August 28, 2011

Patrolling the Web this Week

I'm currently on my way back home to Los Angeles after spending eight weeks gallivanting across the globe. I am so ready to come home! Although I have nearly eleven hours of airport time in front of me (San Jose, Costa Rica --> Houston, Texas --> Los Angeles, CA), I am thanking my lucky stars that my flight path avoids the east coast. Let's hope there are no spillover delays.

Since I have been traveling, I have had a lot of free time to peruse my favorite websites. The following are just a few of my favorite articles and websites that I've stumbled upon this week. Hope you enjoy!

25 Quotables from the 99% Conference: I'm a sucker for great quotes. I haven't come across a list like this in a while. One of my favorites is from venture capitalist Fred Wilson, "The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary." This is kind of true, no?

Christine Hassler: Life coach, blogger and author Christine Hassler has a website specifically designed to help 20 somethings figure out their life direction. I like that most of her posts come with a short, digestible youtube video to convey her message. She has also coined the term, Expectation Hangover, which can be explained by that horrible, guilty feeling you have after you expect something to go one way, but it ends up turning out the exact opposite.

50 Things to Stop Doing Forever: I'm a fan of lists (I think that's pretty clear by now), and I love this one because we are all slightly addicted to toxic habits that we know are bad for us. This can serve as a reminder of what and why you should avoid those habits. The author's website, Live Bold & Bloom, is also a great self-improvement website.

Ted Talk by Eve Ensler: Suddenly, my body

August 22, 2011

Applying and Getting into UCLA’s MSW Program: Tips to Help You Succeed

Common questions I receive from my readers include, How do I get accepted into UCLA’s MSW program? How can I stand out amongst other prospective students? Do I qualify for the program? Will the admissions committee be impressed with my application? These are all common questions that I asked myself while I went through the application process two years ago. Crafting a competitive application was extremely difficult, so I’d like to help prospective students by sharing tips and resources I gathered while I went through the same process.

This will be the first post of a three-part series. In each, I will write about different segments of the application process: recommendations, personal statements, and the resume/pertinent social work experience. Please keep in mind that the following is based solely on my experience. Should you have any questions, please make sure to clarify with UCLA faculty.

Part I: Recommendations

Securing three solid recommendations is certainly no easy task. In my opinion, taking the time to strategize will not only make the process easier, but will also increase the probability that your recommendations will capture the type of person you want the admissions committee to see.

Before you ask for recommendations, consider the following:
  1. Stellar Recommendations Are a Must: This might be common sense, but acquiring exceptional recommendations are critical to your success. DO NOT ask professors, colleagues, bosses, etc. who will only give you a so-so recommendation. For example, obtaining a recommendation from a professor in a class in which you received an A is simply not enough. The professor must really know you, and be able to speak to your strengths. Don’t have three exemplary recommenders? I advise you to postpone the application process. Take the time to formulate relationships with individuals who have seen you do great work.
  2. Diversify your Recommenders: Again this might seem obvious, but I urge you to diversify who you choose as your recommenders. While it might seem advantageous to obtain all your recommendations from previous professors, the admissions committee is looking to read different perspectives from a variety of individuals.
  3. Diversify the Content: Similar to the above point, the content within your recommendations should vary. Each recommendation should highlight different aspects of yourself that you want the admissions committee to know. For example, a professor could speak to your research abilities while a non-profit executive could elaborate on your compassion for others.
  4. Select Recommenders with Authority: The more authority and experience your recommender has, the better. Think about it. How much more impressive does it look to have a director of an agency write you a recommendation, compared to a program evaluator? When selecting a potential recommender, at a minimum, the person should have one level of superiority above you. However, this does not mean you should always select a recommender simply because of their title. It is more important that the recommender write you a quality recommendation.
  5. Never Mix Personal With Business: Never ask anyone who knows you on a personal level, even if you think this person could speak to your strengths. This rule is clearly stated in the application, but desperate students always try to get away with it.
  6. Give the Admissions Committee More: Because most MSW programs ask for a minimum of three recommendations, most prospective applicants only send three recommendations. Unless the admissions committee prohibits you to do so, I advise you to send an extra “letter of support” or additional recommendation to bolster your application. For example, I asked a UCLA MSW/PhD graduate whom I met during a volunteer experience to write me an informal letter to support my application. I felt this greatly enhanced my submission, primarily because I had a “stamp of approval” from a former student of the program.
Once you have narrowed down possible recommenders, make sure to take the following seriously:
  1. Ask Politely: People are busy. When you ask someone to write you a recommendation, it is, in my opinion, a huge inconvenience. Therefore, it is critical that you ask kindly. Jodi Glickman writes an excellent series on How to Ask for a Reference Letter. She gives a great example of how to be courteous when doing so.
  2. Make it Hard to Say No: It should be easy for your recommenders to write you a recommendation. It is in your best interest to provide this person with your resume, transcript, examples of your work (i.e. papers, assignments, contributions), in addition to your admissions essays so they can reflect your abilities in their submission. In rare cases, recommenders will request a draft. If this occurs, limit this to just bullet points so the recommender can fill in the bulk of the content.
  3. Request a Meeting: MSW programs are unique in that students must have a certain skill-set that not all undergraduates possess, empathy and self-awareness are two that come to mind. Hold a meeting with your recommender to guarantee that he/she speaks to your social work skills.
  4. Always Say Thank You: At a minimum, you should always say thank you for their time. In my opinion, sending a short email isn't enough. A phone call, an hand-written letter, or purchasing a small gift is much more thoughtful.

August 16, 2011

Patrolling the Web this Week

Here is a quick post about the articles and short videos that have inspired me this week. Enjoy!

Is a Well-Lived Life Worth Anything? A great article that states in order for us to live a meaningful life, we must reject the "more, better, faster, cheaper, now" mentality, and we must strive for a well-intentioned existence.

The Minimalism of Tea: A simple re-post of Thich Nacht Hanh's simple but elegant piece about the sacredness of tea (Sidenote: I'm a bit of tea snob).

What We Need Now: This is a great article that reminds us of the ideals we should be living by. Additionally, the author makes a great suggestion to keep a "habits journal" as a way to align our actions with our goals. For example, if you say your health is important to you, what steps have you taken today to prioritize that goal? Great idea in my opinion!

Get Ready to Head Back to School This Weekend: Lifehacker is my go-to website for all of life's little shortcuts (hence why it's on my blogroll). While the majority of this article is common sense, I do like their tips such as how to use a weekly review sheethow to speed read, and where to find the best websites to supplement learning.

30 Things We Need -- and 30 Things We Don't
I think I need to frame this!

Shallow billionairesPassionate teachers
MultitaskingControl of our attention
SugarLean protein
Super sizesSmaller portions
Private jetsHigh-speed trains
BlamingTaking responsibility
Constructive criticismThank-you notes
RighteousnessDoing the right thing
Long hoursLonger sleep
CynicismRealistic optimism
Immediate gratificationSacrifice

Truck Farm: A documentary about a small community supported agriculture (CSA), proving that healthy food can be grown anywhere.

August 12, 2011

Cultivating my Passion to Work with an Eating Disordered Population

While I have not mentioned eating disorders as a topic of discussion on this blog before, I'm incredibly interested in working with individuals who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, in addition to other eating disorders not formally recognized by the DSM-IV, such as binge-eating disorder.

It is extremely common for mental health professionals to work in this field because they are either recovering from a disorder, or they know someone close to them who has. In fact, several eating disorder agencies, such as Monte Nido, would rather hire therapists that are in the midst of their own recovery, primarily because many experts believe "it takes one to know one."

For me, my desire to work with this population is not because of a firsthand experience with the disease, but rather, an intellectual curiosity fueled by a strong desire to help individuals discover a healing relationship with food. So many women (and fewer men) are dangerously close to developing an eating disorder, and I am passionate about wanting to help individuals formulate a nurturing relationship with what they eat.

While this may or may not have increased my desire to work with an eating disordered population, my mentality about food in addition to my food shopping habits have changed dramatically over the passed few years. For example, I now purchase organic food at my local Trader Joe's whenever possible, I buy local produce at the Brentwood Farmer's Market (somewhat of a ritual every other Sunday), and I stay up-to-date on food issues by reading Marion Nestle and Darya Pino. I believe that the act of eating should be a wholly enjoyable experience, and to some extent, a sacred one.

Because my desire to work with an eating disordered population is so strong, I found a local eating disorder agency in Santa Monica to intern with. While I was only able to shadow the therapists at the agency for a few days in July, the experience significantly reinforced my desire to work with this population. While I'm not quite sure if I'll be able to maintain both this internship, in addition to my internship at Didi Hirsch, I figure I owe it to myself to at least try.

My advice to my readers is that if there is a population with which you absolutely want to work with, and your school or program does not give you the opportunity to do so, find a way to do it on your own.

Photo Credit: National Institute of Health

August 8, 2011

The Intersection of Learning & Fun: Studying Abroad

I don’t have many regrets in my academic career, but one that particularly stands out is my decision to not study abroad while I was in college. At the time, I reasoned that I only had four years at my alma mater, and therefore, I should take advantage of the limited time I had. What about summers? I always felt the need to work, take classes, or both.

Lucky for me, I have another opportunity to study abroad. It’s true that I could have spent this summer taking language classes in Los Angeles, but if there is anything I’ve learned from taking language classes in the past, it is virtually impossible (for me) to absorb a language unless I’m completely immersed in it. I’m embarrassed to say that even though I took four years of Spanish in high school, and one and half in college, I was barely able to hold a conversation. I can’t tell you enough how important it is for future social workers who plan to build a career in Los Angeles, or other cities densely populated with Hispanic populations, to speak Spanish. My inability to speak Spanish not only limited by ability to communicate with my patients at my internship, but it also restricted the number of internships I was qualified for in the second year internship process at UCLA. As a result of feeling embarrassed, and out of necessity to communicate with my fellow Angelinos, I decided to study abroad in Costa Rica for one month.

The name of the school I am studying at is called Centro Panamericano de Idiomas (CPI). The primary reason I chose CPI is that they have three campuses located throughout the country, including a location in Heredia (close to Costa Rica’s capital San Jose), in Monteverde, and in Playa Flamingo (Tamarindo region). Therefore, students can elect to study at multiple campuses during their stay (I am studying two weeks in Monteverde and two weeks in Playa Flamingo).

I’m currently in my second week of a four-week program, and I love every minute of it. Everything from my Spanish classes, to my home-stay, to the food, to the activities has surpassed my expectations. While I don’t anticipate being fluent by the end of my stay, I do hope that my ability to communicate to my future Spanish-speaking clients and their families increases dramatically. Additonally, CPI has numerous specialty programs, including one for social workers. The annual seminar lasts two weeks, and students take classes that are geared towards professionals that work in the social services field, attend discussion groups, and volunteer at local organizations.

Below are a few pictures of my adventures thus far.

A spiderweb on the way to class

A bridge in the Monteverde Forest Reserve

Gorgeous plant life in the forest

Arenal Volcano

Beautiful Flowers

A waterfall in Arenal

Rapelling down a waterfall