A Field Ed Survival Guide from MSW Student Bianca V.

a social worker helping a woman fill out a form

By Bianca V. (MSW’23)

I entered my first year as a BUSSW student with a lot of preconceived ideas about what social work looked like in certain settings. I also thought I knew which populations I could work with based on my skill set and experience, or lack thereof (yes, you are not the only one who feels like an imposter!).  

Despite my best efforts, there were many ups and downs, as well as wins and frustrations, but they serve as reminders that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing– learning! I’d like to offer some advice for each stage of the field education timeline based on my experience.

Disclaimer: The field education experience is a highly individual and personal experience. I write this not to provide a road map, only to provide some resources and considerations.

Make Your Wants, Needs, and “No-Go’s” Known

Many students enter their master’s degree program with an interest in a certain population, whether this is defined by age, location, or circumstance. A field education team member meets with each student to understand their goals for placement and to help determine the best fit. While it can be scary to relinquish trust to the field education team to place you, you do provide the guidelines! It is important to be honest about your wants and needs: 

  • What is most important to you?
  • Is there a setting you want to, or don’t want to be in? 
  • Do you need to be close to public transportation? 
  • What type of learner are you? 
  • What type of rapport do you wish to have with a supervisor? 

Your placement is a mutual selection process. If it doesn’t seem like a great fit in the interview, speak up! Remember, it is possible to be open and flexible and have a fulfilling experience. I had a hunch about what I was looking for, but I also looked at the first year as an opportunity to do something I had not considered. I have an undergrad degree in health science and my two years working in the social work department of a large Boston hospital was my first exposure to the social work profession. While I was interested in returning to the medical social work setting, as a naturally curious person, I also wanted to increase my exposure and understanding. Although I was reluctant to veer from what I knew and embrace vulnerability with what I didn’t know, I was determined to use field education as an avenue to explore.

My wish list looked like this:

  • I need a thoughtful, supportive supervisor who is invested in my learning.
  • My field placement must be near public transportation. I have no car, so an internship on the Red Line was ideal.
  • I am open to working with any population; preferably different than the older adults I had previous experience working with.
  • I am not interested in school settings.
Utilize Your Resources

Once you start your field placement, remember that you’re not alone. It is never too late to reach out to your BUSSW Field Advisor with questions or concerns (did I mention that this is your educational experience?). Supervisors and professors are there to help you learn, but also to reflect with, voice concerns to and share their professional experiences. And don’t forget about your classmates! It can be helpful to bounce ideas off someone in the same position as you.

Constantly Monitor Your Experience

As you move through the placement, check in with yourself:

  • How are you feeling about the experience overall? 
  • Are you getting what you want or need out of your field education experience? 
  • Do you feel appropriately equipped? 

You may find there are things that exceed your expectations, or things that are missing. The next two pieces of advice may help with the gaps. 

Take Care of Yourself

Working an unpaid internship twice a week (and three times a week in your second year) can be overwhelming. If you are like me, you also work a part-time job on top of school work and have social, familial, and personal obligations to fulfill. I took care of myself by seeing my friends at least once a week, asking a professor for an extension, and continuing to check in with myself. You’ll figure out what self-care looks like to you!

Reflect on Your Experience (Yikes, the Future!)

Feelings can vary at the end of placement. Reflecting on your experience can help inform where you go moving forward. It will provide valuable information for what you want in your next placement, or job (eek) after graduation. Post-internship is another great point in the process to lean on your resources!

In summary, I am encouraging you to do two things that we are asked to do a lot as MSW students: reflect and self-advocate. Also, if you are considering an MSW degree at BUSSW, reach out to a Student Ambassador! Ask them for their tips and tricks to the field education experience. They are more than happy to share.

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Bianca V. (MSW’23) is a full-time clinical student at BU School of Social Work’s Charles River Campus. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, exploring her neighborhood, and trying new recipes.

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