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My Path to Public Health


Emma Anderson '17
Emma Anderson '17

Looking back at my career path so far, my academic and research experiences at Hamilton played a major role in helping me find my passions and shaping my career ambitions. I am pursuing a career in public health because I want to empower people from all walks of life to achieve optimal health through advancing solutions to nutrition-related challenges, particularly diet-related chronic diseases and food insecurity. However, it wasn’t until recently that I had any idea of how to respond when people asked about my “career goals,” which caused me a lot of stress, especially as an undergraduate student. If I were to give advice to my former self or undergraduates grappling with similar anxiety, I would tell them to be patient, keep pursuing their passions, and trust that the road ahead will bring clarity about those elusive “career goals.”

When I arrived at Hamilton, I was undecided about what I wanted to study. As a first year, I took advantage of the open curriculum and picked courses that interested me, including biology, which I eventually declared as my major. I was fortunate to spend two of my summers as an undergraduate conducting biology research with professors in the Hamilton Biology Department, and the summer before my senior year I worked as a research assistant at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. My involvement with research projects at Hamilton and Jackson Laboratory investigating the effects of nutrition on obesity and type 2 diabetes in mouse models, piqued my curiosity about the impacts of diet on health and ignited my passion for nutrition. However, while I enjoyed working in a biology lab and found the research fascinating, my experiences working in laboratory settings left me feeling disconnected from the people that my research aimed to serve. Despite recognizing the impact of biology research on medical practices and public health initiatives, I was left with a desire to connect more directly with human beings through my work. 

This urge drove me to change direction from biological research to pursue clinical research, which is medical or health-related research with human subjects. After graduating from Hamilton, I began working as a clinical research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Mass. In this role, I support research that investigates methods of alleviating nutrition-related public health issues, including unhealthy dietary and lifestyle behaviors and diet-related chronic diseases, like obesity and diabetes. Working as a clinical research coordinator typically involves a variety of different tasks, including interacting with study participants to explain research protocols and collect data, analyzing data, and assisting with the development of research protocols and publications. I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned so much from this position, and I have come to appreciate the connections between nutrition and public health as well as the capability of research to inform programs and policies that improve the health of entire populations. Ultimately, working in clinical research led me to realize my passion for public health and motivated me to pursue graduate education in the field.

In August 2020, I began the Master of Public Health in Nutrition program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. My decisions to apply to and attend this program were both based largely on my desire to develop the necessary skills to combat nutrition-related health issues at the population level and to learn from and connect with others who share my passions for nutrition and public health. After completing an M.P.H. degree, I plan to pursue a career supporting the development of programs and policies that facilitate improvements to food environments and reduce diet-related health disparities in at-risk populations.

I’m very grateful for the education I received at Hamilton, and I’m confident that my experiences on the Hill, at MGH, and at Harvard have prepared me well for my future professional career in public health.

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