A question is worth a thousand words

All great things begin as anything else: as an idea. Though for me, well rather, for my idea to become reality, I had to shape it into a question. After all, I realized, the worst response to a question is “no”, and even then, one typically walks away from the experience having learned how to inquire: a useful skill these days in the professional arena.

I came home from Bard College’s Center for Environmental Policy last winter for a much needed reprieve from the semester. After two years off from college, I had just moved across the country to upstate New York and completed the first semester of my Master’s degree. Unfortunately for me, I still had a 10-page policy brief to finish off the semester. After miraculously turning the assignment in on time – at 11:59 PM on Christmas Eve, with one minute to spare – the very first thing on my agenda was to go on a midnight walk through the newly fallen snow, enjoying the peace of mind a completed semester offers to its students.

The next morning, I was eager to catch up with my mom, who I had not seen since early August. I explained to her that I thought my professional interest within my degree program seemed to fall within the public health field and that I had been thinking about looking at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the WHO (World Health Organization) for any interesting public health environmental internships. It was during this discussion she informed me that there was in fact a CDC campus in our town. In addition, there had been a lot of recent articles in the paper about public health and hydraulic fracturing.

In pursuit of an internship opportunity in Colorado, I came up with an idea, an idea that I molded into various questions. I had wanted to find out what kinds of internship opportunities were offered to a student, like myself, who was interested in public health, climate change, and environmental policy. Seeing as how my education was multidisciplinary, I was interested in an internship that would engage each of my disciplines, one that would push me to put my scholarly experience into practice. So, as I read the many articles about hydraulic fracturing in the newspaper I picked out the persons’ cited and I looked up their email contact information online (most were professors). In addition, I sent an email inquiry to a family friend who worked at CDC, expressing my interest in gaining professional experience within my field. I figured my curiosity could do no harm and that the worst that could happen would be to be seen as a bother and to be ignored, the best, possibly a professional connection. My conclusion: I had nothing to lose.

Looking back, I am grateful that I challenged myself to take a leap and ask questions. I heard back from every single person I contacted, each of them offering to help me on my path to learning more about their field. And what, you may ask, was the result of my inquires? I am currently an intern at CDC, working on topics that include:

• policy concerns of Lyme disease;
• vector-borne diseases and climate change;
• communication of scientific findings to policy makers and the public.

I am even more grateful, still, that I pursued my idea. For my reality now, is to continue my work at the CDC this next year working as a paid fellow. The answer to my questions turned into a paid professional opportunity— much more than I had ever anticipated! In my experience, especially since starting my graduate degree at Bard College, I have learned that it is never out of the question to ask an off-the-wall question. Sometimes, the strangest questions, those you may think are least likely to be responded to, will be the question someone is most willing to answer. There is no telling what interesting and enlightening experiences might come out of this upcoming year!

About Jada Garofalo