Life is full of transitions.

As a young music therapist, I’ve dealt with some pretty big ones in the past 3 years. The nature of our degree is that within a year, two major changes happen. We go from student to intern, and then intern to professional. Navigating those changes can be difficult by themselves, but they are often coupled with weddings, big moves, and more often than not, financial difficulties.

The next 5 weeks will offer some insight into the transitions as well as some helpful tools of survival as you move from student to professional. If you’ve already made the transition, feel free to comment with your own thoughts and reflections!

This list will mostly be things to have in the back of your head since you obviously have enough to do (write that paper yet?). Managing to balance these few tips will prepare you in a wonderful way for internship and professional life!

Networking: As a student, you have the fortune of being closely connected to an in house network of professionals and fellow students. School is a tight knit pool of knowledge that is very easy to get used to, but once you are an intern, and then a professional, you are often by yourself or with a few others. Beginning to network at an early stage is vital to making yourself known to other professionals, potential supervisors, and potential collaborators/colleagues/bosses/employees. I often see seniors scrambling around at conferences the spring before their internship to introduce themselves to supervisors: Don’t let yourself be one of these people. Use tools that you are already using (facebook, twitter, linkedin, blogs, listservs) to connect with these people early in your school career.

Repertoire: As much as I enjoy playing my guitar in front of youtube, I loved playing guitar in a circle of my peers and memorizing music that way. You have (again) the advantages of a large group of people at arm’s reach who know lots of music, have different skills, and can offer insight. While we learn lots of new songs in our internship, no one enjoys the rush to memorize a chord progression 10 minutes before a session. Have things ready to go at all times.

Don’t lock yourself into a population: Trust me, I know. Those little kids/older adults/ hospital patients are ADORABLE and the only thing you ever want to do and you feel such a calling for it. Every degree program I know of has a system in place to prevent a student from focusing on only one area, but often if a student is focused on one thing, they will shut down while experiencing the others. Keep an open mind. I was in school with a person who said they would only ever work with children with Cerebral Palsy in private schools. I certainly hope they found a job that met all of their requests, but odds are that they didn’t right after graduation. Our field is young enough and growing enough that jobs can pop up anywhere and everywhere. Some areas may not be for you, but closing yourself off before ever giving it a try is very limiting.

Get Comfortable: I will later rescind this mandate, but for now, develop your skills, take leadership positions, find your comfort zone, and then push outside of it. Accept yourself as a person and as a musician, and try to find that balance between “I can help this person” and “I am powerless”. Recognizing what you are comfortable with will make it easier to push your boundaries later on.

I hope some of these tips are helpful to those in school, or to those of us out of school and still in possession of the student’s mind. Next week we’ll address starting the internship, as well as that little thing called ego. Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions!