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My internship at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

My internship at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

December 13, 2019 at 12:00pm

Name: Tanjila Taskin

Hometown: Dhaka, Bangladesh

What is your major? Ph.D. in public health with a concentration in epidemiology

Where did you intern? During Summer 2019, I got an opportunity to do an internship with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in Seattle. I worked with the strategy planning and management team of the Maternal Newborn and Child Health Department (MNCH SPM). My manager was Manpreet Singh who is a great mentor.

How did you get your internship? The recruiting process was very rigorous. The executive recruiter came to FIU and held an information session in October. After attending the session, Lauren Cavicchi from the Stempel College Career Center informed all the students that the application cycle has opened. I submitted my resume as part of the application. The executive recruiter again came to FIU for a primary interview. The shortlisted candidates were invited for a phone interview with different teams. I was interviewed by three teams. After the phone interview, the hiring manager emailed me to confirm my acceptance.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? I would advise students to meet Lauren Cavicchi the Stempel College Career Center to work on their resume. Applicants can do a mock interview with her as well. Every experience matters, so do not forget to mention any of your experiences in your resume, no matter how small it is. Last but not least, connect with the former interns at FIU. We will be happy to provide any further information especially the inside experience and the BMGF working culture. Connecting with the former interns will help you to utilize your time efficiently.

What projects did you work on? I worked on three major projects. The project that I most enjoyed working on was analyzing 1.6 million data points from the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) to identify 12-year delivery trends in seven focus countries. My other project was working on the MNCH Asset Tracker, where I created a manageable list of the investments that MNCH has invested in the last 20 years for my team to review. This review was very important for my team for future funding decisions. My third project was to contribute to developing the Body of Work 2020 to address maternal anemia through employing Intravenous (IV) Iron. As part of this project, I created a database from the literature review on existing guidelines and the clinical protocol on IV Iron on MNCH's seven focus countries and the World Health Organization (WHO).

How did your internship connect back to your coursework? My internship is not related to any of the course work directly; however, as an epidemiology, major data analysis, interpretation and interpreting the results are critical areas of expertise that need to be strengthened. Because of this internship, I got an opportunity to extract DHS data and perform data management and anaylsis for such a big dataset, which is really instrumental in my current studies.

What was the coolest thing about your internship or what happened during your internship? The entire internship was full of excitement. Every single day was fun with new challenges and exploring new ideas. The first thrilling moment of my internship was when I found our I was the first intern with the MNCH SPM team. Secondly, receiving the SPOT AWARD from Savhitha Subrahamian, who supervised me on the Asset Tracker project. Third, and the most exciting thing, was the moment when I have received another award “Team Sprit” from the manager. It was a great honor and a surprise for me receiving multiple awards given my short time with the team.

While working on my DHS data project, I discovered a huge data missing issue, which I informed the collaborating partner. As a token of appreciation, they sent me their mug. My manager was very proud of me. Besides receiving the awards, attending the live talk between Gates and the richest person in Nigeria, Aliko Dangote, was significant.

What did you like most about your experience? Every year, each team presents their upcoming ideas to Gates. I was fortunate enough to attend my team’s preparatory meeting before the day of the actual meeting. I was an observer and the meeting was from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. I was anxious about being an observer for eight hours, it seemed like an arduous and long meeting. However, I have never attended such an interactive meeting with several experts from around the world in one room and the time just flew by. It was fascinating how they did the dry run and how an expert gives constructive feedback to another expert. Getting this experience raised questions inside me, such as, “how can people think 100 years in advance?” In addition, I enjoyed FIKA, a Swedish coffee break, every Thursday. Those 30 minutes of social time arranged by my team offered a unique opportunity to know each other and connect with them personally.

What did you learn about yourself? The more you push me the more I became stronger, confident and successful. There is nothing impossible in life.

How did the position increase your professional confidence? As I am an international student, I always had imposter syndrome. The experience at the Gates Foundation has opened the opportunity to me to meet world leaders in public health, ask questions, contributed to the conversation and share my global and national public health experience. My manager Manpreet Singh nurtured my professional confidence closely over three months. He reassured me as to how precious my experiences are and how I can contribute to public health research and the implementation work.

How did you expand your professional network? I was fortunate to be placed in the best team in the foundation. I enjoyed networking within and between organizations. As my Ph.D. is focused on HPV vaccine research, so I extended my network to reach the HPV vaccine team. I cherish my constructive conversations with Peter Dull, the deputy director of  Integrated Clinical Vaccine Development, who became my mentor. He helped to build a network with another international organization in Seattle and one in Miami.

How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?”  The Gates Foundation internship is not only very competitive but also an honor. Getting the opportunity in the first place already proved that being a graduate student from FIU, we are ready to work at global and world-renowned institutions. FIU not only trains us academically but also provides us with hands-on experience through global organizations. I previously worked for the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh, which is also one of the grantees of the Gates Foundation. I did not have much experience in grantmaking in public health. It was always my dream to work for the Gates Foundation and understand the grant-making process. This internship has given me the opportunity to learn the strategy-driven, grant-making process. Whether in academia or in the programmatic sector of public health, “grant-making” is a skill that I am now trained in.