In this post, the authors talk about their experience as peer mentors for the part-time online Master of Public Health programme; a mutually beneficial experience that inspired reflexivity and a deepening of teaching practices…
One of many brilliant features of the part-time online Master of Public Health (MPH) was the ability to embrace innovative teaching approaches. In particular, we found that serving as peer mentors to final year dissertation students was both an enriching and mutually beneficial experience.
As peer mentors we were able to offer the students:
Reassurance – having “been there, done that,” as we wrote our dissertations last year, we were able to reassure the students that the experience of dissertations is not just academically inspiring but possible. To get to the dissertation stage of the MPH requires dedication and good grades, thus we could remind the students that they had the potential to complete their dissertations and help to motivate them if things became difficult.
Advice – the students could engage with us either through the online Learn forum or via our live sessions, where we could offer informal and basic help on various subjects. This was certainly interesting for us, but it also allowed the students to use their faculty supervisor’s time for greater exploration of their chosen topics and methods rather than some of the more technical issues.
Community – the students may be physically based around the world but the online community which we supported meant that they were never alone. We completed the latter stages of our dissertations last year just a few months into the Covid-19 pandemic and being aware of the additional challenges that this presented were able to provide some extra reassurance. There are few people in the world who have not been impacted by the pandemic and the additional pressures it places on so many aspects of life, so it was especially important to have an online community where the students could also support one another.
In normal circumstances, providing a forum separate from course teaching staff would be important but during a global pandemic it is essential.
It wasn’t only the dissertation students who stood to benefit; we as peer mentors gained a great deal as well. By working through a wide range of questions, both technical and substantive, posed by students, we refreshed our skills as well and had the opportunity to reflect on our own studies. Being asked specific questions about how to work with stakeholder feedback, or how best to integrate quality assessment templates within a systematic review tool, pulled us back to our own MPH coursework but also those experiences that we’ve now had as alumni. The world of public health is constantly advancing, which means keeping up with developments post-graduation. These developments are often captured within dissertations and creating a bridge between current and former students through peer mentorship allows for growth on both sides. The ability to interact via discussion boards and join a community of students working on cutting-edge subjects is a unique feature of the online MPH and allows alumni to refresh and expand their knowledge and stay up to speed on developments in the field.
Finally, a point of pride for us is being able to contribute to a programme which has gone from strength to strength with the recent awarding of the prestigious APHEA Programme Accreditation. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute to the online MPH program and its continued success. Being a peer mentor was an invaluable experience which has continued our development in the world of public health.
Dr Neil Chalmers works as a health economist for Public Health Scotland. He completed his MPH at the University of Edinburgh in Autumn 2020. He is also an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen.
Aimee Kelley graduated from the MPH program in 2020 and is starting her PhD at Ghent University, where she will consider the impacts of education policy on refugee and migrant adolescent mental health. Prior to moving from California to Europe, Aimee practiced as a health care lawyer and now works as a tutor at the Sciences Po Law School Clinic.
Jasmin Funk completed the MPH at the University of Edinburgh in 2020. She now works at the University Hospital in Düsseldorf, Germany in the area of healthcare research.