Social Work Pre-Grad Intern Anna Johnson
Starting the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program was at once exhilarating and nerve-wracking. Never before had I taken a class which promised to give that much leeway and the ability to pursue your own path. In many ways, I had already made up my mind about graduate school. I wanted to pursue a Masters in Clinical Social Work at UT, starting the spring semester of 2012. Even though I thought my mind was open to other options, I really was expecting the IE Program to simply confirm this plan. After hearing Dr. Darwin's introductory speech at the first meeting, however, I truly began to explore every aspect of graduate school and investigate whether it would be a good fit for me. Instead of taking it as a given that I should go to graduate school, the program afforded me the ability to consider any other options; as a result, I feel more secure in my decision to apply.
I shadowed Jen Scott, a doctoral student in social work, who had previously been my T.A. for Introduction to Social Work. We decided early on that we would hold bi-weekly meetings that would be mainly informal conversations, a means of gaining information about her personal journey to graduate school, as well as her current experiences as a doctoral student. Her path was not a linear one, as I had expected; it took her a few years of working abroad in communities in Peru to discover that she needed more education and training to achieve what she really wanted. As I encountered more professionals and educators in the field of social work, I found that none of them had their lives planned out perfectly. This alleviated my concerns that I would be at a disadvantage coming from a psychology program for my undergraduate degree; in fact, a different perspective could be exactly what some schools are looking for.
Jen's perspective as a doctoral student also challenged me to explore a PhD as an option for the future. My plan originally was to only go as far as a Masters, but attending some of her doctoral student seminars and lunches, where I learned more about research in the field of social work, made me more open to the possibility of pursuing a PhD in the future. These events also allowed me to become more familiar with the obstacles that are faced when designing a research project, including administrative barriers, lack of funding, and difficulty obtaining the sample you want to study. I now have a broader understanding of the research being done in this area, as well as a greater respect for those who design and implement it.
Despite the fact that my plans for graduate school have remained relatively unchanged - I still plan on pursuing a Masters in Social Work - the few changes I have made would not have been possible if not for the opportunity to explore every avenue in the IE Program. Talking with professors and professionals in the area, such as licensed counselors, I kept hearing a common theme: the Masters is a lot of work. In an average two-year program you will be expected to take on a full course load in addition to internship placements and volunteer work. After sitting in on a Masters-level clinical diagnoses class, I came to understand how rigorous and in-depth Masters-level classes are compared to the undergraduate classes I am used to.
Having a more thorough understanding of the work involved in a two-year Master's program, I decided to reconsider my plan to start a Master's program immediately after my graduation this December. This would afford me a small break in between my undergraduate and graduate careers, to keep me not only from burning out on school, but also to gain life experiences, which is incredibly important in social work. It would also give me a chance to work full time for a while and save up money for graduate school, something I need to start thinking about sooner rather than later.
Ultimately, though, my decision to postpone my application one semester has given me the chance to explore other schools. Before the IE Program, my intention was to only apply to the Master's program at the University of Texas, partly because of their option to start in the spring as well as the fall. When I decided to postpone my start-date until next fall, the possibility of applying to other schools was brought forth, since most schools only have a fall start-date. I am now considering schools out of state, which is something I never would have pursued before my experiences in the IE Program.
I am also grateful for the connections I made with students from various disciplines in the program. If there is one thing I can take away from this experience, it is that graduate school comes in all shapes and sizes. Some students, like me, were pursuing a graduate school whose purpose is mainly to train in a professional capacity; others were pursuing a program involving research, which is highly variable in itself. Meeting these other students gave me more of an understanding of the range of options available in graduate school, as well as the different application processes and standards for admittance.
It was truly inspiring to interact with a room full of other motivated, inquisitive students like myself. Reading their posts on Blackboard and talking with them at the meetings excited me about the future, and motivated me to pursue my goals. I would without a doubt recommend this program to anyone considering graduate school, whether they are just starting to explore their options, or think they have figured everything out. I belonged to the latter group; my mind was settled to start graduate school immediately after graduation, and I was hesitant to explore any schools other than UT. Without the program I probably would not have fully opened my eyes to other options available, such as postponing school for a little while and applying to more than just one program. I am truly thankful for the IE Program; without it, I might not have explored all my options, and would never have made the connections that have inspired me.