M.S.W. Research Practicum

The Research Practicum is a two credit (or a single course equivalent) specialization level research elective option intended to allow learning opportunities for students addressing CSWE EPAS and SSW objectives. Practicum learning centers on participation in an ongoing research project developed and led by a Smith College SSW resident faculty member. The faculty member identifies the research question and methods as well as identifying multiple student roles in the project. The practicum is a faculty designed and mentored project; it is not an independent project designed by the student. The faculty member is responsible for completing and documenting appropriate IRB approval where required for research involving human subjects or for use of secondary data involving human subjects. The research practicum requires at least 64 hours of work for credit, with the different tasks and their weighting for grading determined by the faculty advisor and specified in the written research practicum application.


Examples of prior student research practica have involved supporting professional knowledge about meaningful social justice conversations by: 

  1. joining a research team,
  2. learning about a larger scale research project using an RCT design,
  3. examining and critically evaluating relevant literature on this topic,
  4. evaluating the merits and limitations of standardized assessment measures for this topic, and
  5. helping implement a specific standardized test. 

Another practicum project, explored complex trauma among MSW students in field by:

  1. helping to complete an IRB application,
  2. helping to develop and
  3. pilot test a survey instrument, all guided by
  4. knowledge of the prior literature on this topic. 

Yet another project, examined the work experiences of drug and alcohol counselors in Massachusetts, including: 

  1. reviewing the literature on this topic,
  2. exploring and helping to code an existing qualitative data set,
  3. helping to develop a codebook to guide analysis of previously collected, and
  4. helping to develop a presentation of the work for conferences. 

Note that each of these projects include multiple roles for the student learner and have clearly identified research learning objectives.

For Faculty Advisors 

All research practicum advisors must document sufficient research education and experience, including having developed, proposed, conducted, completed and published or presented similar research projects. Faculty members are responsible for IRB approvals for all research involving human participants, or for documenting that secondary data sets used were based on data collected with IRB approval as needed. Faculty members grade the research practicum.

For Students and Faculty Advisors

Projects must involve students in multiple aspects of the research endeavor to support specialization level research learning that extends knowledge and skills beyond the generalist level courses. It is not sufficient to solely review prior literature, or only collect data, or only analyze data. Prior approved projects have included as student learning goals clearly identified research questions, have clear links to the prior literature, have specified research designs, often address the needs of socially diverse or vulnerable communities, have specified methods for data collection, use detailed methods of data analysis, each specifically linked to the research question and objectives. Named research and analytic methods should be included as fits the research purposes. For example, it is preferable to undertake a content analysis rather than simply to review of literature. This is in keeping with the purpose of the research practicum: to educate for specialization research knowledge, values, skills and cognitive and affective processes.

M.S.W. Research Practicum Application Process 

Research Practicum Request Form

Faculty members will make available information about projects on which they can include student learners. For Research Practica, see available options here.  Only the projects listed here are available for the 2021-2022 year.

Students should email directly with listed faculty members to begin the process.  This would consist of a simple introductory email that includes why the student is interested in that project and any relevant background information they wish to share with the faculty member.  Students may apply more than one of the listed projects.

Faculty members will decide which students they wish to work with and will work with students to write up the plan for the research practicum project. The plan must include:  

  • a written project summary briefly describing the research practicum project and its opportunities for research learning. (The project must include at least 64 hours of research education work),
  • three (or more) research learning goals for the research practicum (which must include a summary of the research methods to be used) and,
  • the specific grading criteria to be used. 

The faculty advisor reads, reviews (and may suggest changes) and finally signs off on the research practicum proposal.

The faculty member signs off on the Research Practicum Form and project summary and submits both to the Research Sequence Chair by the end of Week 8 in the summer.  (The Research Sequence Chair must then sign off and return the approved and dually signed form to the Associate Dean and on to the SSW Registrar's Office for registration.)

The faculty member oversees progress on the research practicum project, teaching and advising as indicated. Attention to addressing the defined learning goals is central and ongoing. In person and/or telephone/virtual meetings, review of written documents and brief clarifying contacts are expected.

The Research Sequence Chair will check in by email with students and advisors in November of each year.

At the end of the research practicum project, the student submits to the faculty member a written summary documenting at least 64 hours of educational work on the project, documenting learning on the defined specialization research objectives and briefly summarizing the student’s overall learning in the research practicum. 

Students may drop research practica following the deadlines as stated in the M.S.W. Handbook. Students may not originate new practica after the summer session deadlines.

Faculty advisors are expected to contact the Chair if students do not make expected progress or do not meet agreed upon timelines for the project.

As with other courses, problems are resolved through the School's usual process. Students with concerns not resolved directly with the instructor should contact the Chair to problem solve.

The faculty member serving as the research practicum advisor reviews and grades the student’s final report. This faculty member completes a grade sheet sent to SSW Registrar's Office.

The student must complete a course evaluation for this work, as with all other courses.