Immunology and African Studies to Public Health
Name - Jonta Kamara (she/her)
Job Title - Junior Professional Consultant (JPC) at UNICEF Headquarters
A levels/ equivalent - International Baccelaurate Diploma
Standard Level: Chemistry, Math, Peace and Conflict Studies
Higher Level: Biology, English, French
Undergrad and post grad degrees
BA ( Hons) in Health Studies with a double minor in African Studies & Immunology from the University of Toronto,
MSc Public Health from King’s College London
Favourite science fact: Public health is very interdisciplinary that almost everything can be public health.
Journey in 3 Words: Branding. Intentional. Network.
Briefly describe your current role :
My current role is focused on UNICEF’s Learning Passport, which is a tool used to ensure children everywhere can access education. My role focuses on finding the best ways to organize content for country offices, finding free online resources, and looking at course completion rates. This role has enabled me to get more experience with program implementation and evaluation, which is very applicable to public health projects.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science?
As a Sierra Leonean in the diaspora, I was always disheartened knowing that where you live and your financial situation can have a significant impact on your ability to receive healthcare. This led to my interest in public health and health system strengthening.
Global Health is such a varied field, how have your experiences helped shape the path you find yourself on now? ( e.g internships and other experiences) ?
During undergrad, I made sure to try a variety of opportunities. This enabled me to have a good sense of the kind of work that I enjoy and what I would like to do in the future. I realised that I was not very interested in wet labs and preferred roles that involved event planning and desk research. This helped me on the path, that I am on now, as I took the time to reflect on the skills I have and what I enjoy doing and used this to guide the kind of roles I look for when applying to jobs.
What is a typical week like for you? Would you describe your role as varied or predictable and how does that tie into your personality?
My position as a JPC is fully remote and I am on the same time zone as New York which is where the UNICEF Headquarters is based. I have 30 minute meetings with my supervisor on Monday and this sets my tasks for my week. My supervisor is very open to me suggesting tasks to do to ensure the role fits the skills and experiences I want to have. My role is varied, which I like as I am able to get varying experiences such as research, program evaluation, and also attending meetings with country offices. This ties into my personality as I like engaging in several initiatives at a time. During my week I also try to plan content for my Instagram @Jonta_Kam and my blog on my personal website: www.jontakam.com
What advice would you give new students and recent graduates on maintaining a good work-life balance and staying on track given your experience as a part-time research assistant?
I did my research assistant activities while I was a full-time student. During my undergraduate degree, I did these positions for course credit. I found that doing them for course credit made it easier to maintain a good work life balance as they were more strict in ensuring that you worked a certain number of hours a week. As a Master’s student, I found it harder to maintain a good work life balance while doing part-time research assistant roles and being a full-time student. Advice, I would give is make sure you are not working overtime too much especially when balancing other commitments. Also, be open with your supervisor and let them know if you will be unavailable during certain times of the day and speak up if you feel as though you have too much work. I think these opportunities are great to gain work experience, but at times they may be hard to balance with your other commitments. Sometimes, maintaining a good work life balance is very hard depending on how supportive your team is and how fast the deadlines are approaching.
What resources have helped you most during your career journey ( you can also talk about the lack of resources if applicable)
During my career journey, one of the resources that have helped me the most is people. Family members and friends have always connected me to people working in global/public health which have connected me to people in various public/global health positions. This allowed me to network with individuals since I graduated from high school. Having these conversations early developed my understanding of careers in the field and also my ability to feel comfortable networking with others. I always make sure to maintain my relationship with these connections, so it is nice to hear from them how they have seen me grow.
What is an insight you gained about your job/global health only after you started your career?
An insight I learned about global health after my career is that the specific degree that you have is not actually that important, it is more about your experience and how you brand yourself.
Have you had a mentor and how has that contributed to your career journey?
I signed up for a mentorship program once in undergrad otherwise my mentors have been connections that I have made and kept relationships with. When finding a mentor it is important that you both match, so I personally prefer scheduling a meeting with an individual so I get to know them and maintaining the relationship if that is what I want to do. These mentors have helped me by connecting me to other individuals, forwarding my name for opportunities, and providing advice on cover letters and resumes.
You are very active on linkedin and have just launched your own personal website(www.jontakam.com ) Planning to launch instagram ! . What advice do you have for networking and putting yourself out there?
Honestly, just go for it and start! Networking can be very daunting at first, but when you do it a lot of times, there are a lot of benefits for you as you are making yourself more visible and speaking to people also helps ensure you can effectively communicate your interests to others. People that you don’t know will also interact with your posts, and you connect with people that have similar interests. Overall, I have found it to be very rewarding especially as you never know who you’ll end up being connected to and how this will help you.
How have your passions and interests changed since you started thinking of careers? Was there a defining moment for you?
A defining moment for me was when I realised I did not want to limit myself to solely public health research and academia and saw myself also working in program management and roles that involved program implementation. This led me to reflect on the courses I was taking and the experiences I was gaining and how they would help me work in the kind of roles I aspired to be in.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years
In 5 years I see myself working in public health but more on the African continent. I also see my personal brand growing, so I hope to do more speaking engagements and possible consultancies, but we will see where life takes me.
Outside science how would you describe yourself?
Outside of science I like to model and travel. I am also into supporting more African founded brands whether it is make-up, hair products, artwork, clothing. I always try to support them and look for more!