The MSW/PhD Balancing Act

by Holly

With my last blog being about my reflection on the MSW program, I was asked to touch on the PhD experience thus far. With only couple months into what I foresee as an exciting journey ahead, it’s hard for me to really capture my thoughts as I ride along this learn-and-process train.

There are two things I have learned though that may be helpful to students who are considering the dual degree or PhD program. The first is the balancing act. One of the most important things about being in the PhD program is how important it is to love what you do wholeheartedly and for it to be more sustaining than draining. However, with all the goodness that comes with being so passionate about your topic, there is a downfall as well… the “no” button stops working sometimes. Enter: Self-awareness. Above anything else I’ve learned in the past month of balancing MSW classes with PhD classes, continuing to work, plan a wedding, and remaining involved in multiple student organizations, I’ve learned that:

1) it’s hard work (don’t ever let anyone try to tell you getting a PhD is easy – it has been very rewarding thus far, but it definitely requires a lot of time and effort),

2) it doesn’t improve your social life, and

3) it karate chops hours of sleep.

Yet somewhere in the toughness, I’m learning something every day about my capabilities and perspective and I’m falling more in love with my research topic. Few words could explain the relationship I’ve built with my topic (which is exactly what it is… a relationship) and the excitement and enthusiasm I feel in response to learning about it. The more I learn, the more I love it and want to learn more.

Another thing I have learned while in this program is that I have found some of the greatest mentors in my life housed in our faculty. Not only have my immediate mentors (Danielle Parrish, PhD and W. Andrew Achenbaum, PhD) been brilliant lights on my intellectual path, but I have also shared some of the best conversations and connections with so many other wonderful faculty members here at GCSW. I have found some of the most supportive, encouraging, and empowering individuals to intellectually push and guide me. While one sent me some great links before starting the program on life as a PhD student, others attended a talk I gave last month on Integrating Spirituality into Clinical Practice, and even others have reached out to me to help with projects. We’re so lucky to be surrounded by such incredible individuals!

My time here thus far has been just wonderful, there’s no doubt about that, even as I learn the balancing MSW/PhD piece. As I spend this year wrapping up my MSW coursework and begin my PhD journey, I am wholeheartedly grateful to be surrounded by some of the most incredible individuals (faculty, staff, and students) who really care about education, creating opportunities, and growing through connection.


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