PhD in Social Work

The PhD in Social Work at Boston University aims to prepare the next generation of social work and social welfare scholars and leaders to address the complex social challenges of the 21st century. Building upon the School of Social Work’s robust commitment to social justice and empowerment of historically marginalized and vulnerable populations, the program provides rigorous training in the theory, research methods, and values of the social work profession necessary to solve urgent human and societal problems. Graduates are exceptionally well trained in multiple methods and interdisciplinary linkages to other social and behavioral sciences. Through a curriculum that encompasses research, clinical and policy practice knowledge, and teaching pedagogy and practice, the program offers a rich educational foundation for future social work leaders in the academy, as well as the practice and policy arenas.

Curriculum and Course Requirements

The PhD program is a full-time course of study. Students must meet all requirements set forth in the PhD handbook, including a minimum of 16 courses for the post-master’s PhD, as indicated below.

Core Program

Core Social Work Knowledge (16 credits)page17image8008

  • SSW 901 Social Justice, Ethics & the Social Work Profession
  • SSW 902 Proseminar in Social Work
  • SSW 903 Perspectives on Social Welfare Policy
  • SSW 905 Contemporary Social Problems: Capstone
  • SSW 910 Dissertation Seminar 

Core Mixed Methods (12 credits)

  • GRS SO 702 Sociological Methods
Quantitative Methods 1 and 2 (Data Analysis)
  • CAS MA 614 Statistical Methods II
  • CAS MA 684 Applied Multiple Regression and Multivariate Analysis
  • SPH BS 805 Intermediate Statistical Computing & Applied Regression Analysis
  • SPH BS 723 Introduction to Statistical Computing
Qualitative Methods 1 and 2
  • SSW SR 906 Qualitative Research Methods
  • SSW SR 907 Qualitative Data Analysis

Advanced Research Methods–Electives (8 credit hours)

Students will take two courses in advanced research methods relevant to the individual conduct of research in an area of specialization.

Specialization (12 credits)

Students will take three courses (12 credits) in their chosen area of specialization. Four credits of the specialization must be taken in a theory course. The specialization is developed by the student in collaboration with his or her faculty advisor and approved by the doctoral program director.

Teaching Excellence Core (8 credits; to be taken concurrently) 

  • SSW 908 Teaching Seminar
  • SSW 909 Teaching Practicum


Students identify an interdisciplinary specialization organized around a population (i.e., children, immigrants and refugees, older adults) and/or a social problem/issue (i.e., poverty, housing, trauma, health disparities) and complete 12 credit hours of study. Four credits of the specialization must be taken in a theory course. The specialization is developed by the student in collaboration with his or her faculty advisor and approved by the doctoral program director.

Qualifying Examinations

Students will be eligible to take the qualifying exam (QE) within six months of their fourth semester of coursework. The QE is a two-day examination meant to assess students’ ability to conduct independent social work research and thus begin work on the dissertation. Accordingly, the exam will focus on three areas: core social work knowledge and theory, research methods, and a student’s area of specialization.

Residency Requirement

Students are expected to complete a minimum of four consecutive regular semesters of full-time graduate study at Boston University. Full-time study in this context is full-time commitment to the discipline as determined by the department. Doctoral students holding appointments as teaching fellows or research assistants are considered full-time students for purposes of the residency requirement, provided that the time beyond that required by their appointments is devoted fully to their graduate program. In order to graduate, students must be registered part or full time in the semester or summer term in which they complete degree requirements, as well as in the preceding semester.

PhD Candidacy

Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination, a student is accepted to PhD candidacy. The maximum period allowable between Matriculation and acceptance to PhD candidacy will be four years. Once in PhD candidacy, a student will have three years to complete the dissertation requirements successfully; this period can be extended only if approved by the doctoral committee, program director, and dean of the School of Social Work.


Doctoral candidates will demonstrate their abilities to conduct independent and original research through the dissertation project. The dissertation may take the form of a traditional monograph or a three-paper format (See PhD handbook). Upon completion of coursework and all other pre-dissertation requirements, a student will develop a prospectus in which the dissertation research is described. Students will work with advisors and the program director to identify an interdisciplinary committee of five faculty members, at least two of whom must be SSW tenure-line faculty, with additional readers from the student’s area of specialization. Approval of the dissertation proposal is obtained through a prospectus defense before the full committee.

Candidates, upon completion of the dissertation, present themselves for a final oral examination before the full committee.