Curriculum – PhD

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 and
  7. additional requirements relating to the doctoral dissertation.

A typical schedule showing classroom-course requirements for the PhD is shown in the table below. Students who have a Masters degree in a related field but have not earned a social work masters degree or its equivalent at the time of admission may be required to take up to 12 credits of MSW-level coursework in order to ensure their familiarity with core concepts and perspectives in the social work knowledge base. The course(s) to be required will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Doctoral Program Committee in consultation with the student and his/her advisor.

Overview of Courses

Year 1
Fall SocWrk 901 - Philosophy of Science 3
  SocWrk 961 - Statistics I - Introduction to Statistical Methods 4
  Elective 4
  SocWrk 991 - Proseminar in Research Ethics 1
Spring SocWrk 931 - Specialization Seminar – Theories of Poverty and Social Welfare Policy for Children and Families 3
  SocWrk 951 - Quantitative Research Methods 3
  SocWrk 962 - Statistics II - Applied Multiple Regression Analysis 3
  GRAD 803 - Proseminar – Methods of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 1


Year 2
Fall SocWrk 932 - Specialization Seminar – Research and Processes of Individual Change across the Life Span 3
  SocWrk 963 - Statistics III – Measurement Methods & Related Multivariate Statistics 3
  Elective 2-3
  SocWrk 999 - Teaching Practicum 1
Spring SocWrk 945 - Specialization Seminar – Family and Long-Term Care across the Life Course 3
  SocWrk 952 - Qualitative Research Methods 3
  SocWrk 964 - Statistics IV - Advanced Statistical Methods 3
  SocWrk 991 - Proseminar in Grantwriting 1

Course of Study

A minimum degree of 43 graduate credits beyond the masters degree are required, at least 36 of which must be earned in residence at UWM.

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:

1. Foundation Knowledge Building (3 credits)

Content in this area focuses on the basic principles of scientific inquiry on which the knowledge base of social work rests. Within this area, all students must complete:

SocWrk 901 – Knowledge, Theory, and Philosophies of Science

2. Specialization Seminars (9 credits)

The curriculum includes three areas of specialization: Addiction and Behavioral Health, Applied Gerontology, and Family and Child Welfare.  Each student must select at least one of these areas in which to concentrate. In consultation with the major professor, a student may also choose to develop expertise that spans more than one area.

Content in these three specialization areas is presented in the form of specialization seminars. All students must take at least three specialization seminars within the department.

Examples of specialization seminars offered within the department include:

  • SocWrk 931 - Theories of Poverty and Social Welfare Policy for Children and Families (Family and Child Welfare specialization)
  • SocWrk 932 - Research and Processes of Individual Change across the Lifespan (Addiction and Behavioral Health specialization)
  • SocWrk 945 - Family and Long-Term Care across the Life Course (Applied Gerontology specialization)

3. Methods of Inquiry and Analysis (19 credits total)

Content in this area comprises a set of required courses in methods of social/behavioral research and statistics. Students are expected to enter the program with at least a basic background in both methods and statistics and may need to satisfy prerequisites before proceeding to required courses.

In the area of research methods, all students must complete:

  • SocWrk 951 - Quantitative Research Methods
  • SocWrk 952 - Qualitative Research Methods

In the area of statistics, all students must complete:

  • SocWrk 961 – Introduction to Statistical Methods
  • SocWrk 962 – Applied Multiple Regression Analysis
  • SocWrk 963 – Measurement Methods and Related Multivariate Statistics
  • SocWrk 964 – Advanced Statistical Methods

In cases where any of the above courses are not available during the student’s course of study, students may choose from an approved set of alternatives offered in other departments or campuses. Approval for such an exception must be secured from the major advisor prior to enrolling.

4. Skills Proseminars and Practicum Experiences (4 credits minimum)

Courses in this area focus on acquainting students with specific skills useful in scholarly endeavors and also with skills for teaching at the post-secondary level. Most individual courses will be worth 1 credit. All students must complete the following four courses:

  • SocWrk 991 - Proseminar in Research Ethics
  • SocWrk 991 – Proseminar in Grantwriting
  • SocWrk 999 - Practicum in Social Work Education
  • GRAD 803 – Proseminar – Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

It is expected that all students will be assigned to responsibilities as teaching assistants for at least one semester, and the SocWrk 999 practicum course should be completed in that same semester under the supervision of the faculty memer to whom the student is assigned as a teaching assistant. It is also expected that all students will be assigned to responsibilities as research or project assistants for at least one semester.

5. Electives (2-3 credits)

These credits provide an opportunity for students to take content of interest within the social work department or in other departments on campus that offer graduate-level courses relevant to the student’s educational goals. Elective options within the department include the completion of additional specialization seminars beyond the required total. Students may also complete this requirement by taking additional research methods or statistics courses within or outside the department, or they may take theory or basic-knowledge courses in other departments that are at the graduate level and are approved by their advisor and the social work Ph.D. program coordinator.

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 qualifying exercise 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.