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Canadian Public Health Association

Student Experiences – Internships, Practicum Placements, Public Health Conferences, Workshops

Mylène Tantchou Dipankui

My experience as a postdoctoral intern at the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) has been awesome. I was enrolled in a project aiming to address misinformation regarding HPV vaccination among parents of children aged from 9 to 15 and influenza vaccination among health professionals. This internship took place in the frame of a Mitacs Accelerate grant, which means I was involved in the project from the first step – writing of the proposal. 

This internship was very instructive for me. At the beginning, we had an idea of the topic; the challenge for me was to find my place in this project. What would my role be as an intern? I was fortunate to work in parallel with a team from the University of Guelph for the theoretical part of the project. And through our discussions with the CPHA team, we finally understood that I had to frame the proposal and get involved as much as possible. I decided to take part in everything related to the project to have a broad view of the study and organization. I was included in all communications related to the project and my opinion was sought. I was an integral part of the team. The challenge was adaptation when COVID-19 hit. Things happened so quickly. The COVID-19 pandemic also brought a turnover within the CPHA team. The stability we found in communication had to be re-created. These changes also raised questions about the next stages of the project for which we were planning to apply for another grant. We finally decided not to apply for the next part of the project and focused on what we were supposed to produce for Mitacs. It was a very difficult time for me because I liked the topic on which I was working on and wanted to be involved throughout the project. When we do research in an academic setting, we are under pressure because the deadlines are sometimes very tight and we would like to respect them. In my case, it was the opposite. I had to learn to wait patiently. Particularly when COVID-19 hit. I’ve learned to communicate with knowledge users and tailor my agenda to theirs. 

For other students like me who are considering a career in a non-academic setting, an organization like CPHA is a good starting point to get an idea of how things work and start building a professional network. Just keep in mind that it might be an internship, but it could lead to a lifelong relationship that could benefit your future career. So be patient, ask questions and be ready to help whenever you can. I think what has been very helpful to me is good communication on both sides. I was meeting my University mentor regularly. We had research group meetings once a week or biweekly - during summer. The meetings were opportunities for me to share what was going on in the project, ask my questions, share my concerns and receive advice. In addition, the availability of the CPHA team was very helpful; the online meetings with them were very helpful and allowed us to walk through all the stages of this project. The team was always available to answer my questions either by email or by scheduling an online meeting. They also provided me with the resources I needed to work effectively and prepare my future career. We are working on another grant application that will focus on HPV and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this. 

Mylène Tantchou Dipankui, PhD, postdoctoral intern

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