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Nicole Alberto

MPH student Nicole Alberto talks about her Applied Practice Experience

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 with speak with Nicole Alberto, who is working this summer as a Graduate Research Assistant of the MOVE MS program.

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

A: As a full-time intern this summer, I was expecting that I would be at the office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and doing field work at nearby counties. But since my supposed summer internship was cancelled due to COVID-19, I had to find an alternative placement, go back home and do my APE completely remotely.

Q: Are you doing something for your APE than what you trained for?

A: Yes! My work with Dr. Brynn Adamson as a Graduate Research Assistant of the MOVE MS program requires me to write and/or edit documents to be submitted to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Because a lot of our courses focused on the development and promotion of health behavior programs, the logistics concerning IRB of these community/research programs were not discussed that much.

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

A: Not really. In fact, my APE work solidified my passion to conduct my own research in the future. My four-year experience (undergraduate and graduate) with research gave me the knowledge, experience, confidence and drive to continue pursuing research in my future career as a Public Health Professional and a Physical Therapist.

Q: What happened to your original APE?

A: My original APE with the Carle Foundation was cancelled due to COVID-19. I had been working with my Carle preceptor since Fall 2019 and all APE paperwork had been completed. Unfortunately, Carle Foundation cancelled all summer internships last minute.

Q: Are you working remotely?

A: Yes, back at home in Chicago.

Q: Has anything been frustrating about your change in APE status?

A: I think the most frustrating part was when my original APE was cancelled last minute. I was one of the first to secure an APE site at the beginning of the year so it never occurred to me to find an alternative site. I had to cram to find one during the last weeks of school. Fortunately, my advisors were there to help me.

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

A: My internship with Carle required me to be at the office and do a lot of field work. I attended many events, met amazing people in the community and developed relationships with my supervisors. All of these were cut short by the stay-at-home order. I really miss the bonding and social interaction in the office and out in the field.

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

A: Trust the process and your advisors! You are not alone in this dilemma. Your advisors will be there to assist you (or even rescue you) when you start to worry about delayed graduation due to your disrupted APE. Be flexible, work with them, and be open to new experiences. Your new site may be out of your comfort zone, but it may also be a new avenue for a better and bigger career path.

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

A: I think COVID-19 has affected me the same way as everybody else. My APE was cancelled, my two jobs ended, I had to go back home, I had to cancel all my summer travel plans and I had to adjust my lifestyle and schedule in many ways. I have a bit of hard feelings but surprisingly, staying at home this summer still got me very busy!

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