It’s November, which means that the first term of the academic year is in full swing and the workloads for social work students studying for graduate and post-graduate degrees in social work are piling up and deadlines are looming. We’ve put together our top tips for social work students, to help you get the most out of your time studying and to prepare for your career ahead, in one of the most challenging and most rewarding jobs out there.
Manage your time
Learning effective ways to manage your time will be good preparation for when you’re out working in the field with a case load to manage as well as a pile of reports to write up and all the day-to-day admin tasks that need doing too. A great starting point for managing your time as a social work student is to write a list and prioritise the most to the least important tasks. If you find yourself struggling with a heavy work-load and conflicting deadlines then communication is key. It is good practise for your future role as a social worker to ask for help and support. Your tutors will understand: they have been there themselves and understand the challenges.
Engage with other people
Social work is primarily about forming relationships with people in order to improve their quality of life and well-being. From solid relationships come trust, respect, security and honesty: the bread and butter values that ensure you can work with your future clients effectively. These same values should also be applied to your fellow social work students and colleagues as these relationships will see you through those challenging times. Working in the field of social work will build relationships that stay with you throughout your social work career, and quite possibly the rest of your life.
The importance of ‘self-care’
According to the survey findings from Social Care Watch that took a snapshot of the average day of a social worker on 29 April 2014, a newly qualified social worker in child protection in a local authority had 29 active cases on this day when the local limit is 20 and they worked a 10 hour-day.
Working long working hours does not benefit anyone in the long run: Social work can be a draining job and can lead to burnout and mistakes. Of course, there are times you have to stay late and phone calls and meetings will run over, but this should not become the norm. The same applies when you’re studying. There’s no need to pull ‘all-nighters’ writing essays as this doesn’t lead to the most productive use of time and it won’t benefit you when you have to be alert for your placement the next day.
So, instead of ‘burning out’, learn how to manage your times well so you still have the time to do the things you love and that help you relax. When you’re putting your all into meeting the needs of others as a social worker, day after day, it’s important to invest in self-care. Self-care can be anything that helps you, as a social work student and social worker to preserve personal longevity and happiness, relationships, and your career. These can include: receiving support from mentors or a peer group, relaxation, taking time out, personal hobbies, and keeping yourself physically and mentally healthy.
If you don’t know, ask
This final tip should go without saying but it’s surprising just how many people are afraid of asking for help or advice because they think they’re expected to already know the answer. As a social work student, on your social work placement, as a NQSW and even as an experienced social worker you’re going to be learning continually. Sometimes things won’t make sense, you’ll feel confused, flustered and in need of clarity, and that’s ok. What you need to remember is that ‘we’ve all been there’. Your social work lecturer, your seniors, your manager – they were all once in the position you’re in now. So ask, and then question everything again and reflect. Avail of your lecturers, fellow students, colleagues and manager for support and advice, always.
If you have more tips for social work students and NQSWs, or want to share anything you wish you’d known when you were starting out please leave a comment in the box below…
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