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A career in Public Health is more than a destination, it is a journey

We interview Jillian Kowachuk, graduate of our Public Health programme by distance learning and founder of start-up Safe & The City

Written by By Kim Kontos |

I needed to be equipped with meaningful technical skills to positively impact and help others

Have you really been to 50 different countries?
I have been an avid traveller my whole life and privileged to explore every continent, often in my adult life on my own. I was born in Canada but raised in Yemen. I travelled a lot with my family in my early years to less mainstream tourist destinations, such as Saudi Arabia. It was from there that the travel bug bit me and my love for travel has led me to 50 countries with plenty more I am still eager to explore.

Why did you chose to study Public Health and why by distance learning?
My path into public health has been a windy one. With the many routes I’ve taken the pattern emerged only once I was able to reflect on the whole journey and the new path I'm on. A few years ago, I didn’t know public health was a field, let alone a career choice I would pursue. At a young age I lost several close family members, including my mother, which made me determined to dedicate my life to a field I could be passionate about and fulfilled by. But this experience also left me feeling lost in where to begin to answer this question as a new adult.

After finishing my Psychology degree, I knew some answers to this puzzle, including that I needed to be equipped with meaningful technical skills to positively impact and help others. I decided the best course of action was to immerse myself in a multitude of fields to gain invaluable life experiences, travel the world and ultimately to learn about myself and find my dream career.

I experimented in various fields and countries spanning from social work in New Zealand, makeup artistry in Australia, teaching in Japan, to a business analyst in Canada. When I reconvened in sharing my experiences with one of my best friends, an alumna of LSHTM, she eagerly told me about her research and work on global infectious disease projects and what an impact it had on those people and their communities. Suddenly, my next steps for my career seemed very clear.

"I was truly inspired to give everything I could to my career to become part of the strong LSHTM alumni community."

The University of London programme was the only financially viable option, but I had also found work at a public health consultancy in Canada where I could apply the knowledge I was learning. It was an intense experience to work and study full time but I met extraordinary students from around the world that have opened many doors for me. In my second and final year, I was accepted into the blended learning programme. It felt like a dream to be in London and walking in the footsteps of public health legends that transformed the lives of millions. I was truly inspired to give everything I could to my career to become part of the strong LSHTM alumni community.

When graduation time arrived, I felt a tremendous sense of joy and accomplishment in that I had successfully finished one of the most difficult but rewarding experiences of my life. It was then that I decided that after my degree I would pursue my career in London.

What have your studies helped you discover about yourself?
I’ve always said travel and education are things in life you will never regret. My MSc studies helped me discover the resourcefulness, adaptability and ability to seek help from others to accelerate my learning and career progression. Public health is not an easy career, as we are often working with morbidities and mortalities. However, it has offered me a deeper sense of humility and appreciation for the fragility of life and the challenges, barriers and resilience different populations face with their health and wellbeing.

How did you come up with the idea for your new app and the pivot in your career?
After moving to London I started working at UCL as a Research Assistant, as well as carrying on some short-term consultancy projects. As a newcomer to London, I frequently found myself feeling unsafe in streets I was less familiar with, partnered with experiencing sexual harassment and aggression. The revelation was this wasn't just an issue happening to someone else I could read about, but that it was intimately impacting my life on a regular basis. This is when the idea for my mobile app came to me, which changed the next steps in my career.

"I felt prepared to leverage the variety of skills I gained in studying and working in public health to help me advance in this new direction."

Safe & The City is a mobile navigation app that overlays public data including crime, lighting and businesses open at various hours as well as crowd-sourced information on sexual harassment and violence against women. We aim to empower users with a choice on what streets feel safer walking, while simultaneously pinpointing problematic streets, which create actionable data points to mobilise resources and find ways to prevent these experiences in future.

Pivoting in my public health career wasn't as scary of a notion, as I felt prepared to leverage the variety of skills I gained in studying and working in public health to help me advance in this new direction. We are developing and growing the Safe & The City app and online community faster than I could have ever imagined. Individuals, communities, businesses and government bodies all recognize the benefits of this real-time ability to respond and have data drive this change. We will be piloting in London, which will build our scalable model to move into other cities worldwide. I will always consider myself a public health professional (now armed with a technology and business edge), as I believe social entrepreneurship will have the scale of impact to a cause I feel deeply passionate about.

What is your advice to students who are thinking about their career path as they study with us?
Advice I would offer to other students while formulating their career path is not to think of it as a destination, rather a journey that will continue to grow and change as you do as a person and professional. University of London programmes can offer you the flexibility, global perspective and large networks to help pursue your dream career. I wish you the very best in your journeys.