Graduate Research

Inaugural Intervarsity Online Social Work PhD Student Research Symposium: 19 November 2021

Background information about the Symposium  

Social work education on the island of Ireland is influenced by jurisdictional politics, public policy and cultures in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The All-Ireland Social Work Research and Education Forum was set up following the Good-Friday agreement, as a part of wider cross-border initiatives aimed at developing synergies and collaboration. Island-wide, this forum has served research, learning and teaching in social work very well.  

Building on the successes of this forum, Daniel McFadden PhD in Social Work candidate and part-time social work educator in Queens University (and formerly Ulster University), and Calvin Swords, Lecturer in Social Work MU, reached out to different universities about developing an All-Ireland Network/Forum for Social Work PhD students.  This is a very welcome initiative and comes at a time when the discipline needs to cultivate and inspire early-stage researchers and doctoral students towards inclusive, critical, conceptually rich and theoretically informed research. As academics and doctoral supervisors based in University College Cork, Elizabeth Kiely and Fiachra O’Súilleabháin organised and hosted the inaugural online PhD in Social Work Symposium on 19 November 2021 to support the student-led initiative.

What the symposium looked like?  

We hosted an intervarsity online event between Queens University Belfast, Ulster University and University College Cork, on 19 November 2021 from 10.00am-3.00pm (Irish/British time) via Microsoft Teams. Following a call for papers we invited seven doctoral students from the three Universities to give short oral presentations about an aspect of their research. The seven speakers presented about issues across the 'lifecycle' of doctoral research - proposal and research questions, finding a conceptual/theoretical hook, research ethics, data collection/methods, analysis, and finally writing-up and dissemination. We also allowed space for informal networking and chat, and research supervisors were warmly invited to come along as well. We invited PhD in Social Work students across Ireland to attend.

We hope that this successful symposium has inspired other universities to offer to support the fledgling forum and offer to participate in, or even host, the next symposium.

Keynote Address

As part of the Online Symposium for Social Work PhD/Doctoral Students in the Island of Ireland, we were pleased to welcome Professor Claudia Bernard to give a keynote address:

Intersectionality as a Navigational Tool in Research for Understanding Hidden and Marginalised Experiences 

Claudia's presentation explored the ways in which an intersectional theoretical perspective can be used as a navigational tool to critically analyse how race, gender, class, sexuality, age, disability and other axes of structural inequalities manifest for groups in subjugated social locations. Intersectionality allows us to ask new questions about lesser heard voices to critically engage with the everyday experiences of service users belonging to marginalised groups. The argument is made that intersectionality is therefore valuable for social work research because it provides a means for analysing data in ways that enable a more nuanced understanding of day-to-day experiences that are significantly impacted by systemic inequalities.

Claudia Bernard is Professor of Social Work at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her general interests lie in the areas of social work with children and families, gender-based violence, critical race theory, equalities and social justice, and research ethics. As an educator and researcher, her primary interests are in delivering the highest quality of social work education, and in developing students’ research-mindedness for research-informed practice. Claudia has published widely in child abuse and neglect, and in equality and diversity issues in social work education.


Here are the presentations from the PhD in Social Work Symposium:

School of Applied Social Studies

Staidéar Sóisialta Feidhmeach

William Thompson House, Donovan's Road, Cork, Ireland.