In this blog post, one of our Master of Public Health (MPH) graduates, Simon Serka, answers some questions about his experience as an online student with the University of Liverpool, how he has applied his new knowledge, and his plans for the future.
Background: Career and Education
My name is Simón Serka. I was born in Santiago de Chile and moved to Barcelona with my family during my adolescence. I studied Biomedical Sciences (Autonomous University of Barcelona) and an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience (King’s College London).
As a graduate student, I undertook internships at the LeDoux Laboratory (New York University Center for Neural Science, NY, USA) and the Johansen Laboratory (RIKEN Center for Brain Science, Tokyo, Japan), investigating the neural circuitry of learning and memory. Upon completing my studies, I joined the Cortical Circuit Dynamics Group (IDIBAPS, Barcelona, Spain) as a research assistant, investigating the neural mechanisms underlying decision-making. In particular, how neurons in the pre-frontal cortex dominate the influence of expectations in decision-making.
After a couple of years, I decided to shift career paths and pursue a career in public health. Thanks to the flexibility of the University of Liverpool online MPH programme, I combined my public health studies with a position as a high-school science teacher at a private school for elite athletes in Barcelona. My experience as a high-school teacher undoubtedly influenced my motivation to investigate adolescent school-based mental health promotion, the topic of my dissertation.
I graduated from the online MPH programme in July 2022. Since then I’ve been splitting my time between my two part-time jobs: (1) freelance medical writer (working in medical communication projects for companies such as Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Roche) and (2) project coordinator at the mental health association ActivaMent (a pioneer organization in the implementation of Mutual Aid Groups and community-based mental health promotion interventions in Catalonia).
Why did you choose Liverpool for your MPH?
I valued the flexibility the online programme provided and felt drawn by its curriculum. I came across other public health programmes that seemed more heavily focused on epidemiology, while the University of Liverpool’s curriculum seemed more balanced and comprehensive.
How did you find studying at Liverpool online?
I enjoyed the programme’s flexibility as it allowed me to combine my studies and work. Even though at times I missed having lectures (even if online), I found the programme’s structure and content to be very well-thought and conducive towards learning. The suggested readings were always thought-provoking, and reflexivity was strongly encouraged throughout the assignments. In addition, the interactions with other students via the forum and collaborations were very enriching.
Do you have any highlights that particularly stand out?
Perhaps, I would highlight how throughout the programme assignments always pushed me to reflect on my own thinking and approach to the research. There was a lot of emphasis on reflexivity and positionality (the position a researcher adopts within a given research study). This requires examining your identity to assess the effect that your personal characteristics and perspectives might have on your research; for me, it was a very revealing experience.
Do you have a favourite module on the MPH?
I would say that I enjoyed some of the introductory modules the most, as they gave me a whole new perspective on public health. Coming from a biomedical background, I was quite unfamiliar with interpretivism. During the module “Generating and Evaluating Public Health Evidence”, we learned about ontological and epistemological approaches, and this changed my way of conceptualising research in public health. Simply put, we could say that it changed my perception of what knowledge is and how it’s generated and used in public health.
What would you say to any students thinking about studying the MPH?
I would tell them that if they want to pursue a career in public health, studying the online MPH at the University of Liverpool might be their best move forward!
How have you applied the skills you’ve learned in your professional role?
The MPH has influenced both my work as a medical writer and my role as a project coordinator in community mental health promotion. As a medical writer, I’ve benefited from mastering qualitative research methods. For instance, learning about focus groups and how to analyse data gathered from them influenced my approach to generating reports from board meetings, a task I often need to engage with as a medical writer. As project coordinator, everything I learned from the perspective of health systems performance and assessment has been extremely helpful.