Virtual Student Experience
The Covid-19 pandemic required us to swiftly adjust how we study, teach, and gather at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. We moved all of our instruction online so that we could continue to safely train the next generation of scientists, practitioners of public health, and policymakers.
Understandably, prospective students are interested in hearing about the transition to fully online teaching and learning and what to expect from our Virtual Plus Campus in the future.
Who better than current Bloomberg School students to share their thoughts about the virtual education format this past term? Five future public health leaders volunteered to share their experiences and takeaways.
MSPH’22-International Health, Social & Behavioral Interventions
Hometown: Dakar, Senegal
Current City/State: Dakar, Senegal
Dream Job Title: Medical Anthropologist/MD
MHA’22, Health Policy and Management
Hometown: Clifton Park, New York
Current City/State: Baltimore, Maryland
Dream job title: Chief Strategy Officer of a large health system and/or founder of a social enterprise organization that seeks to provide value beyond the current medical treatment for those with a substance use disorder
MSPH’22, International Health, Global Disease Epidemiology and Control (GDEC)
Hometown: Boise, Idaho
Current City/State: Baltimore, Maryland
Dream job title: Senior Epidemiologist
PhD’24, International Health, Global Disease Epidemiology and Control (GDEC)
Hometown: Kolkata/New Delhi, India
Current City/State: Baltimore, Maryland
Dream Job Title: It keeps changing!—something along the lines of a clinical epidemiologist or an infectious disease position in elimination and outbreak prevention with an agency like Médecins Sans Frontières or the World Health Organization!
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
Current City/State: Phoenix, Arizona
Dream Job Title: Professor and Director of a research institute
What has your overall experience as a virtual JHSPH student been like?
Although I did miss the feeling of not being able to sit in a class and connect with my peers, I never felt that the quality of my education was compromised. Dedicated TAs who were always available on email or discussion forums were an amazing resource in every course I attended. Overall, it has been a different and challenging year for everyone, but the School has pivoted to online learning smoothly and I feel they have provided me with an optimal learning experience.
From accessible class formats and interactive LiveTalks to online club events and Zoom game nights, I've been able to connect with fellow students, staff, and faculty across many departments at JHSPH. I joined several student organizations during my first quarter this past fall, and was pleased at the amount of recorded virtual meetings and events clubs.
My experience as a virtual JHSPH student has completely exceeded my expectations! I feel very lucky to have still been able to connect with so many wonderful classmates and faculty members in the virtual environment. While we are all in our separate work spaces, JHSPH has worked very hard to provide a welcoming, valuable learning experience for its students.
What are your favorite aspects of learning online? Did anything surprise you?
I have the flexibility to budget my schedule efficiently and in a way that works for me. Without having to commute to campus or wait for another class to begin, I can be more efficient and work during the times that I am naturally more productive. The structure has really been a blessing in terms of adapting to the new stressors and rigor of graduate school.
A benefit is that I can do my classes remotely anywhere. During winter break and the first half of third term, I was able to do my classes in Senegal and spend time with my family there. Another benefit is that you are a bit more flexible with your schedule and learning pace.
I've enjoyed the flexibility of listening to recorded, asynchronous lectures that I can easily rewatch to better understand difficult content and to test my understanding. I've been surprised by the breadth of experience that students and faculty both bring to their work. Hearing from peers living a dozen time zones away makes me acutely aware of the wide diversity of perspectives that being a JHSPH student exposes me to.
During third term, we started offering a limited number of hybrid courses that allowed students to be on campus for class and online. Some of you were part of this; please share your experience.
In my program, we have had one class a week on campus. It has been phenomenal to go and see the space that I get to call my school. I get some face time with people I have a class with and several professors. It has been an incredibly valuable experience and the precautions the University has taken have been excellent.”
I have one in-person class during third term. Weekly [Covid-19] testing has been very accessible and easy to do, making it simple and safe to go to campus once a week. The classroom environment, while appropriately spaced out [for social distancing], is incredibly engaging and we are finding creative ways to complete group work. I am grateful for the opportunity to come together in a small group every week!
How have your professors and advisers helped you during this unprecedented time at JHSPH?
Not being on campus has not resulted in a reduction in my interactions with my mentors or professors. The professors in the courses have been available to solve student queries throughout the term, to the extent that they even set up a dedicated telephone hotline to call if we were having troubles. Further, there have been multiple seminars, hosted by the different centers affiliated with the School, where I have been able to learn more about the different research interests of the faculty members.
My professors and advisers have been highly accessible and accommodating throughout my virtual experience in and outside of the classroom. This has been especially noticeable in my large 100+ person epidemiology and biostatistics courses, where professors have been willing to provide multiple exam times for those of us living in different time zones, to record any synchronous lectures/reviews, and to promptly answer questions/concerns posted on the discussion forum or submitted by email. I've been able to have some really inspiring and enriching conversations with faculty thanks to these virtual options!
My adviser has been really helpful in connecting me with other faculty as well as non-Hopkins public health professionals to expand my professional experiences. In addition to my adviser, my professors are all so willing to meet outside of class to discuss my career interests or possible research opportunities. In Zoom breakout rooms, my professors often circulate through the rooms, not only to check in on our group work, but to ask about our other classes and outside activities.
Please share any research or outside opportunities you’ve been able to participate in during your program.
From October 2020 to January 2021, I served as a research assistant in the Department of International Health at the School through Federal Work Study. I worked closely with Professor Peter Winch, MD, MPH ’88, on a study to contribute to the formation of the WHO’s new Behavioral Insights Department. Furthermore, as part of my Qualitative Research Practicum in my degree plan, I am strengthening my skills in qualitative research methods and analysis through work with a Baltimore nonprofit, EndsideOut. With a team of other MSPH students in the Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, I am conducting a qualitative assessment of the nonprofit’s Know Your Health program in Baltimore schools for grades 3–7.
I am currently going through the application and interview process for my residency placement for next year. It has been a blessing to be able to hear from and connect with so many different organizations and their esteemed leaders.
I was able to join the Center for Health Security's Outbreak Observatory in my first term at JHSPH. In my role, I write one blog post or article a week on an emerging infectious disease or other outbreak preparedness topics. I am also working on additional research projects with Outbreak Observatory in the spring. This position has been very flexible with my class schedule and I have learned so much through this work. It has also exposed me to other public health fields and research areas that I am now incorporating into my academic plans. I have also been able to engage in community service work through SOURCE, the community engagement and service-learning center for the School and Johns Hopkins schools of Nursing and Medicine. In the HEAT Corps, I teach students in Baltimore City Public Schools about the biology of Covid-19, masks, and hand hygiene.
How have you stayed in contact with friends or made connections with fellow students while participating in the program over this last year?
The incoming cohort of PhD students have banded together in a WhatsApp group. This has been a highly interactive group, where people have sought out friendships, course advice, and the occasional cake recipe or pet selfies! Though we have not met each other in person, there is a shared feeling of community and camaraderie. We hope that these budding networks will be enriched once on-campus activities begin.
To me, having a strong support system is essential in graduate school. I've created a Zoom study group with some of my fellow Epidemiology students, and have maintained some friendships from previous lab groups in courses from previous terms. Connecting with peers in the JHSPH Student Assembly and the Epidemiology Student Organization has also been a great way to get to know a wide variety of students from different departments and programs across the School! We host a lot of great wellness and social events that are awesome for getting to know lots of students.
The most valuable part of this experience has been the willingness of my fellow students and my professors to build relationships to solve problems together to improve the health of the communities around us. When it was warmer, we were able to do outdoor picnics and study in Lower Fells Point. In the online environment, our cohort has held weekly Zoom "happy hours" to chat with students who may not be in Baltimore. This has been a great and informal way to connect with classmates outside of class!
Why did you choose to attend JHSPH?
My decision to attend JHSPH was rooted in the prestige of the MHA program and the second-year residency. I really did not want to be out of the workforce for more than a year. After moving to Baltimore and meeting my cohort, exploring the city, and trying the food, I felt more connected to this place than I thought I ever would.
The diverse research interests and backgrounds of the Epidemiology Department, students, faculty, and staff alike, made the program really appealing to me. The faculty and students genuinely care about the JHSPH vision: protecting health and saving lives—millions at a time. Their continual dedication to public health has proven to be an important part of my own growth as a public health student and future epidemiologist.
Now more than ever we need a global cadre of public health experts who are skilled in various aspects of prevention of disease, promotion of health, and alleviation of human suffering. It has always been a dream for me to be able to attend JHSPH—and it could not have come at a better time for me.
Do you have any advice for an incoming JHSPH student?
Take advantage of the many research assistant positions early, make connections with classmates to help you study, compile a list of jobs you want, and make a solid connection with at least one faculty member in case you need a letter of recommendation.
Take advantage of the breadth of opportunities you are afforded as a JHSPH student! Attend seminars and talks, apply to research groups and internships, and take classes outside of your program if you're able. Reach out to faculty and students whose work you're interested in; they're always happy to talk! Building a strong support system, either within or outside of the school, is really important, so take time to cultivate or maintain friendships and choose activities that help you keep a work-life balance throughout the rigors of grad school.
Some of my best mentors at JHSPH have said that grad school is a team sport and you only get through by developing relationships. Focus on connections—not just networking—with your classmates. These people will be your future go-to epidemiologists, health scientists, policy analysts, and secretaries of health. I have learned so much from my classmates and they have truly made this experience more incredible than I could have ever imagined!
The work of public health is more essential than ever—as is the need for exceptional public health leaders. While we aren’t sure yet what format our programs will take for the 2021–2022 academic year, our students can attest that we will provide a robust and rewarding experience, whether next year’s students are on campus, online, or in a hybrid learning format.