PhD Program

Preparing Future Leaders

The primary purpose of our Interdisciplinary PhD in Sociology & Social Work is to prepare master’s-level social work professionals to assume leadership positions in academia, government, research, public policy, and social welfare agencies. We promote research and scholarship that links social science theory and advanced research methods with the pressing social problems of concern to social work. Many of our graduates have gone on to positions in universities, research centers, and nonprofit and governmental agencies both in the United States and abroad.

The doctoral experience at Boston University is rigorous and diverse, but above all, personal. Emphasis is placed squarely on the individual. We take the time and care to match our graduate students with appropriate interests, programs, and faculty advisors. We closely follow, and help develop, each student whether as a researcher, scholar, practitioner, or teacher.

Our interdisciplinary doctoral program is offered jointly with the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS). With a diverse, international student body hailing from more than 140 countries and led by inspiring and pioneering professors in 40 different fields, GRS is a serious contributor to the intellectual conversations and developments of our day. While you’ll spend much of your time among colleagues at SSW, application to the program must be made through GRS.

We welcome your interest.

The Program

The Interdisciplinary PhD in Sociology & Social Work includes three semesters of coursework to gain skills in quantitative and qualitative research, social science theory, and specialized knowledge in areas selected by the student. Core theory material addresses classical and contemporary sociological theories, the organizational dynamics of the social work profession, and perspectives on US social policy and programs. Following coursework, students take qualifying exams and other preparatory steps leading to their dissertation.

Doctoral students choose specializations in social work and sociology to organize their advanced training. These specializations focus on either social policy research or clinical research, and may address the wide range of social work areas of inquiry, such as poverty, child welfare, health services, aging, urban studies, family sociology, race and ethnic studies, and sociology of religion.

Curriculum and Course Requirements

Students must meet all Graduate School of Arts & Sciences PhD requirements. Full-time residence for all three semesters’ coursework is recommended.

A minimum of 12 courses (48 credit hours) is required for the post-master’s PhD, as indicated below.

All students must complete two courses in sociological theory—GRS SO 701 Advanced Sociological Theory (Classical) and GRS SO 708 Contemporary Sociological Theory—and two courses in social work theory—SSW WP 901 Sociology of the Social Work Profession and SSW WP 903 Perspectives on Social Welfare Policy. All students must complete three courses in research methods/statistics—GRS SO 702 Proseminar in Research Methods, SSW SR 906 Qualitative Research Methods, and CAS MA 684 Multivariate Analysis.


Specialized study is encouraged in two fields, with one to be an established area of concentration in sociology and the other to be a related area in social work. Students often complete two courses (8 credit hours) in their sociology specialization and three courses (12 credit hours) in their social work specialization. Sociology concentrations may be selected from the recommended PhD courses found in the PhD in Sociology portion of the Boston University Bulletin. Social work specializations may be selected from social welfare policy or from clinical research, and substantive areas of focus may include aging, child and family welfare, and substance abuse, among others.

Qualifying Examinations and Critical Essay

There is a written examination requirement in social work theory. A critical essay is also required. The essay is to be an assessment and synthesis of the student’s two specialized subfields within sociology and social work. Upon completion of the essay, the candidate must pass an oral examination in the indicated specializations.

Residency Requirement


Program approval of the dissertation proposal is obtained through a prospectus consultation examination. Two or more members of the affiliated program faculty supervise the candidate during preparation of the dissertation. This written document is to be a scholarly contribution to knowledge, presented clearly, precisely, and in good literary style. Candidates are encouraged to publish selected parts of their dissertation in professional journals and the entire dissertation as a book.

Final Oral Examination

Candidates, upon completion of the dissertation, present themselves for a final oral examination before a committee of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. The examination is based primarily on the dissertation and related issues in the field of concentration.

Teaching Opportunities

The faculty of the School of Social Work has numerous funded projects to support doctoral research assistants. Teaching assistant positions are also available in the second year of study and beyond. Teaching colloquia are offered within the School for faculty and doctoral students to discuss teaching strategies, dilemmas, and contemporary challenges. The Social Welfare Analysis Colloquium provides an interdisciplinary research forum where working papers from faculty and doctoral students engaged in scholarship on pressing social problems at the policy, organizational, and practice levels are presented and discussed. Graduate students may also benefit from many institutional resources for learning at Boston University including: the Institute for Geriatric Social Work, the Center for Addictions Research & Services, and the Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders.

For further information about the PhD program, contact Associate Professor Ellen DeVoe, director of the Interdisciplinary PhD Program in Sociology & Social Work, or Dustin Stonecipher, staff coordinator, at 617-353-9675.