MyHCN Insider Look: Interview with Sophie To, HCC '16

We're happy to have Sophie To with us for the MyHCN Insider Look! Sophie To completed her Health Career Connection internship at North Carolina Community Health Center Association. She was offered a full-time position there as a data analyst and is currently working on her Master's in Public Health at Yale University. Sophie shares her journey into graduate school and how working for a year helped her when applying to graduate school.


MyHCN: You worked for a year before going to graduate school. What did you do and how did it prepare you for applying to graduate school?

Sophie To: I didn’t go straight into graduate school because even though I knew I wanted to pursue more schooling (ultimately leading to a research/teaching career in public health), I wasn’t quite sure what my specific academic interests were within public health. In college I worked in in research labs, so I knew I wanted to try something new.

In my senior year, I applied for an internship through Health Career Connection, which placed me at the North Carolina Community Health Center Association (NCCHCA). After my internship, NCCHCA kept me on board, but this time as a real employee – a data analyst! At NCCHCA, I synthesized and visualized data for projects relating to policy, insurance, provider credentialing, health education, and more. Gradually, I discovered that I was not only interested in solving public health problems through strict research protocols (per my undergraduate experience), but I also wanted to integrate community health practice and policy-level aspects into my future work. This influenced the tone of my graduate school applications as well as the projects and classes I have become involved with in graduate school.

While I was working full-time last year, I also tried to keep my school momentum going by taking one class per semester in the evening. I believe that the combination of working and taking a few relevant classes gave me an advantage as an applicant and as a graduate student; I ended up doing very well in all my classes last semester and finding fulfilling public health projects to work on at Yale. Working also helped me financially (i.e. it paid off most of my undergraduate loans), and I was able to get recommendation letters from my supervisor.

MyHCN: What is something surprising you have encountered during your first semester at Yale?

Sophie To: One of the surprising things I encountered during my first semester at Yale was the school’s ability and willingness to fund students – not just through financial aid and scholarships (which I found to be more generous than other schools’ financial aid packages, so keep that in mind if you’re considering Yale!), but also for individual pursuits during our time in the program, such as community initiatives, summer research, technological innovation projects, and so on. Coming into the program, I knew that Yale was going to have a lot of funding to go around because it’s a “big-name” school, but not until I stepped foot on campus did I realize the sheer magnitude of this. I am endlessly appreciative of Yale’s funding opportunities for students.

MyHCN: If you can go back in time to when you decided to apply to graduate school, what would you tell yourself?

Sophie To: If I could go back in time to give myself any piece of advice on applying to graduate school, I would tell myself to not wait last-minute to turn in my applications, as last fall I actually ended up turning in my financial aid application late for Yale. Fortunately, the financial aid office was extremely forgiving, but this was a lesson learned because it could have cost me thousands of dollars in tuition.

MyHCN: What is a public health challenge you hope to immerse yourself with in the future?

Sophie To: One public health challenge that I am currently exploring, and that I hope to continue combating in the future, is preventing chronic diseases and improving quality of life for those living with chronic diseases by improving social, behavioral, biological, and environmental exposures.

We love hearing from myHCN members and HCC alum! Stay tuned for more myHCN Insider Look: Student Edition series posts to hear the stories, experiences, and tips from students and young professionals just like you. 

Connect with Sophie on LinkedIn!

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