Oftentimes, being an SLP student seems like a career in and of itself. However, once graduation hits, some find themselves wishing they had been more engaged outside of class or had pursued more opportunities within the field. Although SLP graduate school can be very strenuous between classes, internships, and the Praxis, customizing your experience to fit your personal needs can help to define your career.
How do I personalize my grad school experience?
Pursuing opportunities to explore the variety of topics within our field, and developing those that peak your interest, is essential to the customization of your experience. These career-defining opportunities can help you stand out as a Clinical Fellow after graduation, and well beyond a fellowship into your career as a licensed professional.
Finding time to balance school demands, professional development, and personal growth can be tricky, but we have some tips to help you customize your SLP student experience in order to create career-defining opportunities.
Tip #1: Explore a variety of topics.
Throughout graduate school, I frequently found myself pursuing one of my interests, only to end up discovering another. This was likely the result of keeping an open mindset, and remembering that graduate school is one of the best (and possibly only) times to explore the field as an SLP student.
In my case, I completed one of my second-year graduate internships at a brain injury rehabilitation center and was able to hone in on my skills as a clinician working with adults with traumatic and acquired brain injuries. However, one of my supervisors had a side business working with accident modification clients. Knowing that this was a topic that is not very thoroughly explored in graduate school (heck, there’s only one full page in the entire Praxis study book about it), I asked him if there was a way I could also get involved with his side business.
I began attending his accent modification classes at the local community college, and he asked me to start writing for his accent modification blog. Before I knew it, I had compiled some great resources for working with this niche population in our field. However, if I had pursued my internship experience with a closed mindset, then I might never have had the opportunity to explore an additional area of the field.
Expanding your repertoire of skills and interests during graduate school (and even before it) will allow you to become more confident working with a variety of populations. It could even allow you to develop interests that you didn’t know you had or open doors for potential employment opportunities!
Tip #2: Solidify unique skills or interests that you already have.
As many already know, our field is incredibly competitive. Having skills that can set you aside from your peers can make you a better candidate, and even boost your pay as a clinician. This could include extra training, classes, or certifications that you can add to your resume and use as “bargaining chips”, especially in areas where this skill is highly sought after.
As an SLP student, it is important to be aware of SLP events on campus, including seminars, free or low-cost trainings, or National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NSSLHA) events. As a clinician, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) offers Clinical Specialty Certifications in the areas of child language and language disorders, fluency and fluency disorders, swallowing and swallowing disorders, and intraoperative monitoring.
What’s more, certain graduate programs offer different clinical experiences or even certifications. For example, Portland State University in Oregon offers a Bilingual Concentration in the treatment of Spanish-English speakers across the lifespan. I am currently finishing this program and will graduate with a certification in the treatment of Spanish-English bilinguals. This extra training will give me an advantage in the job market and has allowed me to explore my interest in this population with additional classes, internships, and even a study abroad trip to Quito, Ecuador.
Pursuing unique opportunities to solidify your skills throughout graduate school can be an essential component to guiding your path towards a future SLP. If you are able to take advantage of opportunities on and off-campus throughout your program to “beef up” your resume and develop these interests, you will thank yourself for the rest of your career!
Tip #3: Be willing to go the extra mile: both figuratively and literally.
As if simply completing a rigorous SLP graduate program wasn’t enough (sigh), being able to go the extra mile to pursue career-defining opportunities will be a decision that you will never regret. This can be both figuratively (pursuing extra opportunities for experience and education) and literally (traveling abroad, commuting further for a unique internship opportunity, or even moving to a new city for school or a job). Not only will employers be impressed by your dedication to a higher level of education, but you will also thank yourself for the growth opportunity.
Figuratively, you can go the extra mile by volunteering for things like NSSLHA events, mentoring undergraduate students, applying for positions as a graduate teaching assistant, engaging in research opportunities, or attending conferences or seminars in the field.
In my case, I went the extra mile by taking on a mentorship role in an on-campus clinic for first-year graduate students. My experience in a mentorship role is something that will benefit me in my future career and has helped me develop my current skills as a graduate clinician.
Additionally, participating in a research lab can help you make more connections with faculty researchers, community members, and other students. These connections can lead to opportunities to further your clinical skills, explore new topics, and beef up your resume.
You can literally go the extra mile (or a few hundred), by moving to a new city or state to pursue opportunities with a specific graduate program that offers training in your area(s) of interest. In my case, I moved from New York to Oregon to pursue graduate training in bilingual assessment and treatment certification as part of my Master’s degree in SLP. Although this is not always possible, physically going the extra mile to pursue the program of your dreams can truly pay off! I am so glad I took the leap and will now have an extra certification above most of my peers in the job market.
What’s more, study abroad opportunities can be a great way to explore topics of interest, boost your clinical skills, and certainly pursue career-defining experiences. Although studying abroad in an SLP graduate school is not as common as it would be in an undergraduate program, there are still several opportunities with programs throughout the country. In my search, the most popular program was Portland State University’s Education Abroad for SLPs in Quito, Ecuador. This helped guide my decision to move out to Oregon for the program, as the concentration in addition to a study abroad experience was a very unique and promising opportunity.
While studying abroad in Ecuador, I was able to volunteer at a clinic within Quito, working alongside an SLP with decades of experience in the field. I learned about her treatment and assessment style, in addition to cultural and linguistic differences within Ecuadorian children with communication disorders.
Outside of the clinical experience I had, I also participated in a course on bilingual assessment and treatment in Spanish-English speakers and took Spanish lessons several times a week. On the weekends, we traveled to different parts of Ecuador for excursions including the Amazon, Otavalo market, Quilotoa crater lake, and Papallacta hot springs. We stayed with host families throughout the trip, tried a variety of Ecuadorian cuisine, and developed our Spanish skills clinically and socially. The trip was an invaluable experience, and I will always be glad that I went the extra mile to come out to Oregon, and even further to travel to Ecuador.
Going the extra mile does not always mean traveling to the next state or country. This could also mean accepting an internship that is on the other side of town because you want to gain more experience with a certain population, or even attending a state or national conference to participate in seminars or research symposiums. No matter where or if you actually travel, “going the extra mile” can provide learning experiences and professional development that will help you grow exponentially as a student and a clinician.
By exploring a diverse array of topics within our field, strengthening existing skills, and traveling, I have been able to strengthen my resume enough to help me out greatly in interviews for Clinical Fellowship (CF) opportunities. These all help to demonstrate that I’m passionate about learning and growing as a clinician, just as we all are as SLP students! By following these three simple tips, you can ensure that you are a strong candidate when it comes time for the job search.