In January of 2009 I moved here and enrolled in an MPH program, in Health Promotion, Education and Behavior. I didn't really have a clue what I was doing, except that I had to do something, and it had something to do with this. I was scared, unfunded, gutsy, terrified. Social science wasn't an easy transition. It's fascinating, and I love it now, and I think "heath decisionmaking" will ultimately be the one overarching theme through my body of work. But at the beginning....I would have told you there was no objective way to measure things like that, and people who thought they could describe/influence those processes were crazy and arrogant. I vaguely remember saying that "qualitative research" was an oxymoron - that qualitative work was the necessary, preliminary work people did as a precursor to real research, which is controlled and experimental. When I started, I didn't know what would happen, how long I'd stay, what degree I'd get (MPH, MPH/MSW, MSPH, Dr.PH or Phd. There's a lot of choices!). I knew I couldn't stay where I was, and I wanted to make the world a better place, and I had a sense that was what public health did- especially this university and this department, and good things happened here. That wasn't so vague. I did scour the school's publication and funding record and stared at faculty CVs for hours, looking for something to verify whatever force was pushing me here.
I landed. It was a disaster, in the worst way. An assistantship did not materialize (though my department did, slowly, take action to ensure that I was charged instate tuition) Schedule got deleted, loan funds got returned. I missed a week of my online class because I had been dropped from Blackboard and had to chase down all my professors in order to re-enroll in classes. It was exhausting. It was lonely. It was life.
Months passed. I got to know my cohort- the group of ten or so of us who started in January (not a common choice). Then those who had started ahead of us in August, and those who followed along afterwards. I made two amazing priest friends (sadly, one now lives on the other side of the country) and started hanging out at a student ministry. I went to Belize (and fell in love).
I came back, and took harder classes. Got the hang of looking for money here, and either had a whole bunch of crazy responsibilities dropped on my head, or some wonderful opportunities fall in my lap (TA, qualitative program evaluation, virtual women's center, PTSD research, helping an academic program through the institution-required self-study, instructor of record). I acquired a graduate certificate in Women's and Gender Studies, fell in love (with my now-husband!) and went back to Belize, to do my own beautifully planned (less beautifully executed) primarily qualitative study. And, y'know, got married.
So I'm here. Still. Beginning again. For more quantitative reasons this time- I have a husband with degree in progress, and the public health job market is hideous in this state. I can't guarantee that I'd find a job in commuting distance (or, that I'd find a job at all). With two graduate student stipends, things aren't great, but we won't be living under a bridge. There's a skill set I have and want to build on- program planning and evaluation, developing and carrying out interventions, working with community partners. And this program is the best way to do that. I want a terminal degree one day, and the "rights and privileges" that confers -expertise, authority,independence. There is no guarantee I'd be able to replicate the mentoring and community (and funding sources!) I have here at another institution at another point in time.
I'm here. Surrounded by new faces, when most of those (students) I care about most have left- for Texas, for Iowa, for a job at the Historic Black University on the other side of town. I love it, and this is my home. This lovely 210 year old campus, with its hideous parking and oppressive heat, and most particularly a building with lead-soldered copper pipes, mold, peeling paint, asbestos insulation, and a freezing computer lab. I'm walking these halls surrounded by people who have not slaved, laughed, and cried in them the same way I have. It is familiar, and it is lonely, and it is where I need to be.