To Ph.D. or Not to Ph.D.?

A global health master’s graduate explains how she wrestled with a decision to continue on to doctoral studies.

Judith Mwobobia

Global health master's student Judith Mwobobia

By Judith Mwobobia

Published May 8, 2023 under Student Stories

Judith Mwobobia is graduating this week from the DGHI Master of Science in Global Health program.  

I recall joking with my sister during my teenage years that if I ever pursued a master's degree, I might as well go all the way to a Ph.D. and beyond since there was no point in doing things halfway. I used to believe that either you go full throttle or not at all.

While in the process of earning my master's degree, however, I realized that the decision to go on in my studies wasn't as straightforward as I had thought, and my priorities had undergone significant changes. First, it wasn't easy to narrow down my focus to a specific route within global health, given the vast array of options. I also had not expected to fall head-over-heels in love with the idea of research and academia.

Growing up in Kenya, I had pursued a degree in microbiology and worked as a health journalist before venturing into graduate school. When I arrived at Duke, my original goal was to gain a better understanding of the global health landscape, with the aim of becoming a more effective health policy advocate in my home country. However, as I delved deeper into my studies, I found myself drawn to the fascinating world of research.

I was exhilarated by the idea of using my expertise to make a positive difference in the health outcomes of marginalized populations.

Judith Mwobobia — Master of Science in Global Health Class of 2023

My first difficult decision came toward the end of my first year of master’s studies, when students typically choose either an internship or a research project to pursue during the summer. I had my sights set on an internship at the World Health Organization or The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, believing these opportunities would provide valuable work experience. However, conversations with a few faculty and advisors made me realize that I needed to focus on gaining research experience to boost my resume, which was already brimming with work experience.

To my immense relief, the research project I chose turned out to be a perfect match for me. Working with the Ideas for Hope lab in Tanzania on a study about cancer stigma was a pivotal moment that opened my eyes to the power of research in making a direct impact on populations. I was exhilarated by the idea of using my expertise to make a positive difference in the health outcomes of marginalized populations.

While in the program, I also discovered a passion for teaching. I enjoyed any chance I had during my teaching assistantship to impart my knowledge and experience to other students and realized that teaching was something I wanted to pursue.

As I started to explore careers in academia, I attended many ‘Journey After Duke’ events. These are workshops organized by the Graduate School bringing together alumni who have pursued doctoral studies and are settled in their careers. Having a chance to listen to the alumni experiences and interacting with them only solidified my determination.

Now, with just a few days until graduation, I am filled with excitement and anticipation about my next step. This fall, I will begin pursuing a Ph.D. in public health sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. I know now this is the right path, not because of what I told my sister all those years ago, but because it is where I’ve found my passion and purpose.

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