Monday, September 18, 2006


What to be when I grow up?

So I just started my third week in the Master of Social Work Program. I've noticed an interesting commonality, many students (including myself) never really knew what Social Work meant. In fact, if asked to give a 30 second shpeel on what it is, I think I would fumble over my words. Many students seem to echo that as they indentified things they wanted to do, roles to have, tasks and projects to take on, populations to work with, etc. -- people would respond by saying "thats social work." I definitely found this to be my experience. Post undergraduate, I started working in a mega communications agency in downtown Chicago on the #1 Consumer Products company as my client and felt while I knew I had the ability to be successful in this industry, I lacked the passion for my work. I left to work with a international nonprofit (in their regional Chicago branch), an organization that provides services (mainly distractive, entertainment focused therapies) to children suffering from serious, chronic, or life-threatening illnesses and their families. The more I was exposed to the experiences of these families, and combined with past knowledge/experience with other organizations and families, I really felt a connection with working with and advocating for families experiencing challenging medical situations.

I suppose the way I look at social work is that its a social science field that looks at situations from a holistic perspective. I knew I wanted to be a practitioner in the healthcare world, but not necessarily a 'traditional clinician' like a physcian, nurse, or physical therapist. This was mainly because it wasn't the scientific aspects of health and medicine that interested me as much as working with individuals to design effective stragies to cope with, maintain, or enhance/improve their present circumstances.

My career path felt somewhat stalled. After talking to several people who corroborated my instincts, I felt the next step to really embarking on a career in this type of work was to pursue graduate school. Even if you are a undergrad, I think its wise to consider thinking about grad school and doing some investigating and research about possible disciplines now. Its becoming a common discussion- a bachelors is the norm and may not be enough -- masters are desired, even necessary in some instances.

In recognizing that my career potential would be significantly heightened with a masters, I conducted a great deal of research not only about what school programs were a great fit, but initially - what FIELD I wanted to pursue and if it was right for me. I considered a multitude of programs from nursing, public health to family counseling and child life. I began to see that social work was the most seemingy compatible with my skills, interests and desired pursuits. Here are a list of things I think are important to do in researching a field of study:

*Basic Web Searching-- type in "social work" or "public health" and see what comes up
*Talk to friends who may have pursued this line or see if they know people who are enrolled in a current program, have graduated from a program or are working in a related field
*Consult with your undergraduate institution to see if they can put you in touch with a current student or gradute
*NETWORK!!! Let family, friends, co-workers, professors, etc. know you're thinking about a certain field and that you're looking to learn more. People will often have great ideas or contacts to pursue
*Contact alumni in this field. If they are in your area
*Contact a few local schools in this field and see if they will set up an informational interview, a prospective student tour to basically allow you to come and speak with them about the program
*Do some basic job description hunting on the web for related jobs (example: Hospital social work, case worker, etc.)
*Check out a trade organization (i.e. National Association of Social Workers)
*Contact and old professor in a related field
*Go to a bookstore and browse through books about: careers, graduate programs, professions, etc. The more specific you are the better, but even starting here for general info is great.

In truth, getting into graduate school is a laborious process at the least, and starts way before applications and exams like the GMAT or GRE.... it often starts with exploring what it is that you want to do, what could you see yourself doing teh rest of your life, what are your passions, interests, skills and strenghts, weaknesses and dislikes. For me, it was quite a journey to arrive at social work. And my advice-- its never too early to start thinking out of the box and looking forward.

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