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People :: Alumni :: Peter Hillen

Peter Hillen

Peter Hillen

PhD in Social Work 2017

Graduated: 2017

Tell us about your life before coming to the University:

Before I began my PhD at Edinburgh I had been working for several years as a project worker in residential units for the homeless and for people with drug and alcohol addictions. Through my work with this client group, I developed a curiosity about relationships between people’s religious and spiritual beliefs, and their ability to recover from problematic substance use. This curiosity led me to look into doing a PhD on this topic. A friend pointed me in the direction of Social Work at the University of Edinburgh and I contacted them to enquire. Prof. Viviene Cree was the first person I spoke to and her enthusiasm for my topic encouraged me to apply. My application was successful and I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship with the Economic and Social Research Council.

Tell us about your time at the University:

Part of the condition of my scholarship was beginning with a MSc in social work (by research). This provided me foundational research knowledge and skills for my PhD. As well as allowing me to get to know social work students and academics, it was great to be able to learn from the range of other disciples represented in the School of Social and Political Science. I had a very supportive primary supervisor (Viv) and a great supervisor from sociology (Angus Bancroft). I believe having their different perspectives enriched my experience and helped me to produce a more scholarly thesis. Working on my thesis was both challenging and rewarding. It was made possible by having supportive people around me – my supervisors, my peers and my family. During my PhD I also had the opportunity to work as a research intern with IRISS (Institute for Research and Innovation) in Glasgow. This helped to develop my research skills and broadened my knowledge of social work education and issues around ethnic minorities. I had the privilege of working on two evaluations with staff in the social work team, one on a drug and alcohol social work service, and one on a voluntary sector service for black and minority ethnic children. I also worked as a social work tutor on several courses, got some papers published, and presented at some conferences. The range of activities I was involved in and the people I met made my experience a very rich one.

Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University:

Since April 2007 I have been working as a research fellow at Edinburgh Napier University on a feasibility study for behavioural couples therapy for opioid dependent parents. The knowledge and skills that I gained during my PhD helped me to get this job. Ideally I would like to continue to research and/or teaching in the area of drugs and alcohol. However, my PhD experience has opened up a range of interests and potential directions for my future career.

Looking ahead:

The move to towards the integration of health and social care services, and increased reliance on voluntary sector services means that social work education must adapt to new demands and new ways of working. Social work has an important role to play in supporting people with drug and alcohol problems as part of a holistic approach that acknowledges complex needs and the relevance of social action. More social workers (and social work students) need to approach these challenges without being afraid of moving on from old ways of working and reclaiming social work’s social justice heritage. 

Own contribution, 18th August 2017.