“What do you want to be when you grow up?” How many times have you been asked this question? As kids we get asked such a complex question before we even know anything about ourselves or the world. For some, they grow up knowing exactly what they want to be and do end up going into that career, but for many this often changes. This is exactly what happened with me; it’s so normal!
Growing up, I always wanted to be a medical Doctor which isn’t new for a South Asian kid. Like many I played with doctor kits, focused on my sciences and mapped my way to become a medical doctor. So, as I entered sixth form (college) I did all the things required for med school applications. This included work experience at a hospital which I was very excited about since it would be my first time seeing first hand what it was like to be a doctor. This experience changed my whole career path as I quickly realised I didn’t enjoy it. Although filled with the utmost respect and gratitude for doctors, I just didn’t enjoy the hospital environment and didn’t see myself in it and in this career.
So, the next week I went to my sixth form referee who was helping me with my med school application and told her this. She was shocked. She has seen my dedication and passion to become a doctor and was perplexed at the sudden change in decision only a month away from application deadlines. However, like a good careers adviser she sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do. I didn’t know. How could I know when I had never considered any other options. I knew I was still interested in science and learning about the human body and health, so I decided to apply for biomedical science and ended up pursuing that at Imperial College London.
The first two years was a lot of human body science and labs. Although very interesting, I still didn’t feel like this is what I see myself doing. I didn’t really enjoy lab work and it was too focused on the inner workings of the human body for me. In third year we got the opportunity to specialise into a topic of our choice so I chose Global Health: the best decision I made! This course opened my eyes to the world of health at a global and population level. From world diseases to policies to interventions, global health was where I belonged. I did my BSc project on attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees in High Income Countries which was a systematic review which made me realise that I really loved research. Learning, building on knowledge, critically analysing literature, creating new knowledge and being a significant part of creating impact in societies on a local, national and international level was what really attracted me to research.
This passion for research and learning more led me to pursue a Masters of Public Health at Newcastle University. The course included modules on fundamental research methods, health statistics, public policy and health interventions, health systems, healthcare quality and many other key public health topics. This really enhanced my interest in public health and I learned so much about the importance and key elements of public health which are essential to every aspect of life. My masters dissertation was a secondary data analysis project investigating the association between maternal mental health and maternal BMI. This gave me experience of using quantitative methods and statistics softwares and techniques in a real life project which I enjoyed a lot!
Becoming a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) wasn’t on my career aspirations until I started my masters. After getting a taste of conducting and developing my own project and learning so many valuable research and life skills such as time management, organisation, leadership, communication, critical thinking etc, I decided I wanted to continue this into a PhD. I was awarded a scholarship on doctoral training programme. This would allow me to research a topic I was very passionate about, maternal mental health in Bangladesh, and enhance my research skills. Doing a PhD, the highest level of education, isn’t a decision you should make quickly, it is a huge commitment! It was not something I had considered before but I naturally fell into it during my masters and it seemed like the best option for me as someone who is very ambitious and wanted to take my education as high as I could.
You might be thinking I have now set my career and know exactly what I want to do after my PhD, but the reality is I don’t. Do I want to pursue an academic career or go into industry? These are questions I am still asking myself but I have decided that I will go with the flow and see where my PhD takes me and what opportunities appear. One step at a time, work hard and have trust in the Plan has always been my life motto!