Updated on Sept. 19, 2023, for the 2023-2024 academic year
This Handbook is written to provide guidance to our doctoral students at all phases in the program. It outlines how the doctoral program works from admission through dissertation defense. It offers answers to many of the questions that arise as students progress through their doctoral education.
Section 1: General Information
Welcome from the Doctoral Program Director
Welcome to the PhD Program of the School of Social Welfare at The University of Kansas (KUSSW). This Handbook is written to provide guidance to our doctoral students at all phases in the program. It outlines how the doctoral program works from admission through dissertation defense. It offers answers to many of the questions that arise as students progress through their doctoral education.
We are pleased that you have chosen the doctoral program in the School of Social Welfare at KU over the many other quality PhD programs in the country. You can expect to be intellectually challenged at every step in your educational journey, and your thinking, writing, and research skills will improve as a result. With your PhD in Social Work, you will be primed to contribute to the knowledge base of the profession and to educate future social workers.
We are very proud of our PhD Program, which began in 1981. Our esteemed graduates hold positions in premier universities and research sites around the country and the world. Most of our doctoral students complete the PhD degree within 4 to 6 years. The University of Kansas Graduate Studies expects all doctoral students to earn their PhDs within an eight (8) year period, though exceptions to this time limit may be granted under certain limited conditions.
The faculty and staff teaching and working with students enrolled in the KUSSW PhD Program are committed to your success. There are numerous supports in place to assist you as you earn your degree, from faculty who invest extra time to work with and mentor students, to peer mentors, to the SSW Professional Writing Consultant, KU Writing Center and International Student Services. As you make your way through your education, please do not hesitate to ask for help from administrators, staff, and other students.
What does it take to be successful in the program? Current and former students, and faculty and staff share these ideas for your consideration:
- Get to know as many faculty, staff, and PhD students as you can.
- Foster relationships with fellow students that are collegial, respectful, and mutually supportive.
- Immerse yourself in the life and the work of the School (i.e., during your residency years and at other opportune times spend as much time on campus as possible and otherwise keep in regular touch with the program director, your faculty advisor, your faculty mentor(s), our experienced staff, and your peers – new and old – who may have learned a thing or two that will enhance your journey.
- Doctoral work should be your primary professional commitment throughout your time in the program.
- Get caught up in the excitement of learning and in the process of developing and attaining new knowledge and new perspectives.
- Keep in touch with the Program Director. Aside from your official enrollment advising session each semester, let the program director know what you are doing, where your interests lie, and your future goals and aspirations.
- Become familiar with all the requirements, policies, and petition procedures in this Handbook and the KU Office of Graduate Studies Policies, and check back regularly for updates!
- Rely on your academic and faculty advisors to discuss your learning, any problems you may be having (doing so before they “fester”), and your plans and vision for your scholarly goals.
- Tap opportunities for mentoring from instructors, advisors, integrative paper and dissertation committee members, supervisors of assistantships, and other faculty.
- Embrace the bumps in the road as you traverse the program: Everyone stumbles here and there – when it happens to you, give yourself grace, and ask for help.
- Remember you are an adult learner.
- Remember why you are pursuing doctoral education: Sometimes it is worthwhile to revisit what brought you here and why.
- Strive to maintain a healthy work-family balance.
Thanks to considerable faculty support and to our students’ own ingenuity, you’ll discover that our PhD students are very productive, publishing in peer-reviewed journals and presenting their research and conceptual ideas at national and sometimes international conferences, including at our premier teaching (CSWE) and research (SSWR) forums.
Most of our PhD students spend some time working as Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) and Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) during their tenure at KU. By the time our students graduate, they amass impressive resumes, making them highly competitive in the job market. While most of our graduates assume academic and/or research positions, some graduates find their home in leadership positions in public, non-profit, or for-profit agencies.
Again, welcome. We hope that you find this Handbook helpful, and that your time spent with us in the KUSSW is challenging, inspiring, and rewarding.
Graduate Studies Policies and Procedures
The PhD degree in social work is granted by The Office of Graduate Studies of The University of Kansas. PhD students and faculty must be familiar with the Office of Graduate Studies’ policies and procedures. These policies are available online at the KU Graduate Studies website.
While certain policy information is incorporated into this PhD Program Handbook, additional information and updates to Graduate Studies’ policies and procedures should be obtained directly from the Graduate Studies website and other applicable University sources. Everyone – faculty, staff and students – is responsible for knowing and abiding by University policies.
NOTE: It is the student’s responsibility to become thoroughly acquainted with all requirements for the PhD degree, both the general requirements (announced by Graduate Studies) and those that are specific to the School of Social Welfare.
Handbook Use and Revisions
This publication is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a contract.
This Summer 2023 edition of the Handbook includes important revisions and updates from prior editions; please familiarize yourself with its content.
When corrections to or updating of the Handbook occur, the PhD Program Office will announce changes via email, and the changes will be made to the electronic version of the Handbook that is posted on the School’s website. Students may be asked to read and document their understanding of the contents of the Handbook on an annual basis or whenever the Handbook is updated.
The electronic version of this Handbook is the OFFICIAL version of the Handbook; printed copies may be outdated and for that reason are NOT official.
Communication with the Doctoral Program Office
All PhD students are required to provide the PhD Program Office with current and accurate contact information, including telephone and fax numbers, mailing address, and email address.
Note that all PhD students must arrange to have their email address included on the automatic distribution list maintained by KU Information Technology and must have an official ku.edu email address. This is the principal means of communication that occurs within the School. Finally, students are responsible for maintaining regular contact with the PhD Program Office, the Program Director, and their Academic Advisor.
The mailing address for the PhD Program Office (and the faculty) is:
PhD Program Office (or faculty person’s name)
The University of Kansas
School of Social Welfare
1545 Lilac Lane
Lawrence, Kansas 66045-3129 USA
Student Rights and Responsibilities as Established by the University and Graduate Studies
The Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities describes exactly what its title implies—the protected rights of each and every student and responsibilities and expectations for student conduct. The Code forms a significant part of the rules that govern the campus community. Included are rights to free speech, expression, assembly, pursuit of educational goals, privacy, and due process. It outlines how student and campus organizations may operate. The Code also describes non-academic misconduct such as threats and violence against persons, theft, vandalism, hazing, falsely reporting bomb threats, forgery, fake IDs, disrupting University classes and events, and hearings when violations occur. The complete text of the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities is available in the KU policy library and through the website of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards.
As members of the Social Work profession, students are bound by the ethics and values announced in the NASW’s Code of Ethics (2017). Good academic standing in the School of Social Welfare requires behavior consistent with University and NASW standards, as defined in their separate codes of conduct.
Student Petitions and Grievance Procedure
Students may occasionally have reason to seek an exception to a policy or procedure. Information on the petition process may be found on the Graduate Studies webpage on petitions. After consulting with their assigned advisor, students may petition the PhD Program Director and the PhD Program Committee for exceptions to any policies and procedures of the program. Exceptions will only be made in unusually compelling circumstances, based on strong rationale and supporting evidence, and on consideration of maintaining the quality of the academic program. Consequently, the consideration of all petitions will focus on the maintenance of our academic and ethical standards. Petitions that require a PhD Program Committee decision are reviewed privately by the faculty members of that committee, and are treated as confidential.
Students who have a grievance concerning their treatment in any aspect of the program should explore solutions, whenever possible, directly with the party concerned. If the student does not believe the party can be approached directly, the student should seek advice and assistance from their Academic Advisor and/or the PhD Program Director. Before pursuing a more formal process, the student should review the School of Social Welfare’s grievance procedure for procedural information and further guidance. Of course, contact the PhD Program Director for information and guidance at any time.
The Executive Council of Graduate Faculty has identified two categories as the purview of Graduate Studies:
- Cases involving the graduate divisions of two or more schools or colleges and
- Cases involving the interpretation of Graduate Studies policy as it pertains to the graduate division of a school or college.
For disputes involving alleged academic misconduct or alleged violations of student rights, the initial hearing is normally held at the unit level. There is an option to hold an initial hearing at the Judicial Board level if both parties agree, or if either party petitions the Judicial Board chair to hold the hearing at the Judicial Board level and the petition is granted. The petition must state why a fair hearing cannot be obtained at the unit level; the opposing party has an opportunity to respond to the petition. Additional information on grievances under the purview of Graduate Studies is in the KU policy library.
Grievances specific to a student’s role as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) must follow the GTA Grievance Resolution policy found in the KU Policy Library.
In cases in which the student believes it necessary to seek consultation regarding a grievance outside the School of Social Welfare, the KU Ombuds Office is a good resource for student support and guidance.
Office of Civil Rights and Title IX
Whether against you or someone else, incidents of sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment, dating/domestic violence, stalking or retaliation may be reported to the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX.
Mission and Guiding Principles of the KUSSW PhD Program
The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, rooted in the Strengths Perspective, aims to transform lives and social contexts and promote social, economic, and environmental justice in Kansas, the nation and the world. We do so by educating students to practice with integrity and competence; advancing the science and knowledge base of social work through scholarship and research; and participating in community-engaged service.
Six key values and guiding principles guide the School in fulfilling its mission:
- Relationship Building: We engage in relationship building that fosters creativity, collaboration, and mutual learning. Relationship building is essential across practice, scholarship, education and service. We take a strengths approach as we serve our local, state, national, and global communities.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: We embrace the inherent worth of all people. By taking the position of cultural humility and applying the lens of intersectionality, we seek to develop and promote modes of anti-oppressive social work and dismantle structures of exclusion.
- Practice with Integrity: We demonstrate our integrity and trustworthiness as scholars, educators, practitioners, and community members by promoting social work values, ethical practice, and the process of critical reflection.
- Multisystem Competency: We recognize that social, economic, and environmental injustices are the root causes of inequities and multiple strategies are necessary to address these. Our work integrates micro/macro social work and builds collaboration across systems and disciplines to create multi-level change.
- Critical Perspective: We engage in deliberate and continuing examination of social conditions and solutions. We use critical inquiry to analyze and challenge existing structures and systems in order to advance the field and promote social, economic, and environmental justice.
- Empirically Informed Social Work: We rigorously advance empirical research that impacts the social work knowledge base. By translating and applying evidence, we continually transform practice and policy across multiple systems.
The PhD program’s strengths include its distinctive mission and themes as described above; the good fit between faculty qualifications and the themes and curriculum structure of the PhD program; the extensive amount of research conducted by faculty; faculty mentoring of PhD students as graduate research assistants and graduate teaching assistants; the opportunities for PhD students to gain experience teaching while under faculty supervision; a curriculum design that allows students to determine their own areas of specialization in terms of both research methods and fields of scholarly inquiry; and the extensive investment of faculty in mentoring and supporting students in all areas of professional development and academic success.
The required curriculum consists of 11 core courses (3 credit hours each) and 4 semesters of PhD seminars (1 credit hour per semester) taken within the School of Social Welfare, and at least 3 elective courses, one of which must be advanced research methods courses, taken either within the School and/or from other KU departments. Electives help students further hone their research skills and knowledge in their chosen area of specialization. Coursework can be completed in 2 to 3 years of full-time study.
Beyond the required coursework (including electives), students must complete:
- An Integrative Paper (formerly the Qualifying Paper)
- An Oral Comprehensive Exam (i.e., the dissertation proposal defense)
- A dissertation under the guidance of a faculty member who serves as the dissertation chair and a committee of at least four members, including the dissertation chair.
These critical milestones in one’s work toward the award of the PhD are explained in this Handbook in Section 2.
Areas of Specialization or Emphasis
Students may develop a specialization or an emphasis in particular research methods and topics for inquiry that are relevant to the field’s professional mission and values. We are especially interested in supporting work that challenges and extends conventional thinking and knowledge and that aligns with our stated mission and guiding principles.
Applications, Admission, and Candidacy
A student seeking admission to the PhD program submits an application to Graduate Studies following the instructions provided online via the School of Social Welfare’s PhD Apply webpage. The PhD Program Admissions Committee, which meets soon after the January application deadline, is comprised of the faculty members of the PhD Program Committee. Upon admission, the student is known as an aspirant for the PhD degree and remains so designated until their successful completion of the Oral Comprehensive Examination. After passing that Oral Comprehensive Exam, the student is designated as a candidate for the PhD degree.
The Schedule for Admission to the PhD Program
- Admissions may run on an annual or semi-annual basis as determined by the School’s administration with input from the PhD Program Committee.
- The PhD program is sequenced and begins in the Fall Semester (August).
- In a year that is accepting new applicants, the admission applications for the PhD program become available on October 1.
- The deadline for receiving applications for admission the following Fall is normally on or about January 5. The Admissions Committee meets soon after this deadline and applicants are usually informed about admission decisions in February.
- Applications received between January 5 and May 1 may or may not be reviewed and if reviewed, offers of admission may be conditioned on a “space available” basis.
NOTE FOR INTERNATIONAL APPLICANTS: As explained in the full application materials, international applicants must comply with visa requirements and requirements of the Office for International Student Services and the Applied English Center.
According to Graduate Studies policy on graduate credits, credits may not be transferred to a KU doctoral program from another institution or from a prior graduate degree from KU.
In exceptional cases, when the applicant has already completed doctoral level coursework at another institution and after acceptance into the program, the applicant may petition the PhD Program Committee for a waiver of credits required for completion of the social work PhD degree at KU. Admission to our doctoral program does not guarantee that such a request will be granted.
Non-Degree Seeking Status
Interested persons may apply to Graduate Studies to take KU courses as non-degree seeking students. Such courses do not count toward PhD program requirements. If former non-degree seeking students are admitted to the PhD program, they may petition the PhD Program Committee to count non-degree KU courses for PhD credit. There is no guarantee that the request will be granted. Contact the PhD Program Director and see the Graduate Studies website for relevant information.
NOTE: Read the Graduate Studies policies on Engagement and Enrollment in Doctoral Programs for further information on program time constraints.
Minimum Enrollment Requirement
Information on meeting enrollment requirements can be found in the Graduate Studies policy on enrollment, and for those students who are post-comprehensive exam in the Graduate Studies policy on doctoral candidacy.
Full-Time/Half Time/Part-Time Status
Some scholarships, fellowships, and financial aid packages require certification of a certain enrollment status. Students are responsible to review all Graduate Studies policies and financial aid certification requirements to ensure their eligibility for financial support. International Students must also meet the requirements of their visa status and should consult with the International Student Services in order to determine these requirements.
Maximum Time to Degree and Satisfactory Progress in the Program
Once admitted, Graduate Studies’ policy requires a doctoral student to complete all requirements for the degree within eight (8) years. In cases in which compelling reasons recommend an extension of the normal eight (8) year limit, the student may petition the PhD Program Committee for a one-year (1-year) extension, and if approved, that Committee will recommend that Graduate Studies grant an extension. Graduate Studies considers approval of extensions on a case-by-case basis. Students must petition the PhD Program Committee for such an extension prior to the exhaustion of the time limit, or they will be automatically dismissed from the program, regardless of their progress or the status of their doctoral work.
Petitions for extensions in the program are considered very carefully and stringently by the Program Director and the PhD Program Committee. Extensions are not granted routinely. Requests for additional extensions are given even closer scrutiny and are granted only in exceptional cases.
Leave of Absence
Graduate Studies and the PhD Program discourage extended leaves of absence. A student may petition the Program Director for a leave of absence to pursue full-time professional activities related to the student’s doctoral program and long-range professional goals. A leave of absence may also be granted because of health conditions or other personal emergency situations. A leave of absence may be granted for up to one year, with the possibility of an extension upon request. The leave of absence is granted by a letter from the Program Director, which is given to the student and placed in their file. The time taken for a leave of absence does not count against the student’s time to degree. However, if the total time for the leave extends more than five (5) years, the student will lose their place in the program and must reapply for admission according to Graduate Studies policy on leave of absences.
Leaves of absence are not granted merely for pursuit of employment or vacation. Students on a leave of absence are not eligible for Graduate Research Assistantships or Graduate Teaching Assistantships or financial aid.
Graduate Studies of KU
The PhD degree in Social Work is granted by the Office of Graduate Studies of the University of Kansas. Most policies and procedures of our PhD Program are determined internally. However, when discrepancies exist, Graduate Studies’ policies and procedures supersede those of our program. Note that Graduate Studies has policies and procedures that are not specifically covered in this Handbook and it is the responsibility of PhD students and faculty to become familiar with and stay abreast of changes to Graduate Studies’ policies.
Program Director and PhD Program Committee
PhD Program Director
The PhD Program Director has primary administrative responsibility for the PhD program. The PhD Program Director is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Dean, and coordinates with the School’s Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Associate Dean for Research, as well as with the Vice Provost for KU’s Office of Graduate Studies.
PhD Program Committee
The PhD Program Committee addresses questions of curriculum, procedure and policy, and acts on student petitions. In cases requiring major curriculum changes, after the changes have been approved by the PhD Program Committee, they are presented at a School Business meeting for approval, signified by vote, by the School faculty.
More information on the PhD Program Committee, such as membership and voting, is in the School of Social Welfare's Governance document.
The Admissions Committee is solely comprised of the faculty members of the PhD Program Committee. It meets soon after the January application deadline, discusses each application, ranks all of the applicants, and makes admission recommendations. Graduate Studies offers admission based on the recommendations of the Admissions Committee.
Advisement, Educational Planning, and Enrollment
The primary purpose of the advising system is to provide advice, support, mentoring, and evaluation for students by faculty. The PhD Program Office keeps a database for tracking student progress to help students and faculty to evaluate and guide students’ educational planning and progress.
Types of Advisors and Mentors
Enrollment Advisor helps the student to schedule classes, assures compliance with school and university regulations for scheduling, and gives enrollment permission. The Enrollment Advisor is the Director of the PhD Program for all students throughout their entire program of study.
Academic Advisor provides advice, support, evaluation, and monitoring for the student. The Academic Advisor is responsible for notifying the Program Director whenever serious academic difficulty is identified for an advisee, so that appropriate supports and responses can be devised. The Program Director serves as Academic Advisor to incoming students until they form an Integrative Paper Committee or request an academic advisor after completion of the first year of study.
Once a student has formed an Integrative Paper Committee, the chair of that committee serves in the capacity of Academic Advisor. Once a student has formed a Dissertation Committee, the chair of that committee serves in the capacity of Academic Advisor.
A student may request a change of Academic Advisor at any time. A faculty member may also choose to discontinue service as Academic Advisor at any time.
Assigned Faculty Mentor
Assigned Faculty Mentor: All newly admitted students will be assigned a faculty mentor to augment the mentoring students receive at the beginning of their program and to distinguish their Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) commitments from the mentoring needed to address their educational goals and future career plans.
This mentoring may include, but is not limited to, assisting students in transitioning from being a practitioner to scholar, exploring a substantive area of interest and identifying potential research questions relevant to their area, discussing possible career plans (e.g., tenure track positions at different kinds of institutions, administrative roles, research-focused roles, etc.), and facilitating connections to other faculty within the school, in other units on campus, and in the broader field. An assigned mentor will assist all students in developing relationships with faculty and will have an especially meaningful role with students whose GRA appointments are not with faculty located within the School of Social Welfare.
This mentoring will relieve a GRA supervisor from having to attend to all of a student’s mentoring needs and allow the student to focus on the tasks related to the research project. This, however, does not mean that a GRA supervisor cannot attend to mentoring needs outside of their project, but rather helps to distinguish a student’s GRA responsibilities from other aspects of their educational development.
Mentors will be assigned based on substantive fit and will be selected by the PhD Program Director in consultation with the Dean and the faculty member. The assigned mentor and student will develop a plan for meeting the student’s mentoring needs.
Should the faculty-student match not be successful, the student may request, without consequence, that the PhD Program Director arrange that a new mentor be assigned. The success of the match will be reviewed during enrollment advising sessions each semester.
Enrollment Procedure in Relation to Academic and Enrollment Advisors
Academic enrollment is completed online and is the responsibility of the student. The PhD Program Office is not responsible for completing students’ enrollment procedures. To guide students in this process, an Enroll & Pay “How To’s” tutorial is available.
Before enrolling, the student must consult with their Academic Advisor and Enrollment Advisor to confirm that the enrollment plan is consistent with university and PhD Program policies and procedures and that it supports the student’s academic goals.
All students are expected to fit into one of Graduate Studies’ enrollment categories at all times while completing the credits required for the fulfillment of their degrees.
GRA Appointment Eligibility and Enrollment
During the fall and spring semesters, GRAs must be enrolled in no fewer than six (6) credit hours. Enrollment during the summer session is allowed but not required. The number of hours must be determined by the student’s advisor and must reflect as accurately as possible the student’s demand on faculty time and University facilities. Generally, an enrollment of three credit hours is appropriate for the summer session. Additional details on this policy are on the Graduate Studies policy page on GRA appointment eligibility.
Progress Toward Degree and Continuous Enrollment
Graduate Studies’ definition of full-time enrollment is provided in their policy.
Students should be continuously enrolled in courses, research or dissertation hours, for fall and spring semesters. Students who are not continuously enrolled may be discontinued from the PhD program pending Program Director or PhD Committee review. Students who do not plan to enroll for a regular semester must apply for a leave of absence as explained above under Enrollment Status & Program Time Constraints.
Credit hour enrollment can be accomplished by enrolling in any of the required courses, SW 875 or SW 998 Readings and Investigation (R&I) course, an elective in Social Welfare or another department, research hours (SW 990), or dissertation hours (SW 999). In all cases, the number of credit hours the student enrolls in should also reflect the amount of faculty time committed to the student’s learning objectives.
“Continuous enrollment” for PhD students who have passed their dissertation proposal defense (i.e., candidates) requires enrollment in the fall and spring semesters but not necessarily during the summer. Candidates should consult with their advisors and the program director to determine whether any other policies require them to enroll during the summer. Graduate Studies policy on enrollment post-comprehensive oral exam is on the policy website.
Annual Evaluation of Student’s Progress
The annual evaluation of the student’s progress, conducted by the Program Director, serves two basic purposes: 1) It ensures the accuracy of each student’s file (including a review of courses completed, grades received, Qualifying/Integrative Papers passed, etc.), and 2) it provides an opportunity to identify academic problems that might exist and, if necessary, to develop strategies with the student and Academic Advisor to resolve difficulties.
Academic Standing and Dismissal
The KUSSW requires that a student must maintain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average (GPA) in all required KUSSW core courses. In addition, KU Graduate Studies requires a 3.0 overall GPA.
If a student’s GPA falls below that standard, the student is placed on academic probation for the following semester. The student is notified in writing that the GPA must improve to at least the 3.0 minimum by the conclusion of the probationary semester or the student faces dismissal from the program. If concerns exist about the student’s overall academic or GRA/GTA performance, or if the student’s behaviors indicate violations of the University’s or the profession’s Code of Conduct (Code of Ethics) may have occurred, the probationary period may be extended, or a new probationary period may be initiated, and a plan will be developed for the student’s success in the program.
Working closely with one’s Academic Advisor and the Program Director, as well as with the appropriate faculty member(s), a student who is on probation should develop a plan to return to “academic good standing” within the one semester time limit. If academic good standing is not reinstated, the student is dismissed from the program unless the faculty of the PhD Program Committee, in response to a petition by the student, determines that the student has a high probability for success if allowed to continue for one additional semester and completes the plan.
Dismissal from the Program is made by the Dean, upon recommendation of the Program Director. Grounds for dismissal include failure to maintain the minimum GPA requirement, failure of the Integrative Paper process, failure of the Oral Comprehensive Exam or Final Dissertation Defense, failure to maintain continuous enrollment, failure to adhere to the profession’s Code of Ethics, and/or engaging in any conduct which does not comply or is inconsistent with School of Social Welfare, Graduate Studies, and University standards, policies, and procedures.
Graduate Faculty Status
Faculty must be appointed to the Graduate Faculty by the Executive Council of Graduate Faculty to participate on graduate exam committees (e.g., Integrative Paper Committee, Dissertation Committee). Students and faculty should see a complete description of Graduate Studies policy on graduate faculty to know who can be appointed to serve as chair, member, and Graduate Studies representative.
Membership in and Chair of the Integrative Paper Committee and Dissertation Committee
All graduate faculty in the KUSSW may chair Integrative Paper Committees, but eligibility to chair a Dissertation Committee is conditioned on the faculty member’s demonstration of continuing activity commensurate with being an established scholar in his or her field, and involvement in the graduate education program as evidenced by graduate advising, teaching, and thesis and dissertation committee membership. Faculty who wish to secure dissertation chair status must apply to Graduate Studies and can do so via the PhD Program Office. A current CV that establishes the faculty member’s credentials to serve as a dissertation chair, along with a letter of support from the Program Director, will be forwarded to Graduate Studies for their review and approval.
Note that a faculty member may serve as both dissertation chair and methodologist on the same committee.
Note for Students About Faculty Availability
Most Ph.D. faculty work on nine-month contracts with regard to teaching and curriculum responsibilities. If you wish to work with faculty during the summer or during special leaves, such as a sabbatical or Fulbright leave, please clarify the faculty member’s availability ahead of time. If a faculty person with whom you work plans to enter phased or full retirement, be sure to plan accordingly, and begin with a conversation about whether the faculty person is willing to continue to serve after their employment status changes.
Section 2: Components of the Curriculum
PhD coursework, the Integrative Paper, the Oral Comprehensive Exam (Dissertation Proposal Defense), and the Dissertation demand students become knowledgeable about relevant concepts, methods, traditions, and intellectual skills necessary for a successful career as a scholar and steward of the discipline of social work. Students admitted in Fall 2021 or later have a required curriculum that consists of 11 core courses, and 4 semesters of professional seminars, taken within the School of Social Welfare, and an additional 3 elective courses, one of which must be advanced research skills courses, taken either in the School and/or from other KU departments. Electives help students further hone their research skills and knowledge in their chosen area of specialization and additional electives beyond the required 3 may be taken. Coursework can be completed in two to three years of full-time study.
(Note that between 2018 and 2021 the requirement was 9 core courses, 5 electives, and 4 seminars; between 2015 and spring 2018 the requirement was 9 core courses and 3 electives; prior to fall 2015, the required curriculum consisted of 8 core courses and 4 electives.)
Beyond required and elective coursework, students complete an Integrative Paper, an Oral Comprehensive Exam (i.e., dissertation proposal defense), and a dissertation under the guidance of faculty committees.
First-year students are required to attend a seminar held each week during the fall and spring semesters which is designed to orient students to the program and assist them in making a successful transition from practitioner to scholar. Seminar sessions are led by the Program Director and include presentations from a wide range of faculty. Topics may cover: transitioning from practitioner to scholar; developing research questions relevant for social work practice and policy; understanding the publication process; developing academic writing skills; getting the most out of faculty mentorship; developing an academic CV; applying theory in qualitative and quantitative research; conducting interdisciplinary research; and infusing social justice into research. Second-year students will also enroll in a one-credit hour seminar that meets every other week during the fall and spring semesters. This advanced seminar provides opportunities for to discuss topics relevant to the later stages of the program (e.g., the academic job market, teaching in higher education, developing a writing routine, etc.) and is designed to prepare the second-year student for their academic/research careers.
The curriculum is designed to provide standard core content for all students and also to give flexibility for students to develop particular expertise in chosen areas of inquiry and research methods. Required social work PhD courses provide a common base of knowledge and skills. The electives, the integrative paper, the oral comprehensive exam, and the dissertation allow greater focus and specialization. The cumulative effect of coursework and the integrative paper should be to create a clear area of specialization or emphasis. The dissertation involves detailed scholarly investigation within this specialization. Students are not required to pursue the same or a similar topic and methodology developed in the integrative paper for their dissertation topic. However, doing so may be a more efficient way to proceed through the program.
Students must plan the course of their PhD studies carefully because core courses are offered only once per year and some of these courses are sequenced to reflect the tradition of knowledge building that, as scholars, they will contribute to in the years to come. The following table depicts the recommended schedule for completion of the entire PhD program.
|Year 1 - Fall Semester|
|SW 978 Research Design and Methods||3|
|SW 981 Quantitative Methods I||3|
|SW 980 History and Philosophy of Social Work||3|
|SW 911 Seminar 1A||1|
|Year 1 - Spring Semester|
|SW 979 Qualitative Methods I||3|
|SW 983 Quantitative Methods II||3|
|SW 985 Theory for Research||3|
|SW 911 Seminar 1B||1|
|Year 2 - Fall Semester|
|SW 989 Qualitative Methods II (in or out of SSW)||3|
|SW 982 Social Welfare Policy||3|
|SW 975 Racial Equity & Social Justice in Research & Practice||3|
|SW 912 Seminar 2A||1|
|Year 2 - Spring Semester|
|SW 987 Teaching Social Work||3|
|SW 976 Practice & Politics of Writing||3|
|SW 912 Seminar 2B||1|
|Year 3 - Fall Semester|
|Elective (in or out of SSW)||3|
|Integrative Paper (SW 990)||3|
|Year 3 - Spring Semester|
|SW 999 Dissertation Hours *||6-9|
|Year 4 - Fall Semester|
|SW 999 Dissertation Hours||6-9|
|Year 4 - Spring Semester|
|SW 999 Dissertation Hours||6-9|
Note: Electives can also be taken during summer semesters.
*Students may enroll in dissertation hours if they have their oral comprehensive exam (i.e., dissertation proposal defense) early in the semester. This should be discussed with the academic coordinator.
This schedule applies to full time students regardless of whether they hold a GRA or GTA appointment. Variations in the above recommended schedule may be made with approval of the Program Director. For example, due to external employment or other obligations, and with the permission of the student’s advisor, some students take as few as one course in some semesters. Such students, along with the PhD Program Committee, should assess the academic plans and the impact on time-to-graduation carefully, and alter the plan accordingly.
The eleven (11) core social work courses (see course descriptions below) are designed to prepare students to become leaders nationally and internationally in advancing social work practice and policy through research, teaching, and scholarship.
To help prepare students for the first two quantitative research courses (SW 981 and SW 983), incoming students are required to complete a statistics assessment prior to or at the beginning of entering SW 981.
SW 911: PhD Seminar I
This course aims to socialize students to academia by assisting them with understanding and navigating the processes of academic institutions and doctoral education and building the skills and strategies for successful completion of their doctorate. It recognizes that becoming and being a social work scholar is a developmental, lifelong learning process. The seminar is focused on supporting students so that they may maximize their doctoral program experience and, ultimately, define, develop, and grow in their role as a social work scholar/researcher. Different doctoral career pathways will be discussed in relation to students’ own goals, identifying opportunities and strategies within doctoral education that may reinforce and strengthen their abilities for achieving individualized goals.
Credit hours: 1. Prerequisites: None.
SW 912: PhD Seminar II
Building on the first year of the doctoral program and SW 911 - PhD Seminar I, students will continue to discuss the development of their professional identity. The class explores critical topics related to both substantive and professional issues of doctoral education, the education of social workers, research and methodological approaches, transitioning from student to scholar, and social work ethics.
Credit hours: 1. Prerequisites: SW 911
SW 978: Research Design and Methods
The purpose of this course is to provide students with an introduction to the process of conducting research. Specifically, the course provides students with the requisite background on research methods and designs to provide essential context for other research courses in the program, including quantitative, qualitative, and mixed method courses. The course focuses on the process of developing, conducting, and evaluating research designs and research methods. Centered in a commitment to anti-oppressive and anti-racist research, course topics include an introduction to research design; ethics and power in research; developing a research question and hypotheses; conducting a literature review; types of quantitative methods; types of qualitative methods; sampling; measurement; validity, reliability, and rigor; critiquing and evaluating research; and community-based and artistic research methods.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: None.
SW 979: Methods of Qualitative Inquiry
This course is the first in a sequence of two courses on qualitative inquiry required for students in the social work PhD program. It provides an overview of knowledge and skills for designing qualitative inquiry. It examines issues in the philosophy of science, paradigms for qualitative inquiry in social work, and a diverse range of methods that flow from these paradigms. It emphasizes principles and procedures for research design, including an introduction to data collection, ethics in qualitative design, and criteria for establishing methodological rigor (i.e., trustworthiness).
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: None.
SW 989: Methods of Qualitative Inquiry II
This course is the second in a sequence of two courses on qualitative inquiry required for students in the social work PhD program. It provides in-depth methodological knowledge and skills for implementing qualitative inquiry and writing research reports. It examines implementation issues related to a diverse range of methods that flow from the paradigms addressed in SW 979. It provides guidance for implementation of research designs for projects developed in SW 979, including application of methods for data collection, analysis, supporting criteria for methodological rigor (i.e., trustworthiness), and writing up findings and implications.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisite: SW 979.
SW 980: History and Philosophy of Social Work
This course is designed to provide students with opportunities to examine the underlying conceptual frameworks of social work practice including their history and present manifestations. Students will gain an understanding of metatheoretical concepts (e.g., paradigms, epistemology, ontology, etc.) and will learn to identify and describe theory at multiple levels of abstraction and application. The course will offer a critical perspective on the historical foundations of social work practice and theory, including the ways in which the discipline has resisted or maintained systems of oppression over time. This conceptual grounding is intended to offer students a solid foundational understanding of social work as a distinctive discipline while also offering opportunities for students to examine their own position within the discipline by examining the history and conceptual framing of their own substantive area of focus.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: None.
SW 981: Advanced Quantitative Research Methods I
This course, which includes hands-on practice using statistical software focuses on quantitative research methodology and related statistics, emphasizing mastery of specific methodological and statistical knowledge and skills that prepare students for multivariate quantitative analyses. The course will address the following topics: the framing of quantitative research questions; the selection of appropriate quantitative research methods and designs; database management; the selection of appropriate univariate and bivariate statistics for data analysis; the principles of analysis; interpretation of findings; and the presentation of results. This course asks students to critically think about the choices researchers make when working with quantitative data that can help to frame concepts from a strengths and anti-oppressive lens.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: None.
SW 983: Advanced Quantitative Research Methods II
The purpose of this advanced research methods course is to equip professionals to design and carry out research with implications for social work practice and social welfare policy. Building on the experience in SW 978 and SW 981, this course will focus on more advanced topics in experimental (e.g. multivariate analysis of variance, analysis of covariance) and correlational (e.g. linear regression, logistic regression) statistical analyses. The course will provide students with an opportunity to apply knowledge of these techniques in computer analyses of various datasets and in the critical review of the published work of others. Students apply an anti-oppressive lens to actively critique quantitative research approaches, including responsible model selection, analytic choices, and reporting.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: SW 981.
SW 982: Social Welfare Policy
The purpose of this seminar is to develop doctoral students’ advanced skills in analyzing and critiquing social welfare policies and programs, making recommendations for change, and effectively communicating the results of their work. The seminar’s primary focus is on federal and state social welfare policies and programs in the US, with a secondary focus on the examination of other nation’s social welfare policies. Students in this course learn to analyze and shape policies and programs with the goals of ending oppression and discrimination, and promoting racial, social, gender, and economic justice.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: None.
SW 985: Theory for Research
The purpose of this course is to provide foundational knowledge and skills to evaluate, apply, and develop theory in social research. Students will (1) gain an understanding of how the roles and uses of theory are informed by epistemological and ontological traditions, (2) evaluate and critique applications of theory in empirical scholarship (3) apply theoretical frameworks to inform research design and methods, and (4) engage in theory- and/or model-building to advance theoretical innovations.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: None.
SW 987: Teaching Social Work: Philosophy and Methods
The purpose of this course is to prepare doctoral students for effective teaching of Social Work courses at all levels of higher education. The course covers three key topic areas: 1) the social, political, economic, and ethical context of teaching in social work and higher education among diverse students, 2) teaching theory and methods, including understanding how adults learn, course design, teaching strategies, classroom management, and evaluation of student outcomes, and 3) reflexivity in teaching, including developing one’s identity and philosophy as an instructor and evaluating one’s own growth as an instructor.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: None.
SW 975: Racial Equity and Social Justice in Research and Practice
This course explores racial equity and social, economic, and environmental justice as it relates to research for practice. These two major components are explored and integrated throughout the semester. First, through a historical equity lens, students will identify the ways in which research has contributed toward oppression and marginalization. They will situate their own research or research ideas in an anti-oppressive framework and critical lens to understand and identify research methods that promote equity and justice both in the research process and potential impacts. Second, students develop an understanding and application of research for practice, including clinical, macro, policy, and other research impacts. They will also learn about and utilize principles and frameworks specific to implementation science–the study of methods of utilizing evidence-based practices and research by those engaged in practice. Students gain knowledge and skills for identifying and using implementation science strategies that support the translation of research into real world practice. Implementation and translating research to practice is examined from an equity lens to consider how to promote racial equity and social, economic, and environmental justice in research for practice.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: None.
SW 976: The Practice and Politics of Writing
This course is designed for students who are in the second year of the full-time PhD program and who are preparing to write the Qualifying Paper and begin developing the dissertation proposal in the following academic year. Students will explore key aspects of developing one’s own writing practice, develop and refine strategies and organizational tools for conducting literature reviews, and generate ideas for research proposals, including the dissertation proposal. Students will discuss and critically examine the politics of writing within and beyond the academy. Conversations will focus on the tension between learning how to write for success in academia while interrogating the privileging of scientific writing and peer-reviewed publications. Towards advancing the goals of racial equity and social justice, students will explore anti-oppressive and community-based dissemination strategies and gain knowledge and skills for dissemination in multiple settings, a variety of formats, and creative approaches. Each student will explore the course content around their own area of scholarly interest and develop a writing product that fits their current writing objectives. The course will provide a supportive space for writing and receiving feedback on writing, emphasizing the development of collegial relationships as sources of writing support while developing peer review skills.
Credit hours: 3. Prerequisites: None.
Students must take at least three elective courses (9 hours) and at least one of these electives must be a research skills course, as explained below. Of the two remaining electives, at least one must be a regular course (not a Readings and Investigations course). Doctoral students admitted fall 2011 or later must adhere to the Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship Policy.
Electives may take several forms and serve a variety of goals: to deepen study in an area which is likely to lead to the integrative paper and/or dissertation topic; to explore areas of interest and research methods related to dissertation possibilities or other career interests; to experience the perspectives of other disciplines on issues of concern to the student; and/or to help integrate content from previous required courses. Electives should help shape the special area of expertise of the student. The student should discuss selection of electives with the Enrollment and Academic Advisors prior to enrollment.
We encourage students to take at least two of the three elective courses in academic units outside of the School of Social Welfare, for the purpose of examining other disciplines’ and professions’ perspectives and research methods in areas of the student’s interest. Some students find it beneficial to take more than 3 electives, especially when interested in increasing and improving their methodological skills and enhancing their efforts toward specialization-related knowledge.
Research Skill or Foreign Language Options
Before completing the Oral Comprehensive Examination for the PhD, the student consults with the Academic Advisor and must satisfy one of the following options:
Option 1: Research Skills Electives
Students in this option must take at least one research skills elective (3 credit hours) as part of the 9 elective hours required. In consultation with the student’s Academic Advisor, students develop competency in one area of research skill relevant to social work research. A student may choose from a variety of approved options, including but not limited to advanced statistics, computer language, historical method, ethnographic methods, psychometrics, advanced data management techniques, and content analysis. Approval is automatic if the course has been previously approved by the Program Director (See Appendix II in the KUSSW PhD Students Team.)
Option 2: Research Related Second Language Competency
In consultation with the student’s advisor, students may opt to develop competency in one language other than English in place of their required research methods elective. A student must demonstrate reading, writing, or speaking knowledge of the chosen language related to a specific area of social work research. If this option is chosen, the student’s Academic Advisor and the PhD Program Director must agree on the method of evaluation. These methods might include passing a Language Competency Exam administered at the university, completion of language courses, or documentation on transcripts of having completed university degrees in a non-English language-based institution. Once the requirement is satisfied, the student is notified in writing by the Program Director.
Readings & Investigations (SW 875)
SW 875 Readings and Investigations, if taken under the tutelage of a member of the Graduate Faculty, meets the program requirement for elective hours and can be taken during the summer term. The course topic must meet the required outline criteria in Appendix III (in the KUSSW PhD Students Team) and the following conditions:
- Advances the student’s knowledge of a substantive area related to developing the required competencies to complete Integrative Paper, dissertation study, and/or research competency for the dissertation study.
- Advances a student’s significant career/intellectual interest.
- Does not duplicate the content of a graduate level course offered in the School.
A paper generated from an R&I may help the student move forward on preparing for the integrative paper or a dissertation proposal. Faculty mentors for the R&I should consider as a requirement for successful completion, the submission of a paper to a peer-reviewed journal. However, regardless of the requirements of the R&I, it is not a replacement for either the integrative paper or dissertation proposal.
All R&I SW 875 proposals must be submitted to the Program Director for final approval after (1) preliminary discussion between the student, Academic Advisor, and instructor; (2) completion of the written proposal; and (3) approval by the instructor of the proposal in its final form, as indicated by signature on the proposal.
The Program Director must approve the completed SW 875 proposal prior to the student’s enrollment in the course. If approved, the Program Director will sign a copy of the proposal provided by the student and return it to the student. The student must make copies of signed approved proposal and distribute to the instructor, Academic Advisor, and PhD Program Office for filing in the student’s record.
Special Summer Readings and Investigations (SW 998)
SW 998 is a Readings and Investigation course in which the student can enroll for fewer than 3 hours. The student must enroll in at least 1 credit hour of SW 998. The course instructor should be listed as the faculty Principal Investigator. (If the PI is not a faculty member, then the Associate Dean for Research is listed.) This course is graded as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Note that this course does not count toward fulfilling the requirement for 9 hours of electives. If the student wishes to take a readings and investigation elective for credit, the student should enroll in SW 875 (see above).
Electives Offered Within the KUSSW
The following courses have been approved as electives within the school. They may not be offered every year, so students must consult the Program Director for latest schedule.
SW 970: Community-Based Participatory Research for Social Work
This course explores the use of community-based participatory research (CBPR), and similar approaches such as youth participatory action research, within social justice-oriented research. Students will examine key theories, principles, and strategies of CBPR; explore advantages and limitations to CBPR and related approaches; and develop skills necessary for implementing and effectively carrying out CBPR projects. Additionally, students will incorporate the knowledge and skills pertaining to CBPR within a social justice-oriented research area of their choosing. The course format reflects the principles and values inherent in CBPR by engaging in an iterative process of co-teaching and co-learning, critical self-reflection and group discussion, and anti-racist and anti-oppressive pedagogy.
SW 955: Study Abroad Courses for Social Workers
The KU School of Social Welfare occasionally offers courses in cooperation with the Office for Study Abroad that introduce students to social work and social welfare issues in various countries as well as international perspectives on social work. For example, courses have been offered for study in Costa Rica, India, Italy, Ireland, and the Republic of Korea. Doctoral students may enroll in such courses for credit if their scholarly goals are advanced by doing so. When such programs are announced, contact the instructors and the Office for Study Abroad for more information. Scholarships to support study abroad participation may be available through the KUSSW, depending on funding resources. The Office of Study Aboard may also have fiscal resources to support these experiences. Students should make funding inquiries to the Program Director and to the Office of Study Aboard for that and other sources of support.
MSW Electives Within the School
After consultation and agreement with the Academic Advisor, MSW-level courses within the School, if approved by Program Director, may be taken as electives. MSW courses may be appropriate if they advance knowledge pertinent to the student’s doctoral education goals and if such knowledge is unavailable within doctoral social work courses. However, because MSW courses are generally less advanced in knowledge and research methods than doctoral level courses, they are not routinely approved.
After completing the 11 core courses, the student may begin the integrative paper process. Students can begin working on the integrative paper prior to completing all elective credit hours, but only after approval of their Integrative Paper committee. The Integrative Paper is a requirement of the School of Social Welfare’s PhD program; because it is not a requirement of Graduate Studies, the policies around the Integrative Paper are established and overseen by the School of Social Welfare.
The purpose of the Integrative Paper (IP) is for PhD students to demonstrate their abilities to conceptualize, critically analyze, and present knowledge in an organized, compelling, and cogent manner. Students will demonstrate competence in synthesis, integration, and application of literature in an area of scholarly interest including a theoretical or conceptual framework(s), empirical literature, historical analysis, policy frameworks, and/or methodological analysis that guides their understanding of the topic. The IP also requires students to demonstrate knowledge and application of racial equity and social justice principles.
Connection to the Dissertation
The IP may set the stage for the dissertation proposal, but it is not required to do so.
Format and Content
The IP is a single paper that is limited to 40 pages and comprises three sections. References and appendices are excluded from the 40-page limit. Integrative Papers should use American Psychological Association (APA) format, including 12 pt font, one-inch margins, and the APA reference and bibliographic form. The expectations for each section of the IP are described below.
Section 1: Description of Substantive Area of Inquiry and Its Relationship to Social Work
Section 1 should explore a substantive area of inquiry that is of interest to social welfare policy and/or social work practice. The scholarly topic could be related to a current issue, social problem, population, or field of practice relevant to social work. Questions that may be considered are: What is the problem or concern? Why is this relevant to social work? What are the characteristics of the population affected? What state and/or federal policies are relevant? What historical context is most relevant to understanding the topic? How does the topic relate to/align with the guiding principles of racial equity and social justice? Students do not need to answer all of these questions; rather, they should consider which of the suggested questions are directly relevant to their topic and provide a clear linkage between the content they choose to cover and its implications within their area of inquiry. For example, if a student focuses on a particular social policy, the student should not only describe the policy but also discuss how the policy relates to the area of inquiry, how the policy informs and shapes approaches to research, and/or how the policy relates to practice implications. Students choose the content to be covered in Section 1 and should provide rationale for why that content has been selected as a focus.
Section 2: Review of Select Theoretical and Empirical Literature
Section 2 should provide a focused and well-justified review of the scholarly topic through the analysis of selected theoretical and empirical literature. Students must provide a clear and solid rationale for the selected theoretical/conceptual framework and the selected empirical literature. Students do not need to cover every relevant theoretical/conceptual framework and all possible empirical literature in their area of inquiry. Students should choose the theoretical and empirical literature that is well-aligned with their topic and will support them in building a logical justification for an area of scholarly inquiry.
Section 3: Critique of the Theoretical and/or Empirical Literature, Identification of Critical Gaps in Literature, and Key Recommendations for Future Research
Section 3 should provide a critique of the existing theoretical propositions and/or empirical literature and clearly identify gaps in the literature which require further investigation. This critique should include and reflect upon the guiding principles of racial equity and social justice. Students may choose to focus this section on theoretical, empirical, and/or methodological limits in the reviewed literature. Based on these clearly articulated gaps, the student must identify key recommendations that would advance the existing knowledge base.
IP Committee Composition
The IP Committee comprises four members, three faculty members from the School of Social Welfare and one member external to the School.
Chair: One member from inside the School serves as the IP Committee Chair. The IP Chair must be a tenure track faculty member or research faculty member in the School of Social Welfare. The IP Chair must be authorized by the KU Office of Graduate Studies to serve as a chair of doctoral exams.
Internal Committee members: Two other members of the Committee must be from the School of Social Welfare and must be members of the KU Graduate Faculty authorized by the KU Office of Graduate Studies to serve on doctoral exams.
External Committee member: The external member is identified by the student in consultation with the Chair. Other Committee members and faculty may also provide guidance or suggestions for external Committee members. The external Committee member is ideally a scholar located in the larger university community who has some expertise in the student’s substantive area, theoretical and empirical literature to be covered in the IP, methodology relevant to the student’s substantive area, and/or some other area that aligns with the student’s IP. The external Committee member may be from another university with approval from the IP Chair and the PhD Program Director.
This timeline is based on an academic plan in which the student completes core social work courses at the end of their second year, completes the IP in the fall semester of their third year, and begins their dissertation by the start of their fourth year.
Students must submit their IP Outline no later than the third week of the fall semester following completion of the required social work courses. The IP is due the first week of December.
Different Timelines and Extensions
Students who do not complete social work courses in the spring will develop a timeline with their IP Chair and approval from the PhD Program Director. Students may request extensions with support from their IP Chair and Committee members, and approval by the PhD Program Director. The student is required to submit a new written plan for completing the IP to the PhD Program Director signed by all IP Committee members.
Students officially initiate the IP process by convening their IP Committee and presenting an outline of their IP. The IP outline should be sent by the student to the IP Committee 1 week prior to the scheduled meeting. The outline is a maximum of 5 pages, single-spaced. The outline may be developed in consultation with the IP Chair and Committee members. The purpose of this initial meeting is for the student and IP Committee to discuss and gain consensus around the scope and direction of the IP. The IP Committee will provide feedback on the outline, review the student’s proposed schedule for completing the IP, and approve the outline and schedule. Students use the IP Procedures and Submission Form to develop a detailed schedule for writing, receiving feedback, and revising sections of the IP.
The IP outline should address all three sections of the IP as described above and potential references to be used.
Writing the IP
Students work closely with their IP Chair and Committee members to complete the paper. The IP Chair plays an important and significant role in structuring the IP process, providing guidance to the student, and meeting regularly with the student. The IP process should be centered on student learning and growth, supporting them in moving toward independent scholarship. The IP Chair and Committee members are expected to work with the student collaboratively, reviewing drafts throughout the semester, and providing feedback within two weeks of receipt of draft sections. Students should expect to receive thorough written feedback and to revise the paper multiple times. Students who need support with this process should reach out to the PhD Program Director and/or the Associate Dean for Academic Programs.
Submission and Grading
The student submits the final IP to the Chair. The IP Chair sends the final IP to the Committee members, providing instructions on grading. These instructions should request that Committee members make written comments to be shared with the student and submit grades with their comments to the Chair.
Committee members should communicate their assigned grade directly to the IP Chair, not the student. Each Committee member assigns a grade of “pass” or “revise and resubmit.” At least three members must assign a “pass” for the IP to be accepted as written. The IP Chair is responsible for convening and/or polling the committee members regarding the grade. The IP Chair will inform the student and the PhD Program Director, in writing, of the IP grade within 10 working days of the submission.
Although a meeting is not required, it is recommended when an in-person discussion among committee members would help committee members arrive at a grade. Normally, students would not participate in the meeting because the IP is intended to be written and not to be an oral exam/defense.
Grade of Revise and Resubmit
If the student receives a “revise and resubmit,” the student must resubmit a revised IP no later than 2 months after receiving this feedback. Additionally, the student should meet with IP Committee members to fully understand the needed revisions. IP Committees that indicate a “revise and resubmit” grade, must also provide the student with specific written feedback and guidelines for the revision. This written feedback and guidelines should also be submitted by the IP Chair to the PhD Program Director. At the time of the submission of the revised IP, each Committee member assigns a grade of “pass” or a second “revise and resubmit” on the revised IP. The IP Chair will inform the student and the PhD Program Director, in writing, of the final IP Grade within 10 working days of the resubmission.
To advance to the dissertation stage, the student must pass the IP. In the rare circumstance in which a student has not passed after two revise and resubmit processes, the student meets with the IP Committee and the Program Director to identify next steps.
Final Grade Form
Committees should use the IP Grade Form to submit final IP grades to the PhD Program Office. Students should provide an electronic pdf copy of the successful IP to the PhD Program Office.
Students may add this or similar language to their final IP Paper: “Do Not Copy or Reproduce Without Permission of the Author.”
Within one month of the successful completion of the Integrative Paper, the student and academic advisor/Chair are required to complete the Dissertation Proposal Planning form and submit it to the PhD Program Office.
Eligibility for Dissertation
Having completed all of the required coursework and the Integrative Paper, the student is eligible to form a dissertation committee. A list of faculty approved for dissertation chair status is available from the PhD Program Office. In many cases, faculty persons who served on the Integrative Papers Committee are likely choices. However, the dissertation committee must be formed separately and may have different members from those who served on the Integrative Paper Committee.
Students should review KU’s policy on the doctoral dissertation for a full explanation of the dissertation’s purpose.
Within the School of Social Welfare, students may select one of two formats of dissertations as outlined below. Both dissertation formats must meet the requirements of a dissertation as described by KU policy to include that the dissertation is (a) the result of original research; and, (b) a coherent, scholarly work, not a collage of separate distinct pieces.
The table below shows that both dissertation formats include a minimum of five chapters, an introduction, and a discussion/conclusion chapter. The key difference between the two formats is how the three middle chapters are structured. In a traditional dissertation format, a single study – often with multiple aims – is written as one large manuscript. In a three-paper format, that same study would distribute the aims among three chapters, as if preparing three separate manuscripts for publication.
|Chapter||Traditional Dissertation||Three-Paper Dissertation|
|2||Literature Review||Paper 1|
Note: A three-paper dissertation does not mean a student must conduct three separate studies. A typical three-paper dissertation involves conducting a single study or set analyses and then writing up the results across three separate manuscripts. Alternatively, an individual could conduct multiple studies or analyses with an overarching theme or goal, but there must be a demonstrable throughline that connects the three chapters (e.g., a single research construct that is studied among 3 different samples). The following list of examples is not exhaustive. Rather, they are possible forms a three-paper dissertation may take. Although the three papers can all be empirical papers, they are not required to be. Other manuscript forms may include conceptual, historical, systematic review, meta-analysis articles, and/or other manuscript types.
|Type||Paper 1||Paper 2||Paper 3|
|Single Mixed Method Study||Qualitative analysis/results||Quantitative analysis/results||Mixed methods analysis/results|
|Single QUANT study (2 specific aims)||Systematic review/meta-analysis||Research question 1 analysis/results||Research question 2 analysis/results|
|Single QUAL study (2 specific aims)||Conceptual paper||Research question 1 analysis/results||Research question 2 analysis/results|
Chair and Members
The dissertation committee serves as the Oral Comprehensive Exam Committee and the Final Dissertation Defense Committee. Following are requirements of Graduate Studies oral exam committee composition policy:
- Doctoral committees are composed of at least four voting members. This is the minimum requirement. Individual schools, the College, or individual units and programs may set higher minimum.
- While committee membership should be determined in consultation with the student, graduate units have the final determination on questions of committee membership.
- All committee members must be members of the Graduate Faculty authorized to serve on doctoral exams.
- The committee chair must be authorized to chair doctoral examinations.
- The majority of committee members must be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the candidate’s unit or program of study.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty who are appointed as courtesy faculty within a program or unit are considered to be faculty of that program or unit, for the purposes of committee composition
As long as this majority requirement is met, additional committee members may be, but need not be, a member of the candidate’s unit or program.
- One member must meet the requirements for serving as the Graduate Studies Representative (GSR) as outlined in the GSR policy.
As long as the conditions above are met, the committee may include more than four members.
While committees are not required to have a co-chair, the student or the committee members may recommend a co-chair in addition to the chair of record. Co-chairs must be authorized to serve on doctoral committees. They need not be authorized to chair. Please see the Graduate Faculty Appointment policy for more information on the co-chair role.
Substitutions of the committee chair (and/or co-chair) are prohibited after the committee has been approved by the Graduate Division of the School or College. If a committee chair (and/or co-chair) needs to be replaced, the revised committee must be approved by the Graduate Division in advance of the exam.
Substitutions of the committee members are permitted as long as the new committee meets the requirements above. Additional members can be added after the committee has been approved by the Graduate Division of the School or College. Additions and substitutions must be approved by the Graduate Division in advance of the exam.
Graduate Studies Representative
The role of the University’s Graduate Studies’ representative is “to assure the appropriate standard of fairness, professionalism, judgment, and skill are applied throughout the examination process for the benefit of the institution and in the best interest of the student.” For more information, see the Graduate Studies policy on the graduate studies representative on doctoral exam committees. The Graduate Studies’ member is a voting member of the committee.
One member of the committee other than the Chair and other than the Graduate Studies representative should be designated as methodologist. In cases where the Chair holds both substantive and methodological expertise, they may be designated as both the Chair and methodologist with approval from the PhD Program Director. It is also possible to have one member from another institution serve as the methodologist if that person meets Graduate Studies criteria and has been approved through application to the PhD Program Director and the Dean of Graduate Studies.
Committee members are typically selected because of their areas of expertise, because students believe that they can work successfully with these faculty members, and because candidates anticipate that these faculty will be responsible and responsive during the dissertation process. See Appendix VI in the KUSSW PhD Students Team for the Dissertation Proposal Planning Form that asks for each member to be identified.
Note: There are support groups, courses, and writing skills resources available for students working on dissertations. See the KU Writing Center and KU Graduate Studies student resources websites for information. Contact KU Counseling and Psychological Services at Watkins Health Center for stress counseling.
Dissertation Proposal Defense (Oral Comprehensive Examination)
Per KU policy, the comprehensive oral examination covers the major field and any extra-departmental work for which the program wishes to hold the aspirant responsible. Within the School of Social Welfare, the function of the dissertation proposal/oral comprehensive exam is to ensure students demonstrate competency in their area of scholarly interest and capacity to move forward with designing and executing independent research with current relevance to social work and social justice.
To begin the process, the student meets with the Dissertation Chair and methodologist to develop a proposal for the dissertation. Other members may be consulted as needed. In order to facilitate timely completion, students and their advisors are required to use the Dissertation Proposal Planning Form (Appendix VI) and to submit it to the PhD Program office within one month of completing the Integrative Paper.
When the proposal is acceptable to the Chair and the methodologist, all committee members should be given at least two weeks to review it prior to the oral defense. The student and Chair will set a date, time and place for the committee to meet. Students must notify, via email, the PhD Program Office of these arrangements and committee members’ names, in advance of the defense.
Proposal Length and Components
The Dissertation Proposal’s structure, length, and depth is co-determined by the committee Chair, methodologist, and student. The student, Chair, and methodologist must develop agreement on the precise expectations for the proposal. This agreement should be established prior to submitting the proposal to the Dissertation Committee. Some faculty prefer that the proposal be very detailed. Others prefer a briefer prospectus.
Regardless of length, dissertation proposals comprise these components:
- Statement of the topic/problem to be studied, including relevant scholarly literature and theoretical orientation
- Literature review
- Research methodology
- Plan and timeline detailing tasks to be completed to complete the dissertation. The three-paper dissertation must include a plan that identifies the proposed manuscript for each of the three papers and a target journal for each of the three papers.
Criteria for a Satisfactory Proposal
- Demonstration of knowledge of the substantive area through making explicit connections to the relevant literature and identification of a sound justification for the proposed dissertation.
- Explicit connections to related theories, conceptual schemes, and perspectives.
- Explicit connections of the study to the improvement of social work practice, methods and approaches, and/or the development of relevant social welfare policies, theories, and perspectives.
- Presentation of a design and methodology that are both sound and relevant to the questions being asked.
- Plan for completion of the study that is feasible within time and resource constraints, including the maximum tenure policy of Graduate Studies.
Grading of the Proposal Defense/Oral Comprehensive Examination
As stated above, the purpose of the Oral Comprehensive Examination is to evaluate the student’s competency in their area of scholarly interest and capacity to move forward with designing and executing independent research with current relevance to social work and social justice. After the student’s 30-40 minute presentation, the committee will ask questions and offer substantive suggestions for the dissertation content. The committee will determine privately whether the proposal is satisfactory or not at the Oral Comprehensive Examination and report such in writing to the PhD Program Office and Graduate Studies. A grade of satisfactory or unsatisfactory is given. The grade is determined by a majority vote of the Oral Comprehensive Exam Committee (i.e., 3 of the 5 members). (See Appendix VII in the KUSSW PhD Students Team). The committee should communicate clearly any revisions that may be necessary to proceed with the dissertation.
Successful completion of this Oral Comprehensive Examination qualifies the student as a PhD Candidate. In the event of an unsatisfactory grade, the student is dismissed from the program, unless the student successfully petitions that the defense should be repeated. The Oral Comprehensive Examination may be taken again only if the PhD Program Committee approves a written petition and rationale submitted by the student, including a letter of support, with recommendations, from the chair of the Dissertation Committee. Under no circumstances can the exam be taken more than two times. At least 90 days must have elapsed since the last unsuccessful attempt.
The Oral Exam Evaluation Form (Appendix VII in the KUSSW PhD Students Team) must be provided to the committee by the student, completed by the committee, and returned to the PhD Program Office immediately after the exam.
The Final Dissertation Product
The student must develop a written dissertation product that reflects the planning, implementation, and results of original research and scholarship. Students should review Graduate Studies Policy on doctoral dissertations.
Format and Style
The dissertation is to be a coherent, logically organized scholarly document. Dissertations should use American Psychological Association (APA) reference and bibliographic form. Please see Graduate Studies for further information on formatting and final submission requirements.
Other Dissertation Policies
Doctoral candidates are required, after passing the comprehensive oral examination (i.e., dissertation proposal defense), to be continuously enrolled each fall and spring semester in one or more hours of dissertation or programmatically equivalent coursework (for example, document hours for DMA students) that both moves the student towards degree completion and reflects, as accurately as possible, the candidate’s demands on faculty time and university facilities. During this time, until all requirements for the degree are completed (including the filing of the dissertation) or until 18 post-comprehensive hours have been completed (whichever comes first), the candidate must enroll for a minimum of 6 hours a semester.
Post-comprehensive enrollment may include enrollment during the semester or summer session in which the comprehensive oral examination has been passed. If after 18 hours of post-comprehensive enrollment the degree is not completed, the candidate must continue to enroll each semester until all degree requirements have been met. The number of hours of each enrollment must be determined by the candidate’s advisor and must reflect as accurately as possible the candidate’s demands on faculty time and university facilities.
The KU Graduate Studies policy on dissertation enrollment is on their policy website.
If the defense and all other degree requirements are completed within the second week of a fall or spring semester or the first week of a summer session, enrollment for that term is not required. The PhD Program Office should be consulted about the specific date by which the defense must occur if the Final Oral Comprehensive Exam is scheduled for early in any semester.
Policy on Multiple Dissertations from the Same Project
Multiple dissertations using data from the same research project are acceptable only if the main research questions and substantial portions of the literature review of each dissertation are demonstrably different.
Checklist When Planning the Final Dissertation Defense
See Appendix IX in the KUSSW PhD Students Team for a Checklist of tasks to complete (begins 4 weeks prior to defense date).
School of Social Welfare Recognition and Graduate Studies Hooding for Doctoral Students
Students need to contact the PhD Program Office and Graduate Studies for necessary procedures to prepare for graduation and the Graduate Studies Doctoral Hooding.
Doctoral students who have completed the PhD degree work during an academic year (fall-spring) or who complete their dissertation defense prior to the MSW Hooding are invited to participate in the School’s MSW hooding ceremony.
Students must notify Graduate Studies if planning to participate in the university-wide Doctoral Graduate Hooding Ceremony. Each student must designate a faculty member, usually, though not necessarily, the Dissertation Chairperson, who will hood the student.
Note: Students are not expected nor encouraged to provide food or beverages for Integrative Paper Committee Meetings, the Oral Comprehensive Exam, or the Final Dissertation Defense.
Note: The Dissertation Chairperson will send a congratulatory email message to SW faculty and students upon successful completion of the Integrative Paper, the Oral Comprehensive Exam, and Final Dissertation Defense, unless specifically requested not to do so by the student.
Students must be aware of Graduate Studies regulations and timing, especially the deadlines for the Final Dissertation Defense, when the student anticipates a May graduation. Dissertations must be submitted electronically. See the KU Graduate Studies webpage for information on preparation and submission of the dissertation.
Students should familiarize themselves with KU’s Embargo Policy, which lists conditions under which a student may seek an embargo on a dissertation and provides instructions for requesting an embargo.
Required Time Lapse Between Dissertation Proposal Defense and Dissertation Final Defense
At least one month must elapse between the successful completion of the Oral Comprehensive Exam (Dissertation Proposal Defense) and the date of the final oral Dissertation Defense.
Roles and Responsibilities
The Dissertation Committee Chair
Determines when the student is ready for defense of the dissertation.
- Sends details of dissertation defense (time and place) to the PhD Program Office four (4) weeks prior to defense. (See the Doctoral Candidates Checklist, which is available from the Graduate Academic Coordinator).
- Delivers a complete dissertation draft to the Dissertation Committee Chair and the methodologist in sufficient time for revisions to be made before giving the dissertation to the full committee for the defense. Whether to provide the draft to other committee members should be decided in consultation with the committee chair. Students should query committee members regarding their preferences in receiving the dissertation electronically or in hard copy, or both.
- Follows all instructions for completing and submitting the dissertation, available from Graduate Studies.
- Follows additional guidance from Graduate Studies on the graduation process from defense to hooding.
- Delivers the final dissertation, in print or electronically, or both, to the Committee Members at least two weeks prior to the oral defense.
Dissertation Committee Member
Any dissertation committee member who judges that the student is not ready for the defense of the dissertation will relay this to the chair and to the student prior to the defense, along with detailed feedback about what must be demonstrated prior to the defense being rescheduled. The defense will not be scheduled until the chair, in consultation with the committee, believes the student is prepared.
PhD Program Director & PhD Program Office
Ascertains that all degree requirements have been met. When the request is approved, the final oral defense will be scheduled at the time and place arranged by the candidate. This information is published in a University news medium as prescribed by Graduate Studies. The PhD Program Office may also announce the Dissertation Defense date. The PhD Program Office processes the necessary forms with Graduate Studies.
Grading and Graduate Studies Evaluation
A grade of “honors*”, “satisfactory”, or “unsatisfactory” is reported for the candidate’s performance on the appropriate form. The examination grade is determined by a majority vote of the Dissertation Committee, defined as one vote over fifty percent. The final grade on the transcript is assigned as a letter grade of “A” if the defense was either “honors” or “satisfactory”. The letter grade is assigned for the final semester’s hour(s) of SW 999 Dissertation.
Should the Dissertation Committee report “unsatisfactory,” a grade of “P” for “progress” or “U” for “unsatisfactory” appears on the transcript for that semester’s SW 999, based on the recommendation of the Dissertation Committee to the Dissertation Chair. If an unsatisfactory grade is reported, the candidate may petition the PhD Program Committee for permission to repeat the examination. The PhD Program Committee may consult with the student, the Dissertation Committee Chair and Committee members prior to making the decision.
Following the oral defense, the student is responsible to work with the PhD Program Office to complete all forms and electronic submissions (See Doctoral Candidates Checklist). The grade form should be signed by all Committee members at the conclusion of the defense.
Note: Interested members of the University community are encouraged to attend these examinations. Guests, including School of Social Welfare Faculty, University Graduate Faculty, friends and relatives, may question the student only after the Dissertation Committee has completed its examination in so far as time allows.
Note: *The assignment of honors is at the committee’s discretion. For a grade of “honors”, the Committee must consider whether the work is exceptional in all of the following aspects: conceptualization, implementation of methods and analysis, interpretation of findings, oral and written dissemination, and professional significance. A designation of “honors” is rare and thus only given in exceptional cases where the student’s dissertation exceeds all expectations on each section. The committee chair may not initiate the discussion to consider the “honors” designation.
Students who publish material from coursework and research within the PhD Program and faculty who publish with students must comply with established standards for professional ethics in the NASW Code of Ethics and may wish to consult professional social work journals, the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) guidelines, and the APA (American Psychological Association) Publication Guide for guidance. Following are some suggestions and guidelines. They are not intended as legal advice, but rather reflect the experiences of the Program Director and former PhD students. See Appendix VIII in the KUSSW PhD Students Team for more information on co-authorship guidelines.
It is advisable for students and faculty who intend to research and publish together to secure a clear, mutual understanding, in advance of their work together, about such issues as ownership of data, order of authorship, credit for student and faculty contributions, payment for royalties, and copyright. Agreements in writing can avoid misunderstanding and are strongly recommended.
The APA provides some guidance: “Authorship credit should reflect the individual's contribution to the study. An author is considered anyone involved with initial research design, data collection and analysis, manuscript drafting, and final approval. However, the following do not necessarily qualify for authorship: providing funding or resources, mentorship, or contributing research but not helping with the publication itself.” See the APA’s website on publication practices and responsible authorship for more information.
Students are encouraged to publish while they are in the PhD program, based on their developing knowledge and research conducted as part of the program. This contributes to the profession and strengthens their qualifications for academic employment. Faculty are encouraged to engage students as co-authors, and also as first and sole authors of manuscripts.
Students who publicly present or publish material based on work at the university should give appropriate credit to the affiliation, including acknowledgement of funders, faculty mentors, and informal peer reviewers, when appropriate and applicable.
Prior to passing the Oral Comprehensive Exam, a student may identify as a PhD student in the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare. After successfully completing the Oral Comprehensive Exam, the student may identify as a PhD candidate.
Students who wish to publish from course papers, Qualifying Papers, or dissertation draft material should consider implications for copyright and dissertation planning. For example, if the student publishes something so that another person or company holds the copyright, any further use of that material in any form must comply with copyright law. A student may use his or her own previously published work to help form a dissertation, with appropriate citation and compliance with copyright law, as long as the dissertation is substantially original work.
Section 3: Appendices
All appendices are available on the in the KUSSW PhD Students Team page.