Hello, I’m Susannah, and I’m studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) through the University of London International Programmes.
Why epidemiology? On July 13, 1999, my world split in two with the full-term stillbirth of my first child, Wilder Daniel. The pregnancy was perfect, the outcome tragic. Somehow worse was the fact that no cause was found.
At the time, I was based in Vietnam, heading the local branch of Oxfam Hong Kong, a charity that works to improve livelihoods. Later, I returned to the U.S. (where I’m from), taking up a position with another non-profit called Trickle Up that works to reduce extreme poverty in India, West Africa and Central America.
Gradually I began to sense I was not quite on the right path. To borrow a line from Tolkien, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Easier said than done! So in 2011, I quit and moved with my husband and three sons, then aged 7-11, to the woods for a year. We wanted to be surrounded by nature, and I wanted to seek my path.
An answer emerged from my volunteer work with the International Stillbirth Alliance: return to school with the aim of shifting my career into the overlap between poverty and stillbirth.
Reading up on stillbirth, I found many researchers have backgrounds not in public health as I’d expected, but epidemiology. At that point, I didn’t even know the definition of epidemiology!
I quickly learned that while it is often thought of as the study of disease, in fact epidemiology encompasses the “distribution and determinants of [all types of] health-related states/events” (Last’s “Dictionary of Epidemiology”): a perfect fit for me.
Why LSHTM and why distance learning? I called on friends of friends, trolled the internet, and read, looking for the right place. Living outside New York City, I assumed there would be plenty of options. But I was limited by several criteria. Foremost, I was determined to make the most of my studies by attending a rigorous program. Second, with our family’s tight budget, cost was key. And third, as primary caretaker for my kids (my husband and I take turns), I had to maximize my time: long commutes were out. LSHTM’s distance learning program fit the bill.
After all that preparation, why just a one-year certificate? I see it as the ideal way to answer the two questions that matter most: Do I like epidemiology? and, Might I be any good at it?
So far, the answer to the first question is a resounding Yes! As for the second, I’ll get a hint in June…
So with studying and looking after my kids, why spend time blogging? During our “Year in the Woods,” my husband and I blogged for the New York Times, and I found that regularly capturing my thoughts helped focus and clarify my experiences. I learned through writing. That’s what I’m hoping for this time, too.
I’ll post monthly on such topics as juggling kids and studies, going back to school at 48 (!), philosophy and epidemiology, and how to make distance learning work. A motley collection, but with a common thread: Carpe diem. Seize the day!
I hope you, the reader, get something worth your while from my posts—a smile (or grimace?!), an insight, or just a moment’s well-deserved pause.