Dara Sampson

Dara Sampson
Research Program:

Research Interests

  • I have been working in social work for 30 years. My research interests are varied, but there are three key areas with which I am currently involved.
  • My PhD topic is the use of fictional literature in social work education. Creative ways of teaching which challenge more traditional didactic models is at the base of this passion; as is reading and its capacity to make change in people’s lives.
  • My second current research involvement is in the area of disasters and social justice. I am part of a group at University of Sydney researching and writing a book on the subject.
  • My third passion would be challenging the stigma still attached to mental illness. I work on projects that aim to help those struggling with depression, anxiety, alcohol and/or drug abuse, as well as family members who are caring for someone affected by mental illness or substance abuse.

Why did you get into research?

Before working in the Centre for Brain and Mental Health I taught social work at University of Newcastle and, prior to that, worked in Centrelink both in direct practice and as a senior leader. Working with people who are marginalised provided a firm basis for my research interests in mental health, in particular. I regularly saw people impacted by financial problems, domestic violence, homelessness, substance use and mental illness. My passion for my PhD topic arose, again, from my direct experience of teaching social work for ten years.

What would be the ultimate goal for your research?

My ultimate goal would be to break the social constructions in relation to mental health and stigma and engage/inform people in the community most impacted. The perfect ‘end point’ would be a world in which mental illness was understood as exactly that – an illness.


Dara commenced her professional career as a Senior Social Worker for Centrelink, a position in which she remained for twelve years. She then pursued a career in senior leadership within the organisation, leading large teams as Business Manager Corporate and Business Manager Business Integrity.

Dara’s next career move was to that of lecturer at the University of Newcastle for eight years. She currently teaches at the University of Sydney in Social Work and works in the role of Academic Research Manager for Centre Brain and Mental Health Research, University of Newcastle. She is passionate about the importance of people’s stories and language and how language can extend or challenge social constructions, particularly as they relate to mental health and stigma. 

Dara is involved in two ‘Disaster Resilience’ research projects through Resilience, NSW. Dara is a partner in Hunter Collaborative Research and Planning Group. Key consultancy projects include work for two NGO’s and a shire council in areas of evaluation, development of a facilitator guide and policy review.

Dara is also an author on 12 journal articles/conferences/book chapters. She is currently under contract with colleagues at University of Sydney to write a book on disasters and social justice. She has recently completed a podcast on her PhD findings.

Future Focus

My future focus is to continue to explore the use of narrative and story and how language is such a powerful tool of oppression and liberation. I am also vitally interested in the unfolding impacts of COVID-19 on a broad range of social and economic issues, including mental well-being.

Specialised/Technical Skills

  • Dara brings 12 years of direct practice having worked as a senior social worker for Department Human Services(Centrelink) as well as eight years in corporate and business integrity areas of Centrelink which developed her skills of organisational change, strategic planning, policy writing and evaluation
  • Ms Sampson has worked as a lecture in Social Work at the University of Newcastle and University of Sydney collaboratively for over 10 years while also completing Professional supervision of approximately thirty Social Workers whilst in her Business Manager Social Work position.
  • Her areas of expertise are leadership, strategic thinking, relationship building, pedagogy, organisational change, writing, research and understanding networks.


  • University of Sydney
  • University of Newcastle
  • Hunter Collaborative Research and Planning Group
  • HMRI