(Margaret) Jean Gordon
PhD by Research Publication
Like a number of others on this website, I’m a ‘double’ Edinburgh University Alumnus. I studied zoology at the University, graduating in 1976, and then returned to complete a PhD in 2018. In the 40+ intervening years I trained as a social worker In Aberdeen, worked in residential child care, acted as a Mental Health Officer and Practice Educator, tutored in social work law for The Open University and acquired an MSc in Social Research at the University of Stirling. Along the way, I moved north from the Borders to the Highlands with my partner, had three children, now in their late twenties and early thirties, and acquired and outlived a fair number of cats. Over time I have became increasingly interested and involved in social work education and research. Completing a PhD was a long-held ambition of mine, so, when I got the opportunity to draw on my published research to undertake a PhD by Research Publications, I jumped at the chance. Edinburgh was the obvious choice; not only did I qualify for entrance to the programme by virtue of my previous degree at the University, but Professor Viviene Cree, who generously offered to supervise me, is a leading researcher in my prime field of research interest - narrative and relationship-based practice. A nice addtional bit of family synchrony is that my mother, Peggy Gordon, undertook part of her training as a social worker at the University of Edinburgh in 1947-8, and so also features on this Centenary Website.
Becoming a university student in my early sixties was certainly a very different experience from that of the fresh-faced 18 year old who anxiously stepped off a north-bound train at Waverley in 1973! My present home is in the Highlands, so my PhD study was conducted remotely, and most supervision was therefore necessarily by e mail and telephone. Much of the research for a PhD by Research Publications in fact happens before enrolling with the University, as the applicant has to be able to present a coherent body of published research to the University in order to start the year long programme. The focus of university study then becomes the development of a critical review of this research, a process I found alternately daunting and totally absorbing. Ultimately, my particular university journey provided me with the guidance, support and inspiration I needed in order to reflect on a body of work that had developed incrementally over the course of ten years.
I continue to work as a social researcher and social work educator, building on my study at the University. Undertaking a PhD in later life, for pleasure rather than as part of a step in my longer- term career development, was a very good choice for me. It allowed me to reflect on and consolidate a range of elements of my practice and academic life, identify new directions for my writing and to deepen my knowledge and confidence as a researcher.
My PhD research is about the everyday practice of social work, and the identification – and celebration – of what it is that social workers actually do when they visit families at home, attend reviews, write reports and contribute to life-changing decisions about people’s lives. It is also about the importance of listening to and learning from what social workers themselves have to say about how they practice, and the life experiences that inform their work. Despite an increasingly managerial, procedure-driven emphasis in social work, the majority of its practitioners continue to work in highly skilful, relationship-based ways with individuals and families. It is, I think, vital that social workers continue make their voices heard – through their daily practice as well as, for example, through practitioner research, social media and advocacy – to ensure that employers, policy makers and the public comprehend the distinctive and essential contribution that social workers make to individual lives and wider society.
Source: Own contribution, 26 January 2019