Grad school is…

Grad school is a battle between curiosity and productivity. Coursework can be conducive to learning — and especially to skill acquisition. Most students in international health programs — and all in my GDEC program — are currently taking Introduction to International Health with Prof. James Tielsch. The class has been excellent so far, with compelling (if sometimes controversial) lectures offering a broad overview of everything in global health. The grades for the course come exclusively from two papers, which are described in an exquisitely detailed 29-page section of the syllabus. The more I work on my paper, which focused on the Guatemalan health system, the more convinced I am that it’s excellent preparation for working on grant proposals. That doesn’t mean it’s fun — fitting your ideas into someone else’s boxes never quite approaches that level of enjoyment — but it’s a great skill to have.

But even the best considered assignment pails in comparison to the learning that occurs outside of class, and it feels like the requirement to be productive is always digging into my ability to actively feed my curiosity. During orientation, several professors said that they wished Hopkins would do abolish grades entirely; that worrying about grades was a detriment to their education, and it doesn’t really predict who will do well in public health. I can see how this would be true, as the times that I’ve felt that I’m absorbing the most have been when reading something inspired — but not required by — a class, usually something that grew out of a discussion question or a casual aside in a lecture. That, and the conversations and debates we’re having amongst ourselves…

Should male circumcision be the default in the US? In Africa? Is it OK to make different policy recommendations for different countries?  If so, how do you explain it to the shafted? Why do people care about maternal mortality more than other types of mortality? How do we think about causality? Are some lives worth more than other? Can a sense of humor survive in a morbid (and mortal) field like public health?

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09 2010

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