With the start of second semester, practicum season has arrived for first year MSW and MPH students at the Brown School.
Practicum is an opportunity to engage in fieldwork, apply theories and knowledge outside the classroom, and gain valuable work experience. It’s an on the ground opportunity to gather data on what you want (or don’t want!) to do and to fill in skill gaps.
For many social work students, January marks the start of their practicum experience, and many spend the month getting oriented at their site and learning to balance a new schedule. The majority of MPH students begin their practicum in the summer, so for them, January brings the start of their practicum search. This includes a practicum fair that features representative from partnering organizations and provides a forum for students to meet with participating agencies.
The practicum fair is a great way to get acquainted with some of the agencies and work available to students. The Brown School has over 400 affiliated practicum sites that span a huge range of topic areas, skill sets, and work environments.
Students have the freedom to choose where they will complete their practica, though most specializations require a related practicum experience. With the support of a team of Field Education Advisors, students can critically consider the type of practicum that would be the best fit for their academic and professional goals.
Because of the breadth of options, opportunities and locations, every student’s practicum experience looks and feels a little different and even with the help of Field Education Advisors, choosing a practicum can be overwhelming. Below are the practicum requirements for the Brown School’s programs and 6 quick tips to keep in mind as you search for and commit to a practicum:
MSW Students: One 360-hour Foundation Practicum; One 600-hour Concentration Practicum
Advanced Standing MSW Students: One 600-hour Concentration Practicum
MPH Students: One 360-hour Practicum
MSW/MPH Students: One 360-hour Foundation practicum; One 240-hour Concentration Practicum; One 360-hour Dual Practicum
TIPS FOR YOUR SEARCH
- If you have a specific area you’re interested in learning about, or population you’re interested in working with, a practicum is a perfect opportunity to dive in! Whether you’re considering policy, direct practice, community development, data analysis or research, there are practica that can help you expand your skills and knowledge. In my experience, knowing where you’d like to focus your energy can help guide your search.
- Another important consideration is the skills that you would like to develop in your practicum. Are there concrete competencies (data management, conflict resolution, systems thinking, crisis intervention, policy development, etc.) that you want to walk away with? Read job descriptions carefully and be clear about your needs and expectations in interviews—many practicum supervisors are willing to work with you and able to tailor projects to fit your needs.
- Location! MSW Foundation Practica must be completed in St. Louis, but Concentration practica and MPH practica can happen anywhere. There are a number of sites across the U.S. and world that are already affiliated with the Brown School, but if you have an organization you’d like to work with that isn’t affiliated, there’s a process to register new sites. Whether you’d prefer to spend your practicum hours in another city, state, or country, it’s a possibility!
- Aside from being great learning experiences, practica are also important opportunities to build professional connections. As you decide on a practicum site, it may also be useful to have a long-game in mind. Is there an organization you could see yourself working at in the future? Is your supervisor someone who you could develop a strong professional relationship with? Would you have the opportunities to meet other professionals in the field?
- It’s important to keep in mind that paid practica are pretty rare. If you are prioritizing finding a site that offers financial compensation, start your search early and cast a wide net. If you’re doing an out-of-state practicum, there are some funding opportunities through the Office of Field Education (for travel stipends, etc.) that are worth exploring, but overall, set realistic expectations around paid practicum and budget in advance.
- A final point to consider is whether you want your practicum to build on the skills sets and experiences you already have, or whether you want to step outside the box and try something completely new. For many students, practicum feels like a perfect time to help build a cohesive career narrative and fine tune skills they have. For others, it represents a safe and contained opportunity to move beyond their comfort zone and challenge themselves. I’d recommend thinking about your perspective and what you would like to gain as you make decisions around your practicum.
While these tips might help guide your planning, the most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong answer. Every experience will equip you with tools and knowledge of some kind, and there are supports in place to help you along the way! If you ever need support, a second opinion, or a listening ear, the Office of Field Education has a team of advisors who can offer guidance and perspective.