I Finished Grad School! Now What?
AJKLJKLGJGHSLKY← An actual representation of the private events going through my head the day I officially finished Grad School!
Grad school was a beautiful combination of what to me was a challenging, demanding but also a supportive and empowering experience. Prior to deciding on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as my career, I was a hot mess! I shadowed occupational therapists and speech pathologists while working as a behavior technician full time. This is slightly embarrassing, but I even considered becoming a professional runner lol (it’s still my back up career TBH). I look back at 24-year-old me, who was desperately trying to figure out her calling. In behavioral terms, you may say I conducted a preference and reinforcer assessment on myself. I immersed myself into the sessions of those I shadowed, and I imagined that this would be my day to day job. By a long shot my most preferred option was ABA- it was the most reinforcing to me.
I started grad school exactly one year after finishing undergrad. At the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I have to admit that being a student has always been a motivating factor to me. I thrive when I am presented with new (to me) knowledge. I love diving into assignments, learning from them, presenting my work to experts in the field (shout out to all my grad school professors!) and most importantly receiving feedback that will make me a better Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) one day.
As a behavior technician I gained most of my experience working in both the home and school setting with young learners. To say that my day to day job is rewarding is an understatement. I can clearly recall the first time I collaborated with a speech therapist to conduct a session together, IT WAS AMAZING! We were in absolute sync and the learner was engaged, responsive and motivated in the absence of most problem behaviors! I also remember the first school case I worked and the legitimate surprise in all the teachers when the learner I was working with began to communicate with them and peers independently in replacement of pushing or shoving them to get his needs met!
So here I am now, a graduate school ALUMNA! Whoa, so unreal.
I am done with school and late-night study sessions and midterms and finals and let’s not forget, the dreaded but also beloved COMPETENCIES! I have spent the past two years working full time, accruing clinical experience hours, pushing for meetings with my supervisors (let’s face it- accruing hours means giving up paid hours to get the most training possible) and attending school in the evenings. So now I am done! But what does that actually mean? When you’ve got a board exam to prep for, you’ve got to stay on your toes and increase productivity, right?
The truth is, my body and brain absolutely needed a break. I was torn between diving straight into the study process OR taking a short break from the textbooks and then gradually starting the study process. You guys, my brain was FRIED! Speaking for myself, being stuck at home and in the middle of a pandemic totally threw my initial study plan out of the window! I was working less hours and remotely, so I planned to be SUPER productive during this time. I put my good ole’ planner to work and planned out my breakfast, my dog’s walks, my study and lunch times and then three days later I felt like I lost my groove. Even though I felt motivated I didn’t have the energy to kick-start study prep right away. Why was this? The answer is so simple, I didn’t account for my basic and individual needs!
Sometimes, it’s so tempting to hyper focus on following a similar path to those around me or on how far behind I am compared to other colleagues in the field. I tried to dive straight into study prep because I felt that I HAD TOO. I have seen various colleagues of mine graduate, then go straight into study prep and 2 months later sit & pass the exam. But as our field continuously reminds us, every individual has their own unique needs, strengths and pace. If I felt that I needed to expand my study process across a longer period of time or decided to schedule my exam at a later date than what I was initially shooting for, that was absolutely OK!
I took the much-needed break (three weeks to be exact) and rest assured that now that I have begun the study process, I am so much more focused, energized and motivated. I am now ready to dive into Cooper, IOA, Ethics, ALL THE ABA THINGS! I cannot wait to sit for the exam, to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and to expand, contribute and grow within this field. I finished Grad School, and what comes next is absolutely up to me.
Pursuing a career in ABA is so special, because most of us chose this career to create positive and meaningful change in the lives of individuals. You cannot rush becoming an expert in the field, this only comes from time and experience. Don’t forget to go at your own pace, focus on your own career journey and KICK THAT EXAMS BUTT when the time comes!
Send study tips if you’ve got any ☺
About the Author
Jenny is a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) based in LA, who discovered this field in Spring of 2015 and like many of you fell in love. She recently graduated with a Master of Science in Behavioral Psychology with a focus in Applied Behavior Analysis from Pepperdine University. Jenny currently works in the center-based setting providing on field training to other RBT’s and has 5 years of experience providing direct intervention in the home and school setting. She is currently studying to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst Exam. During her free time Jenny likes to spend her time running, hiking with her 9-month-old pup and going on coffee runs with friends!