Today is my first day of grad school! I’ve felt so many emotions over the past few months since I found out I got into this program – the 6th best MPH program in the nation! From sheer disbelief to excitement to anxiety to self-doubt to impatience… I’m ready to get started.
When a turning point in life happens, I always find it interesting to reflect back on how it is I got to where I am. Food was always a huge part of my life – my parents’ home is always full of people enjoying meals together and food has always been central to our family life. I never considered it as a career, though. Back in 2009 when I started my undergraduate degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I cared about people and social justice and making the world a better place, so I chose a degree in social work and minors/certificates in global studies, sociology, and peace studies & conflict resolution. I also studied multiple languages, spent a semester in Uganda, and got involved in a variety of campus groups including an international student group. Literally none of this had anything to do with nutrition and my vision for my future had nothing to do with public health policy or dietetics.
When I look back, though, I see the little sparks that pushed me in this direction. My college roommates and I loved to cook dinner together. The international student group met for dinner every week and I was able to experience food and culture from all over the world and the importance of food culture. In my studies I learned about systemic oppression, global capitalism and its role in our industrial and political policies, and corporate control of our industrialized agricultural system. None of this was what I set out to study, but it all found its way into my study of society and how to help people within it. Most importantly, when I was in Uganda I visited a nutritional rehabilitation center in Jinja, Uganda. There I was able to see the importance of nutrition and empowering families with knowledge and resources to feed their families and keep their kids healthy. There was such a stark contrast between the kids who were literally starving to death coming into the center and the kids who had been rehabilitated and whose families had gone through nutrition ed classes and now knew how to use local foods to keep their kids nourished. It was a really powerful experience.
Fast forward: my undergrad degree was a flop, I hated my first social work internship and felt like I had wasted four years pursuing something I knew I would never be a viable career option for me. At that time, Kyle was studying for his masters degree in environmental engineering and happened to take few courses in public health (a field I had never considered before). He encouraged me to look into it as a field of further study because he thought I would really enjoy it. It’s funny how these things happen.
After he finished his masters degree, we started to explore options that would take us out of the midwest – somewhere new, somewhere that would provide us with more opportunities than we were finding in our situation there. We weighed the Peace Corps as an option and I found myself looking into the coordinated masters programs with the Peace Corps. In the end, we decided that Kyle was ready to kick off his career and I was ready to go to grad school. We chose the pacific northwest as our destination and then, more specifically, Seattle because of the top-rated public health program here at the University of Washington.
Once I had decided on a Masters of Public Health, I had to choose a specific track/field of study within the program. The options were Biostatistics, Environmental/Occupational Health, Global Health, Epidemiology, Health Services, or Nutritional Sciences. I honestly cannot remember how I chose Nutrition – I think Kyle picked it for me (he really does know me better than I know myself, as cheesy as that sounds) – or how the idea of becoming a registered dietitian even came up. Regardless of how I got to that decision, it was the right one. BUT it also meant that I had to buckle down and get to work on my hard science classes. I had to take chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, and anatomy & physiology. At this point in my life, I had taken a grand total of two science classes. It was time to get busy.
Taking these science classes was another revolutionary experience – I always thought I didn’t like or wasn’t good at science, but I LOVED these classes. And I thrived in them. If you had told me even 2 years before this that I would be getting excited about my microbiology assignments I would not have believed you! But I found this internal excitement, curiosity, and passion that I had never really experienced before. I was sold on this science thing.
(Bonus: because it took me so long to take all these science classes, I was a resident of Washington by the time I applied for the program, meaning I will be paying in-state tuition rates!)
I applied to the UW in December of 2015. I remember distinctly the night I submitted my application: I was freaking out about it, wondering if I’d missed anything or forgotten something important; Kyle was looking up stats about the program and how few students get into the program (WHY he was doing this on the night I was submitting my app I have no idea!); I hit the “submit” button, promptly decided I should just forget about the entire thing because there was no way I was going to get in, grabbed a glass of wine and let out a sigh of relief – at least that was over and I could move on and figure out what I was really going to do with my life.
I actually forgot about the application – that’s how sure I was that I was not going to get in. I didn’t check my online account, I forgot when the acceptance date was. Then, I got a letter that said (yep, you guessed it) that I was accepted into the MPH program, but waitlisted for the GCPD (graduate coordinated program in dietetics). I flipped. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately started emailing the person in charge of the dietetics program asking where I was on the waiting list and when I might get in, etc. – I think I might have driven her a little crazy. But, sure enough, two weeks later I got the email saying that they wanted to offer me a spot in the program and without hesitation I accepted!
That was all the way back in February, so I have been waiting almost 7 months for this day! Starting today, I am entering into a two-year long program through the Nutritional Science program at UW to get my Masters of Public Health in Nutrition with the Coordinated Graduate Program in Dietetics which is an interdisciplinary program and will prepare me to take my exam to become an RD once I graduate. I owe a huge thank you to all my family and friends, especially Kyle, who have supported me in getting this far.This is a huge step, and I’m ready to take on all the challenges ahead. Wish me luck!