Students: The Importance of Making Meaningful Connections

As Dale Carnegie once said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” The importance of making meaningful connections, or networking, cannot be emphasized enough. However, many people mistakenly think that networking is simply to attend various meetings and hand out business cards. Networking is more than that; it is an art form. In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Carnegie highlights several important networking skills we often tend to ignore, such as smiling, listening, asking questions, and saying a person’s name. These are the “soft” or interpersonal skills that need to be practiced and often reinforced. Knowing how to and being able to network can be the single most powerful way to develop one’s professional network, make connections with people who share similar interests, and build long-last friendship.

When I was a first year MPH candidate at Texas A&M University, I involved myself with numerous student organizations and activities on campus. I was an active member of the Texas A&M Public Health Student Association and the Medical Group Management Association student chapter. I also served as the Director of Finance with the Institute of Healthcare Improvement student chapter and organized a team to compete for the annual Ideal Challenge hosted by the business school (it is a competition to encourage entrepreneurial thinking). Soon I got myself acquainted with the new place and new school (I am originally from California). Even though I gained invaluable leadership skills through participation of school-wide activities and made friends and connections along the way, I realized in order to fully develop my professional network, I should get myself involved beyond what school has to offer.

Joining the American Public Health Association (APHA) has truly helped me to more fully develop and expand my professional network. As a student member, I made instant connections with students and young professionals from across the U.S. who share similar interests. I was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. at a young age. Now as a Chinese American and a future public health professional, global health has naturally become one of my interest areas, and one of my goals is to improve the healthcare system in China. The APHA Connect, the major online community for public health professionals, has provided a venue for me to find others with similar interests. One such venue is the International Health Student Committee.

The International Health Student Committee is the only student-run committee under APHA’s International Health Section that is fully dedicated to bring students together to discuss the latest global health news and issues, provide opportunities for leadership development, and foster professional networking. Within a week after joining the committee, I was greeted by email from the IHSC committee co-chairs and I took advantage of the opportunity to join the core leadership group. In less than a month, I have already found myself making connections and working on different projects with numerous students and young professionals across the U.S. An example of the networking opportunity I was involved in was the recent installment of the IHSC career development webinar.

The purpose of the webinar was to have a public health professional currently working in the global health field talk about how students and recent graduates can get involved and develop a career in global health. As one of the career development coordinators at IHSC, I was involved with talking to the guest speaker about the event, coordinating the webinar platform with APHA personnel, promoting the event with IH Section leaders, and sending out emails to public health students and professionals in the APHA network to inform them about the event. In addition, organizing a webinar from the beginning to the end with the IHSC core leadership group members was an engaged learning and networking experience. From brainstorming a topic, to finding a guest speaker, to advertising the event, and finally preparing the agenda for the webinar, tremendous teamwork and strong organizational and leadership skills were necessary. Because every student in the committee lives in a different area of the country, our communications are entirely virtual. We coordinated the entire webinar through emails, phone calls, and texting. The success of the webinar implementation requires not only strong teamwork and leadership skill, but also good communication skills: active listening including being able to ask questions clearly and efficiently. The coordination of the webinar provided me with an extensive opportunity to network with IHSC members, IH Section leaders, and APHA personnel. Although all these were done virtually, I am looking forward to meeting and networking with them at the APHA Annual Meeting this November. I will be able to use those “soft skills” in person to build upon the e-networking that I’ve been doing over the past months.

I am glad I am now a member of the American Public Health Association and one of the core leaders of the IH Student Committee. Within just two months, I have not only worked on numerous projects with other like-minded public health young professionals, I have also greatly expanded my professional network through meaningful connections with others.

Sharon Qin, MPH Candidate
College of Biological Sciences
University of California, Davis

Career Development Subcommittee
International Health Student Committee

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