It has taken me two and a half months to realize what it means to be a graduate student. We’re not just full-time students with an ever-increasing workload; No, we’re much more in so many other ways. Some of us are part or full-time employees; some of us are husbands or wives to our partners; there are even some of us who are crazy enough to be athletes and musicians during our time in graduate school. We’re here to learn and experience what our discipline has to offer, but we’re also here to do some soul-searching and personal development. I entered this program determined to focus exclusively on my studies, but I have since realized that my graduate experience should be a lot more than just paper writing and textbook reading. In fact, I’ve been focusing an equal amount on friendships within the program and events/recreational activities within the community. Shifting in that direction has allowed me to redefine myself as a graduate student, and it is this sort of self-evaluation that should occur throughout a student’s graduate education. Having asked myself what I have learned this semester, both academically and personally, I have come to realize the following things:
• You need to be proactive and get involved. It could be attending a graduate school event or even a peer group organized around shared interests. I have personally joined a social work intramural soccer team, and I’m using this not only as a way to connect more with my peers, but also as a stress reliever.
• You need to stop sweating the small stuff, particularly grades. Sure it would be nice to get an H in every class, but is it really worth all that effort if you’re completing assignments just for the sake of getting a grade? This has been most challenging for me, but has allowed me to realize that by focusing more on the learning aspect, I’ve actually become more competent – and in turn received high grades.
• You need to accept constructive, and at times critical, feedback. The professors in the School of Social Work and your peers want to see you succeed, and they want to help in anyway they can. Allow them to assist you as you grow as a person and as a professional. I have always been one to shy away from asking about others perceptions of my work or behavior; however, since asking, I have noticed that I have a lot of room for growth, but also that I am already experienced in many ways I was previously unaware of.
• And you need to have fun and enjoy your time at the school. There is no point in being in this field, if you can’t find positives in what you do. Look for the smallest of strengths or positives, because in the end they will go a long way.