8p Sausages

Abbie Stebbing is a full-time MA Social Work student at the University of Sussex. She blogs about her becoming a social worker and what means both personally and professionally. In this second of Abbie’s reflective posts she writes about leaving full-time work behind to become a student again.

While I was romantically swept of my feet by the potential career I was about to embark on, my loved ones were slightly more aware of the practical aspects and potential issues of no longer working. 8p sausages would be my mealtime fate, new clothes would be on a strategically planned Christmas wish list. I was committed to the material sacrifices it would entail!

In the summer prior to the course starting, I worked with them to change my habits, no longer “seeing and buying” those commodities. A major case of reeling in. I also prepared an office space, reminding myself of academic life. Collected books from the local library and attempting to read them.

The Induction Week came and I had just finished my last day of full time work (for now). I thought I would suddenly feel like a social work student. But it was not yet here. So raring to go, to validate my plans, so very impatient. In the end, I did enjoy the week of just being- not an employee, not a social work student, yet. And when I was, I felt it!

Indeed, week one did come, and so did the work, but so did the friendly tutors and peers. There was a shared enthusiasm. We all had a shared goal. As the work built up swiftly I got to know my peers. We shared the stresses and insecurities. I was so eager to validate being on the course.

Throughout the weeks there were small pauses, a time to slow my brain down.  I was absorbing information at the speed of light and hoping that I retained it. The reading week and first assignment instilled some confidence again. I was able to go over theories we had covered, but also notice areas that I found interesting. It was different to my undergraduate course. The areas of learning in this course felt useful, I would one day (soon on placement even) be able to apply them.

The term acted like a “general service”. Acknowledging my strengths, identifying areas of improvement, noticing what I find difficult to deal with. In the end, I need to be ready to work with people and the issues that bring them to my intervention.

Now I’ve upgraded to frozen sausages…

December 6, 2016. Social work education, Social work practice. Leave a comment.

This Strange Year

When someone says they are a ‘social worker’, we all have an image that comes to mind, whether positive or negative. Abbie Stebbing is a 27-year-old full-time Social Work Master’s student at the University of Sussex, just starting out in her first year, first term, first modules.  She wanted to take a snapshot of her journey, focusing on life outside of the course as well as the piecing together of her social work identity.  Over the next two weeks Abbie writes about the strangeness of going back to university full-time, and how these moments feel like learning experiences in themselves.

This year, I took a personal leap. 

In the early winter, I was becoming accustomed to a new role in my job. Through staff changes I had been moved into a role I was unfamiliar with. The fire in my belly that my previous role had given felt extinguished. I had been previously working as a support worker, and with industry budget cuts, the role could not be extended. The job I ended up in was gratefully received by me. A saving grace from potential redundancy. It was stable, well managed and a good period of calm, whilst I looked at my options. 

I am not generally someone who easily adapts to major changes, but I was searching for something more than what that job offered. I realised the difference was that in that role I signposted and directed “customers”. I was missing holding a case load, managing risk and coordinating, promoting and making change happen- hopefully.

Being an indecisive creature, there was a substantial amount of bouncing ideas off those close to me. Second to that, being an impatient creature, I wanted to make things happen instantly. Thank goodness for rational people.  

I reflected on my prospects and decided a further education in Social Work was my way forward. I discussed the potential future with my loved ones and the potential impact it would have on our lives. It would mean two full time years, where working outside of university commitments would be stretched. To avoid haste I decided to defer. In the January I made an application, a determination to “ace it” grew. I attended interviews and got accepted. In a flurry of enthusiasm as well as a grounding awareness of the time it would take to become qualified, I weighed up my options and requested to start the same year. I had chosen my path now, why wait? Within a short email exchange I had now enrolled for the immediate September. Leading up to the start of the course, I went to work and returned, I knew I felt I could be somewhere else making a difference and I was getting closer to the gateway towards that career. I felt the assured that it was the right choice. Excitement and passion outweighed the apprehension of leaving a full time job. 

Before I started the course, they asked me to complete shadowing with social workers, which further affirmed my passion. I leaped at the chance and savoured the opportunity. In shadowing, I went through a flurry of feelings. Getting to the required goal of “qualified” felt like a distant dream, I was so in awe of the social workers’ knowledge and skill, but also how welcoming they were of me. They encouraged me to join the field, and I made the most of the opportunity, determined to soak up the insight they shared with me like a sponge.

The journey had started, now I just had to count down to day one.

November 29, 2016. Social work education, Social work practice. Leave a comment.

Reflecting on multiple roles

Following the success of Sussex World Social Work Day 2014 and our appeal for more social workers to be involved in public conversations about what social work is and does, a small number of our students came forward to be involved with our public engagement activities, including Maristelle Preece who contributes her first post below. Maristelle is a second year undergraduate student who wanted to write about student experiences on placement as a way of creating a community of practice for placement students that might be supportive of learning and reflection away from the university.

Up at 6.30am, it’s time to start my day as a professional, when only last night I had been socialising with fellow students.

Placement requires us to identify and behave as professionals, and to adjust from the role of student to practitioner every day.

My weeks consist of constant adaption of roles and responsibilities – University essays and CAF assessments, wanting to stay up with friends but having to wake early, friendships and professional relationships, and university days and training days.

At first, I found it difficult adjusting and making the transition between these roles daily, but this was made easier through my hour long journey to and from placement every day.

My drive to work has become my way of preparing myself for the responsibility and anxiety surrounding new tasks and new things to learn. Whilst my drive home has become my way of making the transition from professional back to student, and gives me time to de-stress and reflect.

This reflection is an integral part of developing personally and professionally, which was learnt in one of our first year modules, IPLD. Admittedly, I was apprehensive about the use of this skill when in practice, but I have found it an essential thing to undertake to organise my thoughts and reactions to my experiences on placement.

Now, in week 11 of second year at university, making the transitions between the student and professional roles isn’t so daunting, as I am now noticing my growth as a professional.

But soon, this juggling of roles will not be necessary, as in just over a year, I will be leaving this student role behind as I embark on my career in Social Work!

May 7, 2014. Social work education, Social work practice. Leave a comment.

Dr Michelle Lefevre, Head of Department at Social Work @ Sussex speaks to the Guardian newspaper

In today’s edition of the Guardian, our Head of Department Dr Michelle Lefevre, talks about the need for high quality social work placements in social work education, and good support in practice once qualified. The article also features one of our graduates (MASW Class of 2013), Lucy Wilkinson, talking about her experience of social work education at Sussex and those first steps into the world of child protection.

You can read the full piece here.

March 19, 2014. Social work education, Social work practice, World Social Work Day. Leave a comment.

Hash Tag(#): ‘Humble Pie’

Our guest blogger this week is Denise Turner, a Social Work doctoral candidate in the School of Education and Social work at Sussex. Denise shares with us her journey in the world of social media and highlights some of the rewards reaped so far.

I have always considered myself to be part of the ‘lost generation’ technologically – those of us who left school and indeed University, long before computer use and IT became widespread. This has left me with a lingering mistrust of technology and an irrational fear that by pressing the wrong key I will somehow cause irretrievable global damage.

It was with some consternation then, that I greeted a recent suggestion from Andy Cheng, a fellow doctoral candidate, to try and establish a weekly ‘live- chat’ on Twitter. I had met with Andy as part of my remit to support part-time and distance PhD students in Social Work. For those who are working, have other responsibilities or are geographically distant it is much harder to establish links with colleagues and to attend the regular opportunities to build networks. Andy’s idea was to use Twitter as a way of ameliorating this, by allowing students to ‘meet’ regularly in a space where they could discuss topics relevant to their research. He told me there was a weekly Twitter resource similar to this called #phdchat which had proved highly successful, but suggested that ours be specific to education and social work.

Even as an age-old Luddite, this idea did seem sensible – I just wasn’t convinced I was the person to carry it out. Andy may as well have suggested I try open-heart surgery or join the Space programme – I had no idea how to use Twitter and my teenager’s constant fascination with it had led to several arguments. However, I duly set up an account and gingerly interfaced with a few others. We held our first ‘chat’ which helped me at least to understand how the process works. After a couple of weekly sessions, Brian Hudson, our newly appointed Head of School, generously agreed to be a ‘Guest Tweeter.’ Brian was already receptive to the benefits of Twitter and had used it to form contacts within the School prior to his appointment.

Gradually news of our regular #eswphd chats has begun to grow and although participation from our own students is still limited, there is a small but regular group of these. The resource is also being used by students, academics and practitioners elsewhere, with some very positive feedback.

One of the most inspiring outcomes has been in the way other Twitter users have offered to help. For example Steve Moss (@gawbul) archives all our posts from the ‘live chat’ for those who missed it, whilst Paul Brownbill (@paully232000) has just set up a voting system for deciding each week’s topic. Amanda Taylor (@AMLTaylor66) and Joanne Westwood (@JLWestwood) Senior Social Work lecturers from Uclan have also agreed to ‘Guest’ on their highly innovative ‘Book Club,’ which recently appeared in Community Care. Harry Ferguson, Professor of Social Work at Nottingham and a keen Twitter user has also offered to ‘Guest.’

These offers of help, for no financial gain have convinced me of the value of Twitter in building community and thereby demonstrating the values which underpin both social work and education. Choking on a large piece of humble pie, I am now a complete convert to Twitter and aside from its efficacy at building community, I have learned about research; teaching and networking opportunities which would not have been available to me otherwise.

As academics engaged in research, within a competitive environment, we want our work to reach a wide audience and our University Departments to be recognised – Twitter offers a highly time and cost-effective means of achieving this.

Additional information:

Anyone interested in helping us develop the School of Education and Social Work social media strategy we are setting up a small Working Party, please contact Denise at D.M.Turner[at]sussex[dot]ac[dot]uk.

#eswphd chats take place every Wednesday evening 8 –9 p.m and the archive can be found currently at https://www.freeside.co.uk/~gawbul/eswphd/eswphd_tweets_090113.html (cc @gawbul) #eswphd. We are aiming to set up an accessible ‘Wiki page for the chats before too long.

To vote on each weeks topic visit: #socialwork #phd #highered http://twtpoll.com/ie6uka @DeniseT01

The Community Care piece on Uclan’s Book Club can be found at http://www.communitycare.co.uk/blogs/social-work-blog/2013/01/how-were-using-j-k-rowlings-no.html

January 14, 2013. New media & new technology, Social work education, Social work practice, Social work research. 1 comment.

We only gone and done it!

Its graduation week for us here at Sussex, and we will soon be bidding farewell to this year’s BA Social Work finalists. We wish our finalists all the very best for the future – don’t forget us and let us know how you are getting on from time to time.

In the meantime, we wanted to share with you (with permission) a poem by class reps, Fran Sacco and Christen Williams, on the social work education journey. The poem was delivered by Fran and Christen with much gusto at a wonderful event that was organised by our finalist to celebrate their achievements.

Well done everyone!

 

We only gone and done it!

By Fran Sacco and Christen Williams

 

Welcome social workers, we’re qualified at last,

Haven’t the last few years gone so bloody fast?

Just sit back, relax, we’ll take you back in time

When we were young, keen, and our faces had a few less lines,

 

Remember the fear on your first day?

Your name 100 times you had to say,

Struggling to make new friends, can be a little lame,

But alas, Russell was on hand, with his board games

 

Some fresh faced from collage, practice or access,

We all made in on the course, a small but significant success,

Ready to start learning, what a doss – two days a week,

David and his giant jumpers, and Jem with his cheek,

 

ILPD, TMS, HGD, you WHAT?

We studied it, and learnt it, and became social work swots,

Assignments, presentations, portfolios, that’s FINE,

We could just console ourselves with chocolate and wine,

 

Now onto second year, with hindsight we could see

All through first year study days were a luxury,

9-5 on placement, and not to forget PIP,

Half way through the year, things got a little shit

 

Slowly but surely we all found our feet,

Beginning to feel like social workers, was a pleasant treat

However those dreaded 21 NOS’s we had to remember,

Made us apprehensive about the coming November

 

When third year came we had no time to pause,

Straight into placement, but for a good cause,

Feeling more confident – we’ve done this before,

But not that bloody Concept Note – what a chore!

 

Juggling all our work, became a circus act,

Family, friends and partners could have given us the sack,

There was a light at the end of the tunnel – placement was no more

Then that dissertation came knocking at our door.

 

Finally our mammoth work load was completed

Despite the tears and sleepless nights, we were not defeated

But we would like to take a moment to acknowledge and say

Good luck to those who are not with us, and have gone a different way

 

Lets take some time to reflect on all that we have done

Writing those 49,000 words was no easy run

But here we are today, it’s been a challenging few years,

And we couldn’t have done it without the support of our peers

 

Join us now, and raise your glasses and cheer, WE ONLY GONE AND DONE IT!

July 17, 2012. Social work education. Leave a comment.

A year in social work education

By Sevasti-Melissa Nolas

This seems like a particularly timely moment, before heading off for my yearly dose of Mediterranean sun, to reflect on my year in social work education and what I’ve learnt as a social work educator. I am new to Social Work Education (though my research is in areas of direct relevance to social work), joining the Department of Social Work and Social Care at Sussex in September 2011. It is from this ephemeral ‘newbie’ position, before it morphs into something else, that these reflections come.

What has amazed me, and humbled me, the most this last year is the openness and generosity of spirit that I’ve encountered. During the last year I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful students on our BA, MA and Post-Qualitfying programmes at Sussex who have impressed me with their openness and appetite for learning, their wit and humour, and their reflexivity – all qualities that, as well as making it a pleasure to be their lecturer, group facilitator, seminar leader or tutor as the case may be, I’m sure will stand them in good stead in their (future) practice. All the while I have been supported and guided through by experienced, knowledgeable, but above all generous colleagues: generous with their time, their insights, and their good humour as they answered my many, many questions (some quite lame ones I’m sure!).

I have found a renewed appreciation for the role of tolerance, for difference, for uncertainty, for complexity, that is required for social work practice. I heard the frustration of my post-qualifying students with the analytical models academic research often develops which do not do justice to the messiness of their practice. I agree. And even where we are focusing on the messiness of practice there is still a long way to go in terms of producing an embodied understanding of that practice. I’m a big fan of social practice theorist Sylvia Gherardi’s ‘replacement question’, which I’ve written about elsewhere. It goes something like this (adapted here for the social work context): if someone were to replace a social worker in their role, what would they need to know and do in order to carry out that role without attracting attention to themselves? (A bit like that great Channel 4 show a few years ago, Faking It). It seems to me that tolerance for differences and for uncertainty, and a deep appreciation (not just lip service) for complexity would be key to ‘passing’ as a social worker: holding a million little piece of information in mind, not to mention theoretical, research, policy and legal knowledge, balancing different interests, all the time not knowing if and when new information will come to light, and ultimately needing to make a timely decision sometimes about or for, and at other times with people, that won’t necessarily be popular and that will have a real impact on a person’s (or people’s) life trajectories. And doing this across a number of cases. Imagine it. Just for a second. It makes my head spin.

And then, at the end of the day, despite all this, decisions need to be made, something has to happen. So at the same time as remaining open, being generous of spirit, tolerant of difference, of uncertainty, of complexity, social work has to remain critical, pragmatic and research-minded. I’ve been thrilled to read a number of excellent assignments across undergraduate, postgraduate and post-qualifying levels of study demonstrating such critical thinking and pragmatism. I was most excited when one of my MA students emailed from placement asking me to point her in the direction of research on maternal depression and child mental health, that would help her to be more evidence-informed in her practice. The best part was her response to my email: “It’s reassuring to know I’m not making stuff up, using research in practice isn’t quite as daunting as I thought it would be!”

And yet despite, being a ‘newbie’ to social work education, the most interesting experience for me this year was simultaneously feeling at home. In thinking about the last year one of my favourite essays in social psychology, The Stranger comes to mind. In the essay, its author Alfred Schuetz, describes the experience of being a stranger, “an adult individual of our times and civilization who tries to be permanently accepted or at least tolerated by the group which (s)he approaches”. The essay is an early example of ethnographic thinking – an attempt to make sense of the cultural patterns of a social group, to make visible the “thinking as usual”. Schuetz concludes that “strangeness and familiarity…are general categories of our interpretation of the world” which propel us into processes of inquiry in order to make sense of the world around us. We have succeeded in that process when that “which at first seemed to be strange and unfamiliar” becomes “an unquestionable way of life, a shelter, and a protection”.  While there is more learning on my part to be done, that I’m sure of and I look forward to, the resonance that the above social work topics hold for me let’s me know that I am, perhaps, no longer a stranger.

June 26, 2012. Tags: , . Social work education. Leave a comment.