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research experience


spctle342
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I just discovered these forums, and I’ve been browsing for hours on end throughout the past several days. For my first post, I’d like to pose a question about research experience/lack thereof on admission decisions in MSW/Ph.D programs.

A little background: I’ll be graduating in December with a B.S. in psychology. I’ve maintained a 4.00 GPA, have an extraordinary amount of experience working with low-income families, battered women, foster children, and the list goes on. I landed a coveted social work internship position this summer with a local Appleseed chapter. Ultimately, I want to pursue my MSW/Ph.D with the goal of advancing policy and more specifically, helping bridge the gap between policy and practice. (I assure you I have more specific objectives, but this is probably sufficient for the purpose of my question).

At best, my college has been unsupportive of my research interests. Recently, my research proposal was denied (before I submitted it!) due to what the dean described as a lack of faculty availability. Note: I had secured an advisor who was extremely enthusiastic about my research, but because she isn’t tenured, her hands were tied when the dean objected to our arrangement. The dean preemptively stated that I will not be able to pursue research in a related department, because all of the faculty are “too busy” to bother supervising any student-initiated research.

My only “research,” (if you can call it that) consists of a 25-page literature review (a one semester project). The work itself is of excellent quality, but obviously can’t hold up to the original research that I’m sure other undergraduates have under their belt. Sadly, I was selected for a research position at my internship site but ultimately awarded a position working in a different program, because one supervisor refused to let the other have me. To add insult to injury, I live less than a mile from a university with an impressive dedication to research, and have many friends who are doing research they despise because it’s available or required, while I can’t seem to make this happen, not for any lack of trying.

At this point, is there ANYTHING I can do to increase my chances of being accepted into an MSW/Ph.D program, or should I just accept the reality that I’ll be funneled down to (presumably unfunded) MSW programs and left to try my luck again in another two years?

TL;DR I have essentially no research experience; my college is lame; am I doomed?

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Try going finding a research internship outside your school. I'm currently doing research for a doctor at the VA Medical Center. Try to find a doctor whose research is in line with what you want to do and email if they're hiring or willing to undertake an intern. Once you get your foot in the door, it's much easier to talk about doing your own research.

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Try going finding a research internship outside your school. I'm currently doing research for a doctor at the VA Medical Center. Try to find a doctor whose research is in line with what you want to do and email if they're hiring or willing to undertake an intern. Once you get your foot in the door, it's much easier to talk about doing your own research.

I've considered that. I'm contemplating a research internship in the fall at the same site where I am completing my summer internship, but in a different department (child welfare). Of course, this is more applied research, akin to legal research, not necessarily scientific research. Is that even remotely comparable to hard research?

I've also thought about contacting the university nearby (where I'm not a student) to ask if they could allow a non-student to volunteer in one of their labs (the child maltreatment lab is right up my alley). Is that even possible, or would they just laugh at me for thinking I could be involved in their research coming from a different college?

Additionally, if I were to get involved in research there, I don't know that it would be possible until after graduation in December, because I will be taking a full-time courseload at my own college in the fall and working 30 hours/week. So, it wouldn't necessarily be something I could include in my application, but potentially something I could reference when it gets closer to decision time. Alternately, I could participate in research efforts on a very limited basis, time-wise (8 hours/week, perhaps?) in the fall, but I don't know if that's substantial enough to even attempt.

I don't really know many social workers/social work students/grads, so I'm having trouble making connections to locate organizations that would welcome my interest in research. Not even sure how to get started, or how to word that first contact (such as in the case of the other university mentioned before). Thoughts on that?

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I've also thought about contacting the university nearby (where I'm not a student) to ask if they could allow a non-student to volunteer in one of their labs (the child maltreatment lab is right up my alley). Is that even possible, or would they just laugh at me for thinking I could be involved in their research coming from a different college?

Additionally, if I were to get involved in research there, I don't know that it would be possible until after graduation in December, because I will be taking a full-time courseload at my own college in the fall and working 30 hours/week. So, it wouldn't necessarily be something I could include in my application, but potentially something I could reference when it gets closer to decision time. Alternately, I could participate in research efforts on a very limited basis, time-wise (8 hours/week, perhaps?) in the fall, but I don't know if that's substantial enough to even attempt.

This is what I did. After finishing my Bachelors and starting work in the human services field, I found that I really missed academic research, and at the time I was still considering applying to research-focused MA or Ph.D. programs in psychology. I was working a schedule that allowed it (barely, since I worked the evening shift at an inpatient psychiatric hospital), so I contacted a professor at a local university who was doing research I was interested in and sent him my CV. I think it helped that I had related research experience as an undergrad, but depending on how much help the professors need, that might not be necessary. It also helped that this particular professor was new to the school and just getting his lab set up, so having a volunteer post-bacc research assistant was perfect for him. It helped me establish some connections at that school and get some great recommendations.

Anyway, it's definitely doable. I've heard people commenting that finding a research assistantship is difficult and competitive at some universities, but if it's practical I can see a lot of professors considering your situation with your undergrad school and being accommodating. You also might look at applying for post-bacc research assistant staff jobs, which usually don't pay well but are great experience.

All that said, my impression of joint MSW/Ph.D. programs is that they are primarily intended for students who have a Masters in another field and are coming into social work from that angle. Even an acquaintance of mine who had an impeccable CV and lots of publications went for a terminal MSW first (though she got it more or less fully funded, which is a rare feat).

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This is what I did. After finishing my Bachelors and starting work in the human services field, I found that I really missed academic research, and at the time I was still considering applying to research-focused MA or Ph.D. programs in psychology. I was working a schedule that allowed it (barely, since I worked the evening shift at an inpatient psychiatric hospital), so I contacted a professor at a local university who was doing research I was interested in and sent him my CV. I think it helped that I had related research experience as an undergrad, but depending on how much help the professors need, that might not be necessary. It also helped that this particular professor was new to the school and just getting his lab set up, so having a volunteer post-bacc research assistant was perfect for him. It helped me establish some connections at that school and get some great recommendations.

Thanks for the advice; that's very encouraging. It sounds like in your situation, you were able to use that experience to boost your application. In my case, I'll probably have submitted most of my applications before I before I would begin assisting with research. Is it still worthwhile? Would it possibly make a difference if I submitted my initial application without research experience, possibly indicating that I have such-and-such lined up for Spring and maybe updated the grad programs of interest before decision time to discuss what I specifically had accomplished? (Or, is that last part not recommended?)

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