As an out of state student that was starting all over this summer in a new city, with little to no connections or knowledge of the area, I felt like I had to start over. I had come from a small undergraduate university where I had great mentors, strong connections with faculty, and knowledge of other students at my school that I could use as resources for whatever I needed. I really understood my community and the resources within it. But when I moved to Raleigh, NC to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, I had to start all over. I had to learn about a new state, a new city, and a new Triangle area. I had no relationships with faculty members, and had to learn what office to go for a various concerns. While the UNC staff and faculty are some of the kindest and most helpful professionals you will ever meet, this was a challenge. I began to realize that if I was really going to thrive as a student and as a social worker, I would have to start making connections, reaching out, and learning more from those around me, aka, NETWORK!
Why build a network?
Throughout life there will always be times when we have to “start over” somewhere new, either in a new agency, a new state, or even a new country. But, one of the things that will help people as they do this is to quickly establish a network of professionals, mentors, connections, and friends that will help them learn and succeed. When beginning in a new setting, it is essential to build a network, specifically for social work, because this will help you know your community better, and therefore offer the best service possible to your clients. When you build a network, you hear about opportunities and resources you maybe weren’t aware of, and you have connections to other areas that may benefit your clients. Have a friend that’s a doctor? They may know about a pop-up free health clinic because they volunteer there. Have a friend that works in the school system? They may be able to help you understand what support the client you are seeing in therapy can get through the school system. This network will not only benefit you during job searching and other times, it also helps you do your job.
Who should you include in your network?
Really, you can include anyone. The beneficial part about being at this point in our lives is that even members of your cohort are great networking opportunities! I learned just as much from my colleagues who have worked in various agencies and parts of social work as I did from my professors. Your colleagues may also be able to connect you to their field supervisors, which will give you access to a whole other professional network! And of course, the School of Social Work faculty members also have a wealth of knowledge regarding what research their colleagues are doing in other schools, or what new initiative is starting in the community.
How do you build a network?
Easy, you start to talk to people! Over the summer bridge program for the Advanced Standing program, I learned about so many things that were going on in the school, from research, to volunteer opportunities, and so on. By participating in classes, going to office hours, or even just searching the schools website. It never hurts to reach out to a guest speaker you may have had in class, or to send an email to a professor you maybe have never had just expressing your desire to learn and get involved in any way possible. Professional organizations like NASW are a great place to start as well! Your graduate program will fly by quickly; don’t miss out on any opportunity to learn just because you were afraid to ask! Be proactive, advocate for yourself, and always be willing to strike up a conversation.