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  • Writer's pictureKeith Lim

Doing Social Work at NUS




I remember meeting a computer science student with an extremely punchable face who asked, rather condescendingly, “Eh? Social Work can do what one?”


He was quite the prick.


Of course, as a social work student, I forgave him.


First, What Exactly Is Social Work?


Before diving into the NUS Social Work experience, let me explain what social work is.


For some, social work is nothing more than volunteering, seen as a general major that brings zero career prospects.


However, this is a common misunderstanding — social work is far from useless; in fact, it is one of the few social science majors that directly translates to an in-demand job (as Singapore desperately needs more social workers).


Social work is a social science that focuses on helping people and improving social environments through the application of theories and frameworks. It is a massive field — encompassing things such as child protection services, community work, social policy, rehabilitation care, counselling, and much more.


Upon graduation, some social workers choose to narrow their focus towards helping specific populations (e.g. addicts); others take a more general approach by working for Family Service Centres, helping vulnerable individuals or families that can have any problem under the sun.


The NUS Introductory Module


The introductory module SW1101E, at least during my time, provided a bird’s eye view of doing social work in Singapore, especially in these areas:

  • History of social work.

  • Values and ethics of social work.

  • Social policies and programs in Singapore.

  • Theories and concepts used in social work.


The module also involved us visiting a social work agency to better understand what exactly social workers do.


Honestly, besides the tedious presentation portion, the rest of the introductory module was simple — including a reflection essay, forum discussions, and class participation. I even met a few people who took it as an unrestricted elective as they deemed it easy to score.


NUS Social Work Experience


Doing a group project


So far, doing social work at NUS has been decent, with my core modules covering a wide range of topics from counselling to theory application to evaluation research and more.


However, things have become harder. The introductory module and subsequent level 2000 modules are nothing compared to the level 3000 and 4000 ones.


In my experience, the higher-level modules require a much greater time investment, particularly for group projects. For example, I am taking SW4223: Child-Centric Social Work, which requires you to design an entire social work program and present it in a group. Other lower-level modules may ask you to create programs as well but they would require less comprehensiveness.


Still, social work involves a lot of group projects — so be prepared to communicate and work with others.


On a happier note, NUS forces you to do two compulsory placements (basically internships), so that your theoretical learnings can be applied in the real world. I think this is wonderful considering that social work is only useful when combining theory with practice.


Of course, the placements are by no means easy. You will experience first-hand what it means to be a social worker — and unfortunately, what it means to be underpaid.


Besides, if you have the chance to take the modules of Dr Peace Wong, Mr Alvin Chua, or Professor Alicia Pon — please do! They are some of the best lecturers I have ever had, always making sure to make lessons engaging. However, they do not always teach the same modules; each lecturer's availability depends on the semester.


Ultimately, I give NUS social work an 8 out of 10. Most of the lecturers do care about what they teach, and the classmates you meet are usually nice since social work attracts kind, caring people.


Study-wise, social work does not require a lot of memorisation or hardcore reading since most exams are open-book, and readings tend to be more supplementary than compulsory.


As long as you put in (some) effort into assignments, exams, and group projects — you will be fine. Besides, Singapore lacks social workers, so social work agencies take what they can get; they most likely would not care what your CAP is.


Are You Destined For Social Work?



I think social work is one of those rare disciplines that cannot be done half-heartedly. Either you do it with zeal and passion, or you risk burning out quickly. If you have the heart to serve others, help others, love others, and are willing to be stressed and underpaid — then social work is probably for you.


Overall, doing social work at NUS is far from difficult. The truly hard part comes only after

graduation.

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