How I Got My First Job: Savannah Knell '10
October 21, 2011
Like many other seniors at Hamilton, I wasn’t completely confident in pursuing just one career path for my post-college life. I was interested in exploring options, learning more about prospective fields, and gathering as much information as I possibly could. As a psychology major, I knew I enjoyed research and talking about health in a broad sense. My counselor in the Career Center first introduced me to the field of public health, and after reading several brochures on the topic, I knew it fit well with my interests and career aspirations. However, as many seniors can also relate, the job market was limited at the time of my graduation and when offered a job at a high powered law firm in New York City I couldn’t refuse.
While the choice to pursue that path was confusing for some, I will always stand by it. I learned things in that environment that I may not have had the opportunity to otherwise. I made connections with people that I know will remain valuable. Yet most importantly, I learned how important it is to feel passionately about what you do. After soon recognizing the law field wasn’t for me, I felt a yearning to get back on track with my original interests. I decided to volunteer on the weekends at Planned Parenthood of New York City to gain back the experiences I had been missing. Additionally, while still at Hamilton, I had connected to several alumni in the Public Health field. I can’t stress enough how helpful these contacts were to make. A full year later, I was able to pick back up where I left off with them. I received emails informing me of open job positions and advice, pursued all further contacts given to me (“I know a friend of a friend you should talk to”), and above all, persisted entering the field.
While the field of public health can be very broad I knew I had several specific interests in mind. I knew I wanted direct patient contact and I wanted the position to be either related to nutrition or sexuality research. As a senior I wrote my thesis on risky sexual behavior and thoroughly enjoyed the research process. With those goals in mind, I searched every major university and hospital website within my desired cities for available positions. I found those resources incredibly helpful as they outlined many different types of opportunities in different departments and fields.
Reviewing those websites really gave me a sense for what types of positions were out there which helped me narrow down what I wanted to do. I applied to every single one that was relevant and some that were even a stretch, but there is no such thing as applying to too many jobs! It can be completely exhausting to send application after application when most institutions will never send you anything back. However, after experiencing a job I knew wasn’t the perfect match for me, I had a drive for something more and that fueled my search.
Finally, I received a phone call from a maternal health study at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that I had applied to months prior. I interviewed and felt confident in my ability to perform well in that role and recognized it was certainly a much better fit than what I had experienced. A couple days later, I received a phone call from a doctor on the study informing me that another position in the same department just opened up and seemed to perfectly match up with my specific interests. This particular study assessed nutrition in HIV+ patients; a field I had experience with and loved while working at Planned Parenthood. I knew it was the perfect position and jumped at the opportunity.
My advice to seniors questioning their career path is simply to follow your gut. It is definitely valuable to pursue other paths and see what else is out there but you know more than you think you know about what will make you happy. Think of what excites you when discussing a topic of interest and think about how great it would be to go to work every day and get paid to talk about what you love! I feel very lucky to have found that.