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Dr Gillian Ferguson

Dr Gillian Ferguson

Profile summary

Professional biography

Gillian has worked in a broad variety of settings including direct practice, workforce development, advisory and regulatory roles, including as a social worker, community learning worker and academic. 

Research interests

Gillian's research interests integrate different areas of her learning and professional experience. 

Gillian is interested in research into learning, education and practice in social work and other professional areas including service and project evaluation. Her doctoral thesis focused on workplace learning in relation to social workers: titled, “When David Bowie Created Ziggy Stardust” The Lived Experiences of Social Workers Learning Through Work. The study explored the unique lived experiences of social workers’ learning in the course of their work activities, through an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) study. The findings from this qualitative study sit at the intersection of knowledge about workplace and professional learning, offering new insights into how social workers learn through daily work. The thesis shows the nature and complexity of individual social workers’ experiences and how understanding these can help design more effective workplace continuing professional learning opportunities. 

Specialist areas of interest and experience include alcohol and other substance use, working with children and families, youth work, adult learning and community learning.

Gillian is actively involved in supporting the WELS postgraduate and emerging researchers’ blog | A PGR-led blog ( and the supervision of doctoral students.

Teaching interests

Currently Gillian is involved in production and presentation of social work modules at The Open University. She has previously been an Associate Lecturer and been involved in teaching across a broad range of modules, including widening participation, social work, health and social care, working with children and families.

Previously Gillian led the delivery of the Practice Learning Award for a partnership in Scotland and she remains interested in learning through and in professional practice, and how this can best be facilitated. 

Impact and engagement

Gillian's professional experience in third sector and local authority settings continues to inform her teaching and learning activity. She remains close to professional practice through involvement in services in Scotland in direct work.

Recent conference presentations

Ferguson, G., (2021) ‘Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers’ 13th International Conference on Practice Teaching and Field Education in Health and Social Work

Ferguson, G (2022) 'When David Bowie Created Ziggy Stardust: Reconceptualising workplace learning for social workers' Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board, 9th Annual Social Work and Social Care Research Conference

External collaborations

Gillian is involved in the advisory group for a longitudinal study into Newly qualified social workers in Scotland - A five-year longitudinal study led by Dundee University and commissioned by The Scottish Social Services Council.

Gillian is currently a peer reviewer for Qualitative Social Work and Children and Society journals.