9 Questions With Dr. Brandy Maynard
Questions composed by Dr. Michael S. Kelly and the SSWN/SSWR SIG Editorial Team
Why did you start doing research focused on schools? How has your research agenda evolved over time?
Prior to my academic career, I was a social worker for 15 years working with youth involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Since school is such a large part of a youth’s day, and given the importance of education and the relationship between education and developmental and life outcomes (e.g., health, mental health, substance use, externalizing behavior, employment), I saw school-related research as critically important for understanding and improving outcomes for youth.
What research methods are most relevant to your research?
The research methods most relevant to my research are intervention research and systematic review and meta-analytic methods to examine the effects of interventions on youth outcomes and methods of secondary data analysis to examine correlates and causes of factors related to the well-being and positive development of youth.
If you wrote a brief summary of your work, what would it be?
School-based interventions can be effective in improving a myriad of outcomes for youth; however, the effects of these interventions are generally relatively modest. Moreover, school-based interventions can be challenging to implement and sustain and are not without risks and costs. Despite this, schools remain an important setting for intervention work and research and we should continue to develop and improve interventions and research methods for use in schools.
What are the 3 main “take-home messages” from your research?
- School-based interventions can positively impact various outcomes for youth.
- Our understanding of youth behavior has increased substantially over the past two decades, but there is much we have yet to learn about the correlational and causal relationships between factors as they relate to short and long-term outcomes for youth.
- The relationships between risk and protective factors and youth outcomes is highly complex—basing intervention strategies on individual factors (which are often poorly measured) that have a relationship to certain outcomes will likely fall short of the anticipated effects. For example, just because “grit” has been found to be correlated with a range of “outcomes” for youth does not mean that interventions intended to increase “grit” will have a positive impact on youth outcomes.
What are the biggest misconceptions about the topic you focus your research on? Are there any controversies about your topic, and if so, what are they?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about the topics of my research is that we know more than we really do. In many areas in which I work related to youth behavior and outcomes, the body of evidence has grown substantially and we certainly know more than we did two decades ago. However, the more we learn, the clearer it is that we have a number of gaps in our understanding and the research methods we have used in the past are not adequate to answer certain questions. Research and analytic methods are advancing to help answer more complex questions, but we still have a great deal of work to do.
How have you specifically targeted your research to be relevant for clinicians and practitioners?
Much of my research is focused on the synthesis of intervention research studies to inform practice and policy through the use of systematic review and meta-analytic methods. Although the demand to use research evidence is on the rise, clinicians and policy makers have limited time and resources to synthesize evidence on their own. Through my research and work with the Campbell Collaboration, we aim to comprehensively locate and synthesize evidence of interventions using rigorous methods that help answer questions about what works in the areas of social welfare, education, juvenile justice and other areas relevant to improving well-being.
In your view, what are the major questions that remain to be answered and explored by the field of SSW research?
There are a number of major questions that remain to be answered. There have been significant strides in improving and expanding intervention research and synthesizing studies to understand what works and does not work, but there remains much work to do in this area. We need to better understand the variability in the outcomes- not only what works, but what works for whom and under what circumstances? We also need to better understand how to effectively and efficiently implement and sustain interventions that work (and stop implementing interventions that don’t work). Finally, there is a large body of research examining the relationship with various factors and youth outcomes; however, this body of research rarely examines biosocial factors. We need to incorporate biosocial research methods to expand upon and improve our understanding of bio-ecological factors that impact the well-being of youth.
What is one question that you aren’t working on right now that you wish someone else was trying to answer?
Questions related to the use of research and intervention implementation are critical areas that need to be addressed and in which I have a particular interest. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to focus on these questions, but there are a number of people currently working on research questions in these areas.
What is on your “researcher to-do list” that you hope to accomplish before you retire?
I hope to continue to contribute to the understanding of the etiology, prevention and intervention of externalizing behaviors, mental health and educational risk among disadvantaged youth and would like to do more intervention research in schools and community settings. I would also like to make a more significant contribution to advancing research synthesis methods and improving the use of systematic reviews for practice and policy decisions.