A career in social work research

Q: I’m in the third year of a social work degree and I’m thinking of staying on to do a social work masters in research becaused I’d like to find a job that combines frontline practice with research and policy development. Do jobs like this exist and could a further year studying count against me when applying for positions?

60x60Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, and former head of BASW and social services director replies:

It would be magnificent if you could build a career that ­intertwined social work practice and research. There is a need for practitioners to be up-to-date and informed about the knowledge and evidence base for good practice, and there is also a need for research to be well-grounded in an understanding of the realities of practice.

So where to start? You have already made a substantial ­commitment in undertaking your basic qualifying degree, but it is important to recognise that the degree is only the launch pad into a career in social work. In its own right, the degree cannot totally equip you to be a fully confident and competent practitioner.

Hence the focus on post-qualifying learning and qualifications, which many of us, including the General Social Care Council, would like to see as mandatory and supported by all employers. Indeed, it is already possible to undertake some research training through post qualifying modules, and in future it may be possible to gain a PQ award in social work research.

So, you may want to think first about consolidating your social work skills and professional competence as a social worker. Two or three years in practice, with the possibility of some modular or part-time research training en route, including possibly a master’s degree, would provide a stronger platform for weaving a future career intertwining research and practice.

Higher degree

You might then want to think about a higher degree based on your own research. One possibility would be to research what it is that has intrigued and excited you within your specialist practice.

This opens up the possibility of combining research and practice, either by moving between the two as your career progresses (which is what happened for me), working part-time in both at the same time or seeking a post that combines both.

The latter is more likely if you are working in an organisation that has a tradition and commitment to both research and practice, and these tend to be the very specialist research and teaching institutes often associated with the NHS or leading charities.

It is important also to be prepared for the unplanned.

Practice and research

I remember that when I completed my degree in social work soon after the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 was implemented, I was appointed to a post combining practice with researching the number of disabled people in the local community. But, by the time I started the job, it had been decided to use milkmen to deliver short questionnaires to every household to identify disabled people.

So, instead of researching the incidence of disability I was given a caseload of troublesome adolescent boys.

Next question:

I am a sheltered housing scheme manager. The authority I work for includes our service in the single assessment service, so I carry out the same assessments as care managers and social workers. I have a post-graduate certificate in management. I want to continue working with older people but wondered what career options would be open to me and what training would be required? David, Brighton

We want to publish readers’ advice too – send it to derren.hayes@rbi.co.uk by 4 March 2009.

  • Do you have your own career dilemma? Send your comments or questions for consideration by our expert panel and your peers to mailto:derren.hayes@rbi.co.uk

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