Emily Olley

Bachelor of Social Sciences

Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) / Bachelor of Criminology & Criminal Justice

Current Position: MERIT Clinician at Drug Health Services

1. What attracted you to studying Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW?

When it came time to apply for uni degrees at the end of high school, I already knew that I wanted to do social work, it was just a matter of where to do it. UNSW was definitely not the most convenient for where I lived, but I knew it had one of the best social work degrees on offer. The big selling point was that I could do a double degree in social work and criminology – a degree that wasn’t offered by any other uni. I knew that I could major in criminology if I did a double degree with Arts at other universities, but I preferred the course structure that UNSW offered (2 degrees plus Honours, in 5 years!).

2. Did you always have a clear idea of what you wanted to do after completing your degree?

I always thought that I would end up working in the child and family field of social work because that’s what all my previous experience was in. I spent years working with kids and teenagers in various jobs, including a job as a youth worker so it was where I was comfortable, an area I enjoyed and one that I assumed I would go on to work full time in. When I started applying for jobs, there were jobs that I applied for that would have had me working with children and families, but I also found jobs advertised in other areas of social work that I found interesting which I hadn’t anticipated. 3 months on from graduating and I’m now working in a job that combines my two degrees really well and has me working with adults with legal problems and substance use issues.

3. How did your time at UNSW help shape who you are today?

Studying at UNSW challenged me to be a self-directed learner (something you need in the workplace), encouraged my desire to continue learning, showed me how well I perform under pressure (i.e. leaving all assignments to the last minute, but never submitting late), and encouraged me to think outside my own bubble. The subjects within my degree, but also the subjects I took as electives (highly recommend Women and Religion as a GenEd) broadened my understanding of the world and particularly the people in it which is essential in my field but also important for our society.

4. How did studying Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW help you develop transferable skills?

Studying at UNSW helped to consolidate my writing skills, challenging to me to write concisely, to always back up my argument and to not assume that the people that will be reading my writing will understand everything that I’m trying to say. It helped me to develop problem-solving skills and team work by giving me many group assignments, and it provided opportunities to continue to develop my communication skills in a range of situations including role-playing counselling sessions in tutorials, facilitating tutorials, and presenting in both tutorials and lectures.

5. How did studying Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW help form your view on the world and the contemporary issues we face today?

During my degree, I had the opportunity to complete a number of subjects in both social work and criminology that challenged me to think outside of my bubble. Whether it was a research subject that asked me to examine how the media portrayed ‘boat people’ and the refugee crisis around the world, a criminology subject that explored the prison system in Australia and exposed me to the reality of being in custody, social work and criminology subjects that educated me how to engage appropriately with Aboriginal people and the importance of recognising our history, or a GenEd subject about women in major world religions taken on a whim which discussed representation and values, I was provided with a greater understanding of what was happening in our world and encouraged an inquisitive nature to continue to learn and challenge.

6. How did UNSW Arts & Social Sciences help prepare you for the workforce throughout your degree?

To complete my social work degree, I had to undertake 1000 hours of field work placement so I got to practice the skills and knowledge I had learnt in tutorials with real clients, while also developing new skills and knowledge in the field. I was then able to transfer these skills to other work places. The criminology degree concludes with a capstone subject which helped us to prepare our CV and to respond well to job advertisements so when I started applying for jobs, I already had a well-structured CV and an outline of how to write an appropriate cover letter. Studying at university also prepares you for the workforce by forcing you to be accountable for yourself and your deadlines – it’s unlikely to have someone in the work place who keep reminding you that something is due, they’re more likely to just expect it on the day of the deadline.

7. How did you get your foot in the door as a graduate, following the completion of your degree?

I had a bit of an advantage as a graduate as I was lucky enough to have been offered a job after my first fieldwork placement so I had already been working casually in the social work field for 2 years. It meant that I had experience on top of the degree to demonstrate my suitability for a role. I was also conscious of being too picky when applying for jobs. While I thought I wanted to work with children and families, I also applied for any jobs that sounded a bit interesting – I figured if I did get offered one, I could also turn it down. I paid extra attention to jobs that included supervision and profession development/training as part of the job description as it meant that even if the role wasn’t for me and I left after a year, I will have continued to develop my skills.

8. What advice would you give to someone considering studying Arts at UNSW?

The benefit of doing an arts degree is that, alongside the subjects that go towards your major and minor, you have the opportunity to take subjects simply because they interest you. Don’t get too carried away because you do need enough subjects in one area to have a major, but if you want to learn a language on the side, you can take language courses; if you want to learn about prisons, you can take a criminology subject. You’ve got an opportunity to expand your knowledge and understanding of the world, so why not make the most of it?

9. What is your most memorable experience from your time at UNSW?

It’s hard to pick one, I had some great lunches with my friends over the years, but one memory that stands out is having a tutorial for a counselling class in 3rd or 4th year with a bunch of my friends and having the tutor try to manage us because we were enjoying ourselves so much we were disrupting the class a bit. It had such a great atmosphere as a class that we really enjoyed ourselves every lesson – sorry Abner!

10. Why do you Love What You Do?

I love getting to talk to people everyday and learn their story. I consider it such a privilege that people feel comfortable enough to share their struggles and concerns with me, and get great satisfaction out of seeing them accomplish their goals and helping them to see that they have the skills and strengths to get out of whatever funk they’re in, they just might have needed a personal cheerleader and that’s something I’m more than happy to be!