Graduate Programs

Blogs from students, faculty & staff

Navigating the World of Graduate School

Graduate school is a significant step in an individual’s academic and professional journey. The decision to pursue advanced education often arises from the desire to broaden one’s knowledge, enhance career prospects, or delve deeper into a particular field of study. In a recent episode of the “Victors in Grad School” podcast, Dr. Christopher Lewis engages in an insightful conversation with Kyle Jankowski, who shares his experiences and insights as someone with degrees in social work and psychology. These insights shed light on the challenges and triumphs of navigating through the world of graduate education, shedding light on what it takes to succeed in a rigorous academic journey and beyond.

Finding Purpose and Evolving Aspirations

Jankowski’s decision to pursue graduate studies stemmed from a desire to seek more opportunities for advancement and leadership in his field of social work. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the financial and career prospects associated with specific educational levels. Through his introspective introspective and forward-thinking perspective, he highlights that graduate education opens doors to expanded opportunities, particularly in areas such as administration and specialized roles that often require advanced degrees.

Overcoming Adversity and Finding New Paths

The episode underscores Jankowski’s pivotal moment of simultaneously receiving an acceptance letter for a graduate program while being laid off from his job. This confluence of events led him to reflect on the importance of adaptability and seizing opportunities in the face of adversity. His journey serves as a practical demonstration of navigating life changes and aligning them with professional growth. It is a testament to how setbacks can lead to unforeseen paths of personal and professional development.

Selecting the Right Institution

Jankowski emphasizes the significance of selecting the right educational institution and program, citing the impact of mentorship and financial considerations in his decision-making process. The importance of scholarship opportunities and a program’s fit with personal and professional aspirations is highlighted. His experiences underscore the need for a holistic assessment of factors such as faculty mentorship, financial aid, and the cultural fit of an institution when considering graduate programs.

Balancing Personal and Academic Commitments

Maintaining a balance between academic commitments, personal life, and financial responsibilities is crucial for success in graduate school. Jankowski’s dedication to his studies while acknowledging the need to sustain connections and manage finances is emblematic of the multifaceted responsibilities that graduate students often face. His emphasis on practical time management and budgeting strategies underscores the need for holistic planning to navigate the demands of graduate education successfully.

Integrating Education into Professional Practice

The integration of theoretical knowledge from graduate programs into real-world professional practice is essential for growth and impact. Jankowski’s insights into utilizing group work and mentorship from his programs to shape his work with young adults and children showcase the tangible impact of graduate education expertise on creating positive change within communities. By drawing connections between his academic and professional experiences, he showcases the relevance of graduate education in shaping effective and impactful practitioners.

Guiding Tips for Prospective Graduate Students

Jankowski’s reflections culminate in a set of guiding tips for prospective graduate students. He advocates for aligning educational pursuits with intrinsic motivations and work ethic, emphasizing the importance of clarity in one’s professional aspirations. His insights on the potential pitfalls of over-specialization and the value of a holistic approach to personal and professional growth provide invaluable guidance for those considering advanced degrees.


In the world of graduate school, diverse challenges and opportunities await individuals seeking to further their education and professional prospects. Jankowski’s journey, characterized by resilience, adaptability, and a commitment to learning and growth, provides an inspiring narrative for those navigating through graduate education. It underscores the multidimensional aspects of success, from selecting the right program to integrating knowledge into professional practice. Ultimately, Jankowski’s insights serve as a beacon for aspiring graduate students, offering pragmatic counsel and a broader perspective on the transformative journey of graduate education.


Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:01]:
Welcome to the Victor’s in Grad School, where we have conversations with students, alumni, and experts about what it takes to find success in graduate school.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:11]:
Welcome back to Victor’s in Grad School. I’m your host, Doctor Christopher Lewis, director of graduate programs at the University of Michigan, Flint. Really excited to have you back again this week. Every week, I love being able to be in this journey with you As you are considering grad school, you’re in grad school, you’re looking at the light at the end of the tunnel, and you’re and you’re looking at the end of grad school, no matter where you are in this Journey, you are on a journey. You are on a journey toward getting that credential, getting that degree, moving toward The end goal that you’ve set for yourself, the whatever that career goal is, that aspiration that you’re aiming toward, I love being able to talk to you about this and helping you along the way because every person is on a little bit of a different path, but what’s important is to know that Though your path may be different than mine, there are many things that you and I both can do to be able to find success in that journey that are going to be exactly the same. And that’s why this exists. It is here to help you to find ways that you could find success in the journey that you are on. I I also love every week being able to bring you different guests that are able to share their journeys with you so that you can learn and grow from what they went through And help you in the journey that you’re on.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:01:28]:
Today, we got another great guest. Kyle Jankowski is with us today, and Kyle is the founder and co owner of the Center For Change and Healing as well as the co owner of the Birch Forest Children’s Therapy Center. Really excited to have him here with us today And to have him share his journey with you. Kyle, thanks so much for being here today.

Kyle Jankowski [00:01:53]:
Thank you very much for hosting me, Christopher. I’m glad to be here. It’s good to be able to give back to the school and give back to young people that are And not so young people that are taking 2nd life journeys Well,

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:02:03]:
I really appreciate you coming up in the field and advancing. Kyle just tipped his hat a little bit. Many of us.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:02:07]:
He did do his undergraduate work here at the University of Michigan Flint getting a bachelor’s in social work, but then he went on from there And went to the University of Chicago, Crown Family School of Social Work to get an MSW, and then went on from there to do some more work with Pacifica Graduate Institute in getting another master’s degree in psychology. So he’s he’s done this a couple of times. So one of the things that I I first love to do is I’d love to go back. I wanna go all the way back to that time when you were at the University of Michigan Flint getting that bachelor’s degree. Talk to me about what were the reasons that made you choose that you wanted to go initially to graduate school?

Kyle Jankowski [00:02:53]:
In social work, it really is a profession at this point in history that’s built around The graduate program and the advanced MSW degree and its subspecialties. There’s a lot that you can do at the bachelor level, But there are financial realities that kick in with having a sustainable income at the bachelor’s level. There’s also realities With being locked out of certain job positions, administrative positions, there’s a lot of ground level stuff that’s done very well by people with the bachelor’s degree with the BSW, But there’s also real limits on advancement for people’s natural leadership skills. They’re Various geniuses, as the Greeks say, with lots of talents like Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, Their unique cultural perspectives and other perspectives that they that they have, that they bring into the field that enriches it and the work that they do. So there’s a bit of a A glass ceiling for a lot of opportunities unless you have that master’s degree. I was in a position where I had been working in foster care in Genesee in Shiawassee County and Lapeer County, which is around Flint where I grew up. And I was working for a number of DCFS contractors experts and doing in home care, counseling, support groups, and a lot of transition to college type programming. And it’s a contract position from the state, And my coworker and I, who were the only 2 caseworkers, for a lot of kids, were laid off Because the organization lost the contract.

Kyle Jankowski [00:04:24]:
Now it was about that same time that I started before then a few months, I started thinking about graduate School and applying, and I was applying all over. I I applied at, I believe, Michigan State. I applied at Ann Arbor School, which is where the master’s program is for University of Michigan’s system, and I applied to Washington University in St. Louis and their famous social work school, Columbia in New York, USC, etcetera. And I was looking also at other backup secondary smaller schools. And about the time that I got my acceptance letter To both Washington University and University of Chicago, I got my pink slip from my organization. So it worked out very well In the sense of fate, providence, divine intervention, or dumb luck, whichever way you’d like to take it.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:05:10]:
So I know, as I mentioned

Kyle Jankowski [00:05:12]:
just clear that what you need to do,

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:05:14]:
And you decided to get another master’s in psychology, and not just overarching psychology, but a specific type of psychology. So what made you decide that you wanted to go even further in a different direction to be able to expand your knowledge in that different way.

Kyle Jankowski [00:05:38]:
Yeah. Well, this is the importance of mentors and where that comes into the story. So in my 1st semester, my 1st course at University of Chicago. This is the 1st week of school at Real Coursework. They do a lot of onboarding and orientation and fun stuff beforehand And then like a lot of programs do. We’re in class, and I run into this very lovely, very bright woman In the lunchroom, and she is getting her food, and her name was Vanessa. And she I didn’t know at the time, but, she was gonna be my wife. She introduced me to a, her training clinical mentor, Kevin, who was a big figure out Here in Chicago, had founded a lot of programs back in the seventies, eighties, and nineties for adolescent treatment, which was very burgeoning at that time.

Kyle Jankowski [00:06:29]:
Mostly what’s been applied to adolescent child treatment has been adult models, and he was creating with other people a unique adolescent Theory based model, that was very effective and still is very effective. And I started doing, additional training with him And, working with them, he worked with a lot of other professionals from different disciplines that were doing general self development as well as specialization in, social work and clinical social work. He was a, PhD from University of Chicago, And so I worked with him for years as kind of a, graduate auxiliary program, I guess, or maybe we might call it a, a postgrad, You know, type of training, very thorough, training and group work, and then that His background also was in, union and depth psychology. That’s the work of Carl Jung, Freud. It includes Adler. It’s it’s the branch of psychology that doesn’t get visited very much. It’s James Hillman’s work in archetypal psychology, Marian Woodman, Marie Louis van Franz and others and, who have made themselves more of a name in modern times with a lot of, body centered and somatic and trauma literature, somatics, and a lot of art therapy is based in union psychology. So it It was something I was always drawn to being interested in story, mythology.

Kyle Jankowski [00:08:00]:
I’ve always had a strong interest in My own cultural heritage, which is Polish and Scottish, and then intercultural programming. And so It was a natural fit for me for the things I would have read about anyways. Why not get a degree in it, have the credentialing? And I planned on publishing in it, which I have since then. And my wife also kinda dragged me into doing it at that time too. So we got to do another program together, which was a lot of fun.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:08:25]:
Mentioned this a little bit, but as you are looking at your graduate programs, And you’ve mentioned you looked at a number of different ones before deciding on the University of Chicago, and you may have considered a number of ones before you went and got your your master’s In psychology as well. Can you reflect back on both of those degrees and the institutions that you did select? What was it about those Specific programs or institutions that made you choose to go to those institutions versus others.

Kyle Jankowski [00:08:53]:
Well, there was. My family is a working class, lower middle class family from Flint. A lot of auto workers and tradespeople, lower tier medical professionals, not lower as in less skilled or, less talented, just the lower paid nurses and And the people that do all the real work in the hospitals and the clinics type of folks. So we did not have the means at this time, and this was even before the Massive spike in tuition that happened nationwide for me to attend the types of schools that I was being accepted to. So Part of the decision for University of Chicago is they gave me a very generous scholarship, and I was able to combine that with my own savings and literally selling off all of my belongings and assets, Including a very lovely motorcycle to pay for the program. So that was a big decision. Also, my mentors at University of Michigan Flint, Kathleen Worley, who I believe since has moved on. I think she teaches at Central Michigan University now.

Kyle Jankowski [00:09:51]:
And doctor Everett j Blakely, who I believe is since deceased. Chuck bay Chuck Bailey, who I believe was part one of the founders of the program, there and was big in addictions work in and around Flint and Denise Dedmon, who was came late into the program, and Jacqueline Harvey Also, she was our she taught addictions, and she also did the cohort, training program for the BSW program. All of them I had very close relationships I developed with, and it was in that very rich mentoring true teacher sort of capacity. And they spoke very highly of the program at UChicago as well as UW Madison and Ann Arbor and other programs around the Midwest. We really have, Along with our industrial heritage and our engineering heritage here that that we’re known for in our collegiate system in the Midwest, we have a very strong Social services program and public policy program that sometimes is in the shadow of the east and west coast schools. So I just wanna Put in a shout out to our schools around here for that. So it came out of that, and a lot of it did come down to scholarship money and practicalities. I was also looking at the condition of Flint at the time.

Kyle Jankowski [00:11:04]:
This is circa 2006 to 2008. Things were very bad during that time and not on an upswing. And I was looking to find some new opportunities in ways that I could possibly loop back around to Flint in the future, but I needed to be able to have employment. I had student bills. I wanted to get married. So I just didn’t see the opportunities around the area that I was looking for. UC is where social work started in America with Hull House, Jane Adams, the famous OG social worker, Mary Richmond, Abraham Flexner, and others. And they pioneered the whole field, in in Chicago, working with immigrants, working with Native Americans and African Americans that had moved into the cities, Gangs, drugs, they did everything.

Kyle Jankowski [00:11:47]:
It was amazing, the stuff that those ladies did, and it was primarily the women driving the program. I wanna be a part of that. I wanna join. That was really exciting. So that sealed the deal. And a few of the other schools, though I was grateful to be admitted, on my academic merit and my work, their scholarships were a joke compared To the reality of tuition. 1 school offered me $500 in total. So that was a hard pass on that one.

Kyle Jankowski [00:12:10]:
As far as for Pacifica for the later program, there’s not a lot of training centers for union and depth psychology that are in North America. There’s really, I think, 4. You have Pacifica out in Santa Barbara. You have Naropa University in Colorado, which is a Buddhist based school founded by Shogyam Trungpa who was trained at Oxford, and he was one of the people that escaped with the Dalai Lama from Tibet. But the school is very Buddhist, and that’s not the school I was looking for. There’s Essex. The that does some, remote learning, I believe, through programs in Canada, And then you have, there’s another school in California. California Institute of Integral Studies is primarily a psychology school, Smaller.

Kyle Jankowski [00:12:56]:
They’re very good at what they do and and their programs. And Pacifica is considered at the top, And they had a remote learning program that allowed me to do a hybrid of being there in person and being here and being here back in Chicago with my Duties and responsibilities as a director. It was a good call for my existing relationships and my marriage and my clinical obligations to my patients. Usually, a lot of graduate programs, you you leave. University of Chicago has a psychology program, and they said, basically, don’t have a job or a marriage. Well, that wasn’t gonna work. So there’s a lot of practical decisions. You should look for a program that calls to your heart also.

Kyle Jankowski [00:13:34]:
When I walked on the campus at University of Chicago And I walked on the campus at Pacifica doing tours there and exploratory interviews. I was immediately drawn to The good fit of the place. It’s the same thing I felt at Michigan also. And if you go to other campuses and you don’t feel that, That is also a very important piece of data about yourself and the good fit of belonging to that community. Sometimes your intuitive mind will speak to you in that way. So I put a lot of stock in that along with the hard science.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:14:09]:
Now you did make it through these programs. You found success in the graduate programs that you went into. It seemed that they were tough programs. What did you have to do to set yourself up for success, and what did you have to do to maintain that success throughout the graduate school journey?

Kyle Jankowski [00:14:26]:
Reviewing on what has Then your your historic formula for success in school, personal organization, willing sacrifices that you make for socially and otherwise. I did a lot of work with my friends and my family of informing them about the realities of the commitments that I was making. What I did is I made myself Available when I could, showing up for social events and whatnot and maintain connections, but being very clear that this is what I can offer. And it wasn’t a take it or leave it type of scenario, but it was also a reminder to them that this is what they have been supporting me to do. This is what they’ve been wanting me to do. And if they were serious about believing in my success, this is where it’s taken us to. So we have to work with that. Being very careful about your budgets and reining in your spending is really important because you’re often on a very limited budget with graduate programs.

Kyle Jankowski [00:15:21]:
Being extremely organized with your time, lots of compartmentalization is good, you know, where you can have dedicated time to study. What I did when we did the 2nd program at Pacifica, Vanessa and I dedicated all of Friday and most of Saturday to doing serious block times of study, and we found that that worked for us. So we compacted our entire clinical appointment week and everything else into basically 4 days, which made for a very intense 4 day work week, but there was enough energy and headspace available to be able to really dive into the material and get the most out of. And I found that doing that at When I was at Chicago, it was also very effective. So you have, like you’re on with your internship or practicum, and then you’re off that Clock. You’re on the clock for study, and then you’re off that clock. You’re on, like, you’re on the clock for a gym break or recreational time, and they’re off that clock. Make food.

Kyle Jankowski [00:16:13]:
So not in a rigid sort of OCD kind of way, but really allowing yourself to have brain breaks and physical breaks, And do not neglect the body. Do not neglect body. We burn so much blood sugar just thinking that it could be the same as what you burn during a workout, And people can be exhausted from just reading their class materials and going through the books and listening to the podcast and listening to the mixed media stuff that’s part of a lot of programs now. So you have to find and recognize that formula that has worked for you and then advance it, revolutionize it, Keep working with it. You don’t have to start from 0 every time.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:16:49]:
I appreciate you sharing that. Now you got your degree in social work. Later, you got your degree in psychology. As I mentioned at the beginning, you have these 2 specific things that you’re doing with your center and working with young adults, young Children, talk to me about how you’re taking that information that you learned in that MSW, in that other master of arts, And you’re incorporating that into the work that you’re doing on a daily basis.

Kyle Jankowski [00:17:16]:
So I learned a lot about group work At the MSW program, I can’t speak to the program currently. But at the time, the group work program At University of Chicago was very poor as far as the training. It was embarrassingly poor. It used to be very legendary, but it was not good. All the training I received was from my clinical mentor, Kevin, And he trained us in all the classical stuff, the new emerging things, stuff from AA hospital groups, retreat centers, Intercultural studies, all kinds of stuff. So I was very confident coming out of that training with him of applying it. I also had had a lot of Not group therapy experience, but I had been a swimming coach for 8 years. I had taught music and drum corps at Several area high schools around Flint.

Kyle Jankowski [00:18:02]:
I’ve been a lifelong musician. I’ve been a tutor in an elementary school. So I I had a lot of experience with the youth, And I wanted to continue that work with youth into working in school settings, community centers, outreach programs, which I’ve done since then. So it was both the practical experience. It was the not real experience. Sometimes we say, you know, that’s the other resume stuff that that was instrumental. It was the theory. It was also being in groups.

Kyle Jankowski [00:18:33]:
Part of real clinical Training to be a psychotherapist or a clinical social worker requires that you work on your own stuff, your baggage, your shadow, your Skeletons in the closet, whatever you, you know, wanna call them. It’s not enough to just do cognitive therapy. There has to be a lot There has to be a lot of working with accountability for yourself, atonement for some people through religious lens, things like that. And Psychotherapy has that confessional quality to it even if we don’t wanna think that it does. We can take it through a lot of different lenses, But, essentially, you’re confronting the parts of your humanity and the parts of your current and past life that are Not functional or not good for yourself or others, not good for society, not good for you being an upstanding citizen wherever you go with it. So that was really essential. The theory at University of Chicago is very heavy. It’s a very theory heavy program, And they love their research.

Kyle Jankowski [00:19:34]:
So having a lot of books, which may not be popular anymore because of whatever current political wave The student finds himself in and things go in and out of fashion, but there’s it’s worth returning to the classics to understand why we still need to study them or why we do actually need to leave them in the past, but learn from them. There’s a reason, and I don’t just mean the western classics, but that’s true also. But whatever is the classic literature in your field. If you’re only reading things that were written after the year that you were born, I would really question the seriousness that you have for Your field of study. The reading only postmodern literature is a problem and will create deficits of what you can do effectively in your field. You need to pair it with If you respect it as a body of literature, you need to pair it with the classical stuff also because it’s the how we got here. There’s a lot of books in our field too that are about Psychotherapy and working with communities and families, it’s a lot of the human condition. So we have a giant mountain of literature and film and art and sculpture about that that crosses cultures, that crosses societies, crosses gender, everything.

Kyle Jankowski [00:20:47]:
And if the theory gets too heady and heavy, even if you’re in business or in marketing, go back to some human stories. Go back to some relatable things that where you watch something or you went to a music festival or an art gallery or you were Out in a national park somewhere or it was a dinner table conversation with your grandmother or it was coffee with your neighbor who chain smokes sitting on the curb in your apartment block, but somehow has got a lot of wisdom to them in their grizzled life. Go back to what how did the light bulb turn on with those people? Bring that into and look for similar experiences out there in the world outside of the literature. Remind yourself of why you got into this. It’s about halfway through your program, you’re gonna say, why am I doing this? This is terrible. Am I gonna survive this? Sheer will and frustration And grit, it will not get you through it. There’s got to be heart. There’s gotta be passion.

Kyle Jankowski [00:21:46]:
There’s gotta be calling. There’s gotta be vocation in the original sense of that and in the modern sense of that that brings you into it. And I can say that about my profession, and I can say that about the many forms I’ve taken with still true. When I don’t feel that anymore, I’m done.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:22:00]:
Now as you look back at the education that you had and you think about people that are coming beyond you, that are thinking about graduate school In many different areas, what are some tips that you might offer others considering graduate education that would help them find success sooner?

Kyle Jankowski [00:22:16]:
Something that can’t be replaced by AI. Something that is not trendy and fashionable right now where you can make a lot of money and be really hot with it and because You’re disposable. Over specialization has its perks. It also has its major drawbacks when its time is done. And if you’re not adaptable, that’s gonna be a real problem for your ability to live and sustain yourself and make money and take care of your family and your other obligations. So if you there are people, though, that are Trendsetters and fame chasers and money chasers, and they’re on they’re in one thing, and they’re on the next thing. They’re on the next thing, and they’ve got kind of that gypsy personality, we might call it, and they can just jump from thing to thing to thing and actually be successful at There are very few people that are like that. And scientific systems personality tests like the Enneagram, the Myers Briggs, and others that are very reliable also back that up.

Kyle Jankowski [00:23:16]:
And if you don’t test as one of those people, you probably shouldn’t do it despite the hype. I’ve seen I’ve had a lot of people show up in my office that have done that wanting to be their older brother or sister or their father or their mother who is that personality or their friends Chasing that type of thing, whether it’s through modern media or it’s through the business world or they followed a boyfriend or girlfriend or they thought it would be a cool profession. But they didn’t have that deep conversation with themselves about why they’re drawn to this and what their what their reasons are for getting into it. If your reasons are to appease someone else, That’s gonna lead you to a lot of Volley also. You can do it for a long time, but you’ll burn out. And when you burn out hard, you spend a lot of money and a lot of time, And then what are you gonna do? So a lot of younger people and a lot of people changing professions are concerned about wasting their opportunity. Well, the illusion that’s put out there about a lot of the hype masters in professional fields is that you gotta do their field, and you gotta do their thing, and You gotta do what’s the new thing. That’s not as they said in the sixties, that’s not where it’s at.

Kyle Jankowski [00:24:22]:
So, also, you can’t just follow your passions if you don’t have work ethic. Because if you don’t have any grit, You’re not going to do it when it’s not fun, so you gotta be very honest with yourself about how motivated are you by pleasure, by immediate reward, By you get a big paycheck, these types of things, we can superficially say, like, oh, that’s not me, or I’m not motivated by these things, Popularity, fame, whatever. But if you are that, again, there’s gotta be that reckoning with yourself because it’ll get yourself into trouble. It’s been 9 years, and you haven’t finished your 2 year master’s degree because you’ve changed it over and over again. All the money spent and time. It’s very preventable.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:25:00]:
Okay. I just wanna say thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey today, for sharing everything that you just Talked about, but also challenging people to think about things in a little bit different way because I think it is important. It is important to be able to think outside of the conventional and be able to think about where your goals are leading you, what where your aspirations are leading you, And it may not be in the conventional means, so I really encourage you all to listen to what Kyle just said and to consider that for yourself. But, Kyle, thank you for being here, and I wish you all the best.

Kyle Jankowski [00:25:34]:
You’re welcome. Thank you very much. I really enjoyed this.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:25:37]:
The University of Michigan Flint has a full array of masters and doctorate programs if you are interested in continuing your education. Whether you’re looking for in person or online learning options, the University of Michigan Flint has programs that will meet your needs. For more information on any of our graduate programs, visit umflint.eduforward/graduateprograms to find out more. Thanks again for spending time with me as you prepare to be a victor in grad school. I look forward to speaking with you again soon As we embark together on your graduate school journey. If you have any questions or want to reach out, email me at flint grad office at umflint.88. It’s time to take a quick break and toss it over to producer Chris to learn what’s going on in the NASBA world.