With daylight savings time fast approaching, I am reminded that spring is nearly upon us. For the current graduate student, spring often means comps season. It always seems to be the time that never ends, until the next thing you know, it’s three years later and you look back and marvel about the relativity of time.
One of the hardest things about any new endeavor is getting started. Everyone has to start somewhere, and much as we would prefer to think otherwise, the best place to start is at the beginning. Much as I don’t want to admit it, I hated starting at the beginning. But I did it (and I’m glad I did it), and here’s a handful of things I’ve learned so far.
You’re going to make mistakes. Embrace them, learn from them, and use them for good.
I, like many I suspect, envisioned all sorts of things going smoothly when I first started. This daydream was quickly put to rest as I realized that getting the hang of things takes time.
What’s more, sometimes the only way to really learn something is to make certain mistakes along the way. The key is to realize that you can harness a lot of knowledge from mistakes. Try to think of your clinical fellowship not as a place where you need to be perfect, but a place where it can be safe to make mistakes. Keep an open line of communication with your clinical supervisor, and be realistic about what you feel comfortable doing. Think big, but don’t be afraid about starting small.
Try a little bit of everything. You never know what might end up capturing your attention.
I spent much of graduate school being grossed out by anything related to swallowing. Still, I resigned myself to trying it out because I wanted to have some experience in every aspect of the field. While at first I was wary of what I termed the ick factor, I found that I loved working with the patients. It certainly took some time to acclimate to things I found uncomfortable, but I find myself wanting to do more so I could keep working with those patients.
Think of graduate school not as the last chance to learn everything. Think of it as the place where you’re finally given the tools you need to really learn, both in terms of actual resources as well as the capacity to make sense of them.
Half of what I learned in graduate school didn’t make sense to me until the very end. Even three years out, I’m still marveling at how pieces are slowly starting to fall into place. I find myself frequently poring over text books, reading and re-reading things and making connections for what seems like the very first time.
One thing I cherish about this field, and its practitioners, is a passion for life-long learning. I talk to colleagues about things I see with patients that challenge how I had, up until that moment, thought about things. I debate things with the #SLPeeps on Twitter. I ask questions of doctors and nurses that seem at first unrelated to speech and swallowing, but which ultimately deepen my understanding of what a patient might be experiencing.
Try not to think in cliches. That said, practice makes perfect. (Or rather, perfect-ish.)
I generally shy away from the word ‘perfect’, but find this saying apt in many ways. I started playing the guitar when I was in first grade, and the violin in fourth grade. In undergrad, I did theater for two years. In every creative avenue, I found myself in awe of what others could do, of how amazing their words or their music flowed.
I used to think of those I admired while I practiced. I wanted to be able to simply pick up my instrument, or say my lines, with as much ease and grace as them. “How nice it must be not to have to practice much,” I thought, “and to have such ease of talent.”
But I was wrong on one point. They did have talent, absolutely, but they, like me, had to practice to get there. The best way to get good at something is to do it, over and over and over again, until you become just a little bit better at it each time.
It is a journey. One filled with frustration, joy, and emotion, but one worth taking. I no longer strive for perfection, not because I don’t think it’s possible, but because I never want to stop trying to learn and grow. I always want to keep aiming to get just a little bit better every step of the way.
Phillip Guillory, MS, CCC-SLP, NIC is an SLP and certified sign language interpreter. As an SLP, he specializes in acute care and especially critical care issues. As an interpreter, he specializes in post-secondary settings as well as community and, increasingly, medical settings. Phil can frequently be found on Twitter @ProjectSLP and on his website www.ProjectSLP.com. He is an affiliate of ASHA’s Special Interest Group 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders and Special Interest Group 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia).