Hi Amy L.
I hope you’re enjoying your sophomore year in college and I am excited that you’re already thinking ahead.
To me, it seems like you’ve been thinking about this career choice for sometime and have already done some homework on how to prepare well. By the way, all your choices and suppositions are correct and aligned with the best ways to prepare. Also, the advice you’ve already gotten are good insights and I hope my contributions will also be helpful.
You couldn’t have chosen a better time to enter this field as the entire world journeys through a pandemic where an epidemiologist’s work will be critical for all of us.
First, I want you to breathe. Then, I want you to think about what type of epidemiologist you want to be, what will be your emphasis, and who are you passionate about helping (communities or groups). I also want you to consider taking classes specifically for this leaning (i.e., group or community of interest) and consider taking a few courses to learn more about them along with all the prerequisite courses needed for any PhD program (pace yourself), You may consider a minor to build your knowledge base and to give you more focus. So, it starts by building your knowledge base and passion as well as considering a possible minor that can help you discover your interest, guide your thesis and prepare you for the right PhD program that fits your passion. My hope is that these steps will also help you understand which research opportunity you should be focused on. Be patient...your AHA moment is in this place but you have to breathe and enjoy the process to see it.
In other words, you may need to spend some time doing some research with your Career Center staffers about possible emphases in this field and then start chatting up faculty in the field. Ask 3-4 faculty members for 15-20mins informative interviews about their work and be bold to ask for an externship to simple watch what they’re doing (if they are actively doing research). The faculty can also guide you with certain classes that may help you prepare. Be careful though, remember that every faculty is an expert in his/her area in the field and may try to sway you accordingly, so it’s important for you to have some inclination about who you want to serve and what you can see yourself doing everyday; so, start with the Career Center first..
Finally, once you’ve spent some time doing some self and field searching, please consider reaching out to places like the CDC and ask if you can speak with something in the field. I believe there is a CDC outfit in Oakland or Alameda near you. You can ask about volunteering or interning there as you build your knowledge and passion (not just your resume) in the field as an undergrad.
I apologize for the length of my response and I hope this information is helpful. Whatever you decide to do, my hope is that you will chase after something that will give you such a sense of purpose that you’ll feel like you could do it for free. For me, it’s serving students like you!
Be well, Amy L., happy searching!