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Interview with Mehreen Afzal

Public Health graduate Mehreen Afzal tells us about her experiences of the Pathways to the Public Health Workplace module.

Why did you choose the Pathways module?

I chose the Pathways module just to get an insight into the public health sector in terms of careers. From what I knew when I started the course, public health is one of those areas which is often hidden as opposed to other fields. So I wanted the opportunity to experience the public health workplace.

Please can you describe the workshops on the Pathways module?

The workshops were tailored to help us. At the beginning there was a workshop on CVs, and one on cover letters and interview tips. They were really valuable. The workshops taught us the professional skills that we could use in the workplace as well. And the interview tips that we learnt and the methods that we learnt were really useful - I have used them in actual interviews since.

How did you find the competitive process when applying for the placement?

The preparations are still the same as a real workplace interview so I just gave it my best. There was a panel of three people so it was all very real and very scary. It gives you a snippet of what an actual interview is like, and the type of questions that can be thrown at you. Even though you might think that you have prepared for everything, there are always going to be one or two questions that you are not sure about - it’s about how to tackle them, and do so smartly.

Tell us a bit about the project that you undertook as part of the Pathways module

I did a placement with the West Midlands Combined Authority and the project that I was involved in was based around inclusive activity for disabled people. They had done a bit of research beforehand which suggested that there was a lack of opportunity or activities or awareness about activities in terms of physical activity for disabled individuals. This project wanted to upskill people to create the facilities for disabled individuals.

What were your responsibilities during the placement?

I did quite a lot of things. I started the placement at the very beginning of the authority’s project when they had just got their ideas together. I created a spreadsheet - they had a list from four years ago of the disability organisations that were present then. I had to update them, adding the new ones, removing the old ones and those that were no longer active. And I did a short piece of academic research about the pros and cons of engaging citizens in decision making.

When you were doing the project how did you find your interaction with the employer?

It was really great. I had two supervisors from the organisation and they made sure that I had a sufficient amount of input within their project, so when I started the placement they asked me to tell them what I wanted to gain out of the placement. Then according to that then they set me some tasks. So I wasn’t doing the one piece during the whole three months, I had different task and they were willing to sort of change around as well just so I could get what I needed out of it. They were very flexible.

How did you find your interaction with the university supervisor?

My university supervisor was so brilliant as well. She had regular meetings with me throughout the course of the placement and she also came to meet my placement organiser. I think she came three times throughout the whole course. Then we also had conference calls as well, and the purpose of those was just to make sure that I was benefiting from the placement at each stage, and so I knew that she hadn’t forgotten about me! While completing my project, in the assignment she was really helpful and provided a lot of guidance and academic support. I could just drop her an email and make an appointment to see her whenever.

Were there any drawbacks of doing the Pathways module?

I don’t think it’s a drawback but the length of time I felt was quite short. But obviously within the Public Health course, there is limited time anyway. I overcame this because I had a discussion with my academic supervisor and my organisational supervisor to see if there was any scope for me to continue further. My placement finished in March and I took a one month gap, because that’s when all the deadlines were due, and then I emailed them again and asked whether they had any scope for me to continue and they were more than happy to welcome me back on board. So I have extended my placement to the end of the year.

So essentially you will have had a 1-year internship. How do you feel about that?

I think it’s really good because it’s very difficult to get into organisations such as the Combined Authority and the majority of the time if you do placements, the organisation just really want you for the time that you have said that you will come. I am on the marketing side now, so the project has gone ahead, the launch has happened, resources have been given to the organisations, and I am actually a part of that. It’s just nice to have been part of something from the start to the end.

Have you experienced any other benefits of doing the internship?

I just think that the skills that I have learnt throughout the module such as the interpersonal skills, being prepared to take up challenges, the interview skills, they will all benefit, and they are lifelong skills that I can use. They have been really helpful. Networking has also been really helpful. Recently through the project I met up with the Director of Public Health for Sandwell Council, who has offered me another placement in their Adverse Childhood Experiences Department. So that’s a great achievement.

Would you recommend the Pathways module to other Masters students?

Yes, definitely. I think if you are looking for a snippet of what it would be like to work in the real public health environment this module is the one you need to pick, because the available placements are all from highly regarded institutions or organisations and they are really well equipped to give you the knowledge and the skills that you need for your future progress in terms of careers. And generally it gives you a chance to network with other people in the organisation and these are the people that you wouldn’t necessarily have access to as an outsider.