The University of Newcastle, Australia

Conference challenges social work perceptions

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Fourth year social work students had the chance to present their research during the 2014 Social Work Student Conference hosted last week at the University of Newcastle Callaghan campus.

Australian Social Work Conference Beyond Pleasantries

In its ninth year, the conference is largely organised by the fourth year students themselves and they present their findings from literature research on a personal area of interest in social work practice to each other and other students as well as practitioners from the field. 

Built into their coursework, the conference also provides students with an opportunity to come up with an innovative practice for social workers and the social work profession. 

This year, the conference was titled Beyond Pleasantries and aimed to challenge stereotypes of social workers and promote critical though and social action in social work. 

"This year we focused on issues that gave us a chance to communicate our ideas that challenge the social perception of social workers just being 'helpers'," explained fourth year student, Rhys Ashpole, whose research explores western body modification and its relevance to social work. 

"We explored some pretty out there topics and the conference allowed me to move past being just a student and begin to see myself as a social worker contributing to the wider community," he added. 

Almost 40 sessions were held across the two days with topics ranging from climate change activism and discourse around asylum seekers, to domestic violence and male health. 

Over 140 people attended the conference this year including approximately 50 practitioners from a range of organisations. 

Social work academic Lou Johnston has assisted with the event in recent years as course coordinator and said that since the conference was established in 2006, students, field educators and practitioners in the field have remained interested in students presenting their research ventures. 

"Most students find this event quite daunting and there is a big build up to it during the final years of the degree, but when the conference ends the students and staff are very impressed with their efforts and the feedback from the community is great," said Ms Johnston. 

"With ongoing commitment to work integrated learning and our recent change to a Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) at the University of Newcastle with more emphasis on practice research, the conference requires and shows a great range of skills for final year students about to enter the workforce," she added.

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