myHCN Insider Look: Interview with Calliope Holingue, Johns Hopkins University '19

How does one become confident in their career pursuits? Often we find ourselves doubting the process, questioning the steps, and becoming our own harshest skeptics about our choices. Leave the critics to handle Zagat and Oscars for restaurants and movies, and change your mindset about your authentic health pathway.

We had the honor of chatting with Calliope Holingue — Johns Hopkins University PhD student, BA and MPH alumna from UC Berkeley, and soon-to-be professional psychiatric epidemiologist. She shared some incredible tips, advice, and aspects of her journey for us to learn from. Read more to hear about how she went from a medical school mindset, to now exploring the relation between co-morbidities and mental illnesses through groundbreaking research at Johns Hopkins University.  

myHCN: How did you decide you wanted to go straight into receiving your PhD in mental health? What prompted you to make this decision after your undergrad?

Calliope: My personal experiences with mental health peaked my interest in the field, but earlier on I wasn’t too sure how to make a career out of it. In undergrad I double majored in Molecular and Cell Biology and Public Health, and I was thinking about going to medical school. However, by senior year I was having doubts about whether medical school was the right path for me. Going into public health seemed a lot more energizing to me, so I decided to pursue my Master’s in Public Health at UC Berkeley with a concentration in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. I figured learning a relevant skill set while getting an MPH would be applicable in any career path I decide to pursue later on. Once I started my MPH program, it was clear that I wanted to be an epidemiologist. My work with a lab group exposed me to research and I decided to pursue my interests in psychiatric epidemiology.  Psychiatric Epidemiology felt like a calling, since it matched my personal interests with the skills I developed from my Master’s program.

myHCN: How did you prepare for the interview process? Any tips you can provide to someone who may find the process arduous/daunting?

Calliope: For my Master’s, there was no interview process. By the time I was ready for my PhD interview, I was already confident in what I wanted to study. I was able to be my authentic self when discussing my interests in psychiatric epidemiology. My advice for anyone going through interviews at any level, is to show that you are eager to perform and commit to the work at hand. I was able to showcase a lot of prior work I had already completed in my Master’s Program. I think the best part about it all was that I didn’t have to change who I was while going through it. Despite the common nerves, I was able to take such an organic approach which made me confident in the interview and at peace with my decision. I had also put in the work to research all the programs I applied to, had several phone calls with faculty members, and shared ideas for dissertation research after reading about the latest and greatest research in the field. Do your homework! This pays off significantly for your application and interview process.

myHCN: That is really inspirational. Sounds like your pathway led you to a place of certainty after going through a few doubts on your way there. If you could go back in time to when you decided to apply to graduate school, what would you tell your younger self?

CalliopeLooking back, I would have let myself be okay with pursuing public health as a career instead of medical school. The application process felt a bit hectic because it was a bit of a rushed decision, given I had been so focused on the med school application process. People will often try to tell you what to do with your life, but you don’t have to be making frantic or un-authentic decisions because of anyone else. If I had trusted my gut sooner, I would’ve gotten a little more public health experience back in undergrad and explored all the possibilities. I did not understand all the things you could do with epidemiology, but I am glad that did learn about psych epi and was able to pursue that. Also, all the pre-med classes did give me a strong understanding of biology, and that continues to serve me well.

myHCN: What is something surprising you encountered during your first semester at master’s program? PhD?

CalliopeThe first thing that blew me away during my Master’s program was the depth of epidemiology and biostatistics. I was 100% focused on school during the first term and quickly improved my work ethic to match the work load. For my PhD, I moved across the country to study at Johns Hopkins. The campus is abundant with doctors and patients, so being immersed in a medical setting felt very different at first coming from UC Berkeley, yet it came with a lot of research opportunities I found to be energizing.

myHCN: What is a behavioral health care challenge you hope to immerse yourself with in the future? Why?

Calliope: I have an overarching interest in how physical and mental health are connected. In general there is not enough biological understanding of the connections between both these areas of health. More research must be done to establish the biological basis of common mental illnesses and why they tend to co-occur with physical health issue. My hope is that this research will improve patient care, clarify the etiology of mental disorders, while finding effective treatments for co-morbidities associated with mental illness. Specifically, my dissertation will focus on studying the role of the gastrointestinal system, including the gut microbiome, in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I see myself working on this for the next few years and hope to expand upon our understanding of the etiology of autism and physical co-morbidities.

Calliope is now conducting her own research while approaching the completion of her PhD program. Her independence, passion, and confidence stems from authenticity that will contribute to her continued success in mental health research. Connect with Calliope today on LinkedIn! We’re keeping an eye on this high-achiever.  

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