Diploma in Social Work /CQSW 1984; PhD 1991
After graduating from the University of Bristol in 1973 (BA Hons. Latin) I had various jobs as a nursing assistant in psychiatric hospitals in between travelling in Italy. I enjoyed the work and decided to train asa mental health nurse, choosing the Royal Edinburgh for the three-year course on the grounds that Edinburgh’s Georgian architecture remindedme of Bristol! After qualifying as a nurse I moved from the NHS to Lothian Region Social Work Department, working with older people. In that role, I came into contact with staff at the university’s social work department who encouraged me to consider social work training. I was fortunate to be seconded by Lothian Region and was accepted on the course in 1982.
I had a great two years on the social work course, learning huge amounts through placements in the fields of learning disability and mental health and making good friends with whom I’m still in touch. A real highlight was spending six months at the University of Pennsylvania on the exchange programme in place at that time. My placement there was at a community mental health centre, which was good experience for getting to grips with community care when it finally became a reality in the UK. After qualifying, I worked in the voluntary sector with homeless, emotionally troubled young men at the Edinburgh Cyrenian Trust.
Although I loved the job, after four years it was time to move on and I approached the university social work department for advice about how best to continue my career. To my amazement I was asked if I would like to apply for a PhD studentship that had just been advertised. It had never occurred to me that I could study at that level, but I applied and was appointed, spending the next four years embroiled in a phenomenological inquiry into students’ experiences of their social work training and the ways in which it influenced their approach to practice. It was a gruelling but at the same time exhilarating experience. I had great support from my supervisors, Lorraine Waterhouse and John Triseliotis, as well as from my fellow PhD students from across the faculty, and proudly became Dr Secker in 1991.
After a brief time as a research officer with Fife Region’s social work department, which taught me that I was not cut out to be an IT specialist, I was appointed as a research and evaluation officer covering mental health and special needs at the Health Education Board for Scotland. I learnt in that job that a PhD is in some ways akin to primary school for researchers, as I discovered how much I still had to learn about different research approaches and got to grips with commissioning and managing projects across Scotland. It was such good experience but after five years life took a few twists and turns and I finally left Edinburgh for London in 1995, taking up post as Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London in the Centre for Mental Health Services Development. My research education continued in that role, but alongside continuing to work as a jobbing researcher covering a wide range of topics and methodologies, I began to develop a particular interest in what became known as social inclusion, focusing especially on exploring ways to support people with mental health problems to find and keep a job. It was at a workshop on that topic in 2002 that I learnt that Anglia Ruskin University was about to advertise both a chair and a readership in mental health. Feeling that I was perhaps ready for a readership I made enquiries, to be told that the readership had been withdrawn but the post of professor was available as a joint appointment witha local mental health NHS trust. The prospect of being able to use my research to inform service development within the NHS sounded perfect, so I applied just to put my hat in the ring and got a job I loved so much I stayed until my retirement in 2014. It really was a fantastic opportunity to put research directly into practice. One of my proudest achievements was the establishment of the South Essex Service User Research Group, a group of current and former mental health service users, who worked with me both on trust projects and on nationally funded research. I was alsoable to establish an evidence based employment service at the trust, building on my research in that field, and an arts programme, Open Arts Essex, developed directly as result of a project I led for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health. Since establishing Open Arts Essex, convincing funders to maintain it via evaluation became a major task and I have continued to support the project through research and evaluation since retiring.
In short, I have enjoyed a career beyond anything I could have dreamt of when I was encouraged to apply for social work training in 1982, and I will always be grateful to staff and colleagues in the department at Edinburgh University for that encouragement, and for supporting me through both my CQSW and my PhD. Thank you!
Source: own contribution (28.4.2017)