Turning great ideas into healthier communities


SACNAS: Tips for Transitioning from STEM to Global Health

October 26, 2017 | Jennifer Kaindi, Global Health Fellows Program II | This post first appeared on the Global Health Fellows Program II blog.

This year, PHI's Global Health Fellows Program II (GHFP-II) returned to the SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) National Diversity in STEM Conference where we met students with a wide array of backgrounds, including biochemistry, plant pathology, molecular cell development, mathematics, microbiology, molecular biology, bioengineering, and virology. The vast majority of attendees were students pursuing their bachelors, masters, and PhD levels degrees.

Conferences like SACNAS are a key opportunity for us to reach individuals currently underrepresented in the global health workforce, particularly Hispanics/Latinos and Native Americans, with information about the program and targeted career advice. It’s also an opportunity to meet individuals who don’t have a traditional global health background, but may be interested in the field. At SACNAS, we were able to help attendees make connections between USAID’s international development work and the diverse set of skills, including STEM, needed to solve today’s complex global health challenges.


Jennifer Kaindi, GHFP-II’s Recruitment Lead, meets with a Native American student
from Fort Lewis College at the 2017 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference.


Below are few tips we shared with SACNAS attendees to help them visualize how their planned advanced degrees would intersect with global health work:

#1: Volunteer

Volunteer some time with an organization that works with resource-challenged community or immigrant populations. This will help build your problem solving and creativity skills and give you a glimpse into the type of challenges that USAID and its partners face while implementing the work, as well as the skills they use to make a difference in the lives of millions of people every day. When interviewing for global health positions, you will be able to speak to some of the creative ways you have made a difference in a community. If you have experience working with an immigrant community, this may also strengthen your your cultural awareness and sensitivity skills.


#2: Research

Research the many ways your degree intersects with global health work. There are lots of opportunities for those with clinical, research, and engineering backgrounds. For instance, a Civil and Environmental Engineer could end up working water sanitation and hygiene issues. Someone with a degree in Veterinary Medicine could fill a key role at USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. Someone who lives and breathes data may find themselves on the frontlines of the Zika epidemic. The important thing is to be open to those opportunities when they arise.


#3: Network

Network with people in global health professions at conferences, career fairs, on social media (including GHFP-II’s LinkedIn group), and other events. These connections may turn into immediate or future opportunities. Take advantage of any opportunities, both formal and informal, to learn more about how to best market your skills and background through a global health lens (including GHFP-II’s free informational interviews).


#4: Build

Strengthen your interpersonal and collaboration skills through classroom and workplace team projects. Your ability to collaborate with others on projects will determine how successful you can be in global health. In order to understand how to work with others, you must understand yourself; consider taking a self-awareness test and learn to play to your strengths and work on your blind spots. Collaboration skills often come up in global health job interviews.


Jennifer Kaindi is the Recruitment Lead at PHI's Global Health Fellows Program II.