The Struggle is Real

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Dear Social Workers,

I didn’t get very much done this week, in the way of research. Every week brings something new. And that means another Period of Adjustment. And that’s ok. I’m trying to find the things that I love to do, to round out my life. Those are worth a little extra effort. And then, I need to say no to (almost) everything else.

This weekend is a board of directors meeting for the website. One of things that I need to do is to get their pictures and bios posted, for the sake of transparency. They are lovely, brilliant, and long-suffering people. I truly value their support and input.

In other news… Well, there’s lots, and not much. I’m posting a new Rigorously Relevant video featuring Dr. Melanie Sage later today. There’s another one in the hopper with Stephen Cummings, for October. If you’re a social worker in any way connected with research, I’m probably headed your way. Be on the lookout for an invite in your DMs. (And I hope that you can, and will say yes to an interview.)

And there’s still time time to register for the next #swRk workshop on October 10. It’s ggplo2 and data visualization, which is always fun!

Lots of other things brewing, but I can’t talk about them yet. Some are in development. Some are kicking around in my head. But I’m plodding on with this website. I hope it helps you in some small way.

And I hope that I have some progress to report with completing my work in CITI, next week. I wanna get to the developing part. In a lot of very real ways, I know that my own challenge is the same one that lots of you pracademics face in finding the time, and the energy, to incorporate research into your practice. But we’ve got this.

We’ve got this.

Dr. Gina

Sunny Days and Mondays

View of a heavily overgrown yard in summer, with a hammock in the center, and a bush of white flowers.
Photo by Zuza Gałczyńska on Unsplash

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

I’m on day three of the three-day weekend. I’ve spent two glorious days doing absolutely nothing of consequence. I really needed that. It’s not as if I’m getting any younger, and I’ve taken to odd aches in random places, all the time. And now, on day three, I’m catching up on Things That Must Be Done. I’ll have a day of yard work, web updates, and family.

It’s occurred to me in the past few weeks that if we’re going to have a blog, then I need to post one now and again. In general, I love to write. As long as I can remember, I’ve filled up notebooks with scribbled thoughts that I couldn’t express or process any other way. But this blog has been hard for me. Initially, I thought it was because I was still in school. That massive distraction is gone, so it must be something else. And then, I realized… It’s because I have to deal with the elephant in the room.

I think I’ve discussed before that, in spite of my love for research methodology, I still haven’t done any research on my own. Again, work, and school have gotten in the way. And family obligations don’t go away just because it’s the weekend, and you have a good idea. But it’s time. I’m all out of excuses. It’s time to start.

I’m telling all of you for accountability. And if you are a social worker in a clinical setting like me, I suspect that you could use a little motivation, yourself. Maybe my fumbling about in the dark will help you to find the courage to do what you want to do. Maybe my own mistakes will help you to avoid some missteps. I hope so.

A lot of the planning for my first project has been done. It’s all been kicking around in my head forever. I know What. I’ve just needed to work out How. I’ve been in the process of deciding which IRB to go through. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of choices. I sat at my desk the other day, trying to make a decision. I finally decided to use the one attached to the hospital where I work, even though this won’t be a work-related project. Now that’s settled, I can move on to completing the CITI coursework, as my old certification expired. Most IRBs will ask you to do this, I think. So, it’s the best place to start. And once that’s done, I can actually sit down to complete my IRB application.

I’ll keep you posted as I move along. But right now, I have a date with some weeding, and some lemongrass sproutlings. Hope you’re having a great weekend.

Gina Griffin

Talk Shows and Jazz Hosts

silver dynamic microphone on black microphone stand
Photo by Dmitry Demidov on

I grew up in the era of early talk shows, and transistor radios. My sister and I were latchkey kids, and our schools were often on double session. I’d get home early in the afternoon, and ignore my chores until the last minute, so I could watch soap operas and talk shows. I outgrew the ever-more-scandalous shows pretty quickly. But some part of me always wanted a microphone of my own.

And in those days before the internet, the radio was my friend. I guess I’ve always been a bit of an insomniac. I remember listening to the radio next to my pillow, late into the night. There were a few late-night jazz shows that I could get long-range. Those hosts were the baddest cats around. I desperately wanted to be like them, crooning into the mic, spinning their thoughts on Monk, and Bird, and Miles.

I suppose that this new feature channels some of those teenaged wishes. When I started to think about AISWR! I knew that I wanted it to be interactive, and engaging. I wanted to collect the best resources available, and offer features that would highlight all sorts of exciting people in the world of social work research, in a dynamic way.

So, I’m launching “Rigorously Relative,” which is a series of ongoing interviews with social work researchers. Initially, I wanted to include only direct practice social workers. But there are a lot of great researchers out there, and I want to include anyone who can inspire us to engage in the work.

My first interview is with Ben Capistrant of Smith College. His interactive self-guided modules for learning R programming will become a resource for the AISWR! website. We had a great time chatting about research and data science (and dogs), and I hope you enjoy it, as well.

Gina G., 9/29/2020

Why I Love R

So, I started learning R Programming somewhere around 2012. I think. I was working in this job where I *really* wanted to do research, but I kept getting shot down. At some point, I got the idea that if I could learn statistics and methodology, I could sneak into other people’s projects. To this date, that has not been a successful approach. But it led me to learn R, so it’s worked out okay.

The first big appeal, for me, was that R was free and open source. I was still a fledgling social worker, and money was tight. The other types of programs used for statistics and data analysis are expensive, and free seemed like a much better option.

The next thing that piqued my interest was that it seemed to offer a lot of versatility. As I learned about the language, the more I realized I could do with it. Sure, you could do the expected statistical stuff. But one of my first UseR! conference sessions was a Bookdown session with Karl Broman. I sat in the back of the class, terrified that someone would realize how little I knew. But as I listened, I realized that Bookdown had lots of applications for creating publications and presentations. And I already understood the basics of Markdown language, so that made it seem less intimidating.

I finally got around to ggpltot2, and graphics. I firmly believe that life is too short for crappy graphics. I had used a well-known statistical software package in my MSW program, and I felt deeply and personally offended at the plainness of the charts and graphs. So, I was absolutely delighted when I discovered that really lovely graphics can be created with ggplot2.

I’m still learning my way around R Programming, but I am a true believer. I describe myself as a Perpetual Advanced Beginner… I’ve spent the past few years immersed in a non-research doctoral program, so I feel that I never have quite enough time to devote to learning more. The learning curve is sometimes steep, but I keep plugging away. I also love the R community, and they always keep me coming back.

My Social Workers, I’m going to be talking a lot more about R Programming in the near future. So, stick around if you’re intrigued.

Gina G., 6/29/2020

Within the Sound of My Voice…

To all the direct practice social workers, the ones who are trying to find the time and the energy and the ongoing motivation to conduct research, I am calling out to you. I know that you feel alone, but you are not. I’m just like you. I know that you finished your Master’s degree with some great ideas for research, and the belief that you would have the time and the energy to develop those ideas because you are passionate. You are passionate about finding answers and serving your clients, and you have high hopes about adding to the social work knowledge base.

But you’re also tired. You know you’re not going to be offered protected time to do research. And you’ve been conducting EBPs all day, or driving around and seeing clients in their homes, and you’re already exhausted. And even though you have that one, tiny grain of energy left, you’re struggling to remember those research skills. It’s been five years since you’ve had to use statistics, and you wouldn’t recognize a regression model if it bit you on the butt. And you’ve asked everyone at your facility about how to get in touch with the nearest IRB, and nobody knows what you’re talking about. And those research journals are expensive, and you have no access to an agency subscription. You probably feel a little daunted. And all of that passion and enthusiasm is leaking out of you, because all of those obstacles feel too big to surpass.

I hear you, and I’m just like you. I’m a social worker, and a trauma therapist. I’ve been fortunate enough to help people who struggle with PTSD for the past 9 years, and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I love what I do. This is my second career. Before this, I had a long and happy career in the world of technology, which I also loved. I love computers, and software, and data. I seem to understand those things at least as well as I understand people, and that makes me happy, too.

I also happen to be a non-traditional doctoral candidate. When I started my program, I was determined to find a way to combine all of these things that are meaningful to me. This website is the result. Right now, you can count on a blog, some community support, and the gradual introduction of some basic skills. We’re also going to spend some time focusing on learning data science, using R Programming, because this is an important skill for social workers to integrate into their skill sets. In time, we’re hoping to offer CEUs around the research-related skills that you learn. So please stick around. Bring your ideas and your hopes, and grow with us. Let’s focus on building social work practice research, together.