In case you don’t know, there are several steps that you must go through to become a Doctor of Public Health. First, of course, you need to get through school and into a doctoral program. It’s a lot like climbing a mountain and having to ask someone at the top to teach you how to fly.
Once you’re in, you have to re-learn all those wonderful things about epidemiology and biostatistics that you almost forgot. (Almost.) It’s a tough process at the school where I am attending. The semesters are cut into terms, with four terms to a year. Those eight-week terms don’t allow for many shenanigans. Seriously, if you think you can do something else while you do school, you’re in for a surprise.
Once I got through the classes, I had to focus (somewhat) on writing up the thesis proposal. (It didn’t always go as planned.) That was an interesting process because a doctoral thesis is much, much more than a science fair project, but it shares some of the same characteristics. You are asking a question, coming up with a theory (or theories) that might help you answer the question, then you get available information, then you get data (or collect your own), and then you test your hypotheses. At the end, you have a product in the form a thesis that you can then share with the world.
However, before you can start working on this thesis project, you need to go through a couple of oral exams. The first is the departmental oral exam, where professors from your department get together and ask you questions. Depending on who is on your committee, the exam can go really well or really bad. It can be a friendly chat about your ideas or an all-out inquisition with some very surprising questions.
After that, if you pass, you have to go through a similar process. This time, however, it’s a school-wide exam, where professors from different departments within the school as the questions. Again, depending on who is on the committee, you can have a good chat or a brutal assault on the senses. You have to come up with some creative ways to answer the questions and defend your stated goals.
That exam was today, and passing it meant becoming an “ABD” (all but dissertation, or all but degree). It was two hours of question after question from some very bright people. They take your ideas and test them, poke holes in your theories, and then they ask you to ponder the impossible. While I was confident on the outside, it was a whole other thing on the inside.
But I answered the questions to the best of my abilities and then was asked to step out of the room while they deliberated. Five minutes went by, then ten. I was starting to worry. You know what they say about juries and how long they take influencing the outcome.
Finally, after almost 15 minutes of deliberation, the committee chair came out and smiled. “Congratulations,” she said. That was all I wanted to hear.
After thanking everyone and gathering my things, I texted my wife, my brother, and the rest of the family (except my mom, she’s in a funk) to let them know all about it. Then, as I was walking through the halls of the school, I celebrated with anyone I knew.
All that is left to do is to go outside for a moment and scream.
Thanks for coming along on this adventure… It’s time to go Chasing Zika.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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