or drugs versus surgery in some cases of prostate cancer. Another emerging area is genetic counseling, as clients weigh whether or not to have children based on new information about inherited diseases. Applications to the MSW program are extremely robust—higher than ever, Tropman reports. “Consequently, we are rich in an abundance of caring, committed, enthusiastic people who are really passionate about wanting to ‘make a difference’ and contribute to social well-being in a significant way. As a field, we need to provide them with the best tools possible and nurture their spirits with ongoing training opportunities, educational resources, and appropriate salaries.” He is concerned that the burden of paying for higher education has shifted to the student. Although U-M has increased financial aid dramatically, graduates still leave with considerable debt. The same is true for law, medicine, and business graduates, he notes; but in the social services, it takes longer to pay off that debt. Nonetheless, the job market for social workers is promising, Tropman says. “It’s driven by demographics: the baby boom generation of social workers is entering
practice, while also able to understand the underlying social issues and conduct scientific research?” One answer: the creation of very successful “bridging courses” (Social Work and Anthropology, Social Work and Psychology, etc.) highlighting the contributions that the fields make to each other. In addition, doctoral students representing each of the degree programs organized a series called “Conversations Across Social Disciplines.” Ingersoll-Dayton attended the workshop entitled “Ethics and Research,” in which students in social work, economics, political science, and psychology talked about the ethical issues they encountered while conducting research abroad. “For example, a $15 compensation to a research subject is nominal here but equal to a month’s salary in a developing country. Is that an incentive or a bribe?” she asks. “I was impressed by the students’ initiative in grappling with these serious issues.” Like the dean, Ingersoll-Dayton notes the inter nationalization of social work and increasing educational exchanges at the master’s and doctoral levels with universities around the world. She sees a growing interest in community-based participatory action research, which engages researchers and citizens in social activism at the neighborhood level. The economic downturn has also raised interest in issues related to poverty: a U-M doctoral student in social work and anthropology is studying the cultural and political contexts of a homeless camp in the Ann Arbor area. Another doctoral student in social work and psychology is looking at how treatment methodologies developed for soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder might be applied to people who have lost their homes and livelihood in Haiti.
Doctoral students, Dean Laura Lein (second from left), and Professor Berit IngersollDayton (second from right) meet at the Society for Social Work and Research conference to discuss the futures of social work.
retirement, and the population of aging Americans is growing, presenting an ongoing need for many levels and forms of social services.” Reaching across disciplines
While dual degrees are an option for MSW students, they are the hallmark of Michigan’s Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Social Science, which draws well over a hundred applicants for nine to eleven positions each year. Graduates hold an MSW and a PhD in social work plus a PhD in one of five disciplines: anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, and sociology. The joint degree was established in 1957 under the philosophy that social work would be strengthened by social science theory and methods, and the social sciences would benefit from the applications that social work suggests. “Bridging dual disciplines is both our strength and our challenge,” explains Professor Berit Ingersoll-Dayton, the program’s director. “We are a profession with a very applied focus. How do we develop people who are competent in the world of
“Translational research is a form of research that social workers do well,” Ingersoll-Dayton says. “It’s taking interventions that have been shown to be helpful with one population and applying them to a different population.” And the research—international, translational, and community-based participatory action research— informs the future of social work education. “I’m encouraged on several fronts,” Lein concludes. “We continue to attract fabulous students. We have a very strong interdisciplinary faculty that is engaged in research, teaching, and service across a spectrum of social issues, as well as committed to the social justice values that underlie our profession and discipline. And finally, our students and faculty are very engaged in the new technology and new ways of thinking that are indispensible components of an innovative education.” —Pat Materka is a freelance writer and editor specializing in the social sciences. She also owns and operates the Ann Arbor Bed and Breakfast.
Ongoing Winter/Spring 2011