How to balance a busy personal life with studying an MA in Social Work


20170920_203119Balancing student life with a busy personal schedule can be hard, even harder for Karen Hill, with added challenges such as long commutes and cats that just want to sit on your laptop! 

Life as an MA Social Work Student is busy, I get up at 6.30am to give me time to come round before I have to get the kids up, pester them into getting ready for school (you would think they know the routine by now) which is a major challenge in itself, much harder than studying for an MA! We set off at 8.20am on the school run before I continue on my way to Manchester, but I still only just get in for 10am, I just feel lucky that we don’t start at 9am or that would be a very early start for me.

On most days we have a two hour lecture in the morning, a lunch break, then another two hours in the afternoon.  It’s a bit of a trek home leaving at 3pm, so if I have the opportunity I go to the library or learning commons until about 6.30pm and wait for the traffic to calm down before I go home. Most days though, I battle the traffic to pick the kids up. There’s a lot of work to do on the MA course but luckily if I have not been able to get to the library or learning commons, I can access the library resources and university systems from home so apart from the noise from the kids and the cat sitting on the laptop (I like to think that he thinks he’s helping by sitting on the keyboard) I can still get on with studying when I am at home.


Skills days are different from lectures, this is the time where we either get to practise being social workers or talk to social workers and service users about their experiences in real life practice. Before we started I had mixed feelings about them, would I learn that I had been doing it “wrong” all the years in my previous job, or would they be a worthless waste of time? Either way I was a little apprehensive about them. In addition, prior to coming to the university I had been told about the mocked up rooms where we would practise being social workers for the day, and I had misguidedly thought I would have to use my imagination, visualising a classroom with chairs set up facing one another.

Skills day mock up room
Actors used on a skills day. Image source: The University of Manchester

I was to be pleasantly surprised on both counts, both the living room and the hospital room feel quite real, in the living room there was even a pile of ironing on the floor, just like a normal house… or am I giving away my poor housekeeping skills here!! Even better are the actors brought in to play the role of service users. Rather than practising clumsy role play situations with other students, the actors played the role of the service user expertly, making it all seem much more real. The actors really got into their roles and were not as kind to us as I first thought they would be, with the situations and discussions turning out to be more challenging and realistic than I had imagined. In all, I have to hold my hands up, I was wrong about the set up, the skills days were as realistic as they could be given that they all take place within the university building.

University building

Being recorded on the skills days when we did a mock home visit was more than a little off putting and it was cringe-worthy watching and listening back to my not so dulcet northern accent, especially in front of my academic advisor. However, it was useful having the recording as it helped understand what the service user sees.  On another occasion we were observed doing a “visit” by a practising social worker. I found this one a little less off putting because I knew I wouldn’t have to go through the pain of watching myself back again. The social worker provided detailed feedback immediately after the session which was really useful, and instead of criticising the session, I got lots of encouragement and little tips of how to improve communication.

We do much more than practice visits on the skills days, we have a wide variety of people coming in to talk to us, we have class discussions, watch films, assess safeguarding situations etc. Another great thing about the skills days is that we sometimes finish early so I can avoid that traffic or have extra time in the library of course!!

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