Understanding Sampling and Recruitment in Social Work Dissertation Research

  • Rebecca G. Mirick Salem State University School of Social Work http://orcid.org/0000-0002-5191-6874
  • Ashley Davis Wheelock College
  • Stephanie P. Wladkowski Eastern Michigan University
Keywords: Dissertation, social work education, recruitment, sampling, empirical research


The field of social work has increasingly focused on improving the quantity and rigor of its research. For many social work doctoral students, their first independent research experience begins with their dissertation, and yet, little is known about the factors that facilitate students’ success during this process. Sample recruitment is one step where significant and unexpected challenges can occur. As social justice is the central value of the profession, social work doctoral students may focus on research with vulnerable or marginalized populations; however, little research has been done that focuses on social work dissertations, samples used, and the process of recruitment. In this study, 215 doctoral-level social work graduates who completed their degree within the past ten years were surveyed about their dissertation research, with a focus on the sampling strategy and recruitment processes. Findings show that students have a wide diversity of experiences with the dissertation process. While 64.6% anticipant challenges around recruitment and sampling, only 54.9% encounter challenges. Less than half (44.7%) of study participants received guidance during this process and most (80.5%) felt the dissertation experience impacted subsequent research, both positively (40.5%) and negatively (9.8%). Based on these findings, doctoral programs are encouraged to increase supports available to dissertating students, particularly those recruiting study participants from vulnerable and marginalized populations. These supports include community connections, skills for obtaining gatekeeper buy-in, and both relational support and advice from dissertation committees and other colleagues. 

Author Biographies

Rebecca G. Mirick, Salem State University School of Social Work
Rebecca G. Mirick is an Assistant Professor at Salem State University School of Social Work in Salem, MA.
Ashley Davis, Wheelock College
Ashley Davis is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Wheelock College in Boston, MA.
Stephanie P. Wladkowski, Eastern Michigan University
Stephanie P. Wladkowski is an assistant professor of social work at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI.


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