Nishant Chavan explains how he developed an interest in public health and why he chose to join LSHTM in London (UK) for his second masters degree.
Why I chose Master’s in Public Health at LSHTM UK
by Nishant Chavan
Dear all, this is Nishant Chavan belonging to a middle class Maharashtrian family from small suburb near (41kms) from Mumbai. I went to a local English Medium School (till 10th standard) and Junior College (11th-12th standard) and did my Bachelor’s in Botany from Ramanarain Ruia College, Matunga [a place in Mumbai and no relation to Arjuna Ranatunga of Sri Lanka ;)] and did my 1st Master’s in Health Sciences at Dept. of Health Sciences at then, University of Pune now, Savitribai Phule Pune University (Respectable Savitribai Phule was the first woman teacher of the first women’s school in India and a pioneer in modern Marathi poetry.)
Now, after 7 years I am doing my 2nd Master’s in Public Health for Development at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine known as LSHTM. The School is ranked sixth in the world in the US News Best Global Universities Ranking 2017 in the fields of social sciences and public health (link).
As a young boy, I always wanted to be Medical Doctor and saves lives of people and hence, after 12th Science stream, I gave series of exams (state and national level of medical entrance exams) to join one of the top medical colleges in India no, no my family never forced me to take up medical or engineering, it was all my choice and Alas! I wasn’t able to crack any of them.
I was so shocked as I prepared really hard for it and hence took BSc (Botany) with an aspiration to do something (like work in big pharmaceutical giant or invent a new drug from medicinal herbs in plant genomics in future etc).
But during my graduation days at Ruia, apart from cutting chai, vada pav, cricket, masala toast sandwiches, student council events, studies [Yes, I used to study too ;)] and I joined National Service Scheme (N.S.S.) volunteer and became writer for visually challenged students in my college during their exams. This was the 1st time I was up close and personal with social work.
Hence, I thought I should do ‘something’ and hence gave series of state and national entrance exams, again to crack top premier institutions for MSc but Alas! (Part Two) again I wasn’t able to crack my dream school and I was ashamed of myself hence, I decided to go away from my hometown and do my masters’s related in the unique social + medical field.
Fortunately I got an admission at University of Pune in MSc Health Sciences and was able to learn a lot from my colleagues which happened to medical doctors to nurses to BSc folks like me, and learnt a lot from them from their experiences at rural to urban areas and then decided take up job in whichever company employs me 1st as I was applying to pharmaceutical companies to NGO and got a call a Public Health in Pune and learnt about doing public health program evaluation and got introduced to the maternal and child health issues in urban slums.
Yes, my family was support pillar and they supported my decision of joining NGO. During my 1st job I learnt Public Health is intertwined with Education so need to learn about Education sector, so applied to Teach For India (TFI) Fellowship (at that time there were not much of fellowships unlike today) and got through it and taught in a low-income private school in Pune as full-time teacher but was involved in building School Leadership team and Community engagement through various projects.
But, during TFI fellowship I realized that my 1st love is Public Health though I liked teaching and students no matter whatever background they belong a teacher can make difference in a student’s and their parent’s life. Also, talented pool of TFI Fellows, the importance of diversity in a team made me grow as an individual.
I started applying for TEDx, INK Talks and Wikipedia events as a volunteer and met more people and started doing so called networking, which actually helped me understand whom should I meet and sometimes not to meet but it broadened my mind and thought I should build my profile for MBA in Healthcare Management from Indian School of Business (ISB) or MS in Healthcare Management from U.S. and so on so forth
I was fortunate enough to meet for a quick brunch (#KoffeeWithKamat event) in Mumbai where he gave me powerful insights which stayed with me forever. Here are some of the messages I took back from the meeting.
- Do what your heart (inner calling, don’t just follow ‘herd mentality’) says…but keep your brain alert, too!
- Scholarships matter a lot!
- Location of your Master’s school matters and can be of great help (Internships/Career Fair/Offices etc)
- Think hard about the time to reach breakeven for the tuition fee (if you are paying it on your own by loan) + expense money versus profit/savings after it considering the personal and professional growth!
There were many more lessons, but I these were important for me to start thinking!
Also, I realized that many folks want to do work in NGO sector for work-satisfaction as they get bored in corporate world and want to do ‘something good’ in life or to may good profile for B-school or genuinely make a difference at the grassroots level.
So after TFI, I worked in two start-ups in Healthcare and Education. I was not getting the jobs I wanted, so I took up whichever employer selected me as I have to take care of my family. But trust me I got one of best learning in these start-ups. I learnt the following.
- To be self-starter! And
- Importance of the freedom in your work
- Even though you are specialist, you need to know and be updated about other fields related to your work.
Hence, I created a separate email-id and signed up for newsletters of top global universities for their events and to understand their cutting edge research and started following them on Twitter and subscribed to big B-schools and Consulting firms free articles as I could not afford their paid subscription.
Trust me, spending just few minutes daily in local trains and city buses I was able to learn what is happening from local to national to international. Subconsciously, it all started adding to my knowledge and experience. I was able to speak and ask questions in some of the debates and group discussions.
Also, I joined LinkedIn groups related to my fields and started following ‘influencers’ like Richard Branson and Bill Gates etc and became part of other online public health forums like Health Information for All (HIFA).
I started following blogs by think tanks like Brookings, Centre for Civil Society and Chatham House etc to keep myself updated about national to global policy level briefs, events and research articles.
And last but not the least; I got into habit of reading on the reports of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) of India, World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank (WB) and blogs by various International Non Government Organizations (iNGOs) to have perspectives from National to Multilateral to iNGOs organizations. It gave me confidence to speak about various indicators of health with data and not just opinions.
Similarly by now, I had to earn good salary as I had my family’s responsibility so I started using LinkedIn premium (which allowed me to drop a message on their LinkedIn or sometimes by the e-mail id available on the organization’s website) where 1st month was free so before that I did my stalking of the relevant people/organizations I need to contact, so let me give you answer in nut shell,
If you apply to 100 jobs/contact relevant people then the chances of getting reply is just three out which only one will be suitable/applicable to you in reality.
Having done all that, so I got a job in a New York based Think Tank which worked with the World Bank office, McGill University, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), World Health Partners (WHP) and Institute for Socio Economic Research on Development and Democracy (ISERDD)…phew!!! (list was big, isn’t it? :P) on the Tuberculosis project in Mumbai and Patna.
It was a game changer as I had to work with their international team spread across different time zones, with field work involved and lot of quantitative & qualitative research. This job helped me to get a very deep exposure to the Tuberculosis crisis in India which has the one highest burden of TB in the world, made me realize my passion in public health. This research was published in high impact factor journals and mentioned in many international health reports.
While all this was happening at one side, other side I was going through painful heart break at the same time and as a result depression lasted for four years so I made myself busy as mentioned above by reading plethora of articles and in the jobs but thanks to my family and best friends counselling and support and doctors that I was stable.
Believe me, it is not good to suffer self-stigmatization. Help is available if you ask for it; I started watching TED talks to such an extent that me and my other two friends showed TEDx talks to one my friend’s school students. I started reading (yes, again) about the inspirational stories of the Great Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the brave king of India to Sir A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, ex-President of India and Missile Man of India. I started helping U.S. based NGOs to setup libraries in orphanages in India to organizing suicide prevention awareness talks in India as a Volunteer.
All these helped to work with Tata Trusts, NITI Aayog (Premier Think Tank of Government of India) and Delhi State Government on short term consultancies in 1 year through fellowship initiated at Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago, U.S.A.
In mean while I started posting about the jobs in development sector focusing on Health and Education, and trust me in the time of five years, I became a pro at it with the aim of making people aware of the opportunities in this sector so that people might want to take up jobs in these sectors and help to improve the misunderstanding of people in this sector.
I started giving counselling sessions to my friends and parents of my friends when they wanted to start career in this sector and started this funny hashtag #KahaniNGOwaleKi (story of an NGO professional). Initially I was mocked but now almost NGO sector in India has changed to a great extent. People want to make career in this sector as it pays a decent salary (with a few exceptions) and helps you make a social impact.
While doing all these I realized that I needed a break from my profession to brush up my knowledge and skills. So, I applied to London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) as I always wanted to go to London and experience the life here, even though it is expensive in terms of accommodation and living expense but it gives the same degree at less than half the cost of tuition fee of famous Public Health schools in U.S.
Why I chose LSHTM
So talking about my dream school, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (informally the LSHTM) which professionals from development sector especially from health sector background know, specialised in public health and tropical medicine and a constituent college of the University of London. It was established in 1899 A.D. The college does not have undergraduate teaching; it has Post Graduate Diploma Certificate, Master’s, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor in Public Health (DrPH) and Post Doctorate degrees. My college is part of the stellar The Bloomsbury Colleges (TBC) group in research and academia.
Teaching Faculty: Professors are world class and the teaching is done via presentations of textbook concepts, case studies, research articles reading and critical analysis through seminars led by students and practical sessions and well-defined support for revision through a recorded lectures. Also, there are guest lectures at times from the public health experts across the globe.
Mentors: Apart from the faculty, there are individual tutors assigned to each of the students to mentor the students both professionally and personally. This has been really helpful to me as there were times I was overwhelmed with lectures, practicals and seminars as I was returning to academic world as a student after 7 long years and I got timely help from my professors and tutor.
Students and Alumni: The school has a diverse student population with 1,600 Masters and research students from around 100 countries, while 1,300 staff comes from more than 60 nations. The college has a diverse community of over 20,000 alumni in more than 180 countries. Also, the most interesting part is worldwide collaboration with more than 100 overseas research partners from national, international and multilateral organizations. LSHTM has a lot of opportunities for prospective jobs due to alumni and professional work connection links with the world’s elite public health organisations.
You can check where the LSHTM alumni working across the globe by clicking on this link.
LSHTM Rankings: The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has held its position as first in Europe and fifth in the world for research impact in sciences, based on its proportion of publications that belong to the top 1% most frequently cited, as per 2017 CWTS Leiden Ranking. The School was ranked sixth in the world in the US News Best Global Universities Ranking 2017 in the fields of social sciences and public health and ranked 25th for medicine in the 2017 QS World University Rankings. The School was awarded the prestigious Times Higher Education ‘University of the Year’ 2016 award, in recognition of our response to the Ebola epidemic.
So sum it up, I would like to share the following quote from our alumnus Dr. Tedros, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
I consider the School as my professional home where I started my professional career in a serious way.
Dr Tedros completed a Master’s in Immunology of Infectious Diseases at the LSHTM, 1992.
Last but not the least, I am pretty sure, I am going to miss dynamic, fast academically rigorous but rewarding year of my life and lifelong friendships made with my diverse and talented yet humble friends from diverse nationalities forever. It helped me to grow personally and professionally with emphasizing the virtue of empathy and lens the health through financial, cultural, anthropological, mathematical modelling, social, psychological etc angles.
Master of Public Health vs MBA
I chose MPH over MBA, because I chose my first love aka Public Health after having flings with Education and start-ups culture.
I wanted to have more of global technical knowledge and the understanding of how to deploy it at the best in the Indian setting.
I wanted to move from a fixed mindset to flexible mindset to upgrade my skills and for that I felt the need of learn.unlearn.relearn attitude and this was the best time to do it. Also, I felt that my country’s voice from Global South needs to be heard in Global North so that there is a representation for agenda setting and grant making.
I can try to do my best to do whatever I can for my motherland whether it be giving contextual landscape of a developing country with respective infectious diseases or making a case for multi-million dollar funding for research and program implementation in Indian sub-continent.
Hence, I thought nothing like LSHTM which gives me best of the knowledge and experience of global context in half the price of top notch U.S. public health schools in a year’s duration.
Always remember, there’s no secret ingredient. It’s just you.
LSHTM application experience
- I worked on my essays as it is an art to fit one’s work experience in 500 words. It should be crisp and clear and run it through the people who are from your and not your field or may be from the alumni of the school, so that you get balanced perspective if your essays are way too technical or non-technical.
- Make your recommenders aware way in advance, at least 2-3 months before the submission deadline, to write recommendation letters for you. It would be great if you could send them the name of your target schools, the courses you are applying to and your application essays.
- Keep following the school’s website. Do your research (professors, grants and endowment fund etc) of the school.
So I don’t have a scholarship (Yes, I got more than 10 rejects in the scholarship applications) and I have used up all my savings with loan from my family. I know I have taken a risk as I understand the job market after Brexit in United Kingdom is tough but it is a calculated risk as LSHTM is a reputed school in this sector and the current WHO Director is an alumnus of LSHTM. Sometimes you have to take leap of faith because if not now then when?
Lastly, I believe “Dhoondhne se Khuda bhi mil jata hain, toh naukri kya cheez hain?” (If you search then you might even find God – finding the inner calling/passion or purpose of life – then why the big hue and cry of finding a job?)
Believe in yourself, because if you keep waiting then you keep waiting forever and if you keep thinking then it might lead to over thinking and over-thinking leads to negativity!
Feel free to connect, if you come to London before September 2018!
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