Naina Ahuja '16
Name: Naina Ahuja
Year Graduated: Fall 2015, walked June 2016
What are you currently doing?
I am working at the Stanford Prevention Research Center (SPRC), a department of the School of Medicine at Stanford University. I am working as a research assistant on two initiatives: the Our Voice Initiative and the Well for Life Initiative. The Our Voice Initiative is focused on increasing physical activity by changing one’s built environment features through technology. The Well for Life Initiative is focused on building the scientific evidence base on wellbeing and creating interventions to increase wellbeing.
Why did you decide to major in Public Health Science at SCU?
Like most incoming freshman science majors, I was a pre-med/pre-dental student. When I was applying to SCU, I did not want to pick the standard biology, chemistry or other hard sciences as my major as I wanted to be different than other pre-med applicants. I chose public health but wasn’t sure what this major would entail. After taking my first public health class, PHSC 1, I was extremely intrigued by this new approach- viewing health from a preventative lens instead of a treatment lens. The more I delved into public health classes, the more passionate I became towards this new approach. There was just no looking back!
Where did you do your internship for the PHSC major when you were a student?
Since I was unsure about my future career path, I took my summers as an opportunity to find out whether I want to pursue a medical, dental or public health career. For my internship requirement, I chose to count my dental internship- I spent a summer at home working at a local dental clinic, learning how to clean people’s teeth, fill in cavities, take x-rays, etc.
How did the internship impact your education, or influence what you did after graduation?
The dental internship that I completed for my major left a great impact on me and was incredibly informative for my future career path. Instead of informing me what I did want to do in my future, I found out what I DID NOT want to do. Although I loved working at the dental clinic, I knew that working as a dentist is not what I wanted for my career.
After graduating early, I took an internship where I am currently working today- at SPRC. I started off working at SPRC as an intern for 6 months. I sought out this internship because I wanted to see what doing research in the public health field would look like. This experience strongly influenced my plans post graduation as I loved the work that was being done here so much that I ended up accepting a job offer and staying here. This experience has taught me so much and has helped enlighten what niche I want to create in the public health field for myself.
What was your favorite PHSC class, and why?
I can’t pick one- it’s a tie between Epidemiology and my Public Health Capstone that was focused on Latin American health. Working with Stata fascinated me and I realized how applicable the class was to any career in public health that I choose. Second, I loved my public health capstone class as I was excited to practice the skills and concepts that we had learned throughout my education.
How did the Public Health program at SCU help prepare you for what you are doing now, or for your future goals?
This program helped me develop the practical skills and mindset needed in this field. As I mentioned before, public health is about changing the lens and thinking of a different way to approach health. This program helped me develop this new mindset and the skills on how to face practical public health programs differently. I also learned the components of research and how to create an intervention. The practical skills heavily influenced my success here at SPRC.
What are your long term goals?
I want to continue working here for another 1.5 years and then go back to school to get my MPH that is focused on community health preventative research. I am also interested in global health so I would like to see a program in which I can get exposure to both concentrations. I have not decided yet if I want to get my PhD or not but that is a very real potential.
What advice do you have for current public health students at SCU?
First I would recommend that never refuse an opportunity- you never know what will come out of it. I can attest to that with my internship here at SPRC. I never planned on getting a job and staying here post graduation. It was supposed to be an experience I had for 6 months before I walk across the stage to get my diploma case, but look at me now! I am surrounded by the top researchers in their respective fields doing ground-breaking research on how to create healthier life’s for others.
Another recommendation I have is to take as many classes as you possibly can. Don’t just fill your schedule with classes that meet your basic requirements. Explore and look at the various classes that are offered- this helps you get a well-rounded exposure to the field. Public health is a vast field with lots of facets; getting exposed to as many as you can has the potential to illuminate what you may want to pursue in the future.