Curriculum – Joint MSW/PhD

MSW Curriculum

The MSW portion of the Joint MSW/PhD program is designed for students interested in social work. There is no joint degree program at present for students whose interests are in Criminal Justice. Those applicants are required to apply to the PhD curriculum after completing their Masters degree in criminal justice, criminology, or a related field.

For students interested in social work, the Joint MSW/PhD program offers two tracks—an Advanced Curriculum for students who hold a BSW earned within the past five years from a CSWE-accredited program, and a Foundation track for those who do not.

  • Students who complete both the Foundation and Advanced curricula will fulfill all requirements for the MSW degree in seven semesters (approximately 2.5 years), including two semesters of summer study. Requirements for the classroom portion of the PhD degree will be completed in one additional semester after that.
  • Students who qualify to begin in the Advanced curriculum will complete all MSW requirements in four semesters (approximately 1.5 years) including one semester of summer study. Requirements for the classroom portion of the PhD degree will be completed in two additional semesters after that.

Advanced Curriculum

Students in the Advanced Curriculum must earn 34 credits. The required courses are:

11 credits of Field Instruction (722/821/822)
6 credits of Social Work Practice Methods

    • 711 and 811 (Direct Practice)
    • 713 and 915 (Macro Practice)

    2 credits of practice electives
    6 credits of Social Work Research (951 and 961, substituting for 793 and 794)
    6 credits within selected area of concentration (753/931)
    6 credits of electives (substituting approved doctoral-level courses for MSW-level courses)

Foundation Curriculum

Students admitted into the Joint MSW/PhD program who have not earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited social work program within the past 5 years are required to fulfill 22 credits in the Professional Foundation prior to the Advanced Curriculum (see below for exemptions). The purpose of the Professional Foundation is to orient students to the profession and to provide a knowledge, values and skills base in preparation for the Advanced Curriculum. Course work in the Professional Foundation is not included in the 34 Advanced Curriculum credits required for completion of the MSW degree. The Professional Foundation courses are:

604 Social Systems and Social Work Practice
961 Introduction to Statistical Methods (replaces 662 Methods of Social Welfare Research)
665 Cultural Diversity and Social Work
705 Individual Behavior and Social Welfare
708 Social Work Methodology I
709 Social Work Methodology II
721 Field Instruction I
750 Social Welfare Policy Development and Implementation


Students who have, within the 5 years preceding admission, completed course work which substantially duplicates Professional Foundation courses may apply to the Chair of the Social Work Department for an exemption from the relevant courses. Exemption examinations are also offered on a scheduled basis for these courses. Exemption of the field experience (721) may be permitted under special employment experience circumstances and only by permission of the Director of Field Programs. Students interested in securing an exemption should request course exemption forms upon notification of admission to the program.

All requests for exemptions must be made at the time of initial enrollment. Exemption requests will not be accepted following the end of the first semester of coursework.

PhD Curriculum

The program’s curriculum is structured around seven content domains:

1. knowledge building,
2. specialization content,
3. methods of inquiry and analysis,
4. skills proseminars and practicum experiences,
5. electives,
6. preliminary examination
7. requirements relating to the doctoral dissertation proposal.
8. additional requirements relating to the doctoral dissertation.

Course of Study

In consultation with the major professor and as soon as possible after admission, each student designs a program of study to gain the knowledge and skills appropriate to his/her educational goals.  All programs of study must include the following classroom courses:

  • One required foundation course in the philosophy of science (SW 901);
  • Four “specialization seminars” used to address broader themes by presenting them from the perspective of one of the concentrations. These include one seminar in criminal justice and three in social work. The latter include a class covering the life course model taught by faculty in Applied Gerontology (SW 945), a class addressing interventions research taught from within the Health and Behavioral Health concentration (SW 932), and a class on child and family well-being taught from the perspective of the Child and Family Welfare concentration (SW 791). Students must take the seminar in their area of focus, plus two others;
  • Six standard classes on research methods and applied statistics, including one quantitative methods class (SW 951), one qualitative methods class (SW 952), at least two in-house statistics classes (SW 961, SW 962), and two additional classes in either advanced statistics or specialized research methods. These last two classes may be taken inside or outside the School;
  • Three proseminars that to cover specialized content relevant to research and teaching. These are a course in post-secondary teaching methods (GRAD 801) and two courses within the School on research ethics and grant writing (SW 990);
  • Two practicum credits (SW 999) used to expand students’ skills in teaching and research. These are taken in connection with their first teaching assistant and research assistant assignments;
  • Two electives, usually taken outside the School, in areas that strengthen students’ knowledge in their substantive areas of interest. Examples of courses taken on campus include a seminar on social psychology in the Psychology department, a program planning course in Public Health, and a course on social inequality in the Sociology department. Examples of courses taken through UWM’s cooperative enrollment arrangements with other campuses include a psychopharmacology course at Marquette University and a maternal and child health course at the Medical College of Wisconsin..

Preliminary Examination

All students must pass a preliminary examination subsequent to successfully completing all required course work and prior to being admitted to doctoral candidacy. In consultation with the student’s advisory committee and with the approval of the Doctoral Program Coordinator, one or a combination of the following formats will be required:

  • A paper that consists of three sections: (a) critical literature review in a discrete area of study, (b) discussion of the relevant theory and its application, and (c) description and critique of research methodologies and analytic strategies;
  • An alternative preliminary examination that includes both a written and oral component. The written preliminary examination will be designed to assess the breadth and depth of a student’s knowledge in the core curriculum and area of concentration along with his/her ability to conduct independent research. At least one semester prior to the examination, the student will develop a reading list in consultation with her/his major professor that covers: (a) critical literature in a discrete area of study, (b) the relevant theory and its application in this area, and (c) description and critique of research methodologies and analytic strategies common to the area. Potential examination questions will be submitted by the members of the examining committee and will be based on the sources appearing on the reading list. The final set of examination items will be selected by the chair of the examination committee.

Regardless of format, the preliminary examination is comprehensive and integrative, reflective of the student’s individual course of study, and requiring independent work beyond the course requirements.

Dissertation Proposal Defense
All students must successfully complete an oral defense of their dissertation proposal to determine their preparation for independent research. The defense must be completed successfully within four years of initial enrollment.

Students who have passed the Preliminary Examination and have submitted a one-page preliminary dissertation proposal are formally admitted to doctoral candidacy. In accordance with Graduate School policies, students must then register for three research or thesis/dissertation credits each semester until the dissertation is submitted to the Graduate School. To meet the requirements for the dissertation, the candidate must complete an original independent research project that adds meaningfully to the existing body of knowledge in social work. It should be of a caliber that warrants publication in respected journals in the field.

Dissertation Defense
As the final step toward the degree, the candidate must pass an oral examination before his/her doctoral committee in defense of the dissertation. The examination may also cover general topics relevant to the student's area of study. This requirement may not be completed until all other degree requirements are satisfied.

Time Limit
It is expected that most students will complete all degree requirements within six years of initial enrollment in the doctoral program. All requirements MUST be completed within ten years from the date of initial enrollment.

For additional information on Graduate School Ph.D. requirements, see the Ph.D. section of the Graduate Faculty and Student Handbook.