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College of Social Work

  • Rachel Carlson

MSW Student Takes Advantage of Her Passion for Research

Jan. 23, 2020
Chris Woodley •

Research is an important aspect of social work. Some of the benefits include, evaluating the effectiveness of social work services in meeting people’s needs, and understanding the impact of legislation and social policy on clients and communities. Foundation year Master of Social Work student Rachel Carlson has always enjoyed research and is now working with one of the College of Social Work’s top researchers.  

As an undergrad at the University of Georgia, Carlson was a psychology major as well as a research assistant at the motivational and behavior lab. The Atlanta native was interested in continuing research activities after graduating last year. It was the variety of research at the College of Social Work that led her to currently work with Associate Professor Christina Andrews on research related to implications of policy on the opioid crisis. Andrews is a leading researcher on opioid use disorder treatment.

“I visited the school early in 2019 and talked to Lauren (Knottek) in recruiting. I loved the research happening at South Carolina and was excited to explore a new city and try a new program,” Carlson says. “She saw that I had some research experience and how I was interested in substance abuse and connected me with Dr. Andrews. I sent her my resume and during a meeting over coffee, she asked me if I wanted to be her graduate assistant.”

Most of Carlson’s work as a research assistant focuses on compiling data on health insurance coverage for low-income Americans in need of substance abuse treatment. This includes pulling manuals and other types of insurance or healthcare data online and creating data sheets. She also performs literature reviews of disparities in race and ethnicity in healthcare, especially substance abuse treatment. Carlson is currently reviewing managed care data to identify gaps in health insurance coverage for substance use treatment.

“The best thing about working with her (Andrews) is that she has a rich understanding of some of the issues we're dealing with,” Carlson says. “I love my field placement at the Substance Abuse Prevention and Education office on campus because I work with students with substance use issues. But when I go to Dr. Andrews, she provides the full insurance policy, government and political science approach. She wraps it all up and helps me understand why we are seeing these issues, and how can we treat them.”

Andrews is impressed by Carlson’s work ethic and said her professionalism and experience has greatly benefited her project and team members.

“Rachel has a balance of great ideas, excellent communication skills, and the ability to pull everything together and get things done,” Andrews says. “She has a commitment to developing innovative ways to treat substance abuse disorder, and I have been impressed by her initiative in terms of her interest in learning and gathering as much information as she can from different experiences that we have made available.”  

Research has always been prevalent in Carlson’s family. One of her grandparents earned a Ph.D., and her sister is currently in a neuroscience doctoral program. Carlson’s sister, who also attended the University of Georgia, introduced her to the social psychology lab where she enjoyed working with people and doing interviews. After moving on to compile political science and voting behavior research, Carlson knew her true passion was social policy research.   

“I realized that I was more interested in the one-on-one interaction because I love being with people and working with them,” Carlson says. “Research has always been a good foundation to psychology and social work because it helps you understand the basics. Consuming research is the most important part of being a good practitioner in checking back and predicting possible outcomes. Every idea must be studied before we can use it. Since I want to be a practitioner, I want to know how I can use the hard work and research of all of our faculty.”

The variety of research at the College of Social Work was a factor that influenced her decision to move to Columbia.

“There are many different levels and types of research that faculty are doing here,” Carlson says. “The variety of research also speaks to the classes because there’s no better class than when a professor teaches and is excited about their specialty. Seeing the caliber of the faculty and their research and publications let me know that this was the right place.”

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