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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

500 - Human Subjects Review

To clarify if you will need a human subjects review, the School requires all students to complete the Human Subjects Review Planning Form. Students should submit the Human Subjects Review Planning form on or before October 23rd to Laurie Wyman, Administrative Assistant to the Research Sequence.

Full descriptions of the School's policies and procedures for the protection of human research participants are found in the School's User's Guide for the Protection of Human Research Participants at Smith College School for Social Work, issued annually by the School's Human Subjects Review Committee (IRB). This guide supplements research course materials and discussion.

NOTE: All Human Subjects Review materials are available on Moodle.


500.1 - Recruiting and Surveying Members of the SCSSW Community

Thesis students cannot survey members of the SCSSW Community (i.e. fellow students, alumna and faculty) without submitting their HSR application and related materials to the Thesis Coordinator first. Only topics that are directly related to the SCSSW curriculum and/or program will be approved for alumna, student, or faculty surveys. The Thesis Coordinator will review the HSR application and issue a permission letter if the criteria described above are met. This permission letter should be included as part of the materials comprising the HSR packet submitted to the SCSSW HSR Committee. Any student wanting an exception to this policy must submit to the Thesis Coordinator proof of concerted effort to recruit the sample from other sources, co-signed by the research advisor. All decisions regarding exceptions to the above referenced survey policy will be made by the Thesis Coordinator.

500.2 Internet Survey Policy

To date, the only internet survey provider approved by the SCSSW Human Subjects Review Committee is SurveyMonkey. This provider has been approved because identifying data (i.e. email address) is removed prior to dropping participants’ survey responses into an Excel data file. Any other internet survey provider must be approved by the Human Subjects Review Committee Chair.

500.3 Safety Precautions for Data Collection

Safety precautions pertaining to sample recruitment and data collection for the thesis project are detailed in the Human Subject Review User's Guidelines. These precautions refer to federally-defined vulnerable populations and do not apply to participants who are professionals in the field.

  1. If the sample is one that includes participants who have a prior criminal history or who may be engaged in illegal activities, students should consult with their research advisor to ensure that appropriate safety precautions are arranged and clearly described in the Human Subjects Review application and related materials.

  2. If the sample is one that includes participants whose significant others, relatives or other associates may present a threat as a result of collecting data (i.e. domestic violence, survivors of homicide, assault, etc.), then students should consult with their research advisor to ensure that the method of recruitment, confidentiality and type of data collected preserves the safety of both the participant and researcher.

  3. If the possibility exists that the participant might divulge information that necessitates mandatory reporting of abuse, then the student needs to clearly state the mandatory reporting laws in the Informed Consent and the Human Subjects Review application.

  4. If the participant is a child under the age of 18 and the possibility exists that the child may divulge information that necessitates mandatory reporting of abuse and/or neglect, the student needs to clearly describe the mandatory reporting laws in the Parent Consent Form, the Child Consent Form and the Human Subjects Review application.

  5. If the participant is an adult and divulges ideation/intent/plan to harm himself or others, then the student should a) call 911 and b) wait with the participant until the EMTs or police arrive. The student should then immediately inform his/her research advisor and the Thesis Coordinator, who will debrief with the student.

  6. Methods of recruiting participants should be carried out in a way that ensures the safety of both participants and researcher. Recruiting "on the street" or in unsafe neighborhoods is discouraged. Students should use their Smith email address and field placement address and phone number rather than using their personal email, home address or personal telephone number as a point of contact.

  7. Students should select a location for interviews that ensures confidentiality and safety for both parties. It should also be a public domain; interviewing in participants’ homes is discouraged.

500.4 - How Large an “N”?????

What follows are some guidelines regarding the number of participants for qualitative and quantitative studies. These "N's" were agreed upon after discussion with the research instructor and the research advisor groups.

Qualitative Studies. The number of participants required for a qualitative study using content/theme analysis is 12 to 15. The data collected from that number of participants is usually sufficient to complete a "trustworthy and confirmable" data analysis for the average qualitative study done at the master's level. In the case of multiple interviews, the N can be less than 12 to 15 participants. For example, if each participant is to be interviewed 3 times, then the actual N of participants may be 4-5.

The most common method for completing data organization and data analysis for an SCSSW qualitative thesis is content or theme analysis. Many students believe that they are using grounded theory as the method of data analysis. However, the grounded theory method of data analysis is much more complex and time-consuming (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The actual number of interviews for a master's thesis using the grounded theory method of data analysis could be less than 12 to 15. However, this would need to be discussed and approved by the research advisor and clearly explicated in the Methodology and Findings chapters.

If the qualitative data collection is done through a focus group of N= 6-8 participants with two data collection sessions, that would be a sufficient number for that project. The best way to record focus groups is by videotape so that the responses can be sorted out from one group member to another. Audio-taping with a recorder is possible to help the researcher distinguish voices within the group.

Quantitative Studies. An N of 50 has been agreed upon for all quantitative studies. Students should plan to obtain this N as the minimum. Thus, they need to plan accordingly when sending out surveys as the actual returns are less in number. For example, at least 100 to 150 surveys would need to be sent out in order to obtain an N of 50, as many surveys are not returned in an initial mailing. An N of 50 allows for a more "robust" statistical analysis to be done. Many statistical tests require a minimum N for each cell (e.g. Chi Square).

Students should be aware that, in the past, the Ns of less than 12-15 or 50 need to be approved by the advisor in consultation with the Thesis Coordinator, only after a concerted effort to obtain the required number of participants proved unsuccessful. A detailed description of this process needs to be included in Chapter 3 of the thesis and should include a step-by-step chronology of the concerted efforts implemented, as well as extenuating circumstances that resulted in a smaller number of participants.

Updated 6/9/15