A message to new social work undergraduates

It’s just a month since we told our story on Songs of Praise having been invited by BBC via Missing People and I have purposely stayed away from social media since then as an act of self preservation. It was a really tough decision to render myself quite vulnerable but equally validating to have been given a voice to simply walk people through a series of events in my life that can touch any one of us at any time, there is no such thing as an ‘invulnerable person’. It was also special to be able to see my mum on her favourite programme, she would have been very proud of that. Telling my story publically and being able to thank the Missing People choir and the people who helped me to get home was the main reason for doing so, it’s important to say thank you and to acknowledge others who, behind the scenes, help to pick up the pieces for those of us who have lost our way for one reason or another.

This used to be the busiest time of the year for me as a lecturer on undergraduate, masters and post graduate social work programmes. As undergraduate lead it was a time for gathering up the new cohort of freshers and nurturing them through their first weeks of university life, many overseas students missing home, some mature students juggling families and work, all anticipating their newly chosen career in socially work. It really was such a privilege to be there and to be part of that process, particularly within the applied law for practice arena that I specialised in and in the pastoral role outside of the classroom.

As I think about those students who will this year be preparing for their new career, I wanted to offer some words of encouragement and guidance if I may and to wish you well with your studies. I hope that your experiences of the courses you have chosen are as rich and diverse and satisfying as my own experience of sharing it with so many was for me.

. Always try to remember that no matter how challenged you feel by the course requirements, content and demands, you are needed within your chosen profession and the contribution that you make to your studies will reflect the impact you will have on your practice

. Be kind to yourself. You will feel bombarded with so much information and some very disturbing and harsh realities. Take time for quiet reflection and relaxation because these are good skills to learn before becoming a practitioner. Absorbing the pain of others can batter your own energy if you allow it to and then your affectivenesss for others will suffer

. Pace yourself in the first semester, building up momentum with your reading and research. A steady pace is kinder than a laid back beginning and a frantic rush before submissions dates

. Find your passion. If the subject areas that you are introduced to don’t put a fire in your belly and leave you with a thirst for more self directed study then question wether or not you have chosen the right course. If you can’t find an energy for the material you are studying then you won’t find it with the people you support, an informed worker is an engaged one, you can make a difference in the lives of vulnerable people but it’s not for everyone and it’s ok to say so

. Make good use of your tutors and support networks within the university, they are there for you and they exist for you, don’t be afraid to approach people for guidance and inspiration.

. Look after each other. The people sat beside you as strangers in week one will become friends for life if you nurture that friendship, the essence of good practice is team work, having your colleagues back. Learn to be a team early on, it will change your studying experience and create a brilliant environment for learning and teaching.

Finally, enjoy your journey into one of the most interesting, challenging and fulfilling careers on offer, a profession often villified and misunderstood, remember that the media don’t get to see the good work that sustains and enables and fights for change, the satisfaction comes from within, knowing that at the end of an exhausting day you changed something for somebody, even if it’s simply by being the kindness in a persons day or the advocate during a persons crisis.


Ju x


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