One of the great things about the MSHC program at Northwestern is the abundance of career advancement resources. These resources go far beyond career counseling and career fairs, and include job shadowing, mentorship programs, and networking events. Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a Northwestern career advancement program called NEXT.
NEXT is an externship program for current Northwestern undergraduate and graduate students. It provides an opportunity for students to shadow Northwestern alumni at work for a day. I was able to visit a local Chicago health technology start-up. I was very interested in learning more about what life is like at a start-up, and what it is like to build and lead a company. Additionally, I was eager to see how what I had been learning in Human Computer Interaction class can apply to potential jobs in health and information technology. As someone without a background in technology, I was hoping to learn more about how I could potentially contribute to a health information technology company, and potential roles I could work towards. The day turned out to be extremely valuable, and I was able to gain answers to all of my questions.
I started the day off with a welcome and one-on-one conversation with the company’s CEO and founder, who is also a Northwestern alumnus. During our conversation he allowed me to ask plenty of questions about starting a business, running a company, and incorporating health communication principles into health and technology. I rarely get the opportunity to ask so many questions, and all his answers were honest and very insightful. I came away with a deeper understanding of the realities of working at a start-up, strategies for creating a company culture, recruiting top employees, and acting as an effective leader.
Then, I was able to shadow a few meetings. The first meeting was another one-on-one appointment, and the other was a companywide. Many of the employees were remote, so the lunch meeting took place virtually. It was so remarkable to see how the organization was able to build a sense of wholeness and community despite the fact that employees are spread out across the continent. I was told the companywide meetings only happen once per month, so I felt especially lucky that I was invited to participate in the event.
After the lunch meeting I was able to conduct informational interviews with the usability and user experience team. We talked about design and user experience in Dr. Reddy’s class, so it was incredibly valuable to talk to professionals in person after taking Human Computer Interaction. I found the designer and user experience expert I spoke with echoed many of the sentiments about processes and teamwork that Dr. Reddy taught in class. It was very fun to see how the theories we learn in class apply in a practical setting. Talking to these professionals also gave me insight into the type of health technology career I could work towards with my background in health communication. They pointed out that a person does not necessarily need a programming or technology background to build a career in health information technology, and they gave suggestions for other jobs or programs I may be interested in learning more about.
Overall, my experience with the NEXT program was extremely positive. I was able to immerse myself in a company for a day to learn about the culture, career trajectories, and think of new ways to apply class material to future job positions. NEXT is such a unique opportunity and one of many career advancement resources accessible to MSHC students at Northwestern.