One of my friends recently asked for some advice on figuring out where to go to grad school, and I figured, that given that most of those decisions are due next week, I would just share some advice with everyone.

From my experience, there are three major deciding factors:
First (and most importantly) — are there people working or teaching in the department who do the kind of work that you want to be hired to do when you finish? Are there people there who will help you get where you want to go? Could you see yourself either working with the people in the program in the future, or at least doing their kind of work?
Second — does the school have the specific track or program you are interested in? Grad school is much different from undergraduate programs in that it is a professional training school. Graduate school will prepare you to do very specific tasks and take very specific jobs. Whereas undergrad is often about learning how to think and how to learn, grad school is about learning how to manage a needle exchange program, how to analyze public heath policies, or how to set up a health clinic in a refugee camp in Libya.
Third — cost, especially if you are thinking about a program like public health. Unlike medical school or law school, you almost certainly will not earn a six figure income after you graduate. Given that a lot of post-graduation salaries with a public health degree are in the $30,000 — $50,000 range, you do not want to be in so much debt that you cannot chill and enjoy life a bit when you finish, so the financial aid that you are offered is important.

What about location?
Yes, I think that is also important, but maybe not as important as the first three items that I outlined. I have narrow experience with this, but I can offer some insight on what it was like for me to be a grad student in New York City.
Mostly — it’s hard, like really hard, with moments of complete awe thrown in from time to time. I didn’t live in student housing when I went to Columbia, and it might be easier if you do, but the housing is pretty hard to get in NYC. If you don’t live on campus, the rents are often astronomic. Further, Columbia’s School of Public Health is in Washington Heights, which is not glamourous the way you might imagine if you have ever watched Sex and the City, though it does have a great immigrant population that is incredibly friendly. The grocery stores are less than ideal; there is a lack of good fresh fruits and vegetables and it is almost impossible to find something like sun dried tomatoes. And like I said, doing things in NYC is hard — buying a gallon of milk is hard, unless you have it delivered, and buying a used couch off a friend is nearly impossible. (How are you going to move it if no one has a car?) All your furniture needs to be delivered. Also, Washington Heights is way, way, up town, it’s at least an hour to time square, an hour and a half to the lower east side, and two hours to Brooklyn (if you take public transportation), so even though you are right near EVERYTHING, it can all feel slightly out of reach. A person who lives in Washington Heights and has a girlfriend in Brooklyn will refer to it as a long distance relationship. New York City is darker, cloudier, rainier and way colder than I imagined. And even though I grew up in Colorado, I had never worn long underwear as regularly as I did in NYC, because not only is it rainy and COLD, but you have to walk around a lot (especially, if like me, you are working and going to school and trying to have even a little bit of a social life). The apartments have roaches (even the student housing) and both of the places I lived became infested with bedbugs. It’s totally possible to live comfortably in NYC — to shop at very nice grocery stores, take cabs around, go out to AMAZING dinners, see great shows, get your furniture delivered, and live with minimal roaches and bedbugs, but it takes way more money than I had.

All that said, I made great friends in NYC, from all over the world. I spent whole evenings sitting on rooftops, drinking red wine and eating chocolate and contemplating the world with my best friends. I went out to great brunches, ate the best dinners of my life, saw phenomenal shows, went to the coolest clubs, and spent days just hanging out at the UN — experiences that you don’t get if you go somewhere where it is easier to live. I also loved my immigrant neighbors in Washington Heights — I love that the nephew of the bodega owner on my block got tears in his eyes and said that he would need at least a week to plan my good bye party when he heard I was leaving and that the Dominican Democratic political activist who owned the hardware store on the next block offered me advice on everything from my career to starting a family. And I loved the morir sonandos that you can buy on the street. But I always felt like a tourist (a good tourist), but still, it never really felt like home.

One of my favorite things about going to grad school in NYC is that everywhere else I will ever live will feel really, really easy. $1500 for a one bedroom on a tree-lined block of DC?? Sign me up!! That, and because I really wanted to know what it was like to live in the city, and now I do.

So, there is some advice to the masses that are making this decision in the next couple of weeks. What do you think are important considerations? Did I miss anything?


I have been meaning to write a blog post for a while. I was planing to post an update about the Christmas trip to Mexico, but that post has been overtaken by recent events, at least for now. I will say that neither Christmas in Mexico, nor a guitar player singing “Feliz Navidad” are overrated.

Dancing on a roof in Mexico

Dancing on a roof in Mexico

Kissing in Mexico

Kissing in Mexico

Jumping on a roof in Mexico

Jumping on a roof in Mexico

Last night, Dan proposed to me in front of the Capitol.

I worked kind of late on Friday, a usual thing for me since there is just always lots to finish up at the end of the week. I walked home and arrived around 8:30. I was greeted by a very excited puppy dog who was contentedly munching on a bone. Dan had fed and walked the pup and told me to get ready for dinner because we had reservations at one of our favorite places in the city, Bistro Cacao, where we last ate on our four year dating anniversary. I got ready quickly and we headed out to dinner. As per usual, the food and drinks were amazing. When we left the restaurant, Dan told me to follow him, in the opposite direction of our place, and let’s not forget that it was pretty cold here last night. We passed a bar on the corner where I thought we might be heading. Then we passed another restaurant/bar that we had talked about trying sometime (called The Monocle, which we like mostly for its name). It was the last business in sight. We kept walking and headed towards the Senate office buildings. By now, I had a sense that something was up. After a few more blocks, Dan looks up and says, “I got a bit turned around” — classic. We walked another block and I pointed out the Capitol. Dan said, “great” and we headed right for it. As we walked up along it’s right side, I told myself to try to remember this moment and I remember clearly looking up at the Statue of Freedom. Dan put the to-go box down on a pile of snow and rummaged through his coat pocket. He pulled out a box and then threw his ski jacket down on the snow. He got down on one knee, and said something like, “Well, I followed you out to this city, so I figured it made sense to do this here, in the center of it. Erin Ashley Miller, will you marry me.” By then, I was laughing, and I said yes. He said, “well, then let me put this on.” After a bit of hesitation as I tried to remember which hand these things go on, he slipped it on to my ring finger. We kissed for a bit in front of the Capitol and started walking towards home, though, by then, I was no longer cold.



The Ring

The Ring

The ring is beautiful. I keep looking at my hand as I do different things and thinking about how great it looks. It looks awesome holding a wine glass, it looks awesome resting on my shoulder, it looks awesome getting cereal out of the box, and it looks awesome typing up this blog post. It is, unfortunately, slightly too big, so we will have to get it re-sized, but I am not willing to part with it for a couple of days just yet.

I woke up this morning and realized that aside from feeling the ring on my finger, nothing really felt too different — kind of like after you have a birthday and someone asks if you feel any older — “no, I feel pretty much like I did yesterday.” I explained this to one of my best friends, and she said, “yeah, you should know that’s pretty much how it feels when you get married too.” And, well, I suppose that’s perfect.

Check out Dan’s post and see more pictures.

2010 in Pictures

Happy Winter Solstice!

I am happy to have a (small) evergreen tree, decorated in lights, (and stuffed with presents) in homage to this day when we finally begin to get a bit more sunshine.

Dan and I are headed to PV (Puerto Vallarta) for Christmas, where we are meeting up with his mom, brother, and sister-in-law. It is predicted to be a high of 79 degrees there on Friday.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Via de Aquila

In response to a call for updates from the study abroad program at the University of Colorado —

In January of 2005, I followed three other students through an arch-covered ally, rolling my large suitcase down the crumbling stone steps that led to our new apartment on Via de Aquila, Perugia, Italia. Two of my future roommates, Crissy and Dave, also hailed from the University of Colorado. Over the next five months, we spent sunny afternoons sitting together on le scalie leading up to the duomo, watched the English movies at the opera house on Tuesday nights, and ate six-hour dinners with our Italian friends. We bonded on long walks to nowhere in particular, and while searching for garbage bags to drape over us as we stood on one island or another, our packs loaded on our backs, and the rain pouring down on us.

Recently, I caught up with my fellow study abroad alumni. Crissy Codi is a full-time yoga instructor in Denver, Colorado. She recently finished her graduate degree in sports and performance psychology and was a counselor throughout graduate school. She eventually hopes to do a mix of counseling and consulting. For now, she does a lot of cycling, snowboarding and yoga. I am living and working in DC after finishing my graduate degree in public health at Columbia University. I am currently serving as a special assistant at the Department Health and Human Services and working on policies related to the implementation of the recently passed health reform law. All we know about Dave Savier “Dave Save,” is that he sometimes appears at Anthony’s pizza in the early hours of the morning.

The Barbarians

We played on a soccer team this fall with a bunch of other people from our building in DC (the Barbara). It was the first time I felt old playing a sport. I don’t know how much older we were on average than the teams of staffers that we played against, but I would guess about 5 years, and it showed as we raced the other players to the ball. The season started out a bit rough, it took us a number of weeks to win our first game, but then we totally turned it around. We old farts did OK for ourselves. We ended up tied for 5th in the league (of 12 teams) — 3 wins, 2 losses, and 3 ties. Winter season begins soon.

Go Barbarians!


Check it out — I am on the cover of the handbook of my alma mater.