Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is youer than you!
– Dr. Seuss
There are many lessons I learned from Dr. Seuss: try new things, respect others, and know that making mistakes helps you grow. When I look back over my graduate school career, I have no doubt that I went right along with the Doctor’s orders. I was true to myself and tailored each year of my practicum experiences to cater to my strengths and interests.
As a result, I was able to stand out on my internship applications and develop an area of specialization as an early career psychologist.
With this article, I hope to impart some knowledge and suggestions that may help you on that path in tailoring your training experiences and building a competitive CV.
1. Be Open to New Experiences
It is important to find an area (or several areas) of the field that interests you. And once you find that interest, explore it! That is what graduate school is for!
It can be scary to jump head-first into something new, especially if the decision to enter into a practicum placement seems directionless or feels like you’re just checking off a box to get one step closer to graduation. I encourage you to find those opportunities that seem enticing to you, increase your energy, and make you a little nervous. Otherwise, it makes it much more challenging to get through the experience.
As you begin to explore this new placement and discover that maybe this route you took was not one you wish to pursue for the future, remember that there will always be another avenue to explore. One of the qualities I love most about this field is that there are countless possibilities to expand yourself and to find who you want to become as a professional.
2. Advocate for Yourself
It is appropriate and necessary to advocate for yourself.
One of my biggest challenges throughout my practicum experiences was to stand up for my rights. I did not know that, as a practicum student, I was able to set appropriate boundaries to maintain my self-care and express my overall concerns with my training experiences with various settings. Early on in my placements, I found myself working four days a week, while also being overloaded on my coursework.
I quickly learned that something had to give, so I advocated for myself at my practicum placement and attempted to reduce my time. While the result was ultimately not what I would have hoped for, it was still a significant learning opportunity for me and helped me gain valuable negotiating skills.
Never forget that you have rights as a student to advocate for your education.
3. Talk Things Out with Others
When I consider all the people who helped me get to where I am today, I realize that with the insights and feedback I received from others, I had significantly less challenges to overcome than if I had attempted this process on my own. No one is capable of climbing a mountain independently.
Therefore, I highly suggest that you find a mentor, preferably someone in your program that is one or two years ahead of you. This will not only enhance your understanding of what’s to come in your program, but can also help you build valuable networking connections for future practicum placements.
It is also important to find staff and faculty within your department that are supportive and willing to impart knowledge. By making yourself known in your program and building meaningful relationships with staff members, you can open yourself to additional opportunities.
You may be asked to be a teaching assistant, take part in a research project, or co-write an article. Make yourself available for these opportunities, or at least the ones that seem most exciting to you. They will only increase the chances that you will find something that you enjoy and wish to continue to pursue in your clinical placements and help you to stand out as an early professional.
Finally, it is so important to connect with colleagues. I was fortunate to have a very diverse cohort and was able to hear about other students’ practicum experiences throughout our program. By listening to their stories, seeing them become excited about their learning, and hearing about their difficulties in various settings, I became more informed about my interests and my path.
I was able to be excited for them when they shared their interests and check-in with myself to see if it was something I had the desire to pursue as well.
While on your journey, it is important to talk things over with your colleagues. You will enrich your perspective on different placements as well as your understanding of yourself.
4. Be True to You
The quote at the beginning of this post may have tipped you off to my main point in all this: be true to who you are. That may sound corny, but it is absolutely true.
In all of my experience through various practicum placements and on internship, I have found that when I was most authentic and vulnerable, I was able to be more open with developing myself and my interests. It can be easy to forget or lose sight of who you are when there are so many obstacles in your way.
I’ve known many people who got lost in pursuing a high-profile practicum setting with a recognizable name and forgot who they were or why they entered into the field in the first place. Trust me when I say that a “big name” is sometimes just a name. Instead, I encourage you to pursue those settings that advance your life and career.
Ultimately, you are the most important piece in your journey.
Only you know what is best for you through various practicum settings. If that means that you stay in community mental health, then stay in community mental health. If you are unsure of where you want to be or where you want to work in the future (yes, that is an acceptable option), engage in as many pursuits as you can!
All the while, listen to yourself and find where your passions lie. You never know what may present itself.