Master of Social Work 1998
My route into social work was characterised by chance, circumstance and a gradual building of motivation, passion and skills. During school holidays, I picked up a range of care/domestic assistant jobs in Aberdeen which initially attracted me due to the superior pay compared to kitchen portering or paper rounds. Soon I discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed forming relationships with residents and (without consciously knowing it) started to grapple with issues around respect, dignity, choice and power. I continued with similar vacation jobs during my time studying Politics and the University of Edinburgh as an undergraduate. Following this I worked in a range of settings relating to youth work, disabilities and mental health. When it came to choosing a course to study social work, the University of Edinburgh was the only place on my radar due to the reputation of the programme and of course the fantastic city.
When if think back to my time on the MSW programme I firstly remember the people. I felt part of a cohort of students who genuinely shared a common passion and commitment to social justice. Of course, there were many differences across the group, but the programme promoted a safe environment to challenge and debate whether that be in the classroom or in the Pear Tree beer garden after hours! Through challenging placements with the Craigmillar children and families team or the community care team at the Western General Hospital I was able to develop my skills and confidence and make those rewarding and at times illuminating links between theory and practice. As with many social work graduates, it is these formative experiences that still resonate so many years later.
After the course I headed northwards to Dundee and worked in a range of settings with young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. These young people often felt excluded, misunderstood and oppressed on many levels and it was a privilege to work in partnership with them to address such experiences and to challenge the wider environment which underpinned them. In 2004, I joined the social work teaching staff at the University of Dundee. I am still there having taught and researched around relationship based practice, loss and bereavement, childhood and reflective practice. In 2013, I completed my PhD which explored the emotional impact of practice on social workers. In many ways, my current academic interests have their roots in those formative experiences during my time at the University of Edinburgh and even 19 years later I still have lively debates with the fellow students I continue to have contact with.
Looking ahead? I have recently been involved in the Review of Social Work Education projects and it is heartening that there is such an actively engaged community in Scotland looking at the future of the profession. For me, I believe that the relationships we build with people are at the heart of social work practice. The inter-personal connections can provide the platform for change, challenge, insight, inclusion and social justice. It is of course a very complex role, but I see students arriving to embark on their social work education each year with the motivation and values to maintain social work as a vital and transformative profession.
Source: own contribution (2.6.2017)