Jason McGill- Master of Arts in Social Work
Can you tell us your name, job title and the course you are studying/studied at ATU?
My name is Jason McGill. I am currently employed as a social work graduate within Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. I completed the MA in Social Work course in 2023.
Can you share your career path to date?
Following the leaving certificate in 2015, I perused an undergraduate degree in social care practice in ATU, Sligo (formally known as IT Sligo). While in my final year of this degree, I successfully interviewed for role as a youth worker in Foróige. I was employed within Foróige for over 2 years where I then established enough experience to apply for the MA in Social Work. While on my second placement of this degree in Tusla, I successfully interviewed for a post in Tusla as a social work graduate.
What does your current role involve?
My current role involves working as part of child protection area team in south west Donegal. This engages with children and their families under a strengths based perspective as per the Signs of Safety framework adopted by Tusla notwithstanding other theoretical approaches. Furthermore, the application of partnership, participation and power-sharing with service users and other professionals is of upmost importance for best outcomes. This engagement is considered in accordance with relevant policy and the legal remits of the practice such as the Child Care Act, 1991, Children First Act, 2015 and Children First National Guidance for the Protection of Children policy and procedure, 2017.
What motivated you to start studying?
Following a conversation with a lecturer when completing the social care practice degree, I decided that it was prudent to first pursue a career in youth work so that I would be in a better footing in terms of experience for an MA in Social Work. Additionally, there was need to ensure I had the financial stability as I personally felt compelled to undertake the course full time without the need to seeking employment during the two year programme. It took me over two years in full time employment to realise I was motivated to start studying as these factors had been achieved.
Why did you choose this course from ATU?
As I had a familiarity with the college, lecturers, and the Sligo area following the social care practice degree, it was very easy to choose this course from the ATU. Furthermore, as I reside in rural south west Donegal, travelling elsewhere for an equivalent degree was not an option.
How did you find your course structure? What elements do you find helpful? Are there elements you find challenging?
As our year programme began at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, we experienced a predominantly online facilitated course for a small proportion of the two years. However, as restrictions eased we began to see a blended approach to both online and on campus lectures. This approach was very much welcomed and there was an appropriate balance. Timetabling was very considerate of many of us who chose to commute for each lecture. Placements in the second semester of each year nicely compliment the academic semesters and are where the most instinctual learning takes place. While completing a dissertation and a final year placement was challenging, the support from the college was always present.
How did you balance work and study?
As I stated previously, I made the decision to take up the MA in Social Work full time. This decision was borne out of a belief that I did not want to see myself highly stressed and therefore not achieving the best of my ability. However, I do believe significant stress was alleviated by the fact that I was fortunate enough to receive a SUSI grant. Whereas, I had immense sympathy for some of my colleagues who were not eligible and had no choice but to work part-time. That said, they appeared to rise to the challenge in meeting college demands as the work ethic was apparent.
In terms of your employer, were they supportive of your decision to study? Were there elements of the course that were particularly relevant to your current employer?
Upon informing my employer that I was wishing to pursue a course in the MA in Social Work, they received this in a supportive and encouraging manner and were available to complete reference letters and provide advice for the interview process.
What advice would you have for anyone considering studying this course?
I would encourage any individual who is considering studying this course to first ensure they are absolutely prepared to devote two years of significant learning as it is not something which can be taken lightly. I would also say that individuals needs to be comfortable with change and doing what need to be done in completion of coursework. Ultimately, the course was the quickest and most intense experience of my life, however, the achievement at the end speaks for itself.
Did this course provide any unexpected benefits to your career?
As this course is a level 9 degree, it demanded that I increased the standard of both my analytical, literacy and communicational skills. Indeed, I believe that I have matured into a more competent professional given the responsibility and challenges of being a social worker.
Did you find that the elements you were studying had practical relevance in your day-to-day role?
Many of the modules which we completed over the two year course have practical relevance in my day-to-day role. For example, ‘lifespan developmental psychology’ when considering ages and stages of development of children or ‘social work theory to practice’ where I can now apply certain theories or approaches such as relationship-based practice or a person-centred approach.
Would you recommend this course to prospective students, please explain your answer?
I would highly recommend this course to prospective students. The north west is very lucky to have such a well-run and amenable course for aspiring social workers. Currently, there is a wide array of job opportunities within the sector particularly in the north west. Therefore, it would be very wise to consider this course for anyone within or outside county Sligo as the college provided me with the adequate stepping stones to assume a position in my native county after completing the course. I would specifically encourage any individuals who are male to consider this course. While I was the only male in my cohort, I saw the need for more both from an educational and employment perspective to compliment the work of an admittedly female dominated profession.
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