By: T.J. Rutherford, MSW
Editor’s Note: Now that T.J. has graduated, we have changed the title of her column for this final installment. Thank you, T.J., for sharing your MSW student experience with us! We wish you the best as you continue on your journey as a new social worker!
May 12, 2010: As I begin my final column, it has been four days since I walked across the stage to receive my diploma after earning a master’s degree in social work. I finished classes in late April and had finals the following week. I also had an exam for the child welfare agency where I will begin working in mid-May. My mother-in-law traveled to be with us on my special day, and she left three days ago, so I have basically been without obligations of one kind or another for two full days.
In a perfect world, I would have at least the remainder of the month to rest, go to the beach, read novels, sleep late, and nap often, but that is not the case, as I will be working in five days. I have barely had time to unwind so far, and I am still emotional from the weekend’s events. In addition to the graduation, I also had a catered party with 30 of my closest friends—people who have been there for me over the past two and a half years. Mostly, they have been there in spirit as I have not been available to play, dine, walk, or even talk on the phone very often. A Facebook post here, and an infrequent meal there, are all anyone has heard or seen of me for quite some time.
May 17, 2010: Today was my first day at work. I walked into my office and it felt right. I spent most of the day in orientation with workers from all over the region. I enjoyed the time with other excited “new hires,” as we are all filled with high hopes. Those with master’s degrees have the title of Specialist. I am a Social Services Specialist. I like the sound of it! I look forward to the days ahead, and I hope to bring good things to the table.
As I am no longer a graduate student, this is my last column for The New Social Worker. That doesn’t mean I won’t query the editor with story ideas; it just means that the time has come to end this chapter in my life—the chapter when I was a student. Now my days will be filled not with papers and readings and projects and presentations, but rather with real life social work. I know that textbook case studies mirror real-life scenarios, and I also know you can’t practice social work by talking about it and writing about it: You must do it!
Am I scared? A little bit. Do I feel confident about my abilities? Yes, I do. I know it will take me a while to put my philosophy into practice, and I know that this MSW will not fail me. I started my day with a prayer for selfless service, and I will end it with a gratitude list. I know that I have all the tools I need to do this work and I can always ask for help if I need it.
This column and my blog have been more important than I could have anticipated. Some of the readers’ voices have become like friends to me. I opened myself up and was often vulnerable in my posts, and I have been humbled by some of the kind responses I’ve received over the (gulp) years. Often the well-timed words would pop up when I was in the most difficult places, and I was buoyed by the thought that I was helping someone. In turn, I was soothed, or my heart was gladdened, or I was given the energy to keep going—knowing someone might be counting on me.
I asked my husband to give me some tips about re-entering the workplace. His simple wisdom reminded me that I have chosen a great life partner. He told me to work reasonable hours (as close to eight as possible) and to get to bed by 10 p.m. I have been such a late-night student that this will be my biggest challenge. I may have to start with 11 p.m. and work my way down, as I am not sleepy at 10:00 yet. This will likely change! I told him I felt the need to “walk it off” after work and he suggested I pack my walking gear, change before I leave work, and then stop at a nearby park before I come home. (I started today!) I talked about packing healthy snacks (nuts, fruits, cheese, peanut butter, veggies) each day to prevent myself from skipping meals. The five to six small meals work best for me, anyway, and that way I will not be tired.