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MSW and PhD Buddy Program

Overview Guiding Principles Responsibilities
Mission Statement Goals of the Buddy Program Confidentiality
Structure Benefits to Buddying Termination
Updated March 7, 2024


Starting Graduate School is an exciting time, yet many incoming students may also be apprehensive about various challenges that await in the MSW or PhD program.

The Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) MSW Buddy Program links incoming first-year students in the 2 Year MSW program with returning upper-year students who serve as role models and transmit information, experience and guidance about the FIFSW community. Likewise, the PhD Buddy Program connects incoming first-year students of the PhD Program with returning upper-year students who serve as mentors and provide guidance on student life, networking with faculty, and resources.

Buddying affords a path to network with students, faculty and staff to help make the most of the graduate school experience. It is recognized as a useful way of welcoming and introducing incoming students into the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work community and orientating them to the expectations of graduate level study in preparation for the start of the 2 Year MSW program and the FIFSW PhD program. A Buddy remembers what it means to be an incoming/first-year student at the FIFSW. Buddies are individuals with experience and knowledge, who are committed to helping incoming students by sharing their understanding of the values, goals, practices and culture of the FIFSW.

The Buddy Program is a student volunteer program which connects incoming first-year students in the 2 Year MSW program and the FIFSW PhD Program with current upper year students for information sharing, support and guidance. Buddies and first-year students, develop critical skills like engagement and relationship maintenance, necessary to succeed in the social work field, as well as to provide a direct link between the classroom, FIFSW community and extracurricular activities.

Mission Statement

The FIFSW MSW and PhD Buddy Program is committed to enhancing the academic, social and professional growth of our students by establishing and maintaining positive relationships within the Faculty. We value diversity, volunteerism, confidentiality, integrity and respect.


Incoming students to the 2 Year MSW program or the PhD program are matched with an upper-year student buddy, who has at least a year of experience in the MSW program or PhD program. Buddies serve as a point-of-contact and immediate resource based on their personal experience.  Through virtual and in-person interactions, the Buddy is there to answer questions, connect new students with faculty and campus resources, and help first-year students get acclimated to the Faculty. Both Buddies and the first-year students will be supported by the Office of Student Services and Registrar (SSR) and PhD Program.

Guiding Principles

This program is built on the following key operating principles:

  1. Participation is voluntary and driven by the students – the program operates on the philosophy of personal motivation and discipline.
  2. Buddies and first-year students enter into a buddy connection in the summer, with the expectation that they maintain this relationship until the end of the first Fall session, or as long as mutually agreed.
  3. Mutual expectations and benefits are defined by the student and Buddy at the outset of the relationship.
  4. Orientation, information sharing and individual follow-up provided by the SSR or PhD Program are an integral part of the program process to assist buddies and incoming students.
  5. Feedback and self-reflection are important components of the learning and development process of the program for both Buddies and first-year students.
  6. A time commitment to the relationship by both the Buddy and first-year student is critical. The frequency of contact is determined collaboratively within each partnership.
  7. The effectiveness and success of the program will be monitored and assessed to ensure that the program is valuable to the Buddy, first-year student, and the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.
  8. The Office of Student Services and Registrar and PhD Program are dedicated to providing on-going facilitation, support, and follow-up to the program, Buddies and first-year students.

Goals of the Buddy Program

  1. Optimize the access of incoming students to the 2 Year MSW program or PhD Program at the FIFSW community, both academically and socially.
  2. Provide access to a high-quality experience in graduate school.
  3. Build links between new and returning students.
  4. Allow Buddies and first-year students to build and enhance community

The Buddy Program will attempt to accomplish this through:

  1. Promoting student awareness of Faculty, campus and community resources,
  2. Providing social support for first-year students, and
  3. Encouraging students to take social responsibility for the well-being of others within the FIFSW community.

Benefits to Buddying

  • Initiate new friendships
  • Build better understanding of the faculty and MSW/PhD program
  • Increased access to resources
  • Develop interpersonal communication skills and self-confidence
  • Satisfaction in making a difference in the experience of another student
  • Motivation to succeed
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Building bonds between first and second-year cohorts
  • Developing leadership skills


A Buddy’s role varies with each relationship. The Buddy and first-year student design their unique relationship in terms of the time commitment, what will be discussed, and what method they will use to communicate.

Buddying is…

  • Voluntary
  • A non-judgmental relationship operating within the agreed upon boundaries of confidentiality and time
  • A way to get and stay involved in the FIFSW community
  • Based on the first-year student’s goals
  • Focused on the first-year student’s learning and development
  • Sharing encouragement, guidance, and support that may not otherwise be available to first-year students
  • “Decoding” the unwritten rules of the Faculty
  • Being a good listener
  • Sharing personal experience, both successes and challenges

Buddies are expected to:

  • Provide information on aspects of the faculty, campus, community and be able to direct incoming students to appropriate resources
  • Initiate regular interaction with your first-year student. Take initiative to suggest discussion topics, share personal experiences, and pose questions
  • Set the stage for open communication and maintain contact with the New Student
  • Be available (August to December for the MSW program and May/June for the PhD Program). Establish ground rules around your availability.
  • Respond to questions and concerns in a timely manner
  • Provide understanding of the faculty and university culture and participation opportunities
  • Listen
  • Provide feedback to the SSR or PhD Program throughout the program
  • It is important to continually evaluate and improve on the Buddy Program; and the SSR and PhD Program will periodically request feedback
  • Be prepared to stop. Reach an agreement to a NO FAULT conclusion of the buddy relationship when the time is right
  • Enjoy the experience and have fun!

First-year students are expected to:

  • Have questions and be open to self-reflection
  • Be self-motivated
  • Initiate contact with your Buddy
  • Identify needs and communicate them as clearly as possible
  • Listen
  • Provide feedback to the SSR or PhD Program throughout the program
  • Respond in a timely manner
  • Uphold the Social Work Guidelines for Ethical Practice (PDF)
  • Adhere to University of Toronto Code of Student Conduct (PDF)
  • Be prepared to stop. Agree to a NO FAULT conclusion to the relationship when the time is right
  • Enjoy the experience and have fun!


The buddying relationship is built on a foundation of trust.  Trust is largely measured by the degree to which the first-year student feels assured that what they share with their Buddy will be kept confidential. It is important to demonstrate transparency with respect to the limits to confidentiality by clearly communicating these limitations to incoming students early in the relationship.

It is important for the Buddy and incoming student to discuss confidentiality.

  • Information shared in the buddy relationship will be kept confidential.
  • Confidentiality is not absolute, and other obligations such as a duty to report can override it. This includes disclosure of suicidal thoughts, harming self or another person or if you suspect child abuse or neglect.
  • Confidential information may also be shared with the Registrar or designate when either the buddy or incoming student requests it and/or gives permission.


The FIFSW Buddy Program runs from August to December. Buddies and first-year students may remain involved in the buddy relationship for as long as it continues to meet their needs. However, if it is not possible please notify the SSR or PhD Program.

Grounds for the termination for the Buddy-New Student Relationship include:

  • Buddy fails to contact new student after repeated (two or more) requests and efforts to contact new student have been exhausted
  • Buddy and/or first-year student exhibits inappropriate or abusive behaviour that disrupts the buddy relationship
  • After repeated efforts, personal conflicts between the buddy and new student cannot be resolved
  • Unexpected personal circumstances arise that prohibit one from continuing with the buddy relationship

The level of success depends on the commitment and time devoted to any program. The MSW and PhD Buddy Program takes great effort to appropriately match and support participants in the process of developing and maintaining a connection. The Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work cannot be held liable for misrepresentations, misconduct, or any claims made by or against the participants in their individual capacity.