How I Work: Social Work Research Edition

How I Work: Social Work Research Edition is a new series of interviews the SSWR Doctoral Student Task Force will be sharing. This series and the questions have been inspired and adapted from Lifehacker's How I Work series (thank you Lifehacker!). We will be briefly interviewing individuals in the social work research arena about how they go about their work. We hope these interviews will give new insights to social work doctoral students and provide them a window into the lives of professors, researchers, deans, etc. We welcome recommendations of individuals to interview. Head over to the Facebook page to post your recommendations.


Emma Carpenter

Emma Carpenter

This week on “This is How I Work” we are featuring Emma Carpenter, the new doctoral student member-at-large on the SSWR Board of Directors. Emma’s term runs from Feb. 2018 to Feb. 2020. Her role is to support doctoral student members of SSWR and represent doctoral student voices on the SSWR board.

Emma is a 3rd year PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Emma’s research focuses on the intersection of family planning and social work research. Emma’s current projects investigate the social ecological factors of pregnancy acceptability, the role of sexual identity in shaping pregnancy and parenthood decisions, and how to improve reproductive health services for queer folks.

Before we dive into This is How I Work, let’s get to know a little bit more about Emma’s role on the board.

SSWR: What do you want doctoral students to know about SSWR?

Emma: We are really trying to engage doctoral students in SSWR! The conference provides a lot of great opportunities for doctoral students, but our work doesn’t stop between conferences. We have the doctoral student task force, (and it’s truly a FORCE). This group has been working hard, putting out blog posts and other original content, creating mentorship opportunities, and compiling resources to support fellow doc students through their program.

And, I really want to hear what doc students want. So, if you have an idea for a program or a resource that you want, please let me know. I’m all ears!

SSWR: What are your goals as the doctoral student-member-at-large?

Emma: My biggest goal is to get doc students engaged in SSWR. Doc students make up a large part of the membership, and we should be taking advantage of this amazing group of social work researchers. My goal is to continue providing mentorship opportunities and doctoral student-centered events at the annual conference, and to build opportunities outside the conference, too. I can’t wait to tap into the doctoral student network.

SSWR: One word that best describes how you work?

Emma: Musically. I can’t work without music. I’m often dancing—or at least tapping my foot—as I work.

SSWR: What does a typical work day look like for you?

Emma: I like to get up and get some exercise, make a to-do list over coffee, and then commute to campus. I try to work from my office on campus as much as possible because I am much more productive there.

I don’t have very much unscheduled time, but when I do, I try to use the Pomodoro method—25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, repeat 4 times and take a 25-minute break every 2 hours. This method helps me to not feel overwhelmed and to use my unstructured time well.

SSWR: What is your best time-saving short cut in your role as a social work doctoral student?

Emma: My biggest time-saver was starting to use the citation manager, EndNote. It saves me so much time and organizes all of my articles and citations. EndNote is amazing for literature reviews because I can add notes to each PDF.  It also works with Word, so I can automatically add citations as I’m writing. And, I never have to type a bibliography.

Also, because I’m easily distracted, I have a plug-in for my internet browser that blocks sites like Facebook and Twitter. When I really have to focus, I can shut down the whole internet for an hour. 

SSWR: How do you keep track of what you need to get done?

Emma: I like writing things down, so I have an old-fashioned hand-written to-do list and a physical planner.

SSWR: How do you recharge or take care of yourself outside of work?

Emma: I have a sweet dog named Gibson, who demands that I spend time outside every day. Breaking to take walks or run around with him is a daily source of joy!  I also rock climb, which is a great physical and mental challenge.

SSWR: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Emma: My first semester, a professor in my department told a group of first year doctoral students: “only spend time on research questions that you find deeply interesting and deeply compelling.”

This makes so much sense to me and I find myself coming back to advice a lot.

It is motivating to have projects that are important and that I can connect to on an emotional level. I think we do better research when we are invested not just as researchers, but as people.

SSWR: What advice would you offer to social work doctoral students?

Emma: Ask me when I graduate…?

Being a doctoral student is hard! And I’m still learning a lot.  If I had to give advice to an incoming doctoral student, I would tell them to invest time and energy into relationships with other doctoral students. My cohort is very supportive of one another and we make an effort to spend time together that isn’t focused on work. I think it is so important to invest in community and building those connections that aren’t just based on work, but on all of the other things you have in common. My community has helped me move through this process in countless ways!