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. qualifying exercises, and
  7. additional requirements relating to the doctoral dissertation.

A summary of classroom-course requirements is shown in the table below. Students who 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 or Specialization Seminar 3
  Quantitative or Qualitative Research Methods 3
  Statistics I - Introduction to Statistical Methods 4
  Proseminar 1
Spring Specialization Seminar 3
  Specialization Seminar (External) 2-3
  Statistics II - Applied Multiple Regression Analysis 3
  Proseminar 1


Year 2
Fall SocWrk 901 or Specialization Seminar 3
  Quantitative or Qualitative Research Methods 3
  Statistics III - Measurement Methods & Related Multivariate Stats 3
  Teaching or Research Practicum 1
Spring Specialization Seminar (internal or external) 3
  Statistics IV - Advanced Statistical Methods 3
  Elective 2-3
  Teaching or Research Practicum 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. Knowledge Building (3 credits)

All students must complete:

SocWrk 901 – Knowledge, Theory, and Philosophies of Science

2. Specialization Seminars (11-12 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 and at least one relevant course external to the department; the external course must be from a list of courses approved for this purpose or for which a student’s unique request has been approved by the doctoral program committee. At least two courses, including one internal and one external course, must be in the student’s area of specialization, and at least one course internal to the department must be in an area other than the student’s primary specialization. All specialization courses outside the department must be approved by the student’s major professor prior to enrollment.

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 932 - 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 (5 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 three courses:

  • SocWrk 971 - Proseminar in Methods of Social Work Education
  • SocWrk 972 - Practicum in Social Work Education
  • SocWrk 973 - Practicum in Social Work Research

Students assigned to responsibilities as teaching assistants who satisfactorily complete at least one semester in that capacity will qualify to waive the SocWrk 972 course and its required credits. Students assigned to responsibilities as project assistants for faculty research projects who satisfactorily complete at least one semester in that capacity will qualify to waive the SocWrk 973 course and its required credits.

All students will complete at least one of the following:

  • SocWrk 991 – Topics in Social Work: Proseminar in Research Ethics
  • SocWrk 991 – Topic in Social Work: Proseminar in Grantwriting

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.

Qualifying Exercise

All students must pass a qualifying exercise 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 Committee, one or a combination of the following formats will be required:

  • examination constructed by the student’s advisory committee;
  • one or two substantive papers that demonstrate competence in the student’s specialization area, meet criteria established by the committee, and are suitable for publication in a respected journal in the field.

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.

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.