Reed! The power of the liberal arts degree

Laurels and sunshine, after a terribly long thesis process.

Laurels and sunshine, after a terribly long thesis process. Photo courtesy of Emily Lai.

A quick lo-down on my education: Public high school (Agoura) → community college (Moorpark!) → liberal arts college (Reed!).

Reed is a super duper cool liberal  arts college in Portland, Oregon. My dad tells me there are two reactions when he tells people his daughter went there: (1) where is that? or (2) she must be pretty smart. I think he is protecting me from the third option (3) person nods and moves on, silently judges father for what must be his liberal nudist tree-hugging daughter.

As this is a job-focused blog, I’m going to focus on those things Reed gave me that are of use in job hunts (with literally the only negative I can think of being that Reed didn’t offer Farsi classes, which means I still only know the language at a beginning, rather than advanced, level):

  • Cojones to speak up: Reed students participate every day in conferences (seminars), meet with professors, and organize all sorts of things that require chatting with real life adults. I have no fear of emailing people, talking to supervisors, participating in meetings, etc. (The negative: After calling all professors by their first names for three years, I am entirely perplexed as to when I should call someone by their title + last name vs. their first name).
  • Literature review skills: Think not that the literature review is only for school. Tis useful for policy, research, and frankly it should be used by all sorts of organizations if it isn’t already. I did one for my junior qualification exam (on public response to disaster communications, particularly with reference to nuclear incidents) and one for my thesis. I then spent my summer at WHO  working on a lit review. Now, I can’t imagine writing a paper without one.
  • Tutoring experience: Okay, I already had this. But I continued to hone the skill, and it is a marketable one.
  • Event organization skills: I volunteered at a Public Policy Lecture Series event one semester and was subsequently recommended to work on the steering committee. I signed up student volunteers, worked at events, and met the people who make events happen at Reed. This last bit was important because Reedies for Sexual Health Awareness (RSHA), a student organization I was part of, decided to host two lecture events at Reed my senior year. I took the lead on organizing these events (not sure how this happened, I think it was because of the PPLS experience and talking with the speakers/their agents) and learned a ton about event organization and execution, from start to finish. Both events were a success, thanks to efforts of the whole group. Taraneh Salke participated in a panel discussion about the role of men in women’s health in Afghanistan, and Nick Kristof gave a lecture to a 500+ person audience on women’s empowerment (depending on your vision of empowerment –  it was a rather controversial event).RSHA with Kristof
  • Qualitative research experience: (1) Working as a research assistant (as an undergrad, woot!) for my future thesis advisor, Chris Koski. After my junior qual on disaster policy, Chris sent me an email asking if I wanted to be his RA examining critical infrastructure policies that summer between my junior and senior years. I could even do it remotely from Berkeley, CA. Huzzah! Hello learning how to create tiny summaries of government reports, how to search for and organize polls and newspaper articles. Not to mention learning about critical infrastructure protection, which is super cool (and nicely tied in with emergency planning and response).
  • I also wrote a senior thesis on antibiotic resistance policies, socioeconomic discourse, and physician payment structures. Sound like a mess? It sort of was. I started thinking about a topic I wanted to explore, and I had a hypothesis. However, I didn’t have the methods sorted out, nor the causal mechanisms perfectly laid out. After changing hypotheses and variables at least 10 times, I eventually had to create the thing. The first chapter (the lit review!) is lovely, and I’m proud of it. The rest is, well, not. Still, I learned a lot about (a) what should be sorted out at the beginning of a research project (METHODS); (b) choosing  a more manageable topic given resources and time constraints; (c) the harsh realities of time management, felt most acutely in having to skip out on most of Renn Fayre to work on my thesis; and (d) some awesome public health topics: antibiotic resistance (causes, consequences, methods of combating), health systems (governance and financing), and physician payment mechanisms.
  • NETWORKING: This is the big one. Reed has the most glorious network of alumni in the universe, in my humble opinion. It also has rather clever students, particularly those who came up with the Reed Switchboard, a site for members of the Reed community to post asks and offers related to housing, jobs, advice, connections, travel buddies, everything. I saw a post there by a Reed alum offering to talk to students interested in global health. I sent her a really long detailed email with a ton of questions and information about my interests. She responded with (a) I’ll get to your questions later (she did) and (b) would you be interested in a World Health Organization internship. After months of back and forth trying to find a team at WHO to intern with, I finally confirmed the internship within a week or so of graduation. Without Kat, without Reed’s awesome alumni network, I would not have gotten a WHO internship straight out of my undergraduate degree. It is all about reaching out to people. Since then, I have connected with several other folks via Switchboard to learn more about public health and find out about job leads. What a wonderful resource! I plan to give back to it whenever I can.

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