Tag: Hannah Lougheed

Scuba Diving and Grad School: What’s the Difference? Hannah Lougheed

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

As you’ve gone about your daily life, I’m sure at least once or twice you have thought, “man, scuba diving and graduate school sure do have lots in common!”. No? You haven’t thought that? Weird. Well, as someone who has spent significant time underwater, I would love to draw some parallels for you between jumping into an unknown darkness with mysteries lurking about  (ie. grad school), and scuba diving.

First, a brief backstory: Most individuals who grow up in a cold, suburban, landlocked environment do not have significant exposure to large bodies of water. I was one of those individuals. My exposure to the world of diving was limited to what I had seen on National Geographic and Bubble Guppies. But, I knew I was curious, and I knew I wanted a skill set that would allow me to travel and to see parts of the globe. I took an Open Water (aka: scuba babies) class through my local YMCA. Let me tell you, nothing beats the rush of diving literally a few feet below the surface in a chlorine bath while the silver sneakers water aerobics class is ongoing at one end, and children are actively multitasking (learning to float while at the same time, urinating) at the other.  But, for the sake of word count, let me fast forward to the part where I am living on a tropical island and swimming with whale sharks.

At the ripe age of 23, I moved by myself to Utila, Honduras with a snorkel and a dream and enrolled in a program to become a certified scuba instructor. After four months, and hundreds of hours working on both underwater techniques, and knowledge in the classroom – learning everything from theories to gas mixtures – I had done it.  At this point in my story you may be thinking, how does this relate back to the graduate school process?

Here it is: investing in yourself is a scary thing; financially, the time commitment, the “is this even going to pay off?” thoughts – those are all natural and important to the process. You know the saying, “big risks lead to big rewards”? Well, I would argue – not always. I took a big risk to quit my job and move to an island to pursue scuba diving. Was that in my 10-year plan? No. Did it pay off exponentially with a huge reward? Also, no. But, scuba diving, like graduate school, is an investment with payoffs that reach far beyond what can be measured in a traditional sense. The months I spent living on a tropical island and diving every day were incredible. I swam with whale sharks and dolphins. I learned how to hunt lionfish (an invasive species) with an underwater Hawaiin harpoon and prepare them the traditional way to eat. I gained confidence, met incredible people, and grew closer to nature.

If you come into graduate school with a rigid checklist of things you must accomplish, you may miss other opportunities along the way. Hard skills are so important – and I am in no way minimizing that, but be open for that whale shark encounter: that unexpected moment when you learn something new, or how to make your voice heard, or deepen the understanding of your innate worth as a human on this planet.

A Letter to My Future Self (to read upon graduation): Hannah Lougheed

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

Dear Future Hannah,

Here we are – May 2022, I have just submitted my last assignment and am ready to receive my diplomas! What a crazy two years this has been. To think it all began in the midst of a global pandemic. An entire year [at least] completed online while completing my Masters of Arts in Sustainable International Development. The second year [hopefully] completed mostly in person while completing my Masters of Science in Global Health Policy and Management. I did it. I now have two masters and a well-packed tool kit of new skills and knowledge to take with me as I enter the field.  All in all a good year!

My resume looks great, I am feeling confident, and now I can take some time to reflect on my experience at Heller. First of all, the connections I have made – even virtually, have been wonderful. I have met some of the most incredibly talented individuals during my time who have inspired me in every way; fellow students, professors and staff alike have deeply enriched my time at Heller and my life at large. I have also gained valuable quantitative skills to take into the field; from cost-benefit analysis to international health financing, I am feeling much more confident dealing with data. I also have a number of completed projects that will serve as competency checks for future jobs. This includes a full survey designed, a monitoring and evaluation project, even a corporate sponsorship plan for an NGO (just to name a few). Wow – I am ready!

So, what’s next? Well, I hope I have a job pinned down upon graduating, but I know how tough it can be to land the right job at the right time so I am not averse to a little patience. Will I be working with a faith-based NGO? For the government? Within the United States, Canada, or maybe even Brazil? The possibilities are exciting, but scary. I know that at this point I have more direction, but I wish I could tell my past self that it will all work out because she is freaking out a little. I wish I knew exactly which career path I was headed down. Not only for peace of mind but also to ensure I am taking classes that tailor well to that. However, the beauty of my degrees from Heller is that I am gaining information across a wide landscape of topics. This will make me versatile in the job market and flexible within my career.

Okay, now that we are here at graduation, here are some things I hope I can say as I finish this two year journey:

  • I made it through while making the best of my situation (Covid really changed everyone’s plans, but I hope I didn’t just “get through it” but that I made the most of it).
  • I created some long-lasting relationships with those at Heller who I can always lean on in the future, and who can lean on me.
  • I took advantage of opportunities for various forms of growth while at Heller.
  • I applied myself and did the best work I possibly could throughout my courses.
  • I left an impact on Heller, and it left an impact on me.
  • This investment was totally worth it, and I would not have changed a thing… okay maybe the whole global pandemic thing! But besides that, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Hello Heller!: Hannah Lougheed’s Acceptance Story

Hannah Lougheed, MA SID/MS-GHPM’22

As my parents and I were directed to move to the side and wait with the crowd of other hungry onlookers to be seated, I casually refreshed my email inbox on my phone and found I had an “update on my Application” from Brandeis University. We were at a chain restaurant that boasts an Americanized Italian cuisine, and up until that moment my mind was consumed solely with thoughts of chicken and gnocchi soup, but this certainly broke my hunger haze. I anxiously logged into my admissions page to see – I was in! It was my first graduate school acceptance letter up until that point, and I was ecstatic.  I informed my parents of the good news, to which they congratulated me, and then we returned to waiting in silence for our buzzer to ring. Sorry, a little anticlimactic – I know.

The Lougheeds are a pragmatic people; we celebrate, then quickly and systematically come back down to Earth. As we slid into our faux leather, well-worn booth, we began looking at what Heller had to offer in terms of cost, opportunities, etc. How naive we were to spend considerable time talking about what the physical campus and city of Waltham could offer for social activities and outdoor recreation. But, to be fair, this discussion took place in January 2020 when COVID-19 had yet to find a daily permanence in our vernacular.  All that aside, by the time we had consumed half our body weight in pasta, we had discussed many of the pros and cons of the Heller school.

At this point in my story you may be thinking, “Wow, is she a paid sponsor for Olive Garden?” To that, I would respond, pass me those affordable and delicious never-ending breadsticks and just hear me out.

As I emerged from my pasta-induced coma the next morning, I was delighted to see multiple emails welcoming me into the Heller family. I was showered by warm smiles, stories of the impact that Heller has made on students and faculty alike, and a sense that this graduate program was different from the others to which I had applied. I also deeply appreciated that this program was seemed to uplift students to succeed, whereas others boasted about their competitiveness and challenging material within the program. To be candid, I was sold on Heller but still had one reservation: name recognition.

I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, then moved to rural south-central Pennsylvania when I was young, so my exposure to higher ed institutions had been limited. I have always been starstruck by institutions with “big” names and dreamed of dawning a sweatshirt that proudly read “Johns Hopkins” or “Harvard” so the world knew I had “made it”. So, sillily enough, one of my major reservations for attending Brandeis was that many people, at least in my small circle, had never heard of the school. I reached out to meet with my undergraduate academic advisor and general giver-of-great-advice human and he reassured me that Brandeis does have great name recognition within academia, and that I would be foolish not to go to a school that fit me well just because the name is not “big” enough.

I spent considerable time still assessing my options, but found that the Heller school was a perfect fit. My advice and something I am working to change in my own thinking: do not let names alone guide your path. For grad programs, jobs, etc. You are special and your value is not validated by a name on your resume, but by who you are innately.

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