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Boston College School of Social Work



Q & A with David Takeuchi, Associate Dean for Research

David Takeuchi
Professor David Takeuchi, Associate Dean for Research and inaugural Dorothy Book Scholar at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.

APRIL 30, 2014

David Takeuchi, PhD, arrived on the campus of the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work in September of 2013 as Professor and the inaugural Dorothy Book Scholar. As one of the nation's foremost sociologists on health, he assumed the role of Associate Dean for Research.

Takeuchi's main research focus has been on how race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status are associated with health, access to care, treatment, quality of care, and outcomes. Recently he was tapped by the National Research Council to serve on a committee on immigration designed to review the current state of knowledge in the field, and to make recommendations for improved research moving forward. 

Prior to joining Boston College, Takeuchi was Associate Dean for Research and Katherine Hall Chambers Scholar at the University of Washington School of Social Work. He has received funding for his research from the National Institutes of Health, W.T. Grant Foundation, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Takeuchi is widely recognized for his contributions as a researcher and mentor — he has been honored with the Legacy Award from the Family Research Consortium, and the Innovations Award from the National Center on Health and Health Disparities. He currently serves on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Center for Health Statistics, and the National Advisory Committee for the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Program. Takeuchi recently wrote about the potential negative implications of the FIRST Act on scientific integrity in The London School of Economics and Political Science - "The Impact Blog" and in The Boston Globe.

Here, Takeuchi discusses his recent arrival at Boston College, the blossoming role of research in the field of social work, and the critical need for enhanced interdisciplinary collaboration in the pursuit of better serving those who live at the margins of society.

Welcome to Boston College, Dr. Takeuchi. Tell us about your first academic year here in Chestnut Hill.

Quite frankly, it's been even more than I could have hoped for.

I came to Boston College following a great stint at the University of Washington, where I was engaged in a terrific work environment, and where my research was going quite well.

But what I see at BC, what attracted me to want to come here in the first place, is the sheer level of energy and excitement among the staff, faculty, and students. In particular, I've been impressed by our community's passion to build a research program in social work, and by the school's pledge to make an impact on a global level. This commitment is truly unique.

Recently, Dean Alberto Godenzi highlighted a major shift in the field of social work that builds a stronger link between research, policy, and practice. Tell us about the expanding role that this evidence-based approach is playing to build a new generation of social work practitioners.

In the past, social work was rather limited, both intentionally from within, and by the fact that we were marginalized by other disciplines. But over the past decade, thanks largely to active, engaged deans and faculty like our own, we have developed an expanded vision of what social work is, and can be.

This vision has been built on the inclusion of faculty previously considered to be outside of the scope of social work, and a newfound desire to see our field engaged in discussions about larger research issues. Today, more and more, the study of social work is built upon an interdisciplinary approach designed to broaden our societal impact on a wide range of issues such as poverty, child welfare and development, and health.

You mention the imperative for an "interdisciplinary approach" to solve complex societal problems. Explain more about what this means to you.

BC Social Work is a place based in novel ideas, and driven forward by social innovation. From my point of view, this social innovation is defined by a desire to develop partnerships that seek to effect change; to reach those who are living at the margins of society, and to work together in this pursuit.

The more inclusive the perspective we adopt, through integrating research, policy, and practice, the better we can understand the constraints of current research and programs, and begin to understand where dynamic collaborations moving forward could help to fill in the gaps.

A quick example — to date, research on poverty and inequality in America has been remarkably good at documenting trends, but it has been less successful at teasing out why inequality persists. In short: We don’t understand the mechanisms at work that cause inequality to often stretch across generations in certain communities.

To truly create change, it will be critical for our field to better understand these mechanisms, so that we can come up with potential solutions. But to be able to do this, we'll need to integrate the expertise of a variety of social scientists and social workers alike. Without a comprehensive approach, a complex problem like understanding the dynamics of poverty and inequality in America would be impossible to address.

This is why, at BC, our faculty including affiliates consists of social work scholars, sociologists, economists, neuroscientists, public health scholars, psychologists, and public policy experts, among others.

One of your roles at BC is to serve as an advisor to the faculty on research and publications. Talk to us about this group, and what you've learned as mentor and advisor.

BC's faculty is uniquely equipped to address the kinds of complex problems I'm talking about. In addition to possessing the diversity of backgrounds I mentioned before, our group is not only willing to share their own research and perspectives with others at the school of social work, but also with colleagues in other schools at BC. Recently we launched a "collaborative research forum" with the Lynch School of Education and the Connell School of Nursing that we hope will begin to broaden the lines of academic communication.

Ours is an exceptional staff working on all kinds of groundbreaking research, and I don’t pretend that I provide much of anything to them. But I do what I can to facilitate their research, build networks, and strategize about how to prioritize projects. Our faculty has so many fantastic ideas that this is often my most important role.

My own research has also benefited from my conversations with colleagues. Talks with Professor Tiziana Dearing, for example, have led to my most recent research interest into an inner city weight lifting program in Boston that's designed to bring adolescents and young adults off the streets, and then train them to become personal trainers for individuals from more privileged backgrounds. It's an intriguing program whereby the social power dynamic is being flipped, and one worth studying to see if, by changing interactions between individuals, perceptions of inequality might also be altered. Without Tiziana's input, I might never have even thought about studying this kind of program, which I'm hopeful could provide important clues to learning more about how to reverse the script on poverty and power structures.

What's so exciting to me is that collaborations like this one between Professor Dearing and myself are frequent here. In fact, the pursuit of integrating practice with policy with research is ubiquitous at Boston College. You could even say that it's in our DNA.

Research represents the lifeblood of everything Boston College Graduate School of Social Work does. We invite you to learn more about research at BC Social Work.