Who are you?
Hi, I am Elena Marbán Castro. I am from Madrid, Spain, but I have been living in Barcelona for two and a half years. I have the pleasure to be the chair of GHNGN.
How did you learn about GHNGN?
This is an interesting story… During my Master’s studies in Tropical Medicine and International Health in Madrid, I went to a conference because I wanted to listen to a particular speaker. I sat down next to another young girl who was also alone. I started talking to her and found that she was a Master’s student from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), Spain. She told me that she and other students from that year created a network for Global Health students. They were organizing their first GHNGN conference in Barcelona, but at the time I was going to be in Ethiopia performing the practical training for my Master’s degree. We exchanged emails to keep in touch and I started following the network on their social media channels. Here, I would like to highlight the importance of networking, going to conferences and talking to people 😉
Later on, when I finished my Master’s degree, I wanted to work at ISGlobal, so I sent my CV for some job positions, but I was not chosen. I thought the best option would be to go to Barcelona and enrol in one of their Master’s programmes, but I didn’t really know which one to study. So, I wrote to GHNGN, and Camila (founder and former chair) answered me. We had a Skype call and she gave me some contacts of friends who were studying Master’s degrees in Global Health in other European universities. The conversation I had with her, made me change my choice of Master’s degree. Thanks to her and to the network, I studied my master’s which resulted in a position at ISGlobal, and currently, I’m starting my PhD studies. That is why, when Camila asked me if I wanted to join the network, I had no doubts in answering, “Of course”. I wish someday somebody would tell me I helped her/him in defining his or her career path as Camila had helped me.
What is your current job/study position?
Currently, I am a PhD candidate at the Maternal, Child and Reproductive Health initiative from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), Universitat de Barcelona and Hospital Clínic. My thesis will cover vaccine-preventable diseases during pregnancy, such as pertussis, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza virus, among others. Last year, I was awarded the scholarship from Obra Social La Caixa in order to start my PhD studies.
What career path did you follow?
Like the majority of teenagers, I didn’t know what to study. I knew I wanted to study a scientific degree, health-related, but without dealing with patients. So, I enrolled in the bachelor degree in Health Biology at the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, Madrid. While studying Microbiology and Parasitology in the course, I realized I would like to work in the field of infectious diseases, as they account for a vast burden of avoidable morbidity and mortality in low and lower-middle income countries. That is why, after my bachelors, I studied the Master’s Degree in Tropical Medicine and International Health at Universidad Autnónoma de Madrid. There, I found out what Global Health is, and a year after I decided to move to Barcelona in order to enrol in a Master’s degree in Global Health at ISGlobal, where I started to work right after. I have been working as a research assistant for a year and a half and applying for scholarships, and in January 2018, I’m going to start my PhD on the same team I was working previously.
What is your secret when it comes to applications?
My secret would be not to lose hope and not to get discouraged. If you want to do research, you will have to write many cover letters, scholarship applications, post-doctoral applications, funding applications etc. your whole life. A researcher spends approximately 3 months exclusively writing these kinds of proposals. Many of the grants/opportunities will not be given to you. Try to keep in mind the initial motivation that made you want to work in this field every single day. Global Health is one of the most beautiful, rewarding, and vocational fields that exist. We know that working in Global Health is not going to make us rich and famous, we are going to work hard, many times also during the weekends and holidays, with a lot of pressure and responsibilities, we will have to travel far and it will be difficult to conciliate a personal and a professional life. Even so, we all decided to commit ourselves to work in order to try to reduce at least a bit the inequality gap and obtain the best possible health for all the human beings. Make this innate vocation and motivation stand out in all your writings. Convey with words everything that you feel towards this field and show that you want to devote your life to work in this field.
How does your current job/studies help to fulfil your ultimate goal/motivate you?
Since I discovered what Global Health is, I wanted to dedicate myself to it. ISGlobal is one of the main European institutions working on it. Moreover, it has a long history of collaboration with international centres in Mozambique, Morocco, and Bolivia, among others. Working here is one of my “ultimate goals”. Now that I am starting my PhD. I guess this specialization will help me initiate my research path, hopefully still in this institution. Another goal would be to spend a considerable amount of time in some of their collaborative centres. In the future, I might like to work in an international organization working with health recommendations. I firmly believe that the experience I am acquiring working at ISGlobal is key in my professional career path.
Are you interested in something other than what you currently do?
Well, in fact, I am extremely happy with my job. I love what we are studying, and I get along really well with everybody in the team. I want to continue working in Global Health, but apart from research. There are other interesting job positions, such as project manager, communications, and scientific dissemination. I am also interested in some international organizations such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the World Health Organization, and other organizations that work to impact policies in order to reduce inequities and obtain the best possible health for all.
What is global health for you?
For me, Global Health studies not only diseases but also social, economic and political determinants combined to understand why we get sick and to insist on interventions, which will improve health for vulnerable populations in low resource countries. Global Health fights to decrease inequities among societies, improving access to tools that reduce morbidity and mortality; and as an ultimate goal, to obtain the highest possible standards of health for all human beings.
What do you think your work as a GH professional brings to the global picture of GH?
Women and children are one of the most vulnerable population groups and may be, neglected or not prioritized in many countries. For this reason, research in these groups is important: in order to reduce equity gaps and to contribute to improving health on a global scale. Maternal and neonatal mortality are two of the indicators from the Millenium Development Goals, which have shown less progress in the past years. Job in any area requires a gender perspective with a special focus on reproductive health and early infancy.
What would you suggest a student who wants to work in GH?
First of all, you must know that it is a very demanding field, but completely gratifying. My humble suggestion would be to try to see where you would like to be in a few years’ time. Look for an institution, which represents your values and directly write to some of the researchers there. You do not have to wait until a job position is publicly announced. Be proactive and you might get some useful contacts. Get as much as you can and enjoy learning from Global Health courses, books, documentaries, TED talks etc., also on your free time. Get a Twitter and LinkedIn account and use it professionally in conferences, increase your network, improve your English abilities, learn Spanish, French or Portuguese, travel to get some field experience and do not forget why you are in GH.
Elena Marbán Castro is a Research Assistant at Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and the Chair of the Board at the GHNGN. Her interests in Global Health are infectious diseases that affect the most vulnerable populations, mainly pregnant women, and early infants.