News & Features

Shivani Shah

Shivani Shah talks about her Applied Practice Experience change

Students in the Master of Public Health program in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois have had to adjust their internships—known as Applied Practice Experiences—because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Periodically, we will speak with them about how those changes have affected their summer plans and potentially career paths. Today, we speak with Shivani Shah, who is working remotely as a research intern with the South Asian heart lifestyle intervention (SAHELI) and South Asians Active Together (SAATH) studies.

Q: How are your experiences different from what you expected?

A: Pre-COVID, I expected my experience with the SAHELI and SAATH research teams to be primarily community facing—I was going to be recruiting research participants and doing educational outreach. Now, my experience has been more focused on designing modified study arm materials and brainstorming implementation logistics for when research recruitment can resume. 

Q: Are you doing something different for your APE than what you originally planned?

A: While I am at my planned APE site, the work certainly shifted to be less hands-on and more planning and logistics, as I previously mentioned. This has exposed me to details including the protocols and extensive planning that goes into putting together a robust research study, alongside the challenges of modifying these components due to COVID. While unplanned, I am seeing a completely new side of organizational management, which is meaningful.

Q: Does your APE lead you to think about a different career path?

A: I was previously hesitant about working in a research setting as I worried it would be more distant from communities. However, this experience quickly shifted my understanding, as I see my team making important contributions to both the research world and on the lives of community participants. I'd love to continue exploring community based participatory research in my career. 

Q: What happened to your original APE? 

A: I'm grateful that my APE site was able to keep me onboard in a remote capacity.

Q: Are you working remotely? 

A: For the most part, yes. Given the importance of group cohesion and a basic medical examination for the research study efficacy, I was recently able to participate in a few minimal risk in-person activities.

Q: What are you missing out on because of the pandemic, in terms of working face-to-face with people?

A: My internship was primarily outreach and education-based, which was entirely people-facing. I was looking forward to connecting with community members and hearing their stories in addition to better understanding their needs and perceptions around health. I certainly wish I had this experience, especially because participants also generally really enjoy the in-person interactions. 

Q: What advice do you have for future students who might have disrupted APEs?

A: The world is very unpredictable, and things may not go the way you initially anticipated. But ultimately, it's part of the learning and growing process. Stay true to yourself and your goals—there are alternative pathways to learn and achieve your goals, and the MPH program faculty is an incredible resource in helping you get there. 

Q: What other ways has COVID-19 affected you? Have you traveled? Have you been able to go home, see family?

A: This pandemic is a mentally and emotionally taxing event on the globe as a whole. It is difficult to find a new normal—as someone who loves being outdoors and struggles with online communications, it is an adjustment. Thankfully, however, I have the privilege of being home in the suburbs in the company of my family. 

back to news