PhD Program

Preparing Future Leaders

The aim of the Doctoral Program in Social Work at Boston University is 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’s robust commitment to social justice and empowerment of historically marginalized and vulnerable populations, the program will provide rigorous training in the theory, methods, and values of the social work profession necessary to solve urgent human and societal problems. The PhD program requires multi-method and interdisciplinary training. Through a curriculum that encompasses rigorous research methods, social work knowledge, and teaching pedagogy and practice, BUSSW offers a rich educational foundation for future social work leaders in the academy, policy, and practice arenas.

The Program

The program is a 63-credit plan with coursework to be completed in four semesters (two years) of full-time study. The curriculum enables significant development of student competency in: social work theory and research methods; a substantive interdisciplinary specialization; teaching; and professional values and ethics. Specifically, we require a minimum of 27 credit hours in research methods courses, including quantitative and qualitative approaches, 12 credit hours in a specialization, 16 credit hours in core social work courses, and 8 credit hours in teaching methods and training.

Doctoral students will have an opportunity to pursue a highly individualized plan of study, while developing core competencies that are integral to contemporary social work research, practice and teaching.  The critical linkages between social work and social science research, theory, and practice build upon BUSSW’s faculty strengths in interdisciplinary collaborations and expertise in health, mental health, trauma, addictions, child welfare and aging.

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

Core Program

Social Work Coursework (16 credits)

SSW 901            Social Justice, Ethics and 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

Research Methods Coursework (27 credits)

Methods Review (4 credit hours)

GRS SO 702 Sociological Methods

Quantitative Methods 1 and 2 – Data Analysis (7 credit hours)

SPH BS 704            Introduction to Biostatistics
SPH BS 723            Introduction to Statistical Computing

Qualitative Methods 1 and 2 – Investigative Methodologies (8 credit hours)

SSW SR 906      Qualitative Research Methods
SSW SR 907      Qualitative Data Analysis

Advanced Research Methods-Electives (8 credit hours)

Students will take 2 courses in advanced research methods relevant to individual the conduct of research in an area of specialization.

Specializations Coursework (12 credits)

Students will take 3 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 Sequence Coursework (8 credits)

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.

We are delighted to introduce a new teaching sequence to prepare future social work academics for excellence in the classroom. Students complete teaching seminar that introduces them to both practical and pedagogical aspects of social work teaching.  Concurrently, students will participate in a supported teaching practicum in a curricular area of interest. Advanced doctoral students will be expected to complete a minimum of two semesters of teaching at the master’s level within SSW. The goals of the teaching sequence are to foster teaching excellence among our graduates with specific fluency and teaching practices in social justice and cultural-responsiveness.

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.

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.

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 4 years. Once in PhD candidacy, a student will have 3 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 Program 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 5 faculty members, at least 2 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 an oral prospectus defense before the full committee.

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

Apply Now

For further information about the PhD program, contact Associate Professor Ellen DeVoe, Director of the PhD Program in Social Work, or our program coordinator, at 617-353-7885.