Professional Journeys: Rachel Kreh Nelson

Professional Journeys: Rachel Kreh Nelson

After my graduation from the University of South Carolina, I moved to Atlanta and worked at Emory University’s School of Medicine for about one year before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent anthrax attacks. The public health responses to those events profoundly impacted me and fueled a long-standing interest I had in working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I applied for and was accepted into CDC’s Public Health Prevention Service, a 3-year on the job training program that consisted of 1 year at CDC headquarters and 2 years in a state or local health department (which for me was a local health department in Metropolitan DC, with a focus on bioterrorism preparedness).

During my early career, my primary responsibilities were promotion and education activities, but one of my fellowship rotations was in a policy office – something I knew nothing about at the time but that was critical to my later career path. When my fellowship ended, I moved back to CDC headquarters in Atlanta to a job where I focused on policy, legislative activities, budget formulation, evaluation, and issues management around high-level public health issues. I have since moved throughout CDC working in policy at different levels and in different topic areas like preparedness, global health, and financial resources.

When I first started working at CDC, I never would have anticipated this career path. Being open to new experiences allowed me to develop a broader range of skills than my formal educational training, and led to some very cool opportunities along the way (including HIV/AIDS work in Botswana, H1N1 pandemic response in the Emergency Operations Center, evaluation work in CDC field offices abroad, and many others).

I now consider myself to be in the middle of my career, and have stepped back to part-time work to accommodate family responsibilities. Five key principles have served me well in my career path thus far. I offer these for consideration as you move beyond graduate school and forward in your career.

  1. Work hard, have a positive attitude, and earn a reputation as someone who gets things done, even if the tasks are less than you can handle. Someone who is motivated, has a positive attitude, and works hard every day can do great things. Especially at a place like CDC, you will not always be the smartest person in the room, but if you are motivated, quick to learn, and driven to do good work it will be noticed by your colleagues and rewarded (awards, promotions, future work opportunities).
  2. View your career in a long trajectory. The experiences that you have in your current job may be the reason that someone hires you for a future position. Pick your battles – in both life and at work – and always maintain professionalism in the workplace. You likely won’t have that dream job immediately, but you can take steps to get you there and build up some solid professional experience along the way.
  3. Make lemonade out of lemons. There will be times in your career (especially in your early career when you have less experience and fewer job offers) where the job may be less than ideal, or where you feel underutilized. Every experience provides something useful to take forward – even if it is how “not to” be a supervisor or conduct a meeting. Take those nuggets and look to the next experience that will be better.
  4. Find your champions and nurture those relationships. Perhaps this is a faculty advisor, or a supervisor, or a colleague you respect, or even a peer that you connect with. You will be better suited for the long haul if you have people who can give you advice, be blunt about their assessments of your strengths and weaknesses, and can talk you through challenges. Formal mentor relationships are great, but so are more informal connections you will develop over time. Work is always more fulfilling and enjoyable if you have a “family” of people who care about you, your well-being, and your career growth.
  5. Trust your gut and take a few risks. Graduate school and the years following can be overwhelming with the number of big decisions to be made, but trust your instincts and go with what feels right at that time, and maybe even take a risk to step outside of your comfort zone. You never know where this will lead you, and you can take comfort knowing that most any decision is reversible if it ends up not being the right fit.

After your graduate education, doors will be open to you that may have been previously closed…so soak up all you can while you are in school, and then go out into the world ready to work hard and make a difference in whatever capacity you can.

Rachel (Kreh) Nelson, MPH, is a 1999 graduate of the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. She currently serves as a Public Health Analyst in CDC’s Office of Financial Resources. 

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Networking takes effort. Helpful Tips & GIFs.

Networking takes effort. Helpful Tips & GIFs.

Building collaborations is an important part of the work I do, working with researchers, patients, families, and healthcare providers. Over the years, I have learned that networking is not about building the number of connections you have on LinkedIn. It’s about building professional relationships. Since I started my career, connecting with fellow professionals has changed as our workplaces become more virtual and social media has become an integral part of our daily lives.

As you are entering the workforce, it is important to remember ~80% of jobs are still found through networking. Before you graduate, you can get started building relationships with your professors, professionals in the field, fellow students, and alumni.

5 Tips and GIFs to help you network:

  1. Make a good first impression.


Ralphie Christmas Story

Don’t curse, watch your alcohol intake, and be polite when meeting people in a professional setting. Remember, they will likely look you up on LinkedIn or Twitter. Be sure to update or clean up your Twitter and LinkedIn posts. Inappropriate content could cost you a job offer. That is not an urban myth. I have seen several candidates fall out of the running due to inappropriate tweets.

  1. Be intentional. Ask questions.


If you are at a social gathering of peers or professionals, introduce yourself to new people. Ask them about their jobs, what projects they are working on and try to find common interests where you might be able to work together.  The more you ask about them the more you learn about their work. Finding common ground will help you will help you build a relationship.

  1. Don’t text, tweet, or post.

Obama phone snatch.gif

Be an effective communicator, eye contact is quite wonderful! Don’t text or engage in social media during a conversation. We have all done it, but as you are entering a new career try to remember you may be talking to a future employer. Being able to engage in a thoughtful conversation is an asset. People will warm up to you much faster if they know you are listening and are authentically interested.

  1. Share your passion. Be personable.


Bored girl.gif

Talking shop, asking questions, and listening are great skills to have. But don’t forget to share something about yourself to help people remember you. Be sure to personalize your work and conversation by talking about things you are genuinely interested in.

  1. Follow up

What I am gonna do.gif

Can’t say enough about this. Follow up is key to building a relationship. Simply having someone’s business card doesn’t mean you are connected. It’s just like dating. Just because you have someone’s phone number doesn’t mean they are willing to go out with you. A meaningful relationship takes time and you have to build that connection by continuing the conversation.

Online or in-person, my approach hasn’t changed much over the years. Everyone is important no matter what their job title says. Over and over again I am reminded that:

Everyone you will meet knows something you don’t.”

Networking is a skill. It takes time and practice. If you work at it, you will build strong network to support your career for years to come.

Anjelica (“Anjee”) Davis serves as president of Fight Colorectal Cancer, a national nonprofit founded in 2005. For over a decade she has focused her work on colorectal cancer research, education, and awareness. Her experience spans from leading public health efforts and developing statewide colorectal cancer screening programs to managing a community oncology practice and overseeing its clinical trials program. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Southwest Missouri State University and a Master of Public Policy Administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. You can join her and “get behind a cure” at

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#GRADprofdev blog EXTRA: Initial skepticism leads to insight

#GRADprofdev blog EXTRA: Initial skepticism leads to insight

I have to admit, I was a skeptical at first of the StrengthsFinder assessment. I had taken “self-help”-type assessments before, and I was often discouraged by how they seemed to typecast people. Now 177 paired statements were going to tell me my strengths? I was doubtful, but I entered the online access code and braced myself to receive yet another set of generic descriptors.

What I learned about the Clifton StrengthsFinder is that it’s not so much about your results, but what you choose to do with them. Tom Rath, author of the book StrengthsFinder 2.0, explains that raw talent is a multiplier of your investment. The skills, knowledge, and practice you invest in yourself, combined with your talent, are your strengths. Once you know what you naturally do best, you can learn skills to further develop these talents.

The first step is learning what your talents are. My top 5 talents, per the StrengthsFinder assessment, are:

  • Analytical: People exceptionally talented in the analytical theme search for reasons and causes. they have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation.

  • Achiever: People who are especially talented in the achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.

  • Competition: People exceptionally talented in the competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.

  • Deliberative: People exceptionally talented in the deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate obstacles.

  • Restorative: People exceptionally talented in the restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.

Initially, I thought some of these themes described me better than others. I was not at all surprised by the first two, analytical and achiever. At its essence, my discipline (public health) is about searching “for reasons and causes,” and I get a thrill out of looking for patterns in data. “Achiever” seemed fitting as well; I’d agree that accomplishments help me feel fulfilled. One thing I appreciate about the StrengthsFinder is that it doesn’t simply tell you what your talents are, but it also provides thoughtful advice for how to take advantage of them. For example, although people with “achiever” talents tend to work hard, it is also important for them to align their commitments with their highest priorities and celebrate success along the way. These are useful tips for any graduate student, but they felt tailored to my identified talents.

Other StrengthsFinder results left me initially disappointed or confused. I always thought of myself as self-competitive; I wanted to be the best version of myself, regardless of how I compared with against other people. To see “competition” on the list was a bit of a letdown.  While social comparisons can help set benchmarks for performance, I usually don’t think of myself as being in direct competition with people. For example, if another student in my department is recognized for their work, I see that as a benefit to the whole department rather than a figurative yardstick to measure myself against. Although I was originally disappointed that “competition” was one of my talents, the StrengthsFinder helped me understand that healthy competition is not about judging people, and it can, in fact, hold others to a higher standard.

“Deliberative” came with useful reminders that can be applied to graduate students in general. Graduate school is a highly rewarding endeavor, but it’s too easy to get caught up in all of the items on your to-do list. Give yourself permission to take in all this experience has to offer, and resist the urge to rush to cross everything off your list.

Lastly, the term “restorative” confused me at first. Did it mean that the time I spent using the Headspace app was paying off? It turns out, people with restorative talents are all about problem-solving. We’re solution-oriented people who are energized by challenging situations. All graduate students would benefit from the advice to identify ways to improve skills and knowledge.

I didn’t necessarily agree with all of my results at first, but the StrengthsFinder helped me see that even some traits I thought were negative, like “competition,” can be used to my advantage. I recommend taking the StrengthsFinder as a way to reflect on your talents and consider ways to invest in your skills and knowledge.

Jennifer Mandelbaum is a PhD student in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Professional Development for Graduate Students, and Vice President of the Graduate Student Association (GSA). She encourages graduate students to connect with the GSA on Facebook ( and Twitter (@USCGSA).

P.S. Jennifer got a free copy of the StrengthsFinder by reading a #GRADprofdev blog earlier this semester. Do you want to get a free copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0? Email with “#GRADprofdev Blog – Free StrengthsFinder” as the subject. In the body of the email, include your name, degree program, and department. The first five UofSC graduate students to send an email will receive a free copy of the book, which includes an access code for the online assessment tool.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email

The Search: Careers are “no longer straightforward, linear, and predictable like ladders

The Search: Careers are “no longer straightforward, linear, and predictable like ladders

After tucking my daughter into bed, typically for the fifth or sixth time (she is 4), I anxiously check all of the notifications I received throughout the day. recommended 22 new jobs, sounds promising, but I hope the list doesn’t include an assistant professor position in Pre-Civil War U.S. History again. It’s a good day when has also found 10 new jobs that I may be interested in. If those are a bust, there’s still hope. I have multiple job ads in my inbox from various listservs, and one of my mentors has also sent me some promising positions. Maybe she has a connection with someone there!

Then there are my daily go-to websites (i.e.,;; and keyword searches (i.e., “public health”; “health communication”; “community health”). Although I find one position that interests me, it’s in a location on my “no” list, and I made that list to help me focus only on positions that are truly a viable option for me—and my family. Instead of working on cover letters that night, I watch an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, knowing that more positions will be posted tomorrow. I’m also attending a national conference next month, and who knows, I may learn about positions there that I have missed.

Since graduating from the University of South Carolina in December 2015, I have spent my nights very much like I describe above. There have been breaks in my search, particularly after the birth of my son, August, who turned 1 last month. Recently, I have had a lot of success in my search. I haven’t found that perfect position yet (if such a position even exists), but I have found many positions that align with my academic training and interests, and as a result, I’ve received more interview requests and even a few offers. This recent success is partly the result of extending my search from a 50-mile to a 4,383-mile radius, which happens to be the distance from my home in Kentucky to Hawaii (which, of course, is on my “yes” list of locations). Until this year, I have been hesitant to move out of state, primarily because my partner loves his job and my family provides a strong support system. Now that my children are a bit older, and my partner is at a place in his career where exploration is welcome, I feel liberated and energized by the possibilities.

In Jenny Blake’s book Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next, she explains that careers are “no longer straightforward, linear, and predictable like ladders.” I find relief in this, because my career path has been anything but linear, and I believe the job search has undergone a similar transformation in recent years, or at least that’s been my experience. My search has started and stopped multiple times; gone from focusing solely on academic positions to looking more at best fit; and changed from being taxing to exciting.

Instead of viewing my search as a hunt for “the perfect job,” I see multiple paths from which to choose, all of which present opportunity for fulfillment. Although my academic training is in communications and public health, which are certainly my areas of expertise, most of my skills can be applied in a wide variety of work settings. They are transferable. (Check out #GRADprofdev’s webinar today on “Considering and Applying Your Transferable Skills” from 2-3 pm EDT.) What I focus primarily on now in my search is which positions are most compatible with my personal values, my family’s needs, and my genuine passions and interests and are, preferably, located in Hawaii, or another beautiful location.

The more job ads I’ve read, cover letters I’ve written, interviews I’ve had, and offers I’ve considered, the closer I am to fully knowing my personal and professional desires. By articulating and rearticulating again and again what it is that I want in a career, the better I have gotten at the job search, and it’s paying off. I have two interviews scheduled for next week, both of which will require me to once again think of who I am, what I want, and how I can contribute, bringing me even closer to finding the right job for me at this time in my life.

As you begin your job search, may the ups and downs, twist and turns, and breaks and starts also help you to know yourself better.

Tracey Thomas, DrPH, CHES received her doctoral degree from the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in December 2015. When she takes a break from her job search, she serves as a part-time faculty at Berea College, online adjunct faculty at Boise State University, and grants and communications consultant for the New Opportunity School for Women, a nonprofit serving women in Appalachian Kentucky.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email

Resume or CV: What’s the difference?

Resume or CV: What’s the difference?

Going through the job search process offers some unique challenges, and for graduate students, one of the most common issues is the curriculum vitae versus the resume. Both are living documents, works in constant progress as long as you are active in your career. However, one may be more appropriate for your particular job search than the other, depending on the positions to which you will be applying.

A curriculum vitae (CV) is a comprehensive biographical statement, preferred in the academic, scientific, research, teaching, and medical industries. This will be multiple pages in length, detailing your academic preparation, scholarship, experience, research, presentations, publications, associations and memberships, and other credentials. A resume, typically, is a much more brief summation of your education, experience, and skills, preferred by employers in private industry, not-for-profits, and government.

When writing these documents, you want to think about your audience. It is helpful to gather several job announcements in your chosen profession, identifying the required and preferred qualifications, as well as key words. Knowing that the reader is going to make a decision about your fit for the position based on their initial scan of your document, you want to make it easy for them to find that you have those key qualifications they seek.

Across the various disciplines in academia, differences of format and style exist. Consult with faculty in your department about nuances that apply to your specific field. Should article submissions be included, or only articles approved or in the review stage? Should names of members of your dissertation committee be included? Should you provide a summary of your dissertation topic?

A cover letter is meant to accompany your resume or CV to introduce you. While the resume or CV is a biographical summary, the cover letter is a sales letter! This document tells the employer why you are applying, and includes information that indicates your confidence in your abilities and qualifications. You can provide points of interest that may separate you from your competition, such as your motivation to work in this profession.

Here are some general suggestions to consider when writing and formatting a resume or a CV:

  • Within each section, list information in reverse chronological order, with the most recent and significant items first.
  • Your name should appear on each page.
  • Balance white space and text. Use at least a ½” margin on all four sides of the text.
  • And proofread again. Then give it to someone else to proofread! Typos and grammatical errors can kill your chances of becoming employed.

The Career Center provides resume and CV review services during Drop-In Hours (Monday through Friday from 1-4 p.m.) in either the Thomas Cooper Library location or our satellite office in Swearingen Hall. You are also invited to schedule an appointment with your Career Development Coach by activating your account on Handshake.

Mark Anthony is associate director of career development and experiential education in the Career Center at the University of South Carolina. He joined the Career Center in 2013, after having served as the Director of the Career Development Center at his alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, for over 20 years. In addition, Mark is a certified Etiquette Trainer and is a member of the Safe Zone. As the Associate Director for Career Development & Experiential Education, Mark seeks to provide every Gamecock with the services, resources, experiences, and staff to Decide It, Experience It, and Live It. He can be reached at

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Self-reflection Now to Guide Your Future

Self-reflection Now to Guide Your Future

The topic of this week’s #GRADprofdev Professional Development Friday programming is self-reflection and self-assessment and the role this plays in guiding your future. By future, I mean what you will do after completing your degree but also what you can do to prepare yourself to be the best you right now.

As I was walking through the airport earlier this week, I came across a display at a bookstore with two books on emotional intelligence and the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book. I had the latter in my bag at the time to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment (more on that later). I wandered in and found many books on self-reflection, self-assessment, and how to work on yourself – so called “self-help” books. While it was serendipitous, it also demonstrated the widespread interest in the employment sector in helping people understand who they are and aren’t, what they like and don’t, what they want to do and don’t, and how to use this information to improve (or refine). The foundation of our #GRADprofdev programming is based on understanding your strengths and weaknesses and seeking to capitalize on strengths and improve on weaknesses through deliberate action in order to prepare you for a meaningful career after degree. In order to know what may be meaningful to you, taking a look at you first is important. The UofSC Career Center has many resources to aid you in this process, and there are free online tools as well, such as Career Fitter. We are working to offer more opportunities for you to engage in self-reflection through our programming.

Over the summer, I attended a conference hosted by the Graduate Career Consortium. Self-reflection for graduate students was as prominent of a focus as my stroll through the airport. Dr. Tim Hodges, Director of Research, Gallup’s Education Practice was a speaker at the conference and introduced me to the StrengthsFinder approach as a tool for guiding the process of self-reflection among graduate students. I like the framing of the tool on identifying strengths, and I actually purchased the book while I was listening to him (thanks, Amazon). I felt like the StrengthsFinder approach was more in line with the needs of graduate students than other methods of assessment I have researched.

I have carried the StrengthsFinder book with me for the past two plus months, and only yesterday did I redeem the free access code that comes with the book to complete the StrengthsFinder. The process is easy. Go online. Enter your information. Enter the code. Answer 177 questions. Report generated. However, in addition to the report, an action-planning guide is generated to aid you in addressing areas in which you may want to improve.

My top 5 strengths, per the StrengthsFinder assessment, are:

  • Achiever: People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
  • Learner: People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
  • Analytical: People who are especially talented in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation.
  • Arranger: People who are especially talented in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability. They like to figure out how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.
  • Responsibility: People who are especially talented in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.

I must admit, these five themes describe me well. I often am skeptical of these tools as I feel that we are much more complex than two dichotomous options presented to us. I may not have characterized the themes in the same way, but the essence of what was identified is pretty accurate. I found the supplemental reports to be helpful and informative. I am who I am and knowing who I am is valuable in my quest for personal growth and doing my work more effectively.

Do you want to get a free copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0? Email with “#GRADprofdev Blog – Free StrengthsFinder” as the subject. In the body of the email, include your name, degree program, and department. The first five UofSC graduate students to send an email will receive a free copy of the book, which includes an access code for the online assessment tool.

Now, I am going to take some time to review the action-planning guide and identify ways in which I can improve. I hope you will consider taking a moment to self-reflect now to help guide your future.

Dr. Heather Brandt is associate dean for professional development in the Graduate School and associate professor in the department of health promotion, education, and behavior in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email

Professional Journeys: Mary-Kathryn Craft

Professional Journeys: Mary-Kathryn Craft

How Graduate School Helped This Reporter Move to the Other Side of the Microphone

Seven years into my career as a newspaper reporter, I quit my job.

Sure, it was exciting covering hurricanes, meeting Sen. John McCain and getting kicked out of Jerry Lewis’s hotel suite mid-interview. To this day, McCain remains the one of the most straightforward politicians I’ve met, and I still don’t know why Lewis was so angry.

On a quest to continue learning and see how my skills could be honed in a new direction, I entered the journalism master’s of arts program in the College of Information and Communications.

At the time, my goal was to study scholastic journalism and perhaps one day become a college newspaper adviser. However, I approached my studies and time at Carolina with an open mind. Good thing, because thanks to a well-timed graduate assistantship in the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Division, I started down a new career path in the public relations field.

While in graduate school, I helped develop the first media campaign for the S.C. Tobacco Quitline, a free phone and internet-based counseling service to help South Carolinians quit smoking. My assistantship duties led to volunteer work with the S.C. Tobacco-Free Collaborative, where I helped organize grassroots efforts that eventually led to many cities and towns (including Columbia, West Columbia and Surfside Beach) passing smoke-free ordinances. In class, I learned important lessons about mass communication research and got the opportunity to apply them right away with the assistantship and volunteer work.

Since graduation, I’ve served in a variety of public health communications and media relations roles that have placed me in fast-paced environments like the S.C. Emergency Operations Center during the October 2015 floods and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Also in 2016, I worked with a talented team to re-brand the state’s public health agency for the first time in 20 years.

Here are three quick lessons from my time in graduate school that truly made a difference in my career evolution. Consider the following when thinking of your school and career goals:

  • Keep an open mind—Don’t be afraid to change your focus or a research topic. You may encounter an amazing mentor or uncover your true passion while writing a paper. Follow that passion and don’t pass up opportunities for assistantships and out-of-classroom experiences.
  • Research sharpens workforce readiness skills—Completing my 90-page master’s thesis prepared me for meeting deadlines, managing complex projects and collaborating with diverse team members. It’s sometimes overwhelming and a little lonely plugging away at your thesis/dissertation, but whether you plan to follow an academic or non-academic path, this work will pay off in the end.
  • It’s all about the connections—Take the time to meet new people, attend events and ask for introductions to someone you might be interested in working with.

Most recently, my career journey led me just across campus from my graduate school days to the College of Arts and Sciences, where I serve as communications manager. I get to put my journalism and public relations skills to use daily telling stories about the amazing work our faculty and students are doing to improve South Carolina and beyond.

Confession: I still miss election nights in the newsroom.

Mary-Kathryn Craft received a Master’s of Arts in journalism and mass communications from the University of South Carolina in 2006. She’s currently the communications manager for the College of Arts and Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @MKCraft.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email