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Curriculum Objectives
Course Requirements
Developing the Thesis Project
Human Subjects Review
Implementing and Completing the Study
Writing the Thesis Report
Thesis Submission
List of Appendices
Thesis Guidelines

300 - Policies

300.1 - Disabilities Policy

Smith College School for Social Work does not discriminate on the basis of disability in admissions or access to its program and activities. Research Advisors, in conjunction with the Thesis Coordinator, will work with students to develop appropriate work plans and to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities.

Students who identify as having a disability (physical, learning, emotional, etc.), which requires accommodation during the research project must register with the Office of Disability Services. Students are referred to the policies in the School's Summer Information Book, published annually. Those students who have registered with the Office of Disability Services are encouraged to inform the research advisor regarding the nature of the disability so that the advisor can individualize the advising process to accommodate the needs of the student.

300.2 - Post-Residency Policy

During Winter Advising, the research advisor notifies the student and the Thesis Coordinator in writing at the earliest possible date regarding students who may be at risk for not completing the thesis project within the established timelines. Notification can occur via the four evaluations, as well as letters and/or email notifications from the RA to the Thesis Coordinator, who will communicate with the student regarding writing, timeline, quality of work, communication and other issues as identified by the research advisor. Students will be responsible for reading their Smith email on a regular basis, particularly during the month of May.

  1. The Thesis Coordinator will maintain ongoing contact with the research advisor once the student is identified as being at risk for not completing the thesis project.

  2. The Thesis Coordinator will be available to both the research advisor and the student for consultation.

  3. Advisors have the responsibility to recommend whether or not a student who has not met the May deadline will enter post-residency status on this basis of not being able to finish the thesis on time. No summer advising will be offered to post-residency students.

A student who does not submit a completed thesis approved by the research advisor by the specified deadline is automatically assigned to post-residency status. Fees for post-residency advising are automatically billed each semester. Post-residency students may complete the thesis during any period in which they have assigned advising (from early September through the 1st Friday in December, early January through the 2nd Friday in May). Students may complete the thesis as soon as possible during these periods.

Completing the research project on a post-residency basis includes meeting the dissemination requirement. The dissemination requirement must be completed, and the signed dissemination form included with the submission of the completed and approved manuscript. Post-residency students who are not on campus most often select a second reader from among the School's faculty.

In order to qualify for the Master of Social Work degree, the research project must be signed off by the research advisor and all materials, including the manuscript and assigned dissemination form submitted to Laurie Wyman by the second Friday of the third May of the post residency period. If the thesis is not completed within three years, the student will be given a grade of F for the Thesis project.

Fees will be charged for each term of post-residency advising. Any outstanding balances including library fees/fines also need to be paid at this time. Post-residency students must pay for post-residency advising by mid-August for Winter Term 1 and mid-November for Winter Term 2. Click on the Student Financial Services (SFS) link for details. Time lost due to leaves of absence does not typically extend the three year period for completion of the thesis requirement.

Just like regular advising, post-residency advising visits take place by telephone, web cam, and email. However, the student may elect to travel to meet with the advisor. At the start of their work together post-residency students should send to their advisor the most complete draft of the project to date and a brief statement of their goals and timelines for the remaining work. No summer research advising is offered for post residency students.

Post-residency students are eligible to participate in the graduation ceremony and related activities. The Associate Dean will write a letter stating that the post-residency student fulfilled all requirements for the M.S.W. degree except for the thesis. This letter does help students obtain entry level social work positions.

Once the thesis is submitted and dissemination is completed and signed off, the following occurs:

  1. The Chair of the Research Sequence presents the student’s name for a faculty vote at the December or August faculty meeting.

  2. The student’s name is then brought before the Smith Board of Trustees, where a vote is taken as to whether the student is a degree candidate.

  3. For students who finish before the end of the first winter term, the M.S.W. degree is awarded during the following February. For students who finish before the end of the second winter term, the M.S.W. degree is awarded the following August.

  4. Transcripts are generally prepared before the awarding of the degree. Students should check with the Registrar, who will issue the final transcript. It is the transcript that is needed for the licensing exam and required by potential employers.

300.3 – Authorship Policy

Master’s students working with faculty member’s research projects
(Presented by Research Chair and approved by faculty March 25, 2010)

Master's students may have the opportunity to work with a SSW faculty member on the faculty member’s research. Such opportunities enhance and strengthen a student’s knowledge and skills related to the specific topic and to research more broadly. These working relationships may begin with a student learning about a faculty member’s project and expressing an interest in learning more, or a faculty member inviting a student to become involved in the research. Faculty members can gain much from such working relationships. Students can aid in the completion of specific research tasks, they can explore specific research questions that a faculty member has not addressed, or bring a new interpretation to the subject matter. Faculty members can also strengthen their teaching and mentorships skills through these working relationships. Good working relationships between faculty members and students are created through clear roles and responsibilities, clearly stated tasks, and defined goals. The faculty member is responsible for initiating these discussions before the working relationships begins (Barretta-Herman, 2000). The ability to address questions or challenges that arise during these working relationships is the responsibility of both the faculty member and the student. Furthermore, it is common that there is a reassessment or renegotiation of roles, responsibilities, and goals as these working relationships evolve, as the nature of the work changes or the amount of time a partner is able to contribute to a project changes.

Establishing authorship for publications resulting from students working with faculty members on the faculty member’s research needs to be clear to all parties. The NASW Code of Ethics (2008) provides a frame for understanding the importance of correctly crediting contributors to a body of work. Section 4.08 on acknowledging credits states:


Social workers should take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they have actually performed and to which they have contributed;


Social workers should honestly acknowledge the work of and the contributions made by others.

Specific authorship issues will be addressed below.

Thesis. If a student is working with a faculty member’s research project and intends to develop a thesis project out of this work, the student will be the sole author on the thesis. The student is required to complete an independent research project for the thesis. The learning objectives of the thesis project include the student:

By addressing the above objectives the student is contributing substantially to the development of the thesis project. This does not exclude the faculty member from providing significant direction on the thesis project.

Publications other than the thesis project. Students may work with faculty members in the development of articles, chapters, or other professional publications (beyond the thesis). APA states that “authorship is reserved for people who make a primary contribution to and hold primary responsibility for the data, concepts, and interpretation of results for a published work” and not solely those who do the writing (Huth, 1987 as cited in APA, 2001, p. 6).

APA (2001) provides a guideline for distinguishing substantial professional contribution to a work. Substantial contribution [emphasis added] includes formulating the problem, structuring the research design, organizing and conducting the analysis, interpreting the results or writing a major portion of the paper (APA, 2001, p. 350). Lesser contributions [emphasis added], that may be acknowledged in an author note, may include advising on the design of the study, suggesting or advising about analysis, collecting or entering the data, modifying a computer program or recruiting study participants. A combination of these lesser tasks may constitute authorship (APA, 2001, p. 350). Determining levels of each contributor’s involvement can be challenging, as the distinctions are not always clear and contributions from individuals can vary during the preparation of the manuscript (Barretta-Herman, 2000).

It is advisable for the faculty member to determine as early as possible who will be listed as an author, the order of authorship, and alternative form of recognition (e.g. author note). These decisions may need to be revisited if the expected responsibilities change or the amount of supervision provided to a student changes during the course of the work (not including the work on the student’s thesis).

Order of authorship. In some fields senior faculty are listed first, in others senior faculty are listed last, and some list alphabetically (Barretta-Herman, 2001). APA indicates that the “general rule is that the name of the principal contributor should appear first, with subsequent names in order of decreasing contribution” (2001, p. 351). Possession of an institutional position or the relative status of individuals (full, associate, student) does not justify authorship credit or order of authorship (APA, 2009, p. 19; APA Ethical Standards, Section 6.23(b), p. 1609 as cited in Barretta-Herman, 2000. p 150). For the Smith College School for Social Work it is recommended that for faculty-student authorship, the APA Policy be followed.

With regard to faculty-student collaboration at the master’s level, the APA standards state that a student should be listed as primary author when the student makes the primary contribution (APA, 2009, p. 19). However, when students are collaborating on a faculty-oriented project and are just beginning to acquire the skills that will enable them to make primary contributions, authorship should be determined by the relative contribution of the student and faculty member (APA, 2009, p. 19).

Co-Authorship. “The general rule is that the name of the principal contributor should appear first, with subsequent names in order of decreasing contribution. If authors played equal roles in the research and publication of their study, they may wish to note this in the second paragraph of the author note” (APA, 2001, p. 351).

Acknowledgements and Credit. On articles or chapters based on the student’s thesis, acknowledgement must be made that the a) research is based on the thesis project, and b) the thesis’s author’s name is to be included in author note or footnote of the published manuscript. Financial support of the research, including the name of the funding organization must also be acknowledged in the author note or footnote (SCSSW Doctoral Program Manual of Policies and Procedures, 2009-2010). The author note is also a place “for authors to acknowledge colleagues’ professional contributions to the study and personal assistance” (APA, 2001, p. 29).


American Psychological Association (APA). (2009). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed). Washington, D.C.: Author.

American Psychological Association (APA). (2001). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed). Washington, D.C.: Author.

Barretta-Herman, A. (2000). Faculty-student collaboration: Issues and recommendations. Advances in Social Work, 1(2), 148-159.

Smith College School of Social Work. (2009). Doctoral Program Manual of Policies and Procedures, 2009-2010. Northampton, MA: School of Social Work.

Smith College School of Social Work. (2009). Master’s thesis: Thesis guidelines, 2009-2010. Northampton, MA: School of Social Work.

NASW. (2008). Code of Ethics. Washington, D.C.: Author. Retrieved January 26, 2010 from

300.4 – Grading Policy

A passing grade in the 380/382/384 course is a prerequisite for assignment of a winter research advisor. The Research Project (Course 480/481), which begins in the final field placement period and continues into the final summer session, carries 16 academic credits and is graded on a Pass/Post-residency basis. Credit is granted only if the entire project is completed. No partial credit is granted.

The thesis project is expected to be a scholarly attempt to extend knowledge useful for the social work profession. Because the outcome of a search for knowledge is unpredictable, criteria for success relate not only to the knowledge yield of a project, but also to the process by which the attempt was made. Accordingly, the student is expected to demonstrate reasonable initiative, productive use of time reserved for the project, and appropriate use of research advising in order to fulfill the objectives of the Research Project listed in these Guidelines. A passing level of performance requires: (a) acceptable achievement in each of the identified components, and (b) an acceptable pace of work.

The grading criteria are conveyed during advising through collaborative analysis and planning about the project. It is the advisor's function to help the student achieve a passing level of work at each stage of the process. The endorsed plans, evolved through collaboration, define such acceptable levels of performance. Documentation of performance takes place through the Evaluation Forms 1 (for the problem formulation and first substantive chapter), Evaluation Form 2 (second substantive chapter), Evaluation Form 3 (third substantive chapter), Evaluation Form 4 (final draft) and Evaluation Form 5 (final submission) (see pg. 3 of the Guidelines for detailed Course Requirements).

The minimal passing pace for work during the winter is defined as sufficient progress with the conduct, analysis and reporting of a project so that the student has a reasonable opportunity to complete the work on schedule without compromising his or her other summer learning responsibilities. If a student has not made sufficient progress during the winter session, he or she may not be permitted to continue the project during the first term of the summer session and will be placed into post residency status. The minimal passing pace for work during the summer is the completion of an acceptable report by the scheduled deadline and its dissemination during the summer session.

It may be helpful to clarify the School's allocation of authority for making the judgments about Pass/Post-residency performance. The advisor, who is the faculty member closest to the work on the project, can speak individually for the School in determining that the work done meets passing levels. The advisor cannot judge, however, that the work fails to meet standards. If the advisor has serious questions about this, the matter is discussed with the student and may be referred for review by the Thesis Coordinator. If, after consultation between the Thesis Coordinator, the student, and the advisor, serious problems persist, the matter will be referred to the Research Sequence Chair. The Research Sequence Chair may initiate a formal consultation by the School’s Academic and Field Work Performance Committee. While the responsibility for grading the project rests with the Research Sequence, the Committee may make recommendations to the Sequence and provides a formal arena for students' concerns to be heard.

It may also be helpful to clarify the School's philosophy about the project. The School accepts as a serious obligation the provision of whatever support we can offer each student to make possible the successful meeting of all criteria. Nevertheless, final responsibility for satisfactory performance rests with the student.

300.5 – Grievance Procedure Policy

The thesis project conforms to the School's broader expectations regarding collegial work: The Smith College School for Social Work is a large and diverse community engaged in professional education. As part of this education, we expect faculty and students alike to follow the principles set forth in the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics (2008). The Code articulates a set of ethical responsibilities to colleagues, including treating colleagues with respect, accurately and fairly representing the views and obligations of colleagues, and avoiding unwarranted negative criticism in communication, such as demeaning comments about colleagues' competence or individual attributes (section 2.01ff). The Code further states social workers should not take advantage of disputes with colleagues, nor engage in inappropriate discussion of another's expertise and competencies. Where differences arise between faculty, between students or between students and faculty, we expect that these principles of ethical conduct among social workers will be honored.

Grievance procedures specific to the grading of the Research Project are found under Grading Policy in these Guidelines.

Updated 6/9/15