Grad School Reflections from an MSW Student

My first semester of grad school is over! Tomorrow, I am making up an absence for my field placement, but after that, it is officially done! In May 2019, I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Social Work, and began an Advanced Standing program to graduate with my Master of Social Work in May 2020. It has been a wonderful and tiring journey thus far, and this semester has been nothing short of a learning experience.

Beginning graduate school was interesting. There were many changes and milestones occurring in my family life simultaneously, and being nine hours away in NYC made that difficult. I had desired for so long to be a great independent woman and take on New York, but the reality of the situation had a difficult time settling. I could feel my low energy, and I observed my productivity and time management skills slipping through my fingers. Coping and attempting to work while struggling was difficult. Eventually, I decided to call my university’s counseling center. I was able to speak with a psychologist about my concerns, and my difficulty in adjusting to so many life changes all at once. My first reflection is this – Grad school is hard, especially if you are moving to a new university or a new city. Reach out for help, have your own therapist, and own up to your mental health. I had to learn to genuinely practice what I preach to my own clients.

Grad school, in terms of social work, requires you to have a field placement experience. If you don’t have a BSW, social work grad school will be two years long, with each year holding a different year long experience. Because I have my BSW, my experience requires only one year of grad school and one year long internship. While dealing with my mental health concerns, I noticed a change in myself and my work at my field placement. I was at an outpatient mental health clinic, exactly where I requested to be. My undergrad experience was at a child advocacy center, a setting in which evoked such a plethora of passion I had not discovered. Outpatient mental health has allowed me to work with people ages 5 to infinity, treating essentially any mental health concern. What took time for me to realize was this – I began to lose my passion and I began to burn out because I was not working with enough children and teens. Now, I LOVE working with adults, and I’ve definitely honed that love through this experience, but when all of my clients were strictly adults, it became difficult for me to find that joy in social work that I had at the child advocacy center. This was also difficult too, because I knew that post-graduation I aspired to return to child advocacy work or forensic social work. Working in a facility that I know is not my passion or my path after graduation was conflicting. Once I have a goal, I run towards it with everything I have. Because this internship is required, however, I have to stick with it and make the most of it. That being said, even if you learn that your internship setting is a place you do not want to practice in the future, truly make the most of it and learn everything you can. In order for me to feel that passion and love for social work, I specifically requested the intake department to funnel me more children and teens, as well as individuals involved in the justice system. I continue to work with adults, but I am also able to work with the population I LOVE TO PIECES, and that made such a difference for my experience. Change the little things you’re able to change, and advocate for yourself and your experience!

With any organization and agency, it is likely you will observe flaws and means for improvement. You are a fresh set of eyes, with a huge knowledge base in your recent memory. You are an asset to your organization. That being said, bring those new ideas, projects, and critiques to your agency. Sit down with your supervisor, program director, or Executive Director, and discuss new policy implementation or means to address concerns. Your voice matters, and when you take action, it can greatly impact the client experience for the better!

In terms of supervision, my university requires an hour and half of supervision each week. Remember that you are in charge of your education, and you are paying $$$ for it. When you walk into supervision, have a plan, set an agenda, and use every moment of that time. You are able to have 100% of your supervisor’s attention for an uninterrupted hour! Cover everything you can, and make sure it does relate back to your practice and growing knowledge base. Your supervisor is a resource for you, so do not neglect them.

It is also during supervision, you’re able to ask your supervisor for more work and projects. This may seem outrageous, but showing that initiative could be significant to your experience. Take on one more client, start your own group, or tackle a policy project. Whatever ideas you have, bring them to your supervisor ready to take charge. That being said, when you do this,  your schedule will undoubtedly be hectic. Hone in on your productivity and time management skills, and be sure you are using every second in your day effectively.

One of my deepest struggles this semester, something of which has never been a concern for me, is showing my enthusiasm and passion for social work. My personal mental health combined with the struggle to enjoy outpatient work was difficult. However, even if you have to fake it, let people know how much you LOVE this field. Social work is hard, stressful, tiring, and everything in between. This can even be magnified when you’re a grad student with a whole life outside of your internship to balance. We will have good days and bad days, days when you let that stress peak through and other days when you put a mask on. Show off your passion for social work, but also talk to your supervisor or advisor about your difficulties. Ultimately, they should be there to support you, and you need to go to them when you feel that passion wavering. When that occurs, make sure you take care of yourself and always use moments for self-care when you can! This includes taking your full hour-long lunch break with absolutely zero regrets. You are a hard working, busy, time managing social work hero, and you deserve that hour for yourself. Even though we have a break room, I tend to shut my office door, dim the lights, and listen to music while eating my lunch. This could look like anything for you. Sometimes I’ve watched a couple of episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or I’ve organized my planner and completed a class reading. Whatever you NEED to do to go back to work and be an effective social worker for our vulnerable clients, do it.

Ultimately, my field experience this semester resulted in many improvements I’d like to make for the spring. There were many struggles I had to overcome, largely with myself, but I am all the better for it. Please remember that your mental health is also important. Find time for what brings joy to your soul. Keep working hard and striving for greatness too. You can see the finish line, and you are almost there. I believe in you!



Laura Swanson, BSW

MSW ’20 Candidate

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