Social work

Capstone Q & A’s for Students

What is Capstone?

Capstone is the name of a course taken in your final semester of the MSW program. This course involves carrying out a small research project that the student conduct s under the supervision of a department faculty member. It is not a thesis. Rather, it is a graduate project that is intended to give you an opportunity to consolidate what you have learned in the social work program and apply it to social work practice in an urban family context. You are encouraged to use a variety of research methods to make the Capstone project meaningful based on your cur rent interests and future social work plans. Although different models may be used, the most common design of the Capstone course is for students to write a short questionnaire and distribute it to the research participants that they have recruited for their study. Students may also consider using secondary data previously collected (e.g. agency charts, case notes, Census data, or other administrative data sets). Based on the data collected and analyzed, students write a report to document their research findings and demonstrate the implications of the findings for the field of social work. In addition, students di splay their findings at a Capstone poster session at the end of their final year in the MSW program.

What topic should I choose?

You need to think of a topic that interests you...something that you are passionate about. Consider studying something in which your findings may add to the existing body of literature. Your SWRK 635 instructor will help you move from a general topic to a more specific topic. When you choose a topic, make sure that you can find research participants to complete your questionnaires.

How do I recruit research participants for my Capstone study?

MSW students may recruit research participants through professional networks, or may advertise in the community. MSW students are discouraged from recruiting vulnerable populations such as children, incarcerated persons, or persons who may not have the capacity to provide informed consent. Consider recruiting social service professionals who are working in the community. Perhaps colleagues at your place of employment may be willing to complete your questionnaire. Please be advised that schools, hospitals, community clinics, child welfare authorities, human service agencies, daycares, foster homes and prisons have their own process for approving research projects that will take in excess of the 4 months you have allotted to complete this project. These institutions will likely ask you to complete an Institutional Review Board (IRB) request (in addition to the IRB package you are required to submit to CSUN). Therefore, it is recommended that you avoid recruiting from these types of agencies (unless you have started your recruitment long before you began SWRK 635).The process of recruitment generally takes more time than one might think. If you are seeking research participants from the general community, and you advertise to recruit them, please use an abundance of caution when meeting with such persons. 

Can I recruit research participants from my field internship site?

CSUN cannot make this decision. Students are required to negotiate this with their field placement agency. DO NOT presume that you can recruit research subjects from your field placement agency. YOU MUST speak with your internship supervisor at the time when the placement is initiated. The field placement is not intended to be the site for the recruitment of research participants. On occasion, your field placement supervisor may grant you permission to recruit subjects, or may have an internal research project with which the agency needs help, but it is not the agency’s responsibility to help facilitate the completion of your Capstone study. Given that you may be working as a clinician with service users there may be a conflict of interest in working with these same service users in a research 2capacity. Discuss your Capstone project and your desire to recruit participants from your placement site FIRST with your direct supervisor. Do not proceed to engage HR, or any other person or entity at your field placement site without receiving permission from your placement supervisor. If you are no longer in field placement, plan early! If you were given permission to recruit research participants from your field placement site, but will no longer be in your placement when the Capstone course is conducted; ask early! Ask your field supervisor if s/he may allow you to return to your former placement site to recruit research participants.

If I want to use secondary data instead of recruiting human subjects, how do I find it?

DO NOT presume that you can use secondary data from your field placement agency. If you wish to utilize secondary data from your field placement agency, YOU MUST speak with your internship supervisor at the time when the placement is initiated. Consider connecting with an agency that may need research assistance. Perhaps an agency where you previously worked or volunteered would be eager to accept your help with an evaluation of their program. Alternatively, you might consider taking advantage of your student status and approaching an agency where you want to work someday and asking them if you could be of assistance to them as a volunteer researcher. Plan ahead, ask early, and expect issues and problems to crop up before you finish. If you choose to use publicly available secondary data (Census, child welfare data set), it is likely that you will need to formally apply in order to gain access to it. Most applications for publicly available secondary data require supervision by a doctoral level university professor. Applications for secondary data take time –it is critical that you plan ahead.

What is IRB?

An IRB is an Institutional Review Board. All students must request the permission of the CSUN IRB to conduct research with “Human Subjects.” Any contact with a human for research purposes must be approved by the CSUN IRB. Students who conduct secondary data analysis may not be required to seek IRB approval for the purposes of the Capstone study–a Capstone instructor will provide guidance with respect to the completion of IRB documents for students conducting secondary data analysis. Students will receive support for the completion of their IRB during SWRK 635. Students MUST NOT have any contact with a research participant until they receive written approval from the CSUN IRB. You are encouraged to plan ahead by reading through the IRB application for human subjects on the CSUN Research and Sponsored Projects website. 

Who will be my Capstone instructor?

During the fall of the final year, a list of Capstone instructors will be sent to students. Students are responsible for scheduling meetings with their desired Capstone instructor to discuss the possibility of supervision. Both the student and the Capstone instructor have the ability to make a judgment around the suitability of the working relationship. Off-campus students will receive an assigned Capstone instructor.