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y-merinoYesenia Merino is a doctoral student in the Health Behavior program in the School of Public Health

1. What made you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

After working in various realms of public health for years, I decided to go back to school for two main reasons: 1) I had started to develop research questions of my own that I didn’t see anyone else asking, and 2) I saw a lot of room for improvement of public health practice and health research. I could either complain about how things were or set about being part of the solution. So I went in the latter direction.

2. What’s the thing you love most about Chapel Hill?

I like living in the Triangle area a lot more than I expected. Being a DC native and having done my Master’s in Atlanta, I was worried about living in a little college town. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the sheer density of smart people in the area and the fact that all the universities draw in big musical acts that I might not otherwise get to see in a town this size. Fresh food directly from farmers has never been easier to get than it is here (buy local!), and friends and I have managed to find the perfect football bar for NFL Sundays. There’s a lot of interesting history in and around Chapel Hill that you still see playing out when standing at the corner of Franklin and Columbia.

  1. If you had any advice for someone thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, what would it be?

Depends on the degree – if it’s a Master’s, go for it! A PhD? I’m of the “don’t do it unless you absolutely have to because your life will be unfulfilled otherwise” camp. Grad school of any kind is incredibly difficult so it should definitely be something that you go into pretty sure you want to stick with it even when you hate it. One of my favorite quotes – “Love your subject well before you start, for your passion will be tested mightily.” Surround yourself with peers, mentors, and supporters because they are the ones that will help you keep going when you’re just over being a grad student. It’s all that struggle that can make it such an enriching experience, though. You learn about your craft, your strengths, and yourself through the process.

  1. What is your dream career after you’ve completed your studies?

I’m coming to terms with the fact that the academy makes a lot of sense for me. I love teaching, mentoring, research, and even administrative professional/intellectual development. Not ever having known anyone who worked in academia (aside from the people that have taught me), I’ve never really thought it was the place for me – I privilege community voices over “expert” ones, would rather connect people to one another at an event than give a lecture, and would rather watch HGTV than listen to NPR. None of those things fit my stereotypical idea of an academic, but I guess that’s why I can see the space I fill. Either that, or interior design!

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