Last week, I received an e-mail from the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) with a link to the preliminary agenda of the 14th Annual SSWR Conference in San Francisco. It is strange to think that only 60% of SSWR members had e-mail when the organization was founded in 1994 (Williams et al., 2008). It is even harder to imagine social work without the annual SSWR conference, an extraordinary professional development by any measure. When this editorial appears in the spring, planning for the 15th annual conference will be underway. Thus, it may be useful presently to offer a few recommendations for improving the conference based on my experience as program chair of the 11th annual conference and more recent developments.
Abstract Reviewer Selection
The SSV4R Board should reconsider the current reviewer selection process. In 2007, if memory serves me correctly, approximately 200 reviewers were recruited to rate an average of 18 abstracts each. Reviewers were commonly drawn from the ranks of assistant professors (many of them newly minted) and even doctoral students. A large set of reviewers was recruited, so that no one reviewer was burdened with rating an excessive number of abstracts. Reviewers were unpaid and acknowledged only in a listing in the conference brochure and SSWR News.
The abstract reviewer selection process for the 14th annual SSWR conference did not rely on doctoral students for reviews, and the majority of reviews were completed by professors (30.5%, N = 87) and associate professors (28.4%, N = 81). That said, the largest group of reviewers was comprised of assistant professors (36.5%, N = 104), with the remainder (4.6%, N = 13) consisting of apparently well-qualified research-involved people.
Although the abstract reviewer selection process has improved in recent years, nearly 40% of abstracts continue to be rated by among the most inexperienced (and nontenured) researchers in the profession. It might make more sense, scientifically, to recruit a smaller set of abstract reviewers (perhaps limiting the reviewers to the 160 to 170 full and associate professors) who are indisputably drawn from among the most accomplished researchers in social work. These reviewers could be paid modestly for their work, as the National Institutes of Health does in symbolic recognition of their grant reviewers.
Selection to the conference abstract review committee should represent a significant professional achievement and be recognized as such with a plaque, dinner, and specific ceremony at the conference. Criteria for service on the abstract review committee should be established by the SSWR Board, approved by the membership, and include parameters for such service (for example, length of appointment, number of times one may serve, and so forth). A committee of approximately 160 to 170 abstract reviewers could rate all conference abstracts within one month and might be willing...