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Grad Students, Your Peers May Have More Experience Than You: That’s Okay!

When thinking about what to write about today, I thought about what I was thinking around this time in my first semester of grad school. And it was this: I do not belong here because everyone else knows so much more than me. It was also: Am I learning as much as others?

Acknowledging your fears/concerns

First of all, let me do what good social workers do and VALIDATE. Let me say I once UGLY CRIED to a professor because I felt so incompetent (and jealous if I’m being real real). I was once in a class where I felt so incompetent compared to my peers that I avoided talking. I focused so much on the superstars among my peers that I never even realized if there were others who also were having similar experiences.

Regardless, crying to my professor helped me recognize just how deep my feelings were running (yay therapist-professors!). I wouldn’t say that I immediately accepted my feelings and the situation I was in, but I did get to acknowledge it. That was the first step.

It is okay to ask questions.

Grad school is a time of great learning. Back in grad school, I was so eager to learn. I asked so many questions and I still have so many more. If you are like me and you’re struggling with feeling incompetent, ask questions. We are constantly learning in this field, so we better get used to asking questions. It’s the greatest act of service (bettering ourselves as professionals) that we can do for clients outside of direct service.

I will be real and say that some supervisors and professors are not the most welcoming. Still, there is always someone whose brain you can pick. Go to office hours to ask questions. Have “what if” questions ready during supervision. Google things. Look for a mentor online (NASW question boards?). Be creative but get those questions answered.

Educate yourself (within reason)

I was always writing questions down to research later. Not knowing something does not mean you’re incompetent. It only means you do not know (and need to learn!)

Spend time looking into trainings. Follow social workers or other mental health personnel online (Instagram or Youtube for example). Maybe read a book!

However, grad school is DIFFICULT. Running yourself into total exhaustion just for the sake of learning will not be good for your wellbeing (and therefore your clients’ wellbeing as well). Moreover, we’re always learning, so build learning experiences into your life rather than letting them overwhelm you.

Finally, just know we're all on different paths

We cannot change the past. All we can do is do our best in the future. With my experiences, I will help some that perhaps you would not be able to, and vice versa. One thing I had to accept: I will do the best I can but I cannot be the best for everyone. I still feel incompetent (often), but regardless, I will remain eager to learn.

Please let me know what kind of articles you’d like to see in the future!

Check me out on Instagram @eagersocialworker for post updates!

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