Skip to Main Content

What Does it Take to be Successful at YSPH?

What does it take for a student to be successful at the Yale School of Public Health?

Easy. It’s … well, actually, it’s not an easy question to answer. Ask any faculty or staff member and chances are you’ll get an answer as diverse as the school itself.

Mary Keefe, YSPH’s director of admissions, has seen thousands of students apply, be accepted, graduate, and then go out into the world at large – or become professors themselves – to enhance the world of public health. She sees success in two different ways. One is how they will contribute to the YSPH and Yale communities, as well as the world at-large.

“We’re looking for people who bring something to the table beyond just what the application might tell us,” she said.

“In my role in admissions, I am looking for extraordinary students – but also for students who, once they get here, will really add to the depth and richness of the program, in terms of their classmates, their faculty, and the other staff they encounter, but also in their engagement with the greater Yale community.”

The other criterion Keefe looks at is a sense of focus and purpose.

“We are looking for applicants who have an idea of what it is they’d like to do with their degree, and the impact they want to make on the world or their local community,” she said. “I always say this: We’re not looking for cookie-cutter students. The wide breadth of perspective and background and life experience is important – academics, and experiences that are public health-focused and related and their goals with the degree.”

Also, she added, “They get engaged in the ways that are important to them and their own interests and focus areas, but they really grab at the wealth of experiences and academic engagement that they can get here at Yale, which is very unique. I think the ones who are really successful once they get here do that.”

Mary Keefe

YSPH Director of Admissions

Keefe also stressed that the meaning of success can differ from one student to the next, depending on why they come here, by departments the choose, their life paths, what they want to study, and by what they hope to do with their degree when they graduate.

Students who do come to YSPH will find two words used often – “rigorous” and “robust.” Keefe believes that embracing these two words is a key to a student’s success.

“Being a successful student, I think, really demands that they apply themselves to this rigorous coursework, to get the skills that they need and the public health perspective in different focus areas,” she said. “And they’re going to take coursework in the different departments, so they have to have that ability to straddle the different academic areas they’ll encounter. So that’s where rigor comes in.”

Robust, Keefe said, refers to the well-rounded experiences, in and out of the classroom, that are there for the taking at YSPH. As part of the admissions process, she tells applicants about the many courses and joint degrees available throughout Yale University, so that students can successfully incorporate more than one of their passions into their learning experience.

“This adds to the robust classroom environment – that it isn’t stagnant, that they are going to get exposure to all these different faculty, instructors, other classmates, that they’re going to be inspired by how robust our classrooms are,” she said. “And that’s borne out, she said, by the results.

For more perspectives on what it takes to be a successful student at YSPH, please see what faculty and other staff members on this page have to say.

Andrew Thomas DeWan, PhD, MPH

Associate Professor of Chronic Disease Epidemiology

This is what we look for in applicants to the MS CDE program.

There is a high demand for well-trained graduates in chronic disease epidemiology. This concentration provides intensive, one-year training in epidemiology and research methods for medical and health care professionals, or others seeking the skills necessary to conduct epidemiological research in their professional practice. In contrast to the more general MPH degree, the MS degree emphasizes the mastery of epidemiological research methods in order to conduct high quality epidemiological research.

Applicants should have a basic understanding of quantitative science and statistics. It is recommended that candidates have strong science backgrounds and demonstrated competency in statistical analysis and logical thinking. Applicants with a previous medical degree or those with graduate or undergraduate degrees from rigorous programs in the biological, computational, or social sciences will be given preference. At a minimum, applicants should have one year of coursework in statistics, biostatistics, mathematics, or equivalent quantitative coursework or experience prior to enrolling in this program.

Christian Tschudi, PhD

John Rodman Paul Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases); Director of Graduate Studies

A successful PhD student is enthusiastic, passionate, and has a deep interest in the subject of research. During their studies, they will develop effective communication and time-management skills, and an ability to work independently, yet also know when to ask for help. Academic excellence is part of being a good PhD scholar, but a combination of dedication, passion, discipline, and perseverance make a student excel in our PhD program. While the journey may be challenging, developing and embodying these qualities will undoubtedly lead to a successful career as a researcher or an academic.

Involvement in professional organizations, student organizations, and networks with peers and professionals in the field, as well as presenting at conferences, are essential components of a PhD. However, your dissertation will be only as good as your level of well-being. Maintaining a good work/life balance is therefore essential to succeed, not just as a PhD student, but throughout an individual’s career. It is critical to take time off, enjoy time with friends and family, learn new things, and maintain your physical and mental health.

Daniel Weinberger, PhD

Associate Professor, Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases

For the MS program in Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, we look for the following:

For the quantitative track:

  • - Independent, motivated students
  • - Completion of quantitative classes as an undergraduate (e.g., calculus and statistics)
  • - Interest in infectious diseases

For the clinician track:

  • - Independent, motivated students
  • - Clinical training (MD, nursing, PA)
  • - Interest in or experience with infectious diseases

Frank Grosso, PhD

Associate Dean for Student and External Affairs

Successful students at YSPH are those who are willing to be open-minded to new ideas and opposing viewpoints. They are collaborative in thought and initiatives that improve the health of the public. Students who are able to manage their time well are able to take advantage of everything Yale has to offer. They can take classes at other Yale professional schools, join various clubs at YSPH or across campus, and further their professional and personal interests.

Ijeoma Opara, PhD, LMSW, MPH

Assistant Professor of Public Health (Social and Behavioral Sciences)

To be successful as a student in social and behavioral sciences, you have to be willing to have tough conversations about social justice and challenge systems that contribute to health inequities. You also have to be willing to do some personal reflection, examine your motives and everything you have learned about society, and seek advice from mentors and/or faculty. In my course, I make it a requirement for students to practice reflexivity. It's tough but necessary in understanding who you are in relation to the world or the topic you are interested in. It helps us to be aware of any biases or preconceived notions we may have had on a specific group, which can cause more harm if unexamined.

Jason Schwartz, PhD

Associate Professor of Public Health (Health Policy)

The three attributes I often talk about with prospective students are somewhat related.

The first is intellectual curiosity – a strong desire, excitement even, in exploring both widely and deeply across the many areas relevant to understanding and improving public health. That’s at the core of our MPH curriculum – giving students exposure to the breadth of questions, methods, and topics relevant to work in public health, but then giving them the opportunity to push much deeper into those areas they are most passionate about. Curiosity serves students well on both of those fronts.

Another other one we often talk about is an entrepreneurial spirit. That’s a mindset in which students are excited by the possibility of taking a fair bit of control over their MPH studies, seeking out opportunities, course offerings, intellectual connections, etc., across the Yale campus – not just at YSPH – that reflect their unique interests, passions, and aspirations. Always with support and guidance from their advisors along the way, of course.

The last one is something that I think should be true for any good MPH program, not just YSPH-specific: a deep desire not simply to generate rigorous evidence or new knowledge for its own sake, but to put that knowledge into action to improve the health of communities in the United States and around the world. It’s that second piece – putting evidence to work – that makes MPH programs distinct from many other graduate degrees, and I think it’s at the heart of the spirit we try to instill in our students throughout their time with us and beyond.

Martin Klein, PhD, MPH

Senior Advisor (Dean’s Office) and Lecturer in Public Health (Health Policy); Executive Director, Yale Center on Climate Change and Health; Director, Executive MPH Program

To be a successful student, you need the ability to balance the demands of work and personal life with the time needed to succeed in courses and the program. Budget your time so school is a priority, and if you find yourself falling behind, look for support from fellow students and the faculty.

Michael Wininger, PhD

Assistant Clinical Professor of Biostatistics

To be successful at YSPH,

A) Invest appropriately. It will be impossible to give 100% effort to 100% of assignments. Part of graduate school is the art of learning where to prioritize and how to invest finite resources.

B) Utilize the support network. YSPH has developed a superb web of instructors, mentors, tutors, and advisors, and wellness, cultural, social, and career support. Students are not just encouraged; they are expected to be engaging in this ecosystem.

C) Organize a study group. It does not matter if you are highly skilled in the topic or a total neophyte. Merely by gathering a few teammates for the purpose of scholarship, you will be increasing the odds of success for you and everyone in your group.

Robert Dubrow, MD, PhD

Professor of Epidemiology (Environmental Health Sciences); Faculty Director, Yale Center on Climate Change and Health, Environmental Health Sciences

What does it take to be a successful student at YSPH? It takes passion for public health, passion for justice, a collegial and collaborative approach to academic work, strong academic skills, strong analytic and quantitative skills, a strong work ethic, and the highest standards of integrity. It also takes strong oral and written communication skills, the ability to work independently but also receive and appreciate feedback from faculty and other students, and an appreciation for how public health is shaped by larger societal determinants.

Susan Nappi, MPH

Executive Director, Office of Public Health Practice

Two qualities come to mind when I think of what it takes to be successful at YSPH. One is a sense of openness and curiosity – to take in the many forms of knowledge necessary to solve complex public health issues. The other is humility and respect. One needs to be able to navigate differences of opinion and thought.

Terika McCall

Assistant Professor of Biostatistics (Health Informatics)

What’s needed to be a successful Health Informatics student at YSPH? You need to have a passion for exploring innovative ways to use data, information, and knowledge to improve the health and well-being of patients and populations, and the delivery of health services. Successful students have strong problem-solving skills, and they consider how social determinants of health (e.g., access to safe and affordable housing, educational and employment opportunities) impact the health and well-being of individuals and their communities. During the program, they gain technical skills to produce real-world solutions to problems individually and as a group. Successful students understand the importance of collaborating with subject matter experts and individuals with lived experiences (e.g., community members) to produce more effective solutions to improve health outcomes.