Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog! This blog was created by current student Ambassadors of the UNC School of Social Work MSW programs for people like you: Prospective students interested in getting a glimpse of our Master of Social Work program from the student angle. Feel free to contact Student Ambassadors if you want to learn more!
This coming week I will be attending the CSWE APM and I am extremely excited. My first professional social work conference. I have absolutely no idea what to expect, but as it is my first time attending a social work conference and my first time in Tampa, I fully intend to make the most of this trip. I am attending this conference as a means to develop professionally as well as network with others who have similar interests especially as a final year student about to begin the job search.
I’ve been reading up on a few of the sessions and some I would like to attend include “Finding Balance Through the Wobble: Mindfulness-Based Interventions With Children and Adolescents” and “The Use of Service Dogs with Deployment Related PTSD.” I mean what better way to reach children and adolescents through music and dance and dogs are a man’s best friend right? Needless to say, I will be attending some very interesting sessions while learning new ways to effectively reach different populations.
As for the city of Tampa, home of Busch Gardens, TB Bucs and Rays, a zoo and an aquarium, I can’t wait to explore with my classmates. As of right now I’m expecting sunny skies and low 80’s, a little different than NC weather right now, but perfect for a tourist. That’s all I have for now, but I’ll be back to report on the conference and my experience. See you later!!!!
I’m a planner. A worrier. A control-freak. A flat out-perfectionist, to a fault. I like to have every I dotted and every T crossed before I begin, and once I get going on a course of action, changing the plan is the last thing I want to do. It’s not hard to understand then, how, as I applied to the Advanced Standing program, I wanted to have my career written in stone before I even got the acceptance email. However, as we all know, that’s not how life works, and that’s definitely not how my MSW journey has been.
My Field Experience
I began the advanced standing program in the Direct Practice Concentration. Though I knew that I ultimately wanted to practice social work on a larger scale, I had little direct experience outside of my BSW practicum. Aside from the gap year between undergrad and graduate school, I had spent the past 18 years as a student!! Thus, I wanted to gain more of the skills that could be gained through one-on-one client experience to set the foundation for working with communities and policies. However, not long into the program, I began feeling some ambivalence. On the one hand, I was taking more macro-focused electives – and LOVING every bit of it – from creating a nonprofit and learning how to effectively market it to listening to guest lectures by community organizers and individuals who help create sustainable communities. However, my field placement was very micro-focused. I would find myself getting excited about the theories and concepts learned in class but felt that I didn’t have a work environment to practically apply them. I felt a disconnect.
After a lot of soul-searching and many discussions with my classmates, this ambivalence led me to have a discussion with my field advisor about my field placement. After our conversation, I decided to “tough it out” for a few more weeks and see if my feelings changed. As I mentioned before, once I get going in a direction, I’m not a big fan of changing the plan, so though I decided to give a shot.
THE WEEK BEFORE THE FALL SEMESTER…
Pretty much, nothing changed. If anything, my feelings intensified. So, I had another conversation with my field advisor, and this time, we made some changes. After meeting with her, we met with my field instructor at my internship. Between the three of us, we worked out changes to my learning contract that allowed for me decrease some of my direct client work and take on more macro tasks. Though it is still somewhat difficult in a very micro-focused setting, at the end of this year, in addition to an array of direct practice skills, I will be able to add task group facilitation, program evaluation, fundraising, marketing, and hopefully grant writing to my professional toolbox. And though things are not perfect – I’d still love to solely be doing macro practice – the variety of knowledge and skills that I am gaining make my plan of study feel better tailored to my professional goals.
Change is a Wonderful Thing
The changes brought upon me with my revamped learning plan have taught me that even when I think I have it all figured out, I probably don’t. As I continue in the MSW program and learn more about myself and my passions, I am discovering that change is actually a wonderful thing. When things begin to feel like they don’t align, change allows me adjust accordingly. Instead of just accepting things as they are because they are a part of “the plan,” change allows me to create an even better plan!
S/O to the Field Office!
In closing, I couldn’t end without acknowledging the role that the Field Education office has played in my experience. I was initially worried that they would not be open to my desire to change aspects of my field placement to reflect my macro interests. However, I was surprised with how open they were to my input and how cooperative they were in helping me make the changes. Coming from a BSW program that was more rigid when it came to field placements, I was relieved that they were so understanding.
Just Pick One
So, for all you guys who are filling out the MSW application whose cursors are hovering between the Direct Practice, Community Management and Policy Practice, and Self-Directed options, just know that whatever you choose, is not set in stone. As you enter the program, your interests and goals may change – and that’s perfectly okay. Just pick one, and be open to where the journey takes you! You don’t – and won’t – have it all figured out. :)
Last semester after beginning the MSW program, I jokingly referred to Fall Break, which is a period of three days the university does not hold class, as “Fall Pause”. Literally, it seemed like a joke in the midst of all the papers, readings, and group projects that were in my planner the week prior to fall break and the weeks after fall break.
However, this year, I have a new perspective. This year, I am going to soak up every minute of fall break and actually allow myself to chill out. In graduate school, I am finding that “self care” becomes a random statement that is mentioned often but hardly ever followed through with. Being busy eats up all of our time and we have lost the ability to be idle. In an article I read today, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, Tim Krieger states, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets”. (Krieger, 2012). That article was a newsflash to me because I never understood the harmful effects that being busy could have on my mind! I had accepted it as a part of my life! So now, with fall break coming up, I have decided that on at least one of the days, I am going to allow myself to sleep until I wake up without an alarm, I am not going to respond or check email, and I am going to purposefully allow myself to indulge in whatever fun activities I can think of. If that involves just lounging around my apartment all day, then that’s that. So I challenge you, if you’re in school or if you’re working full time, or whatever you do with your life, take a day, or some hours to be idle and relax! Your mind needs it!
Check out the referenced article here:
Do you know what a field placement is? What about a practicum? Internship? These are all words that are used to describe the portion of the Social Work curriculum that takes place OUTSIDE of the classroom. We spend hours, days, weeks, even an entire year at our field placements while pursuing a degree in Social Work. It’s kind of a big deal… and I’m finally admitting I have a crush on my field placement.
The field placement is an extremely important piece to the curriculum. While I love learning in the classroom and being challenged by my peers I absolutely love my field placement. It gives me a space to apply what I’m learning in the classroom to real life situations. I learned early on (in my BSW) program how important your field placement is and the positive or negative implications it can have on your education. So right now, make a mental note that it is important to do you research on field placement options and advocate for yourself when choosing the one for you.
Since my concentration is CMPP (community, management, policy practice) my field placement is a Macro placement with the Family Support Program at the School of Social Work. Since I’m an advanced standing student I have been at my placement since the end of June. I could not have imagined the wonderful opportunities and experiences that were going to come out of this field placement and it’s only October! I still have 6 months left to learn from these wonderful mentors. So if you are considering Macro social work and the CMPP concentration, here is a look into my world:
What are some of the things I’ve been doing?
- Grant writing, searching for funding through various sites such as PIVOT, planning a meeting to bring various people together to discuss collaborating for grants
- Writing a Business plan
- Creating a policies and procedure manual for our Seminar Series
- Creating evaluations on a software called Qualitrics
- Analyzing the evaluations
- Attending community stakeholder meetings
- Helping create a new website
- Analyzing data to create state level reports for grants
- Developing a needs assessment
- Exhibiting at conferences
The list goes on an on and on! I absolutely love that I have the ability to wear various hats throughout the day and work on different projects. I’m blessed to have a field supervisor with a dual degree (MPA/MSW) that takes supervision and mentoring me very seriously. Wherever I can use classroom assignments/discussions/teachings in my field placement, I do. The crossover really helps solidify the material and my learning!
I hope this has helped you see a little into the world of a CMPP placement and all the wonderful opportunities one can have.
I know one of the hardest decisions for me was choosing whether to enroll in a full-time or a part-time/distance ed MSW program. Clearly, there are advantages to both and ultimately it depends on where you are in your life and what you want out of your grad school experience. Obviously, both get you the exact same degree and have the same opportunities for certificates, dual-degrees, etc. But the routes certainly offer some variation in your time here.
Cohort. In the full-time program, each class has a different group of students as your cohort is much larger, whereas the distance ed cohort is generally between 20-30 students so you take every class in the first two years with the same group of students. This allows you to create strong relationships and find great support and solace among your cohort. Additionally, because you are only exposed to this group, the admissions process is heavily focused on diversity in order to provide a wide range of experience and knowledge to the discussion and overall environment of your first two years. In contrast, the full-time cohort generally gains that diversity organically as you are experiencing each class with a different mixture of people.
Time: two years of full-time studies vs. two-years of part-time and one year of full-time academics. In the distance ed program, you have one year of only classes on Friday. Now, its a full day of classes from 9a-5p, but its just on Fridays. Your second year, you have 16 hours of field work a week and again, class all day on Fridays. The third year, you join the full-time concentration (second year) students and have 24 hours of field and class the other two days of the week. This allows the distance ed students much more flexibility for work and other commitments during the first two years. For the full-time students, it is much harder to balance school and a job during those two years, however, its one less year of lesser income, and one less year of rent without a full-time, MSW-level paycheck.
Opportunities. To be honest, the opportunities, such as scholarship, field placement options, summer school, Research Assistantships, Graduate Assistantships, certificates, dual-degree programs, study abroad trips, and fellowships, are virtually the same. It may take a bit more proactive efforts to arrange your schedule and have potential prerequisites considered if you are in the distance ed program, but the upside is you have an extra year (and an extra summer) to take advantage of these opportunities.
Of course, these aren’t the only differences, but they are some of the most significant. Either way, if you are attending the University of North Carolina School of Social Work, you are getting the exact same, top 5 in the nation, highly favored Master of Social Work degree that comes with the same pride and respect. As a part of the distance ed program, I could not be more pleased and content with my experience at UNC SSW and all the experiences and opportunities it has afforded me.
Let’s be honest. As a third-year doctoral student, I sometimes find myself wondering what business do I have being in a PhD program and how on earth did I get here. According to most statistics out there (and yes, I’ve seen many), I’m not actually supposed to be here. The child of an African American single mother raised in an inner city neighborhood is not supposed to obtain a master’s degree, let alone pursue the highest level of education in her field. Yet, I am doing just that. I am narrowing the topic for my dissertation, writing abstracts to present at national conferences, and preparing manuscripts for publication. I am also learning how to analyze data, develop theoretical conceptual models, and identify dissertation committee members. Let’s just say, I am doing a lot of things that I never thought were possible. But now, as I get closer to the end of the doctoral program, I realize that I sometimes need a reminder of what really brought me here. And no, it was not the hierarchical linear modeling.
At these points of much needed self-reflection, I find it helpful to look back at the statement of purpose I wrote when I first applied to UNC School of Social Work Doctoral Program. When I read my area of interest and the career goals I had for myself before entering the program, I ask myself the following questions: Am I still on track to meet these goals? If not, is it because my goals have changed? When I applied to the doctoral program, I stated that I wanted to my research to be “not only accessible to scholars and social work professionals, but also to community members and families” and “to expand beyond the world of academia and into the spheres of practice.” I also felt that by applying to the program, I was “representing members of my family and other children from single-parent households who did not consider the pursuit of a doctoral degree as part of their destinies.” It’s these words from my statement of purpose that keep me grounded and, what I would consider, still on the path to reaching these goals. However, I must also acknowledge other strategies I have used to maintain my authentic self during my time in the doctoral program.
Get Involved Across Campus
During this semester, I have taken steps to engage with other students who may have also felt a need to recapture their authenticity by participating in different campus groups and by mentoring undergraduate student organizations. By serving as an advisor for two undergraduate student organizations, attending events for two other student-led groups, giving presentations to staff in other campus departments, and co-facilitating a support group through Student Wellness, I have developed new friendships, found new sources of support, and also identified new ways I could help other students recognize their strength and resilience. Getting involved across campus has truly helped me to regain focus and motivation–two important things needed for completing a doctoral program.
Identify Support Networks
When I am questioning my ability to stay true to the goals that initially brought me to the doctoral program, there is nothing like having great mentors by your side. The mentors that I have at the School of Social Work and in other departments on campus play a critical role in rekindling my passion, especially during those busy times of the semester when my enthusiasm for research may dwindle. My mentors also remind me about the importance of my research topic and how much it means to me and the groups I hope to impact.
Advocate for Yourself
Because of my participation with student organizations and the mentorship I have received, I have become more comfortable with advocating for myself when my desire to stay authentic is challenged. At times, what I see as the course for my research may not necessarily align with the requirements for completing the doctoral program. I also may struggle to stay grounded when the demands of the program become too much. These are the times when it’s most important for me to remind myself and also inform others of the reasons why I applied to the program. I did not apply to the doctoral program only to get peer-reviewed publications, but to make a difference in the lives of children and families. Many of whom remind me of myself and my family–the very people who brought me to this place called graduate school.
So why am I here? Why not?
It’s the second month of my 2nd year in the MSW program. As I write this, it is 9 PM on a Monday and I just got out of six hours of classes. All I can think about is how the week has just started and I already feel the large burden of homework, papers, projects, and life sitting on my shoulders. It was just last night when I sat in my room smiling to myself because I checked off ALL of the things I had on my weekend to-do list (lots of readings for classes, finish writing a paper, complete a take home quiz, work 4 hours for my job, run 7 miles for a race I am training for, and try to take some time to spend with friends and loved ones). How is it possible that I already have so much piled on my plate already, and the weekend just started again?
I’m not going to lie to you… Grad school is hard! There are constantly assignments to turn in, workshops you want to attend, meetings to go to, and don’t forget your field placement, and possibly part-time job (I have one of those).… and then you definitely can’t forget to eat, sleep, and have some fun in your life as well!
Here are some of my tips for how I survive the demanding schedule of grad school:
Keep a planner… or two: I live and breath out of my planner. If you’re like me, it helps to keep a planner to keep track of big assignments, meetings, workshops you want to attend, community events you want to attend, and anything else you might need help remembering (if you’re someone like my brother who is 24 years old and still doesn’t know the dates of our parents’ birthdays, you might want to write birthdays in your planner as well)! My recommendation is to have a planner that you can have on you at ALL times, so you can write things down at any moment. I keep a paper planner in my backpack, but also use Google calendar to keep track of things.
Plan ahead: You will get your syllabi for your classes on the first day of class. That’s a great time to map out on a calendar when all of your big assignments are due, and that way you can have a better idea of which weeks/weekends you need to buckle down and get work done, and which weekends you will have some more free time to go on a hiking trip or a brewery tour or a beach trip!
Find time to “blob”: My college roommates and I coined a term that I still live by… “blobbing”. Blobbing is when you do something that requires absolutely no brain power and allows you to completely zone out and forget about the stress and business of your daily life. Blobbing can be whatever you want it to be- TV, reading a book, doing a crossword, yoga, playing with your puppy, staring at a wall, etc.). My form of blobbing is watching TV. I don’t have much time for TV these days, since there always seems to be something more productive I could be doing, but I try to take at least 22 minutes (the length of 1 episode of New Girl) per night to “blob”. Even though it is just 20 or 30 minutes , it still really helps to get my mind off of school and helps me to relax.
Plan a fun outing or trip with friends: Plan something fun to do during an upcoming weekend, and that will be great motivation for you to get through all of your schoolwork. North Carolina is a perfect place for weekend trips to Asheville, Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, D.C., or lots of fun hiking spots in NC! This past weekend I worked really hard on homework on Friday evening and all day Saturday, so that I could spend most of Sunday at the Carrboro music festival. Having a fun event to look forward to is really helpful in keeping up my enthusiasm and drive.
Exercise: One of my stress-relievers in my life is working out. The problem is, working out takes time! We all make excuses that we don’t have time to go to the gym…especially if we don’t live that close to our gym, don’t belong to a gym, or just feel too busy to leave our desks. On the days when I don’t have time to go to the gym, but need some sweaty stress relief, it helps to remind myself that I can still get in a good workout in just 10 or 15 minutes at my own house (push-ups, planks, squats, lunges).
I hope this is helpful and will provide you with some good advice for when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed in grad school (or in whatever phase of life you are in right now)!