to grad school was the right decision. One is looking at other options. Another is handling the disappointment that comes with realizing that the career and job they thought they would do isn’t right for them.

The point I mention these stories is this. It’s impossible for most of us to really answer that question, “what am I doing with my life?” What’s more important is putting yourself in a position to see whether you can answer the questions, “do I like what I’m doing and do I see a future in this?” And if you can’t, it’s time for a “life course correction.” This is one path towards getting out of that quarter life crisis funk. That or a lot of heart to hearts with friends over the phone, coffee, IM, e-mail, etc.

Either way, if you’re in a funk like this one, you’re not alone.


Graduation Speeches Now on the Blog!

Congratulations Class of 2009!

Check out the graduation speeches written by some members of our class, and check back soon for ways to share photos, videos, and post-graduation plans.

See below for a word cloud of all the speeches…

Robert Nelb: Why Public Health?

This spring, when I wanted to avoid working on papers and projects, when I was tired of looking for jobs and worried about paying off my student debt, I found solace in the latest addition to the Yale Public Health community, our new, totally unofficial, public health blog.

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On this simple site, I could flip through photos of the desserts at our latest happy hour, I could watch YouTube videos with SAYPH’s advice on how to Mingle Till You Tingle, and I could follow the triumphs and the ultimate tragedy of our beloved Outbreak softball team.

In addition, I could also read about the great speakers coming to campus, like the President of Liberia, who just came to thank Yale for helping to improve the country’s health care system. I could see the impact that our school was having at community events, like the recent AIDS Walk, where YSPH brought the largest team in all of New Haven, helping the event raise over $30,000. Best of all, I could follow the latest adventures and accomplishments of the amazing people who make this place so special.

Indeed, with over one thousand visits and nearly one hundred posts, this blog has quickly become a microcosm of our School of Public Health, and a reminder of why I love it so much.

Now, in case you’re trying to Google Y Public Health (dot) blogspot (dot) com on your smartphone right now, I should warn you that it’s not so easy to find. The title doesn’t begin with letter “Y” as in Yale, but rather with the question why – W-H-Y. The reason for this play on words is purely practical, of course – I may not be graduating here today if the Yale Corporation found out that I used the their name to post pictures from wine tasting or videos of Borat.

Nonetheless, today, on this graduation day, the wording seems to hold a deeper meaning. After two years of learning how to do public health, it’s fitting to reflect on why we do public health. What is our reason, what is our motivation, what is our purpose? If you’re anything like me, I’m sure that you’ve had trouble explaining to your parents what this field is all about, and so, with friends and family around us today, now is our chance to set the story straight.

A basic definition of why you’ve been studying public health these past few years might naturally begin with your coursework – the set of skills you’ve gained from this place – epidemiology, study design, policy analysis, etc. We study public health because it is interesting, because it challenges us to think outside the box, and gives us a set of tools to understand some of the world’s most pressing challenges. CEA Winslow, the founder of the Yale School of Public Health famously defines the field as “the science and art of preventing disease and promoting health.” At Yale, we are blessed to receive a world-class education from faculty who are both renowned scholars of science and wonderful practitioners of the art of compassion.

But of course, anyone who has spent too long in the windowless Winslow auditorium can tell you that the subject matter is not enough to explain why we do what we do. We need some sunlight! Public health is an applied science that aims to take what we know and make a difference in the lives of others. Our class knows this lesson well, and in just a few short years here, we’ve already made a tangible impact: we’ve fought to make New Haven’s streets safer, we’ve delivered health education in El Salvador, and hopefully later this month we will have helped to pass comprehensive health reform here in Connecticut.

And yet, while it easy to list our accomplishments, we also know that the work of public health is not so simple. We don’t always succeed, and along the way, there seem to be a million roadblocks: We try a new intervention and find a null result. We publish a study that few people read. We speak truth to policymakers only to see further inaction. And so we must return to the central question: why, why do we even try?

Something deeper must pull us on to do this work of public health. Something more than outcomes and evaluation metrics. Something more than fame or fortune. Something more, something greater than ourselves.

This driving spirit, I think, is with us here today. I’ve seen it in the hugs of friends and family. I’ve seen it in the shared stories on our new blog. I’ve seen it on the streets of Dixwell and Dakar. It is the spirit of community, the belief that helping the least among us makes us all stronger, the faith in our greater humanity, that truly drives us on to do the work of public health. This is our motivation. This is our purpose.

Unfortunately, this spirit is sorely missing in our world these days, and outside of the comforts of Yale, it may be easy to forget the calling of community. We live in a world where Wall Street bankers tempt us with short-term profits at the expense of long-term interests. Where gated communities allow us to live in comfortable ease rather than confront the disparities in our midst. And where even our neighbors ask us how much we make, rather than how much we give.

At the end of the day, however, it is precisely because the challenge is so hard, because the odds are so steep, that our work of public health is needed now more than ever before. We may not know everything and we may not always succeed, but together we can make our communities just a little bit stronger. And so, Class of 2009, as we go forth today into the wide-open world, hold fast to your Yale Public Health degree, your Why Public Health degree. May we always remember why we do what we do.

Happy video!

Nicole sends along this inspirational video to the Class of 2009 to help us enjoy this special moment…

Garett Ng: Choose your own adventure

Good afternoon my fellow graduates.

When I think of the past two years here at the School of Public Health, I can’t help but think how we all got here is sort of like being in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Remember those books? They’re great.

But seriously. Life’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Or as Professor Paltiel would say, a decision tree. All of us here have had a wide variety of experiences that has brought us all together at this point. Some of us have come internationally to study here. Some have worked in a variety of labs and non-profit organizations. Some came straight here from undergraduate studies or even down the street. Wherever you came from, there is one thing that links us all. You selected that option to come here and turned to that page.

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My story is similar to yours. On one weekend, I was coming home from lunch and found the big Yale envelope in my mailbox. After saying a series of “colorful” metaphors, I tore open the package ready to scream and go delirious from being one step closer to joining the Skulls and Bones when… I found out that I had someone else’s admission letter. My journey to Yale started by making a phone call not to all my friends and family that I’m going to Yale, but to the Admissions office and asking why I got Derek Ng’s letter and not mine.

And so for the past few years, while many of you may have gone through what’s known as the “imposter syndrome” and wondering if you really belonged here, think about me. I REALLY wasn’t sure if I belonged here. But like all of you, I stayed resilient and decided to seize the opportunity here.

What an opportunity it has been. It has flown by. I remember during our orientation when Dean Cleary gave a prediction about how we all came here with a specific goal and vision in mind with our studies. And how we would all leave more confused now that our eyes have been open to greater possibilities out there. It’s true, don’t you think? I no longer want to join the Skulls and Bones.

During my spring break, a friend asked me, “Was it worth it Garett?” – it being the two years here.

So, was it worth it? I have wondered that over the past few weeks especially as things started to wind down and I thought about all of the memories and experiences I’ve had during the past two years:

* Like coming back in the fall and hearing some of the extraordinary internship experiences that you had – from developing a fortified nutritional program in India, addressing nutritional policy and issues with the Rudd Center, to working in Africa in developing child services.
* Or sitting in a SAS lab and watching as a classmate got stressed out over coding, only to mitigate that stress by going on Facebook. And then, for me, coming up with a topic for my SBS intervention paper – internet addiction among graduate students.
* Or watching my teammate get tripped by the first baseman and fall to the ground in softball. Then seeing a whole posse of first year medical students eagerly applying their knowledge of diagnosis and triage a whole 5 feet away from my fallen teammate. And then watching as a public health student push through the med students to triage the teammate directly and take him to the hospital. This is public health right there! Taking action!

But going back to this main research question, was it worth it? I decided to do what any good public health student would do and that is to cook up a model in SAS. I apologize if this makes you cringe, but indulge me for a moment. I’ve always wanted to be an epidemiologist, and this is my one shot especially given my iffy grade in Dr. Dubrow’s class. And by the way, for the record, I just wanted to let you know that I used SAS version 9.1.3 for this. Please be sure to record this in the methodology section. So proc this.

First, my outcome variable is happiness during my time here. Since this is a binary variable, I used proc logistics. I made this model a function of a couple of very important variables. First, was the degree of self-reported stress exhibited during Mark Schlessinger’s first policy group project. Self explanatory. Second, the number of times I actually said ‘no’ to paper during sustainability week. Third, and most important, was the number of hours spent at 47 College doing SAS.

Obviously, my model is quite robust and contains many other variables, but I don’t want to bore you with the rest of the details. Let’s just say I came up with some really statistically significant findings. And there’s no issue of heteroskedasticity.

But more importantly, there are a wide variety of things I’ve learned from this analysis.

First, and I don’t think we do enough of this, enjoy this moment right now. Take a moment and look around this room. We are all fortunate to be here. You have heard the statistics before. 1/3 of the world population lives on less than a dollar a day. Only 30% of Americans even have a college degree. With people throughout the world with so much less means than we do, I hope you never forget – being here has been a privilege for us. I encourage you all to remember that and carry that with you no matter what path you go to.

Second, it’s a small public health world out there, yet the potential is huge to work together across disciplines. There are obviously a lot of issues out there in health care and it’s not going to be one area like epidemiology or another area like health management that will solve the problems. We need to work together and come up with a new way of doing things. We need to be innovative.

Finally, have fun and be passionate in whatever course you take. Life is too short to be unhappy. Smile. Joke. Be with the people that make you smile. Do the things that you love.

So let’s go back to where we stand today. We’re about to Choose Our Next Adventure. I joked with a recruiter how I picked the best economic time to leave school given all that we hear on a day to day basis on the news. But as I look around now, I know it is the best time to return to the field. Some of you all are already heading towards that next step. I mean, can you believe it? Working at the National Institute of Health. Leading the New York Department of Health. Getting a PhD. Informing policy decisions in the government. This is a fantastic start, but let us not forget that the work will not stop there.

We need good people like us to go out there and shed a light on the disparities that no one speaks about. We need good people to be courageous and take a stand that inequalities and suffering that still exist is not okay and that it needs to be fixed. We need good people to inspire others to make positive changes to health care. Which one of us will make the next, big discovery to revolutionize health care? Who will be the epidemiologist that launches that next great longitudinal study? Who in this class will win a Nobel prize for their new theory on environmental justice?

When Dr. Winslow chaired the School of Public Health, he led and guided healthcare reform in Connecticut. He positively impacted millions of people through his work. To my fellow graduates, I dare you to do better. Why not be the greatest class in public health history? Why not us? We have the capability to do it. It’s within our reach. This is the challenge that I offer you today. And I know we will rise up to meet it.

Thank you.

Akshara Menon: Small but proud

Good afternoon,

We are here today to celebrate the graduation of the Yale School of Public Health’s Class of 2009 – perhaps one of the smallest classes in terms of actual number of students, but a class of great spirit…and in the words of noted anthropologist Margaret Mead- “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Public health school has taught us many things. Our class has been trained in numbers with Biostatistics and many letters of public health – EHS, EMD, SBS, HPM, HPA, CDE, FGHIJKLMNOP….well-trained…
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But, I am often asked – what is public health? Well, public health can be defined as “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.” This is one of the earliest definitions of public health by Charles Edward Winslow, founder of our school of public health, better known to us students for Winslow Auditorium, our class home of freezing temperatures for most of our first year of education where we learned about P hat and the infamous John Snow.

This past two years has in some ways flown by, and we have learned a lot from our esteemed professors in the classroom setting, and have been given the gift of a skill-set that can help us be the change that we wish to see in our local, national and global communities.

But, these two years have meant so much more. Going beyond the classroom, textbooks and readings, as a class we have shared so many memories together— from the many formals we have attended, including the medical school formals where public health took over the dance floor, our group struggles in 47 College trying to understand and decode SAS, the creation of the John Snow Society, to our relentless Outbreak softball team…we have been more than just a class. We have become family, a family that I know will continue past this graduation ceremony.

The time has come for us to embark on our next adventure…at this time, it is important for us to remember that while schooling may be over (for most of us, or for now), our education still continues…in the words of Tom Brokaw, we must think of our degree as a ticket to change the world. We must remember the inspiring words of Dr.Dubrow in our first year, to above all remember to fix the potholes in the sidewalks. No matter what paths we choose to take, we must never forget to have heart and show compassion for all.

As Dr. James Orbinski says, “We are responsible for our lives and for our world. And if we don’t engage that responsibility, no one else will and we will live or die with a legacy of our failures.”

My fellow classmates and dear friends, as the saying goes –

I hope your dreams take you to the corners of your smiles, to the highest of your hopes, to the windows of your opportunities, and to the most special places your heart has ever known.

Thank you for making my public health school experience a truly memorable time. Good luck and Congratulations!

Yuna Lee: The world is your oyster

Our MPH class of 2009 may be remembered fondly as an outlier in the history of the Yale School of Public Health. An unusually small class, we arrived in New Haven at a time when Health exploded into every discussion on Yale campus, and amazing things were coming out of our school, as the world looked to our professors for guidance. Our discussions and papers were real time commentaries on momentous world events. We returned from our summer internships to see a world somewhat turned upside down, but then got pulled in as Health emerged as a key to reform. We rallied together during a financial crisis, the election of an epic new Administration, an outbreak of a pandemic. This is all for 75 different individuals who were probably more used to be the diligent hard workers in the background, the public health puppeteers of health system design or the troopers in the field not used to the limelight.

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So, friends, it’s been two years since we all first gathered here in this town from every corner of the globe and walk of life. We came from 22 states and 15 countries including Singapore, Uganda, Brazil and Nigeria. Two years ago, I arrived at Yale from the most isolated city in Australia. I was alone, I didn’t know anyone. What a difference two years can make. In this school, I found a home and a community, a place which has given me the confidence to become a person I didn’t even know I had the capacity to become. The people of YSPH and the classmates I am so proud to call my friends and colleagues have shaped me, guided me and transformed me both personally and professionally into someone who is truly excited about meaningfully contributing to this field.

I know that my story is not unique. We all came in proudly defending our own views and ways of thinking, only to see them stretch and open as we talked to each other, sometimes over a beer, sometimes in a study room for 7 hours, sometimes dressing up for a Formal. Those classmates that terrified you with their impressive icebreakers are now your friends for life. Together, we had this unique experience that can never be replicated or forgotten.

You had a once in a lifetime opportunity to have two years for yourself – to explore, to play, to broaden your minds, to learn from each other. Yale was ready to help you, if you sought it out. We had the chance to step outside of ourselves, try new things on for size, walk around in other people’s shoes. You could find us piping up in classes as diverse as forestry, architecture or management; in New York boardrooms or in the trenches handing out tooth brushes, and the next day, switching roles elegantly. The years flew by and we had fun and loved our time here. This school in turn has been shaped by you and your unique contribution.

Inside and outside the classroom, we’ve seen and learned about the world in its highest performing creativity and its depths of suffering. But just learning isn’t enough, and even just wanting to help isn’t enough. Over these two years we’ve grown bows and arrows, wings on our back, all sorts of toolkits that are actually helpful – and each of us with our unique specialization is ready to be let loose again onto the real world to make some positive changes.

The nature of the challenges we face when we leave these gates are real and daunting. I believe that the mark of a civilized society is how it treats its citizens at their most vulnerable. As public health professionals, we are at the forefront of ensuring our citizens globally have a chance to live their life optimally, with health and happiness. It is an incredible privilege to do what we do. Yet, it will not be easy. There will be times when this field sucks you up and spits you out. But, I know that when that happens, you will jump back up, dust yourself off, and jump right back in again. And there’ll be 75 of us here, all around the world, cheering you on as you do it.

How special is it that today, we are graced by Dr Paul Farmer, a person who’s efforts and compassion guided many of us to this field and thus to Yale. We are all also graced by our families and friends, and the well wishes of a School which has cheered us on for these two transformative years. It’s a unique kind of blessing indeed.

And with that, I wish you all a grand new adventure for this next phase of life. The world is your oyster – we’ll catch you on the flip side.