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.


Dr. Shanna K. Kattari
By: 
Jonah DeChants, MSSP, Doctoral Student, University of Denver, Graduate School of Social Work

Dr. Shanna K. Kattari

Dr. Shanna K. Kattari

Shanna K. Kattari, PhD, MEd, CSE, ACS (she|her|hers) is an incoming Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan. Her work centers on disability and ableism, and transgender/non-binary (NB) identities and transphobia, using an intersectional lens. Shanna’s dissertation developed/validated the Ableist Microaggression Scale (AMS), and used the AMS-65 to explore the relationships between experiencing ableist microaggressions and the mental health of disabled adults. Recently, Shanna has focused on the health disparities among transgender/NB communities, across physical and behavioral health, as well as working with the community to better understand how the lack of inclusive providers has increased these disparities.

Jonah: One word that best describes how you work? 

Shanna: Connectively

Jonah: What is your background and how you became a social work researcher? 

Shanna: I was a sex educator and sexologist, and kept running into issues in the field and in my community(ies) where we knew things to be true, but there wasn’t peer review research to back up our community knowledge. I chose to go work on my PhD in order to create a bridge between the academy and communities, to do community based research, and to conduct the research that my/our communities needed.

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

Shanna: It really depends on the day. If I am teaching, there might be some meeting with students, prepping for class, or grading of assignments. I do a lot of meetings, in person and virtual to connect between myself and my community partners, and with others LGBTQIA+ focused researchers around the country. Many of the virtual meetings I take from my home office, so my feline research assistants can help out as well. I also am a core faculty member at the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities (aka The Sex Lab), and work to mentor students from the Sex Lab, the School of Social Work and across campus on topics regarding sexuality, gender, disability, and sexuality education.

Jonah: What is your best time-saving short cut in your role as a social work researcher? 

Shanna: I try to keep super organized on what projects I have and where they are in the process (conception, IRB, recruitment, data collection, analysis, and where in the stage of writing I am), so that when I have small free blocks of time, I can figure out what project to work on when I am able.

Jonah: What are your techniques for collaborating with colleagues? 

Shanna: We use a lot of technology to organize how we work together. My primary research team has people from Michigan, Colorado, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California. We use tools like Zoom to connect, and use shareable/cooperative spreadsheets tor track who is working on what, and what next steps are. As far as working with community partners, I think ensuring everyone’s needs are on the table (need for community reports, certain types of data, peer review papers, etc.) so that there is transparency for everyone, and we can work cooperatively to plan research that meets everyone’s needs.

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

Shanna: I have a color coded GoogleDocs spreadsheet so I can keep track of all of my papers and conference abstracts I have submitted. 

Jonah: What is your least favorite work and how do you deal with it? 

Shanna: Revise and resubmits! When I finish and article and edit it, and send it out into the world, it feels almost like I’ve birthed a child. R&Rs, while sometimes they have useful suggestions, often feels like they are asking me to change my child, to alter my vision, or sometimes even change directions or walk back language/implications that are important to/ask for by community. I often feel like responding to R&Rs are like walking a tightrope above shark infested waters.

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

Shanna: I spending a lot of time with my cats, reading books. Now that it is summer, I’m also super excited to get into gardening, as we’ve just built some accessible raised beds. Recently, I’ve also gotten into some ballroom dancing when my body is up for it, and that is a great time.

Jonah: Who is a researcher (in social work or another field) who inspires you? Why? 

Shanna: Dr. Alex Wagman at VCU does fantastic work around engaging community and especially young people in her research. Ramona Beltran is one of the most authentic and intentional researchers I have read. Dr. Bernadette Marie Calafell (in Communication Studies) is another incredible researcher who combines a critical social justice lens and engaging analysis of pop culture to connect the two. 

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

Shanna: To figure out how to balance my background as a community activist with moving towards being an academic advocate. This has helped me to work towards figuring out how to show up in an authentic way in the academy, but still in a way that fits within existing systems while challenging them.

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

Shanna: Connect and collaborate as much as possible. It is easy to get lost in doing things on your own (like your dissertation), or working only on your advisor’s project, but connect with other doc students, post docs, junior faculty, senior faculty, you name it, who have similar interests as you. Work together on conference proposals, white papers, letters to the editors, and research projects. The more connections and interactions you foster at this point, the stronger your network will be as you launch your career. My other advice is to turn every (solid) project you have worked on into a paper. Did you collect data for a qualitative class? Analyze it (maybe after getting IRB approval, depending), and publish it. Did you design a project for another class? If it is feasible, conduct it and then publish on it. Don’t wait until you are working on your dissertation to start doing your own projects and getting your work out there.

Jonah: What are some projects or publications that you would like people to know about? 

Shanna: I am thrilled to be partnering with Transcend the Binary (and several other trans focused researchers in the state) to launch the first ever Michigan Trans Health Survey, collecting data about the health and provider related experiences of transgender and non-binary individuals throughout the state of Michigan. I’ve love for folks to help replicate similar surveys in other states, so that we can get a better snapshot of trans health in different states around the country. I’m also really excited that my Ableist Microaggressions Scale is in press with the Journal of Social Service Research, and am hoping that this will be useful in a variety of ways for other scholars.