Jen Zhu, '14
- What have been some highlights of your Sociology experience these past four years?
I had never thought of concentrating in Sociology before coming to Harvard! I came in premed, thinking I was going into Neurobiology or Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology. My freshman spring, my friend and I were scrolling through courses to shop, and she pointed out a Sociology class by Nicholas Christakis called Life and Death in the U.S.: Medicine and Disease in Social Context and said, "This looks like something you'd really enjoy!" I was skeptical, but when I shopped the class, I was literally on the edge of my seat; I was so entranced by the idea that illness isn't just caused by bacteria and pathogens--your life outcomes also result from structural factors like who you're friends with, your race, your socioeconomic status, even your birth order! I loved the class so much, that I asked if I could get involved and continue learning by working in his lab and ended up spending an amazing, life-changing summer in Honduras working on a randomized controlled trial maximizing public health intervention adoption in 32 villages by targeting social networks.
My sophomore year, when I was torn among 13 different concentrations, I reached out to my top choices' department heads and directors of undergraduate studies--and the DUS at the time, David Ager, talked to me 4 or so different times. His kindness and willingness to answer my questions and help me reach a decision that was right for me showed me how great the Sociology Department was. When I decided to no longer be premed my junior spring with one premed requirement to go, being a Sociology concentrator gave me courage that I would be equipped to handle whatever I ended up doing (public health/health policy.) I had such an amazing experience in Sociology--from really coming to love my Sociology sophomore tutorial when I had previously dreaded social theory to feeling extremely supported as a joint concentrator in Sociology and Government.
- What are your post-grad plans?
I'm working as the Health Systems Quality Improvement Coordinator for the United Nations Development Programme's Millennium Villages Project (Global Health Corps Fellow 2014) in Uganda. I'll be conducting monitoring and evaluation of health facilities, staff, and data, and my job includes evaluating health center and health staff performance; recording and addressing challenges discussed by health center staff during Quality Improvement meetings; improving the accuracy of child and maternal mortality data; developing interventions to address the increasing child and maternal mortality rates; and establishing an emergency ambulance referral system in rural Uganda. [During the summer of 2014, Jen worked on Capitol Hill for Senator Kay Hagan
Writing policy memos and legislative correspondence, conducting research projects, and performing constituent services.]
- Did sociology play a role in helping you select your next opportunity?
Through my classes, my time in Honduras, and my senior thesis research, Sociology opened my eyes to how passionate I was about looking at social systems and studying them to leverage and fix them to improve the health and life outcomes of the most disadvantaged. It not only helped me choose my next opportunity but also helped me land my dream job. During my interview, they asked me about my thesis research, my sociological observations in the field, and the soft skills and quantitative skills I learned from the experience.