Research Curriculum


The purpose of the research sequence in the MSW program is to provide education in research as an integral part of practice. This is accomplished through a foundation course (SOWK 670, Social Work Research) and the advanced research options (SOWK 772, 777, 781, 783, 789, or 790) within the Concentrations and Specializations matrix.

The research curriculum is framed by the notion of practice research which includes population and problem analysis, intervention research, and evaluation of interventions in order to contribute to both social work practice and the development of practice knowledge. Within the framework of practice research, the purpose of the advanced research requirement is to prepare students for active roles in practice, program evaluation, and program and policy development. 

The advanced curriculum in research is an integral part of the Concentrations and Specializations matrix. All students must conduct research within the substantive area of their corresponding Concentration and their Specialization. This requirement may be met through a minimum of three credits of any one of the following options:

  • An advanced research course that includes actively conducting research (3 credits)
  • A faculty-led research project (SOWK 789, “Faculty Initiated Independent Research Project,” 1 to 6 credits)
  • A student-initiated research project (SOWK 790, “Student Initiated Independent Research Project,” 1 to 6 credits)


Students have the opportunity to participate in independent research that is either student-initiated or faculty-led.

SOWK 789 – Faculty Initiated Independent Research Project [1-6 credits]
The instructor-initiated advanced research course involves student participation in research activities under the instructor’s direction and supervision. Opportunities are provided for students to engage in hands-on research activities which contribute to a faculty member’s program of research. See specific course descriptions offered each semester in the course schedule.

SOWK 790 – Student Initiated Independent Research Project [1-6 credits]
The student-initiated independent research course provides an opportunity for students with advanced research abilities to pursue a research topic of personal interest that cannot be addressed in the existing MSW curriculum. This course requires a faculty mentor and a written proposal that is approved by the research sequence as methodically sound. To be eligible to propose an independent research course, the student must have earned a grade of “A” in SOWK 670, and must have some hands-on research experience. Approval submission deadlines are: March 1st for fall semester; October 1st for spring semester.

The proposed project must include active analysis and interpretation of data. Examples of appropriate projects include systematic reviews, meta-analyses, analysis of secondary data, primary data collection and analysis.

At least one-course product must consist of an APA-style research report that includes (a) discussion of the core problem/research question and the prior work that informed the question; (b) description of research methods; (c) presentation of research findings; (d) conclusions and implications. 

Required Procedures:

Students interested in proposing an independent research project should take the following steps:

  • Identify a faculty mentor and secure their preliminary approval of the topic and willingness to mentor the project.
  • Develop a 1-page proposal with (a) specific title; (b) statement of purpose; (c) brief overview of methodology; (d) anticipated need for IRB approval; (e) anticipated products; (f) intended fields of practice specialization.
  • Develop a detailed syllabus. Include (a) schedule of meetings; (b) list of relevant readings; (c) specific products with due dates; (d) and grading criteria. As with all courses, there must be at least two graded assignments. The degree of student effort should be equivalent to other advanced research courses (i.e., approximately 5 hours per week, not including time to work on course assignments).
  • Secure approvals by contacting first the Chair of the research sequence and, upon approval, the Chair of the student’s Specialization. Each set of approvals is anticipated to take approximately two weeks. The student should be available via email and/or to meet face-to-face to respond to faculty members’ questions about the proposal.  

Important Note Regarding Deadlines:  

For the fall semester, the proposal must be submitted by March 1. For the spring semester, the proposal must be submitted by October 1. This is in part to allow the student ample time to receive Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for human subjects research if required.

Institutional Review Board Approval:

If the student’s independent research project involves either secondary data analysis or primary data collection, the research must be approved by the School of Social Work’s Human Subjects Protection Committee and the UMB Institutional Review Board prior to implementing any parts of the research. According to federal regulations, research is defined as “a systematic investigation including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.”  The website of the UMB Human Research Protections Office (HRPO) provides the necessary information about all IRB process. Please visit: