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Factors Shaping Students’ Decisions to Study Social Work

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 6180 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Factors Shaping Students’ Decisions to Study Social Work

Factors shaping students’ decisions to study social work.




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There are various factors that help shape individuals’ decisions to study social work. A mini qualitative research was undertaken by social work students, amongst social work student with the aim to collect data that will help explore and explain the factors that shape students’ decisions to study social work. A 30-minute in-depth interview simulation was conducted by second year social work students for data collection. The findings from the interviews are then analysed and linked to relevant literature for further understanding of the qualitative research process. This report will cover the processes that have been undertaken throughout the qualitative research project and will elaborate on the findings from the in-depth interview that was conducted. The methodology and method, ethical considerations and thematic analysis will be explored in this report. Part 2 of the report will comprise of a reflexive account and an appendix referring to documents that will demonstrate the processes that was undertaken throughout the project.




Methodology guides and holds together projects. Hypothetical information or clear plans may guide methodology based on research questions or problem as well as objectives (Carey, 2012, p. 107). In qualitative social work research, interviews are a broadly used method of collecting extensive and abundant data within a practical period of time due to its aptness, its minimal cost, uncomplication and highly operative means (Carey, 2012, p. 109). The interpretivism tradition is apparent in the interview method of qualitative research through the exploration of open-ended observations and questions that lead to detailed description through a limited number of subjects (Krysik & Finn, 2013). The qualitative methodology is appropriate for exploring the factors that help shape students’ decisions to study social work because it “seeks to explore and address concerns or topics that bridge knowledge, meaning, experience, emotions and understandings” (Carey, 2012, p. 8).

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One frequently used approach in qualitative research is the in-depth interview data collection approach (Darlington & Scott, 2002, p. 48). The purpose of in-depth interviews is to capture the thoughts, perceptions, feelings and experiences of participants of which researchers can delve into, through a partnership (Liamputtong, 2013, 40). Due to their overall benefits of face-to-face interviewing, immediacy and relational value, in-depth interviews are beneficial as it allows significant flexibility to the process of gathering data (Darlington & Scott, 2002, p. 49). When the phenomena are ambiguous, conducting in-depth interviews is considered an exceptional process of investigating the manners of how people think or feel regarding a particular topic (Darlington & Scott, 2002). Carey (2012, p. 110) states that interviews are capable of collecting further varied data in research due to its extreme adaptability and approach flexibility in comparison to numerous other methods.

The interview guide was developed as a list of questions that was believed to elicit different types of responses. Descriptive questions encourage participants to describe their experiences in detail (Darlington & Scott, 2002). The aim of developing an interview guide is to ensure that the topics will be covered during the interview keeping in mind that the interview may divert away from the topics. The development of the interview guide for this topic included the consideration of appropriate probing questions that will encourage the participant to further elaborate on answers.

The process of preparing the interview involved providing as well as collecting appropriate documents such as the participant information sheet and the consent form. Prior to undertaking the interview, it is essential that the participant has complete understanding of what the interview entails. A follow up with the participant is important in order to ensure that there is no misunderstanding, confusion or breach of confidentiality.




Ethical considerations support and shape the interactions between researcher and research participants into one with trust, mutual responsibility and ethical equality; these are values such as respect for human beings, research merit and integrity, justice as well as beneficence (National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC], 2007, p. 11). Respect is central among the values and involves the recognition that each human being has value, which incorporates the act of acknowledging the value of human anatomy (NHMRC, 2007, p. 11). A regard for human parallels that every individual share with each other is the ethical value of justice and by assessing risks of harm as well as he potential benefits of research participants, researchers exercise (NHMRC, 2007, p. 11).

Informed consent requirements are currently the focus in ethical standards in a various context which includes the release of confidential data, as well as video and audio recording (Reamer, 2017, p. 190). Verbally explaining particular details about the consent and its intentions and inviting participants to enquire about the process as well as providing information about participants’ rights to refuse or withdraw consent are common elements in ethics standard focus (Reamer, 2017, p. 190). The enactment of confidentiality and informed consent took place prior to undertaking the interview. A participant information sheet and a consent form were developed and forwarded to the participant highlighting the importance of consent as well as the importance of understanding the purpose of the consent as well as processes of the research. The participant was given the opportunity to ask questions regarding the research processes that have been outlined in the information sheet. Sufficiently adequate understanding of the research and participation information is imperative for the consent which must also be voluntary (NHMRC, 2007, p. 23). By understanding the purpose of ethics in qualitative research, and by incorporating that understanding into the process of this interview, the values of respect, justice and beneficence will be protected and empowered.



The methods of thematic analysis which identifies, analyses and reports themes, are used in the organising and the describing of a data set in detail (Braun & Clarke, 2006, p. 79). Thematic analysis sheds light on several aspects of the research topic and is a qualitative analytical approach that is widely used (Braun & Clarke, 2006, p. 87). Thematic analysis was engaged in the process of this research through the interpretation of the in-depth interview. The process began with transcribing the data and re-reading the data multiple times in order to note initial ideas. significant elements across the data set was then systematically generated through the process of coding which are then to be collated according to the relevance of each codes (Braun & Clarke, 2006, p. 87). The transcription of the data was then coded to systematically generate interesting features across the data set to be collated according to the relevance of each codes. Potential themes were then searched within the collated codes that was then reviewed to generate a thematic map. These themes were then cultivated to generate apparent definitions and names for the separate themes. The excerpts of the analysis were then selected to relate back to the research topic that will then be produced into a report.

Historical forces and personal accounts are developmental influences on the progressive courses of an individual and have an inter-connectedness that shapes prospects and restrictions (Paat, 2016, p. 235). Throughout the interview, there was evidence of a theme related to previous experiences and interactions that have helped shape the participant’s decision to study social work. An example of this theme can be drawn from the participant elaborating on the early thoughts of studying social work stating “The first time I thought “Oh, I could see myself doing something like this” was when we moved to Canada and we did not know anybody, and we met this lady from Uruguay who was a social worker and she was so empathetic with us. She was so lovely, and I thought I want to do that. I want to help immigrants one day like she did with me”. Another example of the theme may also be drawn from the participicant elaborating on her job and how it relates to a past experience stating “one of the things that I do at my job is we have a support group for young parents and I love that little group that we have because I can totally relate with them of how hard it is.”

A study concluded that service to others and job self-interest are two of many factors that motivates students to enter social work (Hanson & McCullogh, 1995). Through thematic analysis, the second theme identified from the in-depth interview related to future job prospects. Quoting the participant “funding cuts that we’ve been having for our not for profit organisation has made me think that I needed to study further so that was basically the beginning of me thinking “oh, why not social work?””, it was interpreted that the participant was highly motivated to study social work for better job prospects. The participant believes that by studying social work “you open a bit more of your horizon” therefore enhancing the chances of securing a career in the field.






In qualitative research, reflexivity is an imperative approach to the process of knowledge (Berger, 2015, pp. 219-220). By strengthening the attention on self-knowledge and the understanding of sensitivity, researchers may better comprehend the role of the self in the conception of knowledge (Berger, 2015, 219-220). The integrity and reliability of qualitative data can be increased through the growing encouragement of reflexivity (Smith, 2006, p. 209 [abstract]).

I believe that conducting research on factors that help shape students’ decisions to study social work as a social work student myself, helped shape the research in regard to having a better understanding of the processes and production of knowledge. Having that understanding allowed me to encourage and enact reciprocity in the research. Throughout the experience of the research process, I admittedly felt overwhelmed due to heavy load of information that was required for the process of this assessment but eventually I began to realise that this process of learning will better prepare me for the future. I found the interview process very interesting as the data that was collected truly opened different perspectives and I found to understand the participant’s perspective without the need to reconstruct the meaning to suit a particular framework and due to the fact that I was lucky enough to be able to interview a participant who was willing to provide rich data, I did not feel the need to prioritise my meaning making over the participant’s meaning making. This interview being assessed have definitely influenced the production of this report and I found myself trying to ensure that I do not forget that fact, which I found made the research process slightly difficult.

My experience of being the participant in the research was different compared to my experience of being the interviewer/researcher. I definitely did not feel all the pressure as a participant that I felt as the researcher. However, there was still that pressure of ensuring that I would be able to provide good and useful data that would be appropriate so that I could make the research process easier for the researcher. I found the need to ensure that I do not complicate the research process for the researcher and I believe that this is because I hoped that there would be an unspoken motion of reciprocity and equality that travelled in and around me and other social work students completing this assessment. I was interviewed prior to conducting my own interview and I found this to work in my favour as it demonstrated the interviewing process and I was given the chance to see the participant perspective of the process, which helped me structure my interview with the additional considerations to help accommodate the comfort of the participant of my interview. As a participant, I still understood the research process and the difficulties that come with conducting an interview and I believe this caused me to ensure that if I could help eliminate or reduce those difficulties, I would and hopefully did. I think the purpose of taking part as both the interviewer and the participant is to demonstrate the different perspectives and understandings of the research process as a whole. Power is being used to control the shape of the research through the form of frameworks and methods as well as the rubric considering the fact that this is an assessment, therefore it is essential that you abide to the rules, requirements and guidelines that are provided.



This report highlights the processes that was undertaken by second year social work students for a mini qualitative research regarding the factors that help shape social work students’ decisions to study social work. This report explored the methodology and method that was used, the ethical considerations with focus on consent requirements and the elaboration of the thematic analysis. This report also explores the reflexive account in the perspectives of an interviewer as well as a participant to further highlight the research processes and how the increase of focus in the role of self has an impact on the credibility and trustworthiness of qualitative data. To conclude, qualitative research seeks to explore and address concerns or topics and achieves a better understanding of the world. The promotion to active include reflexivity in qualitative research will further increases the level of understanding of a research topic.

(2180 words).





Assessment 3 – Report – LOG BOOK



Use this Log Book to record your preparations for your in-depth interview and in creating the Report. The Log Book acts as a diary and can be used to document your activities and as evidence of the different activities, resources and time research can take! Please begin using the Log Book from the time of beginning this Assessment to submitting the Report [please submit as an Appendix with your Report). Feel free to re-format to suit your requirements.

Activity (what you did)




Initial contact


2 minutes

Initial contact with participant was made. Introduced myself and attached participant information sheet as well as a consent form to be filled and signed by participant.

Began to develop interview guide


Research – 1.5 hours

Development – 45 minutes

Developed interview guide by conducting research on the best ways produce a guide that is suitable for the in-depth interview. Research took more time than the actual development of the interview guide.

Contacted participant to arrange interview


15 minutes

Further contact was made to participant in order to organise suitable time and place to conduct interview.

Conducted interview


45 minutes

Interview was conducted.

Transcribed interview


5 hours

Listened to interview multiple times and transcribed interview.

Sent participant transcription


2 minutes

Transcribed interview was sent to participant for review to ensure confidentiality and consent was not breached.

Began thematic analysis

3 hours

Began the process of organising data to generate themes through the collation of interesting data. Refined for clear definitions and names of two themes.

Began to write report


2 days

Began writing report. Ensured to refer to rubric so that requirements are met.

Proof-read report


45 minutes

Re-read report to ensure adjust or eliminate any errors.



Participant Information Sheet


I am a second year social work student at Curtin University. I would like to invite you to participate in a research interview I am conducting as part of The Inquiring Social Work Practitioner unit.

Purpose of this research: This in-depth interview is part of the final assessment in The Inquiring Social Work Practitioner. This is a second year, second semester unit in the Bachelor of Social Work. The Assessment is underpinned by each of the Unit Learning Outcomes:

  1. Explain the nature of interpretive inquiry
  2. Demonstrate information gathering skills
  3. Critically interpret qualitative research information
  4. Relate social work ethical practice to social inquiry

The topic for the in-depth interview is ‘What factors have shaped / informed your decision to study social work’. The topic was selected by the Unit’s Teaching Team as one that all students could resonate with as students enrolled in a Bachelor of Social Work. It was also hoped that the topic would be of interest to students.

What Participation Involves: I would like to invite you to participate in one in-depth interview at a time, date and location that is convenient to you. The interview will take approximately 30 minutes and will be audio-taped if you agree. The interview format is similar to a conversation and will focus on your decision to study social work.

During the interview you may choose not to answer any question without providing any reason. If at any time during the interview you would like to take a break or discontinue please let me know.

I will also provide you with a summary of the interview within 7 days of the interview taking place.

Risk: If you decide to participate in this study there are no known risks for you, nor are there any costs for taking part. If after the interview you feel distressed in any way please feel free to contact either myself, your tutor or the unit coordinator. Contact details are listed below.

Confidentiality: The interview will be conducted at a time and place that is most suitable for you to ensure the convenience and comfort. The interview will be recorded with a voice recorder app on my phone that is password protected. It will then be removed immediately after research is complete. A consent form will be provided detailing the processes that will be taking place before, during and after the interview in order to inform you of the ethical approaches that this research will be undertaking. I will also invite you to choose a pseudonym if at any case de-identifying is required.

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Dissemination of results: The results of the interview will be produced in the form of a report paper of which will be shared with the Social Work Inquiring Practitioner Tutor/s for grading. You will be sent a summary for reviewing so that you can check and approve it before I begin to present the key themes of the interview/research in my report of which will be uploaded and submitted via Turnitin to be graded by a tutor and/or unit coordinator.

Participant Consent: A consent form is a legally and ethically binding document that is required to be signed by the participant in order to declare the participant’s agreement to the processes that will be undertaken for the research. A consent form is required so that the researcher acquires permission to conduct the interview with the participant as outlined. It ensures that the research/interview will be conducted in a way that is most ethical and safe for the participant as well as the researcher.

What Next? If you are willing to participate in this interview please call or email me to make arrangements.

Thank you for your interest and your willingness to participate in this research.



Consent Form

Title of research project: ‘What factors have shaped / informed your decision to study social work’

Name of researcher:

Please tick () the box that applies, sign & date and return to the interviewer.

I agree to take part in the interview outlined in the Participant Information Sheet.



I understand the information about my participation in the interview which has been provided to me by the researcher.



I agree to be interviewed by the researcher.



I agree to allow the interview to be audio-taped.



I understand that my participation is voluntary and I understand that I can discontinue my participation at any time.



I understand that the researcher will provide me with a written summary of my interview within 7 days of the interview.



I agree to make myself available if any clarification is required. 



I understand that I can ask the researcher, within 48 hours of receiving the written summary of the interview, to not use particular data from the interview within their Assessment 3 – Report.               Yes X              No



I understand that the researcher’s tutor and/or the Unit Coordinator will have access to the interview data via Assessment 3 – Report.



I understand that any information that may identify me will be de-identified at the time of data analysis.                             No



I understand that no identifying information will be disclosed or published. This includes in class discussions where de-identified general or broad themes may be discussed for learning purposes only.                             No



I understand that all information gathered in this research will be kept confidentially until after Tuesday 11 December 2018. On this date I will take responsibility for deleting the interview permanently from my computer and shred any hard copies.               Yes X              No



I am aware that I can contact the researcher, the unit coordinator or tutors in the unit at any time with any queries. Their contact details are provided to me.              Yes X              No



Participant’s name: _________________________________

Participant’s signature: _______________________________________________

Date: 19/10/2018_________  ____


Factors that help shape social students’ decision to study social work.



[Introduce yourself]

“Thank you, Lorena, for taking the time to participate in this research.”

“The purpose of the interview today is to discuss your experience as a social work student and the factors that helped shaped you to studying social work.”

“This interview should go for approximately 25 mins and will be recorded on my phone where it will be kept safe and password protected until I have written up the report and will then proceed to deleting the recorded interview.”

“I have sent you a participant information sheet detailing how this interview will be kept confidential and how anything that has been disclosed within the interview will not be used without your consent.”

“Before we begin, do you have any questions?”


  • How would you describe your experience studying social work so far?
  • Prior to studying social work, were you familiar with what it means to be a social worker?
  • What were the factors that were in play in your decision to study social work?
  • Was studying social work your first choice?
  • Did you have other plans before you ultimately decided to enrol for social work
  • How long have you known you wanted to study social work?
  • What influenced you to choosing to study social work?
  • Personal experiences? Family? Friends? Particular social issues that you had/have passionate feelings about?
  • What kind of experiences?
  • Do your personal values in life contribute to your interest in studying social work?
  • What are your personal values?
  • How do they align with social work values?
  • What would you like to do with your social work degree once you have obtained it?
  • Do you know what field of practice you see yourself going into? What influenced this?
  • Would your personal experiences and knowledge assist you into becoming the social worker that you want to be?


[Summarise experience, what it means to be a social worker, what influenced the decision, personal values.]


“I will provide a summary of the interview within the next 7 days of the interview taking place for your review to ensure that there will not be any breach of confidentiality. If at any case where de-identifying is required, a pseudonym will be chosen as to not identify you personally.”

“Thank you again for taking the time to participate in this research and good luck with the rest of your study journey.”


  • Berger, R. (2015). Now I see it, now I don’t: researcher’s position and reflexivity in              qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 15(2), 219–234.              https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794112468475
  • Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. QualitativeResearch in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.              doi:http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
  • Carey, M. (2012). Qualitative research skills for social work: theory and practice. Retrieved from              https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/reader.action?docID=956317&pp              g=119
  • Darlington, Y., & Scott, D. (2002). Qualitative research in practice: stories from the field. Retrieved from              https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/reader.action?docID=287190&pp              g=64
  • Hanson, J., & McCullagh, J. (1995). CAREER CHOICE FACTORS FOR BSW STUDENTS: A 10-YEAR PERSPECTIVE. Journal of Social Work Education,              31(1), 28-37. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41345845
  • Krysik, J. L., & Finn, J. (2013). Research for effective social work practice.
    • Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/reader.action?docID=1125177&p              pg=30
  • Liamputtong, P. (2013). Research methods in health: foundations for evidencebased practice. Retrieved from              https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/reader.action?docID=1986006&p              pg=77
  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2007). Statement onethical conduct in human research (updated 2018). Retrieved from              https://nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/national-statement-ethical-              conduct-human-research-2007-updated-2018#block-views-block-file-              attachments-content-block-1
  • Paat, Y-F. (2016) Life course, altruism, rational choice, and aspirations in social work              education. Research Papers in Education,31(2), 234-253.
    • DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2015.1027725
  • Smith S. (2006). Encouraging the use of reflexivity in the writing up of qualitative              research. International Journal of Therapy & Rehabilitation, 13(5), 209–215.              Retrieved from              http://search.ebscohost.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db              =rzh&AN=106336447&site=ehost-live
  • Reamer, F. G., & Nimmagadda, J. (2017). Social work ethics in India: A call for the              development of indigenized ethical standards. International Social Work,              60(1), 182–195. https://doi.org/10.1177/0020872814559563


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