“Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to the Friedman School of Nutrition and Science Policy.”
I read the words once, twice, three times. I couldn’t believe it- I had gotten in to Friedman, my top choice graduate school program. I was ecstatic. I had been working in the tech field for the past 5 years and Friedman was going to be my first step down a new career path.
Was Friedman the right program for me? What if the work was too difficult? What if I didn’t make any friends?
And just as fast at that excitement for the road ahead arrived, it vanished, only to be replaced by a swell of panic and a barrage of questions. Was Friedman the right program for me? What if the work was too difficult? What if I didn’t make any friends? But most of all, how did I know that I was making the right choice?
The semester began in September, right after the whirlwind of class registration, new faces, and being shuttled between presentations, lunches and discussions that was orientation. I sat down in Principles of Epidemiology that first day, glancing around nervously, settling into a seat next to someone I had met at orientation, smiling weakly with the hope that they would remember me. The first few weeks was a lot of that- awkward conversations and showing up for classes on topics I knew nothing about, all while crossing my fingers this would all work out, because what would I do if it didn’t? As the weeks passed, though, the awkwardness and discomfort of being in an entirely new environment melted away as classes began to pick up, friendships began to form, and I grew more comfortable in my new normal.
....But the work was purposeful, and it was clear that assignments were intended to deepen our understanding of the material at hand while making us better writers, researchers and thinkers.
My statistics class was a challenge, as I knew it would be, but with Sean Cash at the helm, I was starting to get the hang of things. I delighted in Corby Kummer’s writing class, poring over food journalism articles from popular publications for class discussion and putting my writing chops to the test in assignments ranging from restaurant reviews, to policy evaluation and recommendation, to an interview of my paternal Grandmother to gain an understanding of what the landscape of food looked like when she was a child. My Micronutrients class was dense, complex, and fascinating, and made accessible by the expertise (and comedic relief) of Dean Saltzman. Sara Folta offered a thoughtful, people-first approach to the Theory of Behavior Change that was as enlightening as it was eye-opening to the challenges and implications of attempting to alter the actions and attitudes of others.
As a team, Silvina Choumenkovitch and Gita Singh guided us through the Principles of Epidemiology in an engaging and intelligent fashion with smart assignments that challenged us to assume the analytical lens of a research scientist. There was a lot of work, and I quickly became a regular at Hirsh Library. But the work was purposeful, and it was clear that assignments were intended to deepen our understanding of the material at hand while making us better writers, researchers and thinkers. I gained a great deal of knowledge, sure, but I also gained confidence in myself and my abilities as a student and professional. I was meant to be here. I could do this.
For a New Yorker, the warm and outgoing nature of the Friedman student body was borderline alarming at first.
As the semester unfolded, those aforementioned meek smiles of acknowledgment vanished, replaced by the forming of close bonds with my classmates, both within my concentration cohort and beyond. For a New Yorker, the warm and outgoing nature of the Friedman student body was borderline alarming at first. Why were people being so nice? As time went on, I realized that everyone was so kind because the school does a wonderful job in their selection of candidates, resulting in a student body, year after year, filled with smart, outspoken, intelligent people who wanted to make a difference, and wanted to bring you with them as they set meaningful change into motion.
Now, in the midst of my second semester, I can say with certainty that Friedman was absolutely the right choice. Currently, I’m taking five fascinating classes, working part-time at the school, am the social media editor of the school newspaper and have an awesome group of friends. I’m working on securing a summer internship, and have been in touch with faculty, alumni, and professors who have been eager to speak with me about opportunities, introduce me to their connections, and support me in my interests and endeavors. As I look to the future, I know that the knowledge and hard skills Friedman has imparted upon me, combined with the connections I’ve made and the opportunities offered will prepare me well for wherever I’m headed. The only complaint I have at this point is that it’s going by too fast!
EJ Johnson is a first year student in the Master of Science in Nutrition Interventions, Communication and Behavior Change at the Friedman School