Social Work: Jennifer Davidson (nee Donovan)

When Jennifer Davidson started university, her current career field didn’t even exist. She now draws on her studies in arts, law and social work, researching integrated legal and social work practice, and teaching law and policy to social workers.

Jennifer Davidson

Having studied her Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws, Master of Social Work and PhD at the University of Melbourne, Jennifer Davidson has an enduring relationship with the University.

That relationship is continuing to grow; she’s now a University of Melbourne academic teaching and researching in integrated socio-legal programs and disability inclusion.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Melbourne?

For all my degrees with the University of Melbourne, I simply wanted to study at the leading institution for each discipline.

The University has the leading law school in the country and my social work masters and PhD were offered at the leading health sciences faculty in the country. In these degrees the range of subjects and areas offered were also fantastically broad – when you are not clear at the start of a degree exactly where you want to go, having a breadth of choice is essential.

What are your strongest memories from the University of Melbourne?

The combination of amazing and talented fellow students who would go on to become my colleagues, alongside  teaching staff who were experts in their fields, intellectually and innovatively engaged but also connected into the industries and organisations in which I wanted to work.

Being able to explore such a large range of subjects and areas gave me the opportunity to explore what was possible and understand more about myself and my passions. I became the best version of me and came away with fantastic connections which are so important to further a career.

Tell us more about how your studies helped you prepare for your current role.

I first joined the University to study arts and law. I knew at the time I wasn’t completely sold on being a lawyer but I gave it a go. It gave me entry into the legal sector and my work with Victoria Legal Aid also fostered the social justice focus I had during my arts degree.

Doing the Master of Social Work was then a great way to extend my practice in the legal sector beyond just legal training.  It gave me a great insight into interpersonal dynamics, vulnerability and resilience and how organisations could work together in this sector for a range of client outcomes. From this work came my PhD, which combined both social work and law.

I am now an academic with the University teaching and researching in integrated socio-legal programs and disability inclusion.  I teach law and policy to social workers which draws on my arts/law degree, and do research in legal and disability sectors using evaluation skills taught in the Master of Social Work.

My journey hasn’t been one degree equals one job.  All my degrees have opened doors in the workforce which have provided me ways to contribute and innovate in the sectors I have worked in.  They have all been a journey of exploring what it is I am passionate about and what contribution I can make. They were all very necessary and rewarding steps on the journey.

What are some career highlights so far?

For me, the highlights of my career have been the points where the stories, the voice, and the experience of people who are often overlooked or marginalised, have been celebrated in the work.

I have been on the Board and been the Chair of St Mary’s House of Welcome, a charity in Fitzroy working with the chronically homeless and disadvantaged. I have engaged in legal practice, law reform and innovation for Victoria Legal Aid and their client groups. I have worked with amazing integrated legal services such as South East Monash Legal Service and Legal Aid commissions in NSW and NT. I have been welcomed into communities across the country to hear stories from people with disabilities and their families about what an inclusive community means to them.

Next, I just want to do more of that ... supporting communities and graduating students to ensure everyone has a place in the community where their experience matters, where they can advocate for change, where they have power and agency over their lives.

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned along the way?

We are often encouraged to focus on  ‘what career do I want?’, ‘where will this take me?’, ‘how will I use this?’, but these questions are  missing the point.

The point is you can never know how everything you learn, everything you are exposed to, everything you engage with and critique, will come together or factor in your life or career.  Soaking it all up is key and enjoying the journey not worrying about the destination.

What advice do you have for current students?

University is both an intellectual and social time in your life. The people around you not only be your friends but will become your future colleagues, so the connections you make here and how you support and push each other to be your best is fundamental.

While there is a lot to learn, the point of understanding how the world currently is and what we currently know is ultimately  to understand the role you can have in contributing to positive change for the future.