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janan dean

Janan Dean

PhD in Social Work 2015

Graduated: 2015

Unlike many other social work PhD students, I began my doctoral studies immediately after finishing my MSW.  Jumping into a social work research career without much practice experience may have seemed illogical to some, but it made sense for me in the context of my research interests and life experience. After finishing my MSW at University of Toronto in 2011, I was very interested in how new technologies were changing social inequalities at local and global scales. This was an emerging research topic in social work at the time and to some extent still is, but as a millennial myself technology has always influenced how I communicate, form relationships and access information - key components of social work practice. By completing a PhD in this area, I now bring knowledge of these issues to any workplace or academic institution I work in.

As for how I ended up in Edinburgh… I traveled here on a Youth Mobility visa in 2009 and fell in love with the city. When I decided to go abroad from my home in Canada to complete my PhD, I knew it had to be here. The University has so much history and a strong international reputation that I knew would be beneficial for my career. Being immersed in a new environment with other students from all over the world made me a stronger researcher and social work professional.

Moving back to Scotland as an Edinburgh Uni student presented many challenges but it is an experience I treasure and will always be proud to put on my CV. The first day I walked around the campus taking in the fact that I was now a doctoral student in the hallowed halls was overwhelming. Without the support of my colleagues, I surely would not have made it through the first year of the program. After that, I started to "get it" but it was still a very intense experience. The School of Social and Political Science do their best to help PhDs along the way but I do believe that the PhD is meant to be a rollercoaster to some extent. It challenges you mentally and emotionally to make sure you are prepared for a career in research with all the ethical, moral and practical challenges. This is why it is such an honor to graduate. Outside of doing the PhD, I made specific efforts to meet people from other parts of the university and joined the Water of Life Society (Scotch malt whisky appreciation). Through this society, which attracts students, staff and community members, I was able  to travel all over Scotland and gain an appreciation not just for the nation's prized liquid gold, but the history, geography and innovation of the nation. I also made lifelong friends from other faculties, such as Divinity Studies, Health Sciences and Humanities. The entire country of Scotland is magical if you love nature and taking advantage of university societies and events that allow you to explore all its corners was invaluable.

In November 2015, I moved back to Ontario and started working as a freelance writer. I was still very much intrigued by a research career devoted to social inequalities and emerging technologies but after finishing two graduate degrees back to back, I wanted to take a break from academia and reflect on my experiences. I worked with a rural non-profit on a website project for several months, which was a fantastic way to use my skills and knowledge, but ultimately several serendipitous events in my life have brought me back to research. I am exploring post-doctoral positions focused on the potential impacts of robots and artificial intelligence on social inequalities, specifically in social work as we face the distinct possibility of mass unemployment due to increased automation, exponential growth in income disparity, tough philosophical questions and ethical dilemmas about robot behaviour and function, and the continued disproportionate number of males in the tech sector who have control over AI knowledge just as we have seen with IT. I would like to develop policy recommendations to create stronger, more responsive social welfare systems. This is a timely concern and my doctoral skills and connections made through Edinburgh University have made me a strong contender for these emerging opportunities.

In light of my comments above regarding the disruptive potential of artificial intelligence and robots in the near future, I would like to see social work take a proactive role in debates and policy making that will help mitigate the negative impacts on our clients and other marginalized groups. When I talk to developers, engineers and programmers, I am often the first social worker they have met in the context of their work and I feel there is incredible value in sharing our professional knowledge base and skills with other professionals who are grappling with significant ethical and practical issues related to technological development. We need to continue finding our way into these spaces and contributing to these multidisciplinary dialogues.

My advice to the next generation is to use your social work knowledge, skills and experiences in ways that make sense for you. I am not a traditional social worker in any sense, but I do believe my work is relevant and beneficial to the profession as it moves forward. Use your skills in a way that makes sense for you.

Source: own contribution.