BPD Update Online, Fall 2002
A Conversation About Research with Joe Schriver, Editor, JBSW
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by Carol J. Williams, Associate Editor

joeschriver.jpg
Joe Schriver, Editor, JBSW

1. What is the connection between research and professional identity as a social work educator? Must we engage in research to fulfill some professional obligation over and above tenure and review?

Over the last ten years, Social Work educators have become more involved in funded research. Research has to be part of our identities based on the recent knowledge explosion and given the speed of knowledge development professionally. We're taking that challenge by developing the National Center for Social Work Research, IASWR, and other initiatives. BPD has been very supportive of these efforts. We're moving from being "dragged kicking and screaming" to seeing research as a professional imperative.

2. What is the connection between research and teaching in the classroom

Research and teaching are not dichotomous. Research adds immensely to teaching.
Conceptually, at our university, there is the notion of the teacher as scholar. Teaching and scholarship should be one and the same, each informing the other. Scholarship informs teaching, and teaching is a source of ideas for research.

3. Are there different obligations to engage in scholarly research if one is BSW vs. MSW vs. PhD faculty or if one is in a so-called "teaching institution" vs. a "research institution"?

Missions of institutions vary greatly in schools with different levels of programs. Each institution must define its own mission, so a liberal arts or teaching institution with a BSW program is much different from a Research I Institution with multiple degrees.

However, even in teaching institutions, research has a key role. The major differences between the two types of institutions are different expectations and different levels of support for research. An excellent teaching institution cannot only emphasize teaching. There are expectations across the board, but the extent of those expectations varies. Institutions must provide support for research. The level of such support will vary, but each institution must provide some support.

"BSW only" programs exist alongside other disciplines. Faculty in these BSW Programs are sometimes seen as having little to give, and this is not accurate. To maintain parity with other disciplines, we have to produce, whether the outcome is integrative scholarship, conceptualization, or positivistic research with a control group design.

4. Are there different expectations if the faculty member's terminal degree is MSW vs. PhD?

We have to recognize that the degree of preparation of faculty varies a great deal based on the degrees they hold. There are MSW graduates who are not prepared and who are then penalized for this. We have to prepare MSWs to be more than good consumers of research. The new EPAS begins to speak to that issue, by requiring that MSW students conduct research. The reality is that there are lots of folks out there who weren't in programs that emphasized conducting research. BPD, IASWR, Hartford, and other groups have helped with this. We have to take responsibility to develop skills for educators with MSW degrees, and to promote the concept of lifelong learning for educators as well as for students.

5. Research comes in many flavors. Can you consider working on a local program evaluation and needs assessment as research even if it is never published in a refereed journal?

Yes, we can.

However, if we discover something at the local level that has been done well, I'd pose, why then not submit it to larger audiences? We are responsible to communicate, whether at the state, national or international level. It would be sad if such work could not be published or communicated through professional presentations. JBSW provides a venue to encourage and nourish new authors. We work to provide a "please submit environment", so that potential authors will feel less intimidated.

Of course, a related issue is whether faculty have the time and support to work on presentations and publications. BPD can and should help get the word out to people to encourage publication and presentation of research. JBSW is one such attempt. The annual BPD Conference is another.

6. Institutions have different resources available for faculty to engage in conventional research. How do we in social work compensate for this difference in resources? For example, some smaller programs do not even have resources to pay for travel to present at professional conferences. How do faculty in these programs compensate for limitations on funding?

Having been a faculty member in those very schools, I know that we can advocate for additional resources, which may or may not be there. Social work is seen as "applied" rather than "basic": social work puts people in the field while other disciplines present and publish.

If the resources are not available to take your work to the national level, perhaps a partnership can be established at the state or regional level, and in this way resources may be obtained. We should attempt to get local support to communicate our findings. One way to do so is to build partnerships with agencies. This may be another method of getting resources to take our work to the next step. We can let these agencies see that their work is important to a larger audience and should be presented or published. For example, you might take an agency staff member with you when you present. There are also local foundations that can be approached. Of course, various institutions have various levels of support for faculty grant writing as well.

Finally, if it is important to you to get your work disseminated, you might also consider using personal resources to do so.

7. The JBSW likes to think of itself as relatively unique in the world of refereed journals. How is it different from, say, Social Work, or JSWE?

It is different at several levels:

First of all, it is a Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work. It publishes work relevant to BSW education and practice, which makes it quite different.

Second, there is a philosophical commitment at JBSW to nurture scholarship. We don't just "accept/reject". Sometimes we "reject/assign a consultant" for articles that are not of acceptable publishable quality, but have a core that's important. These articles would be summarily rejected by traditional journals. A person who's an experienced writer can help the author get the manuscript more ready for publication. However, consultants will only recommend. The author still has the final say. Some authors want this type of assistance while others don't. In recent years we've had fewer instances where this has been suggested, which may mean that something has changed in our community.

Many authors have their first publication in JBSW.

8. Tell me something about your own journey along the road to integrating research with teaching.

I began my teaching career with my MSW only and taught in a newly accredited BSW program in a liberal arts college in the mid/late 1970's. I wanted to extend my research skills. I saw that to move forward, I needed a PhD, so I went back to school at the University of Iowa.

I entered an interdisciplinary PhD Program where I did work in social work but also took courses in law, policy, adult education, and philosophy. I was able to take PhD social work courses and teach part time while completing my PhD. I gained tools in historical research methodology, and studied the history of social work and the history of the political left in social work. I completed a biography of Harry Lawrence Lurie, a social work leader, head of the National Federation of Jewish Welfare Councils. He had been left out of the history of the profession, but in the late 20's to the 50's he served as a bridge between rank and file social workers and mainstream social workers.

I then moved on to a small liberal arts college. Through the mentorship of Leslie Leighninger, John Herrick and Paul Stuart, among many others, I was encouraged to submit an abstract to APM in 1985. This paper was rewritten for Social Service Review. It discussed the history of Harry Lurie's impact on social work. The Social Welfare History Symposium became a support group for me. I received both suggestions and support from this group.

I subsequently moved on to another school where I taught HBSE and did administrative work. My frustration with the traditional white male literature led me to develop the first edition of my HBSE book. I did research on theory, despite being in an environment that was not supportive of research. The fourth edition of the book should be out this year, and now Anne Summers and I are writing on alternative organizational theory.

I was lucky, persistent, and fortunate to have people who believed in me. Now I am in an institution where research is seen as important. However, in the last four years, developing a new School of Social Work has been a demanding task, and these demands compete with the demands to present and to write. The real issue is how to balance these competing demands.

9. What is your advice to faculty who are feeling timid about the research enterprise, who might want to take a first step but don't know how?

We have mystified the process, but everything that gets published is written by ordinary folks. Most of us are more than capable of conducting research and writing it. We just have to get some help in the process. It is always good to have someone take a critical look at your work and comment. It's not necessarily about content. The question is "can you help me get this ready?" Articles that get published get rewritten multiple times.

I've found it helpful to present the material first. Presenting to a live audience is very important. People are supportive, forgiving, and willing to be helpful. You get feedback, based on which you refine the document. You've probably done three drafts by then.

To summarize:

Take the first step: decide to write
Put your work on paper
Get a review - it doesn't have to be from a social worker
Present it at a conference
Submit it to a journal

We encourage people to submit their papers to JBSW. Directions for submission are in the journal.

10. Much is being written about the "student researcher" or the "student scholar". How important is it for BSW students to engage in research prior to graduation?

It is important. BSW students, if they partner with each other or with a faculty member, should be able to do research. EPAS encourages us to move in this direction. We must be realistic. BSW expectations are different than expectations at the MSW or PhD level. However, BSW students are curious and capable. We have to look more closely at integrating research throughout the curriculum, by asking students to pose research questions, complete literature reviews, and utilize other research skills in each of their classes.

11. Should BSW field faculty require a formal research project prior to graduation?

If we want to integrate research, what better place to try out research skills than in the field. If we believe in integrating we can showcase learning and outcomes of learning there. However, different programs and schools organize and deliver both field and research using multiple methods.

12. Why is it that so few practitioners engage in even the most rudimentary research? Is the prospect for integrating research into practice getting better?

There is a welcome trend toward greater integration of research and practice. Research is an important tool. The educational institution should partner and collaborate in the professional community, provide continuing education, and partner in community projects. Institutions in the United States are beginning to see that they are part of the community. The "Town/Gown dichotomy" is no longer as acceptable. There is a realization, regardless of the nature of the institution (Liberal Arts or Research I) that local context matters. We have a major responsibility to our locality, and social work has a lot to offer here.

What are the ways the catchment area can benefit from the presence of the institution? Social work should lead the way!

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