When it comes to studying at university, there’s nothing more valuable than learning from people who have real-world experience in the industry. At Flinders, our Social Work team is highly qualified and has a diverse range of experiences in a field that changes people’s lives for the better. We had a chat with Dr Kate Seymour (pictured right), a Senior Lecturer in Social Work, and Janine Harrison (pictured left), a Teaching Specialist (Clinical/Practitioner), about their experiences both at Flinders and working in the social work industry.
What is your role at Flinders?
My pronouns are she/her. I am a Senior Lecturer in Social Work, currently teaching in both the Master of Social Work (MSW) and Graduate Certificate in Trauma Responsive Practice (GCTRP) courses. In the MSW, I teach Social Work Theories and in the GCTRP, Family Violence, Abuse and Neglect. In between all of this, I am working on a book, with a couple of colleagues, which is due to the publisher very (too) soon!
My pronouns are she/her. I’m a Teaching Specialist (Clinical/Practitioner) in the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work. I’ve been working in Social Work at Flinders since 2006. I’m the Academic Coordinator for Field Education, which means that I have academic oversight of Field Education for the Bachelor of Social Work and the Master of Social Work (Graduate Entry). I’m the Topic Coordinator for Social Work with Diverse Populations, a first-semester topic in the MSW, and First Placement, a second semester MSW topic.
I feel privileged to be able to work with some amazing people, both in Social Work and the College. The Field Education team, for example, is a fabulous group of people who bring a wealth of practice experience to their roles as teaching specialists (Clinical/Practitioner), External Field Educators (student supervisors) and/or Field Education Liaisons.
What was your experience in the social work field prior to your university role?
Before coming to Flinders (and social work academia) I worked in a different discipline – Criminology – at another university. My practice background, however, is in social work and, in that capacity, I have worked in a number of fields including housing and homelessness, child protection, and adult offending. It was my work with adult offenders – both within the prison system and in the community – that led me (back) to academia, initially in the form of a research degree and, subsequently, a lectureship in Criminology. From here, I transitioned to social work education upon moving to SA, from NSW, in 2012/13.
I’m originally from South Africa. I relocated to Adelaide with my husband and twin daughters in 2006. My career in social work started when I first qualified in South Africa in 1988. My first social work job was in paediatric oncology and haematology at a large academic hospital in Johannesburg. I then worked in the drug and alcohol field for 7 years, where I was a senior manager. I developed a special interest in long-term individual and group therapeutic work with people with complex trauma, addiction and mental health difficulties.
I began a part-time academic career at the University of the Witwatersrand (“Wits”) in Johannesburg in 1995, whilst working at a specialist therapeutic service for children and adults who had experienced child sexual abuse. My role in the therapeutic service included giving expert evidence in child sexual abuse court cases, as I was part of a team of social workers and psychologists who assessed alleged sexual abuse perpetrators.
After 9 years in academia, I joined the South African campus of Monash University as Community Services Manager in 2004. I developed this role to a dual focus on both the university community of staff and students and its engagement with surrounding impoverished communities. My work included leadership, social action, advocacy, community development, organisational development, policy analysis and development, group work and counselling.
More recently, I have been doing voluntary advocacy work with refugees and I have served on the Board of STTARS (Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service) in Adelaide, which works mainly with refugees.
What made you decide to pursue social work academia?
It would be a lie to say that my life has progressed in accordance with plans, goals and ambitions. Instead, it has been more like a game of pass the parcel, full of clumsy moves, whimsical notions, and lucky breaks! Having said that, the transition to research and academia was basically driven by my experiences in direct practice – the things that troubled me, that were unspoken, that ‘we’ (as social workers, as a society) seemed to be making little-no headway on. I was curious and I approached academic work/research with a highly critical mind – as a practitioner, not a dispassionate observer. While my connection was initially with criminology, social work and criminology are closely linked in a range of ways – so I continue to identify with both.
When I did my Honours degree in 1988, for which I received a University award for the most outstanding thesis, the professor who supervised me encouraged me to consider an academic career in the future. While working in the drug and alcohol field, I did regular guest lectures for social work, nursing and medical students, which I loved. I developed a particular interest in teaching and in the importance of using research evidence to inform and improve practice in human services.
How do you incorporate your practical experiences in the social work field into your teaching?
As indicated above, my engagement with academia, whether teaching or research, is always through the lens of practice – it’s a part of me that I can’t ‘switch off’. This means an internal dialogue of ‘yes buts’ and ‘what abouts …?’ – as I bounce between practice and theory/ideas in my head – that I carry into my teaching. So, in preparing a class or topic, I am always asking myself how I will explain (this or that idea), what examples I will use, and what connections I will make. And sometimes, going way ‘off script’ – with a bit of a reality check – when necessary!
I often share practice examples in my teaching and I find that students really appreciate these. I have a passionate interest in social justice, anti-oppressive practice and a commitment to working with marginalised, vulnerable, excluded individuals or communities. I was involved in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and I have been involved in activist work throughout my career. I bring this passion and experience to my teaching and students have often told me that they feel inspired to get involved in activist work when I share my experience with them.
What do you think makes Flinders a great place to study Social Work?
Beautiful campus. The excellent research centre – SWIRLS, the only dedicated social work research centre in Australia – is a huge drawcard.
Flinders has a beautiful campus, great teaching resources and many dedicated staff members across its professional and academic services and programs. Thinking back to my social work studies, Flinders would have appealed to me particularly because of the diversity of students. Our students have the opportunity to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and contribute to each other’s learning. I think this adds richness to their learning experience, as it challenges them to re-think some of their assumptions and stereotypes about particular groups of people. For example, some students have commented on how their studies and the lived experiences of other students have challenged racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, transphobic or ageist views.
What is the most rewarding part of being a social worker?
Working with, and connecting with, people.
It is a real privilege to work alongside people as service participants and to be entrusted with information and experiences that are often extraordinarily traumatic and painful. The most rewarding aspect of direct practice is seeing people experience relief from their initial distress and then begin to achieve the changes they desire in their lives. At a broader level, there is immense reward in achieving changes in policies, structures or systems that impact people’s lives. For example, social workers played a significant role in the anti-apartheid struggle and the political change in South Africa that led to the first democratic elections in 1994.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching Social Work?
Working with, and connecting with, people! When students experience a light bulb moment and thereafter think about the world a little differently.
I absolutely love teaching in social work! I love interacting with students and seeing their growth across the course of their studies. It’s really interesting to hear students’ contributions to class discussions and to be in a space where deeper-level thinking is encouraged and nurtured. Many students bring valuable insights and lived experience into class, which challenge my thinking too. Teaching also gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in literature that interests me as I prepare my teaching.
I keep in touch with a lot of our graduates and I find it really interesting to follow their social work careers.
Are you inspired by our Social Work academics? If so, click here to learn more about studying Social Work at Flinders.