Step out of your comfort zone: My tips for students who want to work in global health




Who are you, where are you from, and what is your role in GHNGN?

My name is Mahima Venkateswaran. I was born and raised in Chennai, located in South India. Currently, I am the Secretary General at GHNGN.


How did you learn about the GHNGN?
I first came to know about GHNGN when I was doing my master’s degree. I started following GHNGN’s posts on social media regularly, keeping an eye out for suitable opportunities to contribute. About a year ago, I joined GHNGN as a volunteer. I became the Secretary General of GHNGN in June 2017.


What is your current job/study position?
I am a Ph.D. student in International/Global Health at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and the University of Bergen, Norway.   


What career path did you follow (bachelor, MSc, PhD…)?
I am a medical doctor by background. After completing my medical degree from India, I started working clinically. Shortly afterward, I applied for a Masters in Global Health at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and received the  University of Maastricht High Potential Scholarship to pursue my education. During my master’s degree, I became very interested in research within global health, maternal and child health in particular, and wanted to consolidate my career in academia. I then got a Ph.D. position in a research group that focuses on electronic health information systems for maternal and child health in low-middle income settings. Simultaneously, I enrolled in a distance learning program, at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I graduated with a Graduate Diploma in Politics from there in 2017.


What is your secret when it comes to applications?
I have learned of every new opportunity in Global Health via social media. Twitter, in particular, is a researcher’s favorite. From my experience, putting in considerable amounts of thought and effort into writing a good motivation letter definitely pays off. A well-written justification for why you should be considered for the position can make a huge difference for your application. Sending your application well ahead of the deadline puts your application at an advantage, since most employers would typically read applications as and when they receive them, and reading your application first is bound to leave an impression! 


How does your current job/studies help you fulfill your ultimate goal/motivate you?
I work in a research environment with high standards for all research activities. While this is sometimes overwhelming, especially as a Ph.D. student, it sets a precedent for what good research should look like. Sometimes actual research and data collection that happens in the field are quite different from theory. My biggest learning experience in the current job has been about how to translate ideas into practice. I am currently writing articles for my Ph.D. Academic dissemination is at the heart of any research and more so in a relatively young field such as Global Health. I am realizing, more and more that writing in a simple scientific language which everyone understands is an art, and comes with a lot of practice.


Are you interested in something other than what you currently do?
I would like to do more of policy work in Global Health sometime in the future. Politics and Global Health are so intimately linked and I find this field important and interesting.


What is global health for you?
Global Health is a truly trans-disciplinary field. Almost all fields of science, research and politics can be linked to Global Health issues. I believe that there are few other fields that are as cross-cutting as Global Health. This means that we can all contribute and get involved in several different ways.


What do you think your work as a GH professional brings to the global picture of GH?
There are many unexplored areas in Global Health, both in research and practice. As a researcher, I believe that I am contributing to answering a relevant question within the field. As Secretary General at GHNGN, I get an overview of all activities in the network in general. In this way, I am trying to highlight the importance of networking and communication among young Global Health practitioners.  


What would you suggest a student who wants to work in GH?
Do not hesitate to take up positions that appear difficult or even impossible at first glance. Step out of your comfort zone every once in a while! Although it is important to stay strictly within your area of interest in Global Health, remember that no matter what kind of Global Health work you do, it will be relevant in the bigger picture.



Mahima Venkateswaran is a doctoral student at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the University of Bergen. She is a medical doctor from India with a Master of Science in Global Health. She currently works within the field of maternal and child health research.

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