Archive for July 2011

I am in awe about how quickly time seems to pass.  With my schedule, with some parts of it static and others changing often, I really need to stay on task in order to make sure I get all of my work done and meet my obligations.  However, it’s not possible to please everyone or do everything.  It’s not possible to say yes to every obligation or opportunity that comes my way.  Sometimes that means deferring an invitation to dinner out, declining extra hours at work when I know that, as much as the extra funds would be a blessing, it’s over my energy limit, or reminding myself that even though it’s summer, the “lazy” days are over for me.  Sometimes it hurts to have to say no, especially when something sounds exciting or new to me. Excitement, however, is overrated.  I can’t sacrifice what’s important for me to do in favor of something more engaging or exciting.  That’s like sacrificing principles and values I hold dear In order to “have a little fun.”  What’s important to me right now is getting through school, being the best employee I can be, and being a great friend and family member.  Those roles and priorities aren’t without their exciting times, either.  As a graduate student, I often get to research, write about, and discuss topics that are interesting to me, and many exciting networking opportunities come my way.  As an employee, I can challenge myself to be a better one, mastering my paperwork, engaging more effectively with consumers and those at the agency office, and developing my skills as a great problem solver.  As a friend and family member, I can integrate my sense of adventure into time spent with family or find creative ways to express to them that I care.  I can’t say “yes” to every opportunity that comes my way or pretend that I’m living simply for the adventure of life—I have to find the adventure in the circles I move in.  I say “yes” to fun and creativity in the decisions that I already make each day.  When my work is done and it’s my time to have fun, I can seek out the large-scale adventures I crave.  It takes all that time, like sand slipping through the hourglass, and keeps it from being a disorienting and ineffective mess—like a sandstorm.  Instead, time well spent becomes a protection from disaster like a sandbag, a place of refuge like an oasis, or an opportunity for beauty, like sand art. Spending my time wisely takes the seemingly endless desert of my routine and turns it into something wonderful, with effects that don’t slip away as my time seems to.  I try not to worry about the hourglass.  I have better ways to spend my time—like making sure I’m making the most of each moment.

I realized the other day that as people, we all have different organizational styles. Some people develop systems for organizing nearly every object and bit of information they possess. Some don’t really have a certain system that they pay close attention to, but they do what seems to come naturally. It’s not that they don’t have some type of logic, but it’s not an endeavor that they put much time, thought, or energy into.

I fall somewhere in the middle of these two groups. I generally know where all of my things are, and some items I’m very meticulous about. Some people who see my space would tell me that it’s a bit chaotic. Lately, I’ve been more inclined to agree. It’s not that I’ve become more disorganized. I feel more organized than I was a few months ago. I’m seeing areas in my life and things that I have that I want to organize and improve. It’s not enough to be simply tidy. Now I want things in order.

That goes for my thoughts and keeping track of my time, also. I’ve never made this many to-do lists or left myself so many notes. I’ve got a good memory, but if it’s pretty important, I write a note anyway. I even caught myself thinking about color coding my new datebook with a plethora of highlighter colors today as I was driving home. It’s not merely something in me that’s changing—I’m changing because my life is changing. Reorganizing is my form of adaptation. It makes overpriced binders and pens worthwhile—even exciting—to find and purchase.

I didn’t want to admit that I needed to change my ways. Organized chaos is adequate if I’m not concerned about the consequences of forgetting or misplacing something. I’m just realizing that I have a lot of precious things to give my time and attention to. I can’t do that if I’m busy looking for a “whatchamacallit”.

When I was structuring my schedule this summer and dividing time between my Master of Social Work program, work commitments, and family commitments, I knew one thing: I needed “me time” each week in which I didn’t have to focus on the demands of work or school. I wanted some time to have fun and enjoy the people in my life. In my BSW program, I sometimes had a hard time physically and mentally separating myself from work and school. At times, I experienced high anxiety around commitments to my education, paying my bills and working through school, and caring for the people in my life.

Once I graduated, I realized how imbalanced my amount of worry had been. I had room to breathe and reflect on how much I had enjoyed my experience but also how much I had missed out on because I was stressing about doing well. It was at that point that I determined that I needed to slow down, chill out, and carefully structure my schedule, a lifelong skill, so that I could make the most of my time and my experiences.

Self-care is an important component of social work because it allows social workers to meet their own needs as a person. In order to care for others, social workers must tend to themselves. Because social workers help others navigate life problems, crises, and trauma, they can be adversely affected by the gravity of what they are dealing with if they enter the situation emotionally raw. These situations, combined with a profession that, overall, is demanding, lead to burnout. While many social workers who experience burnout leave one social work role for another, some leave the profession entirely. Both of these responses to burnout lead to high job turnover and thus high administrative costs for social service agencies.

In thinking about my approach to my program and how I will care for myself, I think about a bonfire. A fire needs fuel to burn in order to remain lit. In other words, people need something to do or they fall stagnant. In order for our society to be productive, we need to keep the work coming. We thrive on challenges and deadlines. We grow when we have a role we need to fulfill. However, much like a bonfire being overloaded with wood and stifled, if we become overwhelmed with tasks, worries, or both, we can become less productive and effective and even cease to perform altogether. We need room to move, explore, and breathe in order to thrive and remain healthy. I must remember to challenge myself and allow myself to grow by exploring new things, but also to nurture myself with the free space to recharge. I will be my most brilliant self and care best for others this way.

Today in my field orientation, the presenter made a really good point. For a competency in our field education learning plans, one of the practice behaviors was to “reflect upon the meaning of change in [social work students'] lives and the lives of their clients”. She said that we’re all entering this advanced standing MSW program and even though it is a wanted change, we are still going through a lot of processing right now. I appreciated this comment. I’ve been wondering lately if I’m just being forgetful or worrying too much. I may indeed be worrying too much, but it’s not an arbitrary mood swing. I recognize that this semester, seven weeks of very condensed class material, is already challenging and it is going to be even more challenging in the coming weeks. I recognize that life as I know it is changing constantly. I’m learning a large amount of material in a short amount of time. In January, the first month of my final semester in school, I’m supposed to begin looking for an MSW job. This is almost inconceivable to me because I’m just starting. In five months I’ll be presenting myself as an employable MSW? In ten months I’m going to start working full time as an MSW? There are many things to consider, including licensing exams and qualifications. In five months, I need to determine what geographic area I want to live and work in. Right now, I know I want to work with children and families. That’s just about it. The other ideas in my head really aren’t formulated yet.
If the above paragraph sounds overwhelming, hold on. Read a certain way, that paragraph is very overwhelming. However, I know it’s going to be ok. The changes I am making in my routine will become the routine itself before long. I’ll be accustomed to an adjusted social life, sleep patterns that promote the “graduate student” lifestyle, and to spending hours each day reading and writing. Everything really is ok right now, including the feelings of sheer grandness.
The best way I can describe this feeling is comparing myself to a new sailboat. I’m at the edge of the harbor looking out over the horizon, and all I can see is ocean. I can’t turn back now because I have been made to sail this ocean. I’ve been designed to move over the waters. I’m built to win. Everything I need to move forward at this time, I’ve been equipped with, and there will be plenty of places to get what I need along the way. There is always hope for me. There is a beautiful ocean stretched out right in front of me. I can be troubled and ignore all of the provision and hope, or I can be grateful and brave and accept this awesome journey.
This change is good. I’m going sailing!

I decided that a great post for today would be a more detailed description of the MSW program I’ve just started.

Advanced Standing

Because my undergrad degree is a Bachelor of Social Work, I qualify for Advanced Standing. The basic idea behind this is that Bachelor’s level students are prepared for generalist social work (case management and the like) during their senior year. The first year of a two-year MSW program contains the same material. Therefore, I am ready to take the specialization year, which could include organizational social work or clinical social work. I’m doing the clinical track.

Clinical Track

The clinical track prepares social work students for licensure and practice as clinical or interpersonal social workers. These social workers you would find as therapists, counselors, school social workers, medical social workers, court liaisons, welfare workers, and in similar positions. These social workers perform assessments and complete evaluations on individuals, families, and groups. They conduct practice-informed research and use research of theory and case studies and indications to shape their practices.


Because I am on a satellite campus, I have some options for electives. First, several electives will be offered on or near Oakland University’s campus. Second, I am welcome to take an elective in East Lansing, provided I can manage the schedule and the commute. Finally, there are online options for electives. I have opted to take 2 electives in Lansing during the summer semester. Each of these electives are intensive, two-day courses that are worth one credit each. In the Fall semester and Spring semester, I am taking online electives—two at 3 credits each. Each student must have a minimum of 6 elective credits, but I’ve signed up for 8 credits of electives that work well with my situation as a satellite student. One of the summer electives was in the middle of June, and I did very well in it. Doing well in that elective boosted my confidence in my ability to complete this program.

Program Length and Structure

Because I’m in the full-time program, I will complete it in 3 semesters, or just 10 months. The summer semester contains what program directors call “bridge courses”. These are designed to prepare BSW students, prepared by their perspective programs as generalist social workers, for the more track-intensive courses to follow in the next two semesters, Fall (late August to mid-December) and Spring (January to late April). Commencement will follow in the beginning of May.

With full-time coursework, students also complete a field placement for 16 hours per week each week that classes are held. The summer bridge semester is 7 weeks long, so field coordinators require 126 hours of field during this semester. The Fall and Spring semesters each require 238 hours to total just over 600 hours of field.

During the summer semester, including elective credits, I am carrying 10 credits. In the Fall semester and Spring, I carry 15 credits each semester for a total of 40 credits. Keep in mind that the field placement counts as college credit as part of that number.

It all sounds somewhat daunting, especially the condensed summer bridge semester, but it will go much more quickly than I realize. I’m enjoying it so far and I know that I will feel awe and gratitude when I finish just 10 short months from now.

This is the day I’ve been waiting for. This is the day I start an Advanced Standing Master of Social Work program through Michigan State University. The classes, with the exception of some of the electives I’ve signed up for, are on the campus of Oakland University. For me, classes at OU were a natural and really convenient fit. I graduated in April with a Bachelor of Social Work and needed a program that would allow me to be near my family and keep up with my current part-time job. Oakland University and Michigan State created a social work relationship: Michigan State helped Oakland navigate the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) process for their BSW program and Michigan State began hosting an MSW program at OU. I’m still trying to decide if I’m a hybrid between an Oakland Golden Grizzly and a Michigan State Spartan or if I’m fully Spartan. Either way, I find myself drawn to my alma mater. For another year, its beautiful campus is still my home away from home.

So here I am, deciding which books and supplies to pack for the day, what time I should arrive on campus, what I should wear, and some more important questions. How different will my classes be from my senior year of undergrad? Will these bridge classes help to acclimate me to more detailed and intensive social work classes? How much networking and teamwork will I be able to do? My questions are stacking up, but I’m sure it’s going to be alright. I’ve pretty much always loved school, and I love social work. As challenging as this will be, it’ll be fun too.

Today is also the beginning of something else new. Today I begin this blog. I hope to maintain it during my schooling and as I develop as a professional. I hope that by sharing my experience, I can network with other social work students and other social workers. I hope that I can help others and receive some advice myself. Furthermore, I hope to create a place, through this website, that social workers and social work students can connect and grow together. This project is very special for me because it combines the things I love—writing, community, and social work—into a fun, practical website.

So here I go—a brand new MSW student and a brand new blogger. It’s a good day!