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Curriculum, PhD in Social Work

Our PhD curriculum equips students with skills and expertise in scholarly research, teaching, and advanced practice.

The PhD program is a 5-year, part-time program. Students take a total of 54 credits of coursework over 3 years (6 credits per semester for 8 semesters of classes, followed by a minimum of 6 dissertation proposal and dissertation credits). In their third year, students complete their comprehensive examination paper. 

By the end of the fourth year, students are expected to submit a dissertation proposal for approval and defense. The fourth and fifth years are devoted to dissertation preparation under the supervision of the dissertation committee chair.

Sample Courses

SW 801 Methods of Inquiry and Analysis
This course is designed to prepare the student for advanced epistemological query, as well as for practical methodological choice. To do this, the course will present material that will allow the student to investigate, question, debate, and develop skills along the entire continuum of knowledge development—from the apparently simple issue of question selection, through theory development and an introduction to modeling, to the problems of determining truth and certainty. As such, the course content will include epistemology and other philosophical perspectives, science and the scientific method, research methodology, and the ethics of research. Overall, this course is intended to humanize and demystify research methods. 

SW 811 Deconstructing Clinical Theories & Their Application

The focus of this course will be the change processes presumed to be at work by various clinical theories or models of intervention. The course will include a critical conceptual analysis of the theoretical foundations for clinical practice, including assumptions regarding human nature, change, and the intervention context, as well as their salience for diverse and historically oppressed client populations. Cognitive-behavioral, emotionally focused, narrative, and psychodynamic approaches will be considered, as well as more recently developed eclectic blends such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Solution-Focused Therapy. A combination of case analyses and critical analyses of both empirical studies and theoretical literature will be used. 

SW 813 Facilitating and Evaluating Change Processes

This course will approach evidence-based practice from a multi-level perspective. Questions regarding how people change and under what conditions will be considered as a foundation for examining how a clinical social worker can facilitate such processes across system levels. The impact of factors such as social, political, economic, and environmental contexts, oppression, poverty, difference, culture, and ethnicity on the change process will be explored. Viewed as a recursive and reciprocal process, equal consideration will be given to what can be considered evidence that change is occurring and how such evidence influences the change-facilitation process. A combination of case analyses and critical analyses of descriptive, empirical, and theoretical literature will be used.


The production of a dissertation and its oral defense are major components in doctoral education. The dissertation is both a process and a product.

  • As a process, the dissertation is an educational endeavor in which the student demonstrates the ability to carry out an independent investigation that examines an aspect of social work theory and practice using sound research methods.
  • As a product, it must address, in a creative and original way, a substantive problem area of concern to social work in an attempt to advance knowledge and contribute to the ongoing development of the knowledge base of the profession in a fashion that is suitable for publication.

Refer to page 24 in the social work catalog for more information about the courses and requirements for a doctor of philosophy in social work.