Doctoral Student Spotlight

The SSWR Doctoral Student Task Force is creating a new series! We will begin to highlight the creative and meaningful research of doctoral students and candidates. This is the first in the series.


Facilitators and Barriers to Using Participatory Action Research Among Early Career Social Work Scholars

Catherine Kramer

Catherine Kramer

Student Researchers: Darren Cosgrove, LMSW, PhD Candidate and Catherine Kramer, LMSW, MPA, PhD Student at the School of Social Welfare, University at Albany – SUNY

About the Researchers: We are committed to youth-centered research and use of participatory action research (PAR) methods.

Darren Cosgrove

Darren Cosgrove

Darren: My work utilizes arts-based participatory action research to explore the lived experiences of non-binary and gender queer young adults. Using photovoice and reflective discussion, we are examining social expectations regarding gender as well as the ways in which non-binary identities are supported and stigmatized.

Catherine: I focus on young people who experience disadvantage and marginalization due to economic poverty, social isolation, and social exclusion. My research takes me across multiple settings – educational, juvenile justice and child welfare – in pursuit of organizational designs and practices that ensure healthy development and opportunity for young people. 

Study Description: PAR and Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) offer opportunities for social work scholars to conduct research that addresses complex social issues. However, these methodologies often require researchers to navigate unique challenges and tensions, especially for scholars working within institutional settings that privilege traditional forms of research. Our study identifies the facilitators and barriers encountered by early career social work scholars.

Inspiration for the Study: As practicing social workers, we recognize the alignment between social work values – service, self-determination, social justice and others – and the philosophy underpinning PAR and CBPR, which emphasizes shared learning and knowledge generation and prioritizes social action and change. PAR and CBPR also link practice and research in ways congruent with social work. The continued underrepresentation of these methodologies in social work literature got us curious about the reasons why. 

Methodological Approach: This is a phenomenological study that involves collecting data through in-depth interviews with social work doctoral students and pre-tenure faculty. Additionally, we conducted a workshop at the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry that served as a site for data-collection. We have plans to conduct a second data-collection workshop this fall. 

Next Steps: We are working toward completing data collection and beginning the data analysis process. Our hope is to present and publish our findings on the facilitators and barriers to using PAR methods among social work scholars, and on our data collection approach, specifically the interactive activities used during our workshops. Additionally, we are also exploring the possibility of an autoethnographic piece on our own experiences with PAR.  

Anticipated Implications: Our goal is to support conversations among social work scholars who are participatory action researchers, those who are interested in these methodologies, as well as the broader social work research community, about how to expand opportunities to build knowledge and promote social change. We anticipate that our research can serve as a tool for identifying new pathways for the pursuit of PAR in social work.

Advice for Other PhD Students Conducting Research: Our advice to doctoral students engaging in qualitative research – be adaptive! Our first data collecting workshop went differently than we hoped, but also delivered exactly what we needed because we kept focused on what was important and we relaxed into the evolving nature of qualitative work.