Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Naïveté and Self-Advocacy

I've learned an important lesson during the past few weeks. It turns out that I started graduate school
with a severe misconception of what it would be like. And no, I'm not talking about the general aura
that was promoted by numerous people, as well as society in general - "Graduate school will be great!
You'll love every course! Because no gen-eds!" - false, false, false, SO false.

I started graduate school assuming (gasp!) that every program would have its act together, that there
would be zero room for flexibility or individuality in terms of courses and experience, and that I could
just sit back and get my degree after giving four semesters of my time.

A little over a month ago, it became very clear that A) this assumption was false (surprise, surprise)
and B) I was likely to get screwed over by my program if I kept believing this assumption and did not
speak up for myself. In response to this, I got my act together and made a list of people to consult with
in order from low to high. I was not going to sit idly by and get looked over and forgotten by the
administrators of my program. It was time to make myself known.

Did I complain? Not really. I voiced my concerns and my disapproval of the situation. I explained that
I have high expectations for myself and I intend to hold my program to the same standards of excellence.
I hounded and followed-up and, a week ago, things were finally taken care of.

In the meantime, I have been considering what direction I want to take for my electives. For example,
there was the possibility of pursuing an emphasis on school social work and possibly earning an additional
certification. OR, there was the possibility of pursuing an emphasis on clinical issues that would be
relevant to the college student population. There was also the possibility of taking winter and summer
courses. OR, there was the possibility of only taking courses within the year so that they would be paid
for by my job. There was also the possibility of taking winter and summer courses to lighten my load during
the next year. OR, there was the possibility of taking winter and summer courses in order to make room
for additional courses during the next year.

I decided that, while I do want as many learning experiences during graduate school as possible, I also
want these learning experiences to not be paid for out of my own pocket. And that's not to mention the
frustrating possibility that additional courses do not always provide additional learning experiences (the
reason I hate institutionalized learning).

So, what have I learned?

While graduate school is simply a series of hoops to jump through, this does not mean that these hoops
are concretely established in a cookie cutter fashion. I am glad for this because I believe that education
should be able to be individualized as much as possible. However, I was surprised because graduate
school accreditation (in my case, the CSWE) is portrayed as an all-powerful outside source that dictates
what courses I can and must take, so I expected that all autonomy would be stripped from me. And this
is a really dumb assumption to have made, especially considering that my program preaches autonomy
and self-determination all day, every day. Perhaps that is why I was especially frustrated: because I felt
I was being treated in conflict with the values of my program.

What else have I learned? My program is not in conflict with the values of autonomy and self-determination,
but it is up to me to advocate for myself in order to secure opportunities to express both of these values
within my own education.

Blah blah blah. I hope that made sense.