When I hear “Research,” the word that comes to mind is..."Suffering"

This Fall I am teaching Social Work Research at Silberman School of Social Work. Why? My theory is that in order to have high-quality social services, we need to:

(1) have access to good knowledge of what works (evidence) and

(2) MAYBE MORE IMPORTANTLY, have curious front-line staff and leadership who ask critical questions (like, “how do I know?”) and who can evaluate evidence and adapt that evidence to varied contexts.


On my first day of class as a Social Work Research lecturer, I asked students: “When I hear ‘Research’ the word that comes to mind is…” The responses (see image) were mixed. Not to be ignored were words like “suffering”, “anxiety”, and “daunting.” I was not surprised, since my experiences working with social workers and counselors in the field were similar. I learned never to invite people to a “data meeting”, and I even avoided using the word “data.” When people hear “data” they hear a few things they don’t like: complex math, turning people into impersonal widgets, and evaluation or grades. When people hear “research” they may also imagine people who look different from themselves. As a teacher, my task is to address these *legitimate* fears head-on.

My goal is for students to believe: I know what research is. I need research to inform my work. I know how to get it and appraise it. I can even make my own! I’m fearless! Curious! Capable! I realize this is a long road from “suffering.” Will keep you posted on my progress.

Alison HolsteinComment