Academic journal article Social Work

Attributes, Experiences, and Career Productivity of Successful Social Work Scholars

Academic journal article Social Work

Attributes, Experiences, and Career Productivity of Successful Social Work Scholars

Article excerpt

The availability of a professional knowledge base and the correspondence between this knowledge and what is actually done in practice are hallmarks of any profession (Williams & Hopps, 1987). Thus, a systematic and verifiable knowledge base distinguishes social work from nonprofessional disciplines within the human services field. This knowledge also distinguishes the social work profession from other professions and groups, serves to maintain credibility with these groups, and provides a basis for accountability to social work clients (Fanschel, 1980). Consequently, the scholarly activities of social workers--those activities devoted to the development, verification, and dissemination of professional knowledge--are fundamental to the profession's existence.

Although social workers have written about their professional knowledge base since the turn of the century, information about the activities of the contributors to this knowledge has been available only in recent years. In addition, most of the studies completed have been concerned with the products of scholarly activities, rather than with the processes through which these products are developed or with the scholars themselves. Some of these productivity studies have described the scholarship of the faculties of professional schools (Corcoran & Kirk, 1991; Jayaratne, 1979; Thyer & Bentley, 1986); others have examined the scholarship of individual social workers (Grinnell & Royer, 1983; Robbins, Corcoran, Hepler, & Magner, 1985; Wodarski & Benner, 1983); and a final group of studies have been concerned with graduates of the profession's doctoral programs (Abbott, 1985; Green, Hutchison, & Sar, 1992; Rosen, 1979).

Although these productivity studies have involved social workers with different levels of education and different professional career patterns, the results have been similar. Consistently, a majority of scholarly products identified in these studies were generated by a minority of social workers. Even among faculties of the professional schools, where scholarly contribution is a major occupational expectation, and among graduates of the profession's doctoral degree programs, the percentage of social workers who report giving papers at professional conferences, having articles published in professional journals, and writing books and book chapters is quite low. In 1989, for example, data collected by the Council on Social Work Education revealed that total scholarly productivity for faculty in member institutions equaled less than one journal article for every two faculty members and about one book and one book chapter for every six faculty members (Spaulding, 1990). Similarly, the results of a recent study of more than 1,700 social work doctoral graduates revealed that active participation in scholarly activities was the exception rather than the norm among those who had earned the profession's highest degree (Green et al., 1992). Almost half of the graduates had not published a single article in a social work journal over the course of their career. Similarly, a third had not made a presentation at a social work conference, and more than half had not written a chapter in a book. The Green et al. study also revealed that there was a small minority of particularly successful scholars in the field who accounted for a majority of the journal articles, books, and conference presentations identified. These scholars made regular presentations of their work at professional conferences and consistently published articles in a variety of professional refereed journals. A substantial number of these successful scholars had also published at least one book.

The presence of a small, productive, and influential group of scholars is not unique to social work. In fact, it has been estimated that a mere 6 percent of the scientific community produces 50 percent of all scientific publications (MacRoberts & MacRoberts, 1982), and studies of psychologists (Schuckman, 1987), educators (Cresswell, 1985), and nurses (Holzemer & Chambers, 1988) have revealed the same phenomenon. …

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