PhD Handbook

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 4-6 years. The University of Kansas Graduate Studies expects all doctoral students to earn their doctorate 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 KU Writing Center staff. 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 doctoral 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 year 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 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 Graduate Studies catalogue … and check back regularly for updates!
  • Rely on your academic advisor 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, advisers, qualifying 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, go easy on yourself 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 doctoral 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 academic (e.g., Council for Social Work Education) and research (Society for Social Work and Research) forums.

Most of our doctoral 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. Doctoral students and faculty must be familiar with the Graduate Studies’ policies and procedures. These are available online at the KU Graduate Studies Website. While certain policy information is incorporated into this Doctoral 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.

NOTEIt 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 2019 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 Doctoral 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 doctoral students are required to provide the Doctoral Program Office with current and accurate contact information, including telephone and fax numbers, mailing address, and email address. Note that all doctoral students must arrange to have their email address included on the automatic distribution list maintained by the KU Computing Services and must have an official email address. This is the principle means of communication that occurs within the School. Finally, students are responsible for maintaining regular contact with the Doctoral Program Office, the program director, and their academic advisor.

The mailing address for the Doctoral Office (and the faculty) is:
Doctoral Program Office (or faculty person’s name)
The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare
1545 Lilac Lane
Lawrence, Kansas 66045-3129 USA

Campus and Lawrence Resources for Graduate Students

KU has numerous resources and supports available for graduate students, many of which can be found at the Graduate Studies Resource webpage. Check this link frequently to find announcements of financial support, travel funds, and other resources likely to help see you through your doctoral education.

We encourage every doctoral student to take advantage of the many opportunities to expand their cultural and intellectual horizons by participating in campus organizations and activities. The Hall Center for the Humanities, for example, sponsors many lectures and research-related forums throughout the academic year.

Embrace the opportunity to meet people from other disciplines and engage with them to expand your intellectual and social universe.

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, carrying firearms, 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 as well as standards for academic integrity are available on the KU website.

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.

7. Student Petitions and Grievance Procedure

a. Petitions

Students may occasionally have reason to seek an exception to a policy or procedure. To learn more about this process go to the petitions webpage. After consulting with their assigned advisor, students may petition the program director and the PhD Program Curriculum 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 Curriculum Committee decision are reviewed privately by the faculty members of that committee, and are treated as confidential.

b. Grievance Procedure

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 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 program director for information and guidance at any time.

In cases in which the student believes it necessary to seek consultation regarding a grievance outside the School of Social Welfare, the Ombuds Office is a good resource for student support and guidance.

Mission and Strengths of the KUSSW Doctoral 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 doctoral 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 doctoral program; the extensive amount of research conducted by faculty; faculty mentoring of doctoral students as graduate research assistants; the numerous opportunities for doctoral 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.

Required Curriculum

The required curriculum consists of 9 core courses (3 credit hours each) and 4 semesters  of doctoral seminars (1 credit hour per semester) taken within the School of Social Welfare, and at least 5 elective courses, two 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 two-three years of full time study.

Beyond the required coursework (including electives), students must complete a Qualifying Paper, an Oral Comprehensive Exam (i.e., the dissertation proposal defense), and a dissertation under the guidance of a faculty member who serves as the dissertation chair and a committee of at least five 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 II.

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 relates well to our stated mission.

Application, Admission, and Candidacy

A student seeking admission to the doctoral program submits an application to Graduate Studies following the instructions provided on-line via the School of Social Welfare’s PhD apply web page. The Doctoral Admissions Committee, which meets soon after the January application deadline, is comprised of the faculty members of the PhD committee. Upon admission, the student is known as an aspirant for the doctoral degree and remains so designated until their successful completion of the Oral Comprehensive Examination. After passing that exam the student is designated as a candidate for the PhD degree.

The Schedule for Admission to the PhD Program

  • The PhD program is sequenced and begins in the Fall Semester (August).
  • Admission applications for the PhD program become available on October 1 of each year.
  • The deadline for receiving applications for admission the following fall is normally on or about January 15. The Admissions Committee meets soon after this deadline and applicants are usually informed about admission decisions in February.
  • Applications received between January 15 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.

Transfer Credit

According to Graduate Studies policy, credits may not be transferred to a KU doctoral program from another institution or from a prior graduate degree from KU, see the Graduate Studies credits webpage.

  • 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 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 doctoral program requirements. If former non-degree seeking students are admitted to the doctoral program, they may petition the PhD Program Curriculum Committee to count non-degree KU courses for doctoral credit. There is no guarantee that the request will be granted. Contact the program director and see the Graduate Studies website for relevant information.

Program Time Constraints

NOTE: See the Graduate Studies Website for further information.

1. Minimum Tenure and Residence Requirement

Each student must spend two semesters in doctoral resident study at The University of Kansas, see the policy for doctoral program time constraints. These two semesters need not be consecutive and may include one summer session.

During this period, the student must be involved full time in academic pursuits, which may include a teaching or research appointment in this university. Typically, the residence requirement is satisfied by taking six credit hours of course work and engaging in research or teaching assistantship activities each of the required semesters. It may also be satisfied by enrollment in 9 credit hours of coursework in each of two semesters with no assistantship.

2. 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 Office for International Students in order to determine these requirements.

3. Maximum Tenure and Satisfactory Progress in the Program

Once admitted, Graduate Studies’ policy requires a doctoral student to complete all requirements for the degree within eight years. In cases in which compelling reasons support an extension of the normal eight-year limit, the student may petition the PhD Curriculum Committee for the extension, and if approved, that Committee will recommend that Graduate Studies grant an extension, policy for doctoral program time constraints. 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 Doctoral Committee. Extensions are not granted routinely. Requests for additional extensions are given even closer scrutiny and are granted only in exceptional cases.

4. Leave of Absence

Graduate Studies and the Doctoral 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.

After an absence of five years, however, the doctoral student is automatically dismissed from the program and if desired, must apply for readmission, see the leave of absence policy. 

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 or Teaching Assistantships or financial aid.

Time during a leave of absence is not counted toward maximum tenure within the program.

Graduate Studies of KU

The PhD degree in Social Work is granted by Graduate Studies of The University of Kansas. Most policies and procedures of our Doctoral 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 doctoral students and faculty to become familiar with and stay abreast of changes to these policies, see a listing of policies on the Graduate Studies webpage.  

Program Director 

The PhD program director has primary administrative responsibility for the doctoral program. The PhD 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 dean of KU Graduate Studies. The director’s administrative performance is reviewed by the dean every year. Although there is no official limit on the director’s term, the Doctoral Program Committee recommends that the director serve in that capacity for between three and five years. Ideally, the last year of service will include a transition and orientation period for the incoming director.

PhD Program Curriculum Committee

The Doctoral Program Curriculum 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 Doctoral Committee they are presented for approval, signified by vote, to all of the School faculty.

The director of the PhD Program serves as the chair of the PhD Program Curriculum Committee. The membership of the committee consists of up to 6 faculty members and 3 doctoral students. The faculty members of the PhD Program Curriculum Committee include: the PhD Program director, 3 faculty elected for staggered terms by the faculty as a whole, and 1-2 faculty appointed by the dean in consultation with the Program director. Faculty may serve consecutive terms.

The three elected student members of the PhD Program Curriculum Committee normally include one enrolled representative from each of the following three cohorts: the entering class; students who have completed their first two semesters but have not yet finished coursework; students who have completed all coursework. Student representatives’ terms are for one year and may be consecutive. The exact number of student members may not be fewer than three.

Elected student members are informed of, participate in discussions about, and have voting rights on all but confidential personnel matters, student petitions and admissions decisions. Elected student members represent their cohort’s views and interests, as well as their own. They may request items to be added to meeting agendas. Elected student members as well as other students who choose to attend may contribute to committee discussions. The student member of the Curriculum Committee with the most seniority is invited to attend the School Business Meetings as a doctoral student representative.

Admissions Committee

The Admissions Committee is solely comprised of the faculty members of the PhD Program Curriculum Committee. It meets soon after the January 15 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.

Doctoral Student Organization

The Social Work Doctoral Student Organization provides forums for student discussions and invited presentations related to expressed student interests. In addition, the Doctoral Student Organization may voice students’ concerns and suggestions and recommend topics for discussion to the student representatives on the Doctoral Committee, the program director, and the dean. The student members of the PhD Program Curriculum Committee are responsible for liaising with the Doctoral Student Organization year to year.

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 Doctoral 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

There are two types of advisors: enrollment advisor and academic advisor.

  • The 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 Doctoral Program for all students throughout their entire program of study.
  • The 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 a Qualifying Paper Committee or request an academic advisor after completion of the first year of study.
    • Once a student has formed a Qualifying Paper Committee, the chair of that committee serves in the capacity of academic advisor. Once a student has formed a Doctoral 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.

Types of Doctoral Student Mentors

There are two types of mentors: GRA Supervisor and 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 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), and facilitating connections to other faculty within the school, in other units on campus, and in the broader field. 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 PI’s 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.

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.

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 Doctoral 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 on the Student Information Systems webpage.

Before enrolling, the student must consult with their academic advisor and enrollment advisor to confirm that the enrollment plan is consistent with university and doctoral program policies and procedures and that it supports the student’s academic goals.

Progress Toward Degree

Students should be continuously enrolled in courses, research or dissertation hours. Students who are not continuously enrolled may be discontinued from the doctoral program pending program director or Doctoral Committee review.

Students who do not plan to enroll for a regular semester must apply for a leave of absence as explained above in section “D. Program Time Constraints.”

Students who are employed as graduate research assistants during the summer must register for at least three credit hours of enrollment to reflect the educational purpose of the GRA. This credit hour enrollment can be accomplished by a SW 875 or SW 998 Readings and Investigation (R&I) course) or enrollment in an elective or enrollment in research (SW 990) or dissertation (SW 999) hours. In all cases, the number of credit hours the student enrolls in should reflect the amount of faculty time committed to the student’s learning objectives.

“Continuous enrollment” for doctoral 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. For example, students must be enrolled to hold a GRA position and there are other reasons to enroll in the summer as well.

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 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.

Students should track their progress on the Advising tab of MyKU. Appendix I of this Handbook provides an aid for tracking one’s progress to degree.

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 the GPA falls below that standard, the student is placed on probation for the following semester. See the academic probation policy. 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 Doctoral 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 Qualifying 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

According to Graduate Studies policy, all faculty hired in tenure track positions are automatically designated members of the graduate faculty. In the School of Social Welfare, all graduate faculty persons with a doctoral degree may teach, advise, serve on committees, and perform other functions in the doctoral program as long as they also meet other eligibility requirements that pertain to a specific role.

Qualified scholars who are not KU graduate faculty may apply to Graduate Studies via the Social Work Doctoral Program Office for special permission to teach or serve on Comprehensive Exam and Dissertation Committees. This includes retired former KU faculty or faculty from other universities. In order to appoint a non- graduate KU faculty to a student committee, the student must submit the faculty member’s CV along with a brief description of the purpose and need for this person to serve to the program director. The program director then submits a request to Graduate Studies for approval. Students seeking this option must plan in advance as the approval process can create delays.

Membership in and Chair of the Qualifying Paper Committee and Dissertation Committee

All graduate faculty in the KUSSW may chair Qualifying 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 program director. 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 not serve as both dissertation chair and methodologist on the same committee.

Teaching in the Doctoral Program

Faculty are assigned to teach in the PhD Program by the associate dean for academic programs, in consultation with the PhD program director.

General recommendations of the PhD Committee regarding eligibility criteria for doctoral teaching: (1) graduate faculty status; (2) experience teaching content relevant to the particular course; (3) record of scholarly publications within the past five years which is related to the course to be taught; (4) average C&I evaluation scores in overall teaching effectiveness across all courses at or above the school mean for the past three years; and (5) familiarity with the content and teaching methods of the particular course, including discussion with the current instructor and participation in class sessions if requested or advised.

The PhD committee also recommends that 5 years be the “standard” expectation for assignment of faculty to any one course, contingent on satisfactory performance, in order to provide wide opportunity for faculty to teach at the PhD level. The Committee also recommends that no faculty teach more than one PhD course per year, and that the program director teach one course per year to maintain familiarity with the program and the students.

NOTE TO STUDENTS: Doctoral faculty work on nine month contracts with regard to curriculum activities. 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.



A. Purpose and Expectations

Doctoral coursework, the Qualifying 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 2018 or later have a required curriculum that consists of 9 core courses, and 4 semesters of seminars, taken within the School of Social Welfare, and an additional 5 elective courses, two of which must be advanced research skills courses, taken either in the school and/or from other KU departments. (Note that between 2015 and spring 2018 the required curriculum consisted of 9 core courses and 3 electives (see the 2017 Handbook); prior to fall 2015, the required curriculum consisted of 8 core courses and 4 electives, outlined in the 2011 Handbook). Electives help students further hone their research skills and knowledge in their chosen area of specialization.

Coursework can be completed in two-three years of full time study.

Beyond required and elective coursework, students complete a Qualifying 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 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. Beginning in fall 2018, 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 interface with first year students and is designed to prepare the second year student for their academic/research career.

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 doctoral courses provide a common base of knowledge and skills. The electives, the qualifying paper, the oral comprehensive exam, and the dissertation allow greater focus and specialization. The cumulative effect of coursework and the qualifying 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 stick with the same or a similar topic and methodology developed in the qualifying 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 doctoral 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. Incoming students with GRA or GTA appointments of 50% or more will take a maximum of three substantive courses (SW 978 and SW 981 and SW 985) in the first semester, plus the one-credit-hour seminar, and will again take three core courses (SW 979 and SW 980 and SW 983) and the one credit hour seminar in the spring semester.

The following chart depicts the recommended schedule for completion of the entire PhD program.

During the second year of doctoral studies, students are expected to take a blend of core courses and electives, and the one-credit hour seminar offered each semester.

Recommended schedule for all full time students

PhD Program Curriculum: Course Sequencing – Implemented Fall 2018

Year 1 – Fall SemesterCr.Hrs.Year 1 – Spring SemesterCr.Hrs.
SW 978 Research Design and Methods3SW 979 Qualitative Methods I3
SW 981 Quantitative Methods I3SW 983 Quantitative Methods II3
SW 985 Theory for Research3SW 980 History and Philosophy of Social Work3
SW 911 Seminar 1a (AZ et al)1SW 911 Seminar 1b (AZ et al)1
Year 2 – Fall Semester Year 2 – Spring Semester 
SW 989 Qualitative Methods II (in or out of SSW)3SW 987 Teaching Social Work3
SW 982 Social Welfare Policy3Elective3
SW 912 Seminar 2a (AZ et al)1SW 912 Seminar 2b (AZ et al)1
Year 3 – Fall Semester Year 3 – Spring Semester 
Elective (in or out of SSW)3SW 990 Qualifying Paper Prep and Proposal6
Year 4 – Fall Semester Year 4 – Spring Semester 
SW 999 Dissertation Hours6-9SW 999 Dissertation Hours6-9

Students will typically enroll for 6 hours of SW990 in spring of year 3 while working on the Qualifying Paper and later, on the Dissertation Proposal; then 6-9 hours of SW999 each semester through completion of Dissertation. Electives can also be taken during summer semesters.

NOTE: 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 Doctoral Program Committee, should assess the academic plans and the impact on time-to-graduation carefully, and alter the plan accordingly.

2. Tips for Efficient Progress

Sometimes students ask how one can move through the program efficiently and still take advantage of all the offerings that a major research university like KU makes available to its doctoral students. These tips for completing the program efficiently and without compromise may be useful:

Throughout all phases of the doctoral program, view your doctoral studies as your full time work. You are not simply enrolled full time, you are working full time.

  • View your doctoral education as your priority. If you engage in Teaching or Research Assistantships or other forms of employment, make sure your total workload is realistic and that your doctoral education does not suffer. Assistantships should complement and enhance your educational experience.
  • Pay attention to your personal well-being and find ways for the doctoral program to enhance your personal growth and satisfaction. Taking in the cultural and academic offerings of the university is a great way to relax and meet other people.
  • Use the Qualifying Paper process to develop and hone your dissertation ideas.
  • Get to know the faculty and their scholarship. Your Qualifying Paper process is a great way to tap their knowledge and experience by asking them to serve on your committee. Then, if the focus and the fit work for you, ask some members of the Qualifying Paper Committee to continue their service through membership on the Oral Comprehensive Exam and the Dissertation Committees.
  • Choose a dissertation topic that interests you and that is focused and do-able. Your dissertation represents the start of your scholarly career. It is not your life’s work – it is your foundation for it.
  • Complete the Dissertation Proposal and defend it as soon as possible after the Qualifying Paper is completed. A successful defense advances you to candidacy.
  • Develop a focused dissertation study plan and a well-developed and realistic timeline. Consider entering a written dissertation contract with your dissertation chair to help you stay focused.
  • Throughout the dissertation process, make the completion of your dissertation primary commitment and treat it like a full time job.
  • Think about how your doctoral studies can shape your long-term scholarly career. Start the day with these thoughts: I am a scholar. I am a shepherd of the profession. I will succeed in these endeavors because I have balance between the personal and the professional and between the knower and the doer.

The nine 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.

SW978: Research Design and Methods

This class is an in-depth introduction to the process of conducting research in an ethical and organized manner. This introduction provides the essential context for the qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research courses.

SW 979: Methods of Qualitative Inquiry

This course provides a detailed overview of knowledge and skills in qualitative inquiry. It examines issues in the philosophy of science and paradigms for qualitative inquiry in social work. It emphasizes principles and procedures for qualitative inquiry design, including an introduction to data collection, analysis, report writing, while attending to criteria for establishing trustworthiness.

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—their history and present manifestations. This course rests on the definition of social work practice as one that acknowledges practice as the interaction of knowledge, value, and skill around professional purpose and in the context of professional sanction.

SW 981: Advanced Quantitative Research Methods I

This course, which includes a lab, focuses on quantitative research methodology and related inferential statistics, emphasizing mastery of specific methodological and statistical knowledge and skills. The course will address the following topics: the framing of research questions; the selection of appropriate research methods and designs; the selection of appropriate statistics for data analysis; the principles of analysis; interpretation of findings; and the presentation of results.

SW 982: Social Welfare Policy

This seminar helps doctoral students learn to analyze social welfare policies and programs. After comparing and contrasting various policy analysis frameworks, students learn to analyze the ways in which social conditions, values, and ideologies shape the definitions of social problems as well as the development, implementation, and evaluation of social welfare policies that impact those problems.

SW983: Advanced Quantitative Research Methods II

The purpose of this advanced research methods course is to help equip professionals to design and carry out research with direct 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 research design and both experimental and correlational statistical analyses.

SW989: Advanced Qualitative Research Methods II

This course is currently in development.

SW 985: Theory for Research

This course provides an introduction to interdisciplinary theory for applied social research, focusing on: (1) the roles and uses of theory in social inquiry (2) theory building and theory testing (3) induction and deduction (4) the articulation of common or related theoretical traditions in various social science disciplines.

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. Doctoral students need practical skills, a theoretical base, experience, and confidence in order to establish their teaching approach and over time, improve their performance.


General Requirements

Students must take at least five elective courses (15 hours) and at least two of these electives will be research skills courses, as explained below. Of the three remaining electives, at least two 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 qualifying papers 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 advisor prior to enrollment.

We encourage students to take at least four of the five 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 5 electives, especially when interested in increasing and improving their methodological skills and enhancing their efforts toward specialization- related knowledge.

Note: Students who are not serving as a GRA or GTA will not receive tuition benefits. Tuition and Assistantship support are guaranteed only for the academic year, though faculty and research Principal Investigators may choose to continue the GRA or GTA through the summer academic period. After the period of guaranteed support is finished, faculty may decide to continue a GRA or GTA position, or not, with or without tuition coverage.

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 two research skills electives (6 hours credit) as part of the 15 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).

Option 2: Research Related Second Language Competency

In consultation with the student’s advisor, develop competency in one language other than English. 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 Doctoral 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)

The University requires doctoral students who have a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) appointment in the summer to be enrolled in at least 3 credit hours during the summer term. This credit hour requirement reflects the educational function of a GRA experience as well as faculty involvement in supervision. 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 and the following conditions:

  • Advances the student’s knowledge of a substantive area related to developing the required competencies to complete Qualifying Papers, 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 qualifying 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 qualifying 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 Doctoral Program Office for filing in the student’s record.

Special Summer Readings and Investigations (SW 998) for GRA Enrollment

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 15 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).

Graduate Studies Writing Courses. KU Graduate Studies may offer writing classes for graduate students, including dissertation seminars. The program director will notify students and faculty when these classes are announced.

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 988 counts as meeting one of the Research Skills requirements.

SW 988: Mixing Methods in Social Science Research

The purpose of this course is to provide an overview of mixed methods research, consisting of the history and philosophy of mixed methods research, the emerging literature on it, purposes and characteristics of mixed methods research, types of research problems addressed, the specification of mixed methods purpose statements and research questions, types of major mixed methods designs, data collection and analysis strategies, and reporting and evaluating results.

SW984: Social Work Practice Identifying and Improving “Best Practices”

The main focus of this seminar is on developing skills for conducting multi-dimensional, value critical inquiry about “best practices” relevant to social work practice and applying the results of that inquiry toward extending and improving current “best practices.”

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.

Special Note on Summer Enrollment:

Please see the following policy for further information on full-time enrollment for graduate students. In the KUSSW, if the student does not have a GRA/GTA appointment, there is no requirement to enroll in credit hours during the summer.

Full-time enrollment for summer semesters:

  • Enrollment in 6 credit hours;
  • Enrollment in 3 credit hours plus a GTA, GRA, or GA appointment, regardless of percentage of appointment;
  • Enrollment in 3 credit hours for graduate students using the Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (MGIB-AD) and Post-9/11 GI Bill – Active Duty;
  • Doctoral candidates enrolled in dissertation hour(s), see Doctoral Candidacy (post- comprehensive enrollment).

Be sure to check the Graduate Studies’ website for enrollment requirements when the student wants or needs to be enrolled less-than full time.

GRA Appointment Eligibility 

Read the GRA Appointment Eligibility Policy.

During the summer session, the GRA must be enrolled in coursework related to the student's graduate program. 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, with the exception of SW 998, an enrollment of three credit hours is appropriate for the summer session.

The Qualifying Paper

After completing the 9 core courses, the student may begin the qualifying paper (QP) process. Students can begin working on the QP prior to completing all elective credit hours, but only after approval of the QP committee. The goal of the QP and the Oral Comprehensive Exam (Dissertation Proposal Defense) is to help students develop competency and an in-depth understanding of an area of scholarly interest. The QP may set the stage for the dissertation proposal, but it is not required to do so. Examples of successful qualifying papers are available from the Doctoral Program Office.

Qualifying Paper Process

Content. The qualifying paper is a single paper that has three specific sections. First, the student is required to write a section exploring a substantive area of inquiry that is of interest to social welfare policy and/or social work practice. This could be related to a current issue, problem, population or field of practice relevant to social work. Next, the student provides a comprehensive literature review of the theoretical and empirical literature relevant to this area of interest. The third section is a critique of the existing theoretical propositions and research related to the topic, pointing to gaps or limits in the literature and findings that require further investigation. In other words, the final section develops directions for improved research or investigation in the substantive area, including clear researchable questions and the general methodological issues to be considered in addressing those questions. The paper is limited to no more than 50 pages, excluding references. See Appendix IV for specific information on the QP requirements.

Procedure. The qualifying paper may not begin until the student has completed the core course work, at which time students and their committee members agree to an outline of key content that is to be covered in the paper. This outline and a timeline for completion are submitted to the doctoral office. (See Qualifying Paper Procedures and Submission Form, Appendix IV).

While this work could begin at the completion of core course work, students are encouraged to form a qualifying paper committee during the final semester of all course work. The qualifying paper committee is comprised of three faculty members from the School of Social Welfare and a member from outside the school in a related discipline. One member from inside the school serves as committee chairperson. The outside member is identified by the student in consultation with the chair and other faculty members. The outside member on the committee is ideally a scholar located in the larger university community who has some expertise in the student’s substantive area and/or in the theoretical and empirical literature covered in the qualifying paper.

Satisfactory progress and evaluation of the exam. Students are allowed six months, excluding summers, following the submission of a qualifying paper plan to complete the qualifying exam paper. (Requests for extensions must be considered by the program director.) The student works with their QP committee members to complete the paper and may submit the document at any agreed upon time during the academic year. After the student submits the paper to the committee, each committee member assigns a grade of “pass” or “revise and resubmit.” At least three (3) members must assign a “pass” for the paper to be accepted as written. If the student receives a “Revise and Re-submit” on the initial submission of the qualifying paper, the student must resubmit a revised paper no later than 3 months (excluding summers) after receiving this feedback, and should meet with committee members to fully understand the needed revisions. At the time of the submission of the revised paper, each committee member assigns a grade of ”Pass” or “Fail” on the revised paper. (See QP Grade Form, Appendix V). If a grade of “fail” is assigned, the student is automatically dismissed from the doctoral program.

A copy of the successful qualifying paper should be forwarded electronically to PhD Program Office.

Note: Students are strongly encouraged to add this or similar language to their final QP Paper: “DO NOT COPY OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR.”

Within one month of the successful completion of the Qualifying Paper, the student and academic advisor/chair are required to complete the “Dissertation Proposal Planning” form and submit it to the PhD Program Office.

Doctoral Dissertation

1. Steps to the Dissertation and Dissertation Committee


Having completed all of the required course work and the qualifying 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 Qualifying Papers Committee are likely choices. However, the dissertation committee must be formed separately and may have different members from those who served on the qualifying paper committee.

Dissertation Committee

Chair and Members. The dissertation committee serves as the Oral Comprehensive Exam Committee and the Final Dissertation Defense Committee. The dissertation committee must have at least five (5) credentialed members: a) four members from the School (one of whom is Chair and one of whom is the methodologist) and one outside member who is the university representative; or b) three members from the School (one of whom is Chair) and two from outside the School, one of whom is the methodologist and one of whom is the university representative. Read the Doctoral Student Oral Exam Committee Composition Policy

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 … process” (see, the policy for graduate studies representatives on doctoral exam committees). The Graduate Studies’ member is a voting member of the committee.

Methodologist. One member of the committee other than the Chair and other than the Graduate Studies representative should be designated as methodologist. It is 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 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 websites for information. Contact KU Counseling and Psychological Services at Watkins Health Center for stress counseling.

2. Dissertation Proposal Defense (Oral Comprehensive Examination)

a. Nature of the Proposal

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 Doctoral Program office within one month of completing the Qualifying 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.

The purpose of the Oral Examination is to evaluate the student’s development of expertise in an area of scholarly interest as reflected in the proposal for a dissertation research project. A satisfactory proposal includes:

  • Demonstration of thorough knowledge of the substantive area through a coherent and clear discussion of the relevant literature.
  • 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.

Typically, the proposal consists of three components: (1) statement of the topic/problem to be studied; (2) literature review; (3) research methodology. The candidate and Dissertation Chair must agree on precise expectations for the proposal prior to the student’s submitting it to the Dissertation Committee for review.

NOTE:  Some faculty prefer that the proposal be very detailed, equivalent to three tentative chapters of a dissertation. Others prefer a briefer prospectus. The chairperson in consultation with the committee and student should determine the specific expectations. Regardless of length, the proposal must meet all the criteria above.

b. Grading of the Proposal Defense/Oral Comprehensive Examination

The purpose of the Oral Comprehensive Examination is to evaluate the student’s development of expertise in an area of scholarly interest as reflected in the proposal for a dissertation research project. 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 Doctoral 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). 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 Doctoral 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 Curriculum 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) must be provided to the committee by the student, completed by the committee, and returned to the Doctoral Office immediately after the exam. The student must also provide the Graduate Studies Representative Form to the representative, normally 3 weeks prior to the examination. Find a link to the Dean's Letter to the Graduate Studies Representative on the Graduate Studies policy webpage

c. The Final Dissertation Product

The student must develop a written dissertation product that reflects the planning, implementation, and results of original research and scholarship.


Quoted from the KU Graduate Studies Policy

“The doctoral candidate must present a dissertation showing the planning, conduct, and results of original research and/or scholarly creativity. The purpose of the dissertation is to encourage and ensure the development of broad intellectual capabilities and to demonstrate an intensive focus on a problem or research area. The dissertation itself should be an evident product of the candidate’s growth and attainment of the ability to identify significant problems; organize, analyze, and communicate scholarly results; and bring to bear on an area of scholarly or scientific interest a variety of research skills and scholarly or creative processes. The dissertation must show some original accomplishment, but it should also demonstrate without doubt the candidate’s potential to make future contributions to knowledge and understanding.

The dissertation is to be a coherent scholarly work, not a collage of separate, distinct pieces. Its unity of theme and treatment may still accommodate several subtopics by demonstrating their relationships and interactions. If previously published material by other authors is included in the dissertation, it must be quoted and documented. Final acceptance of the dissertation is subject to the approval of the dissertation committee”

The most important task for the student is selecting a methodology (or more than one) that is appropriate to the nature and focus of the research questions and theses.

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. 

d. Other Dissertation Policies

  • Dissertation Enrollment

    After passing the Dissertation Proposal Defense (Oral Comprehensive Exam) the candidate who is not appointed as a GRA or GTA is required by KU graduate Studies to enroll for at least 9 hours of dissertation credit (SW 999) in the fall and spring semesters and 1-3 during the summer. After 18 hours have been completed, the student should enroll in the number of hours that reflects the work and resources used (from 1 to 6 hours), and enrollment must be continuous. A student may complete the dissertation in less than the 18 hours, in which case at least one month must pass between the completion of the Oral Comprehensive Examination (Dissertation Proposal Defense) and completion of the Final Oral Comprehensive Exam (Final Dissertation Defense).

    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 Doctoral 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 X 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 Qualifying Papers Committee Meetings, the Oral Comprehensive Exam, or the Final Dissertation Defense.

NOTE: The Dissertation Chairperson will send a congratulatory e-mail message to SW faculty and students upon successful completion of the Qualifying Paper, the Oral Comprehensive Exam, and Final Dissertation Defense, unless specifically requested not to do so by the student.

Final Dissertation Defense


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. Also of note is the Embargo Policy, which “lists conditions under which a student may seek an embarge … and instructions ….”.

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.

The Dissertation Committee Chair 

Will determine when the student is ready for defense of the dissertation.

The Candidate

Sends details of dissertation defense (time and place) to the doctoral program office four

(4) weeks prior to defense. (See Appendix X).

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. Further guidance and requirements from Graduate Studies is also available. 

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.

The PhD Program Office and Program Director 

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. (See Grade Form, Appendix VII). 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 Doctoral Office to complete all forms and electronic submissions (See Doctoral Candidates Checklist, Appendix X). 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.

Student Publication and University Affiliation

Students who publish material from coursework and research within the doctoral 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 IX 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.” 
  • Students are encouraged to publish while they are in the doctoral 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 doctoral 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.

The KUSSW currently guarantees three years of funding for all doctoral students who request to serve as and are assigned Graduate Research Assistantships and/or Graduate Teaching Assistantships.

Normally, when provided, financial aid comes in the form of a .50 appointment (20 hours per week) as a graduate research assistant (GRA) or graduate teaching assistant (GTA), or some combination of GRA and GTA. The GRA/GTA stipend varies depending on the particular terms of grants and teaching assignments, and tuition for the 9-month academic year is paid in full for

FTE appointments and above. In some cases, students may be appointed at more than .5 FTE time as a GRA/GTA, may work for other KU departments, and may be employed as research staff employees.

Note: Any financial support offered is conditioned on the student’s continuous good academic standing, satisfactory job performance, and professional behavior consistent with the National Association of Social Worker’s (NASW) Code of Ethics (2018) and the School and University of Kansas’ Code of Student Conduct. Note also that funding guarantees are always subject to the availability of funds.

The Office of the associate dean for Research can be contacted for current information on GRA opportunities and procedures. The associate dean for Academic Programs sends out a call for those interested in GTA assignments well before the start of each semester and makes assignments taking student interests into consideration. Advance planning is necessary and “late” requests to teach are generally not considered. Students may also wish to discuss issues related to student employment with their student representatives on the PhD Program Curriculum Committee and student representatives in the University of Kansas Teaching Assistants Union. The doctoral program intends that all employment situations support student educational success and include fair and equitable pay and other benefits offered by the University, Board of Regents, and applicable legislation.

Importantly, many students receive additional aid in the form of scholarships and fellowships. Some of these are obtained from within KU, and others are sought from external sources.

Students are encouraged to seek out Fellowships that fit with their substantive areas of inquiry.

Doctoral Student Employment

  • Students should carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of particular employment positions for their educational success in the doctoral program.
  • Graduate research assistants and graduate teaching assistants are considered by Graduate Studies as educational positions since they contribute to learning of research and teaching skills consistent with doctoral education. In addition, these positions require meeting obligations of productivity under direction of Principal Investigators or faculty Teaching Mentors and by contract with funders. Students and their PIs should consider how to integrate both the educational and contractual expectations of these positions.
  • It is advisable for students and research PIs to have clear mutual agreements about work expectations, pay, and other benefits when a student accepts a new position and when continuing an existing appointment. The nature of grants, funding patterns, and work often comes with some uncertainty and the need for flexibility among both faculty and students. This should be considered in the discussion about the student’s employment and job responsibilities and decisions should made in the context of the student’s purpose for being at KU, i.e., the student’s education needs .
  • The doctoral program director and the faculty strive to match each student’s employment with the student’s educational and long-term scholarly goals, keeping in focus university policies on such matters as the full time residency requirement and maximum tenure in the doctoral program (see relevant portions of this Handbook).

Teaching Assistantships and Preparation for Teaching

Teaching Assistantships provide excellent opportunities for students to learn how to develop courses and teach them under the guidance of faculty. Teaching is one of the functions expected of scholars in academic settings, and students are encouraged to gain this experience at some time during their doctoral study. The School of Social Welfare may have GTAs available in at the BSW curriculum level. Faculty mentors are assigned provide guidance for teaching particular courses.

Policies and Procedures

As a function important to the teaching mission of the University of Kansas, there are many university and school based policies and procedures regarding Teaching Assistantships, including agreements between KU and the GTA Union. Check the KU Graduate Studies Website “GTA/GRA/GA” section for the most recent KU policies.

Preparation for Teaching

  • All Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA), except those who are already experienced college level teachers, must attend the University’s GTA Training at the beginning of the Fall Semester. All GTAs will be matched with resource faculty (mentors) who will provide guidance, instruction, skill-building activities and feedback in the student’s first semester of teaching. GTAs will receive “regular, written performance evaluations,” which vary in content depending on the years of serving as a GTA. Faculty review mid-term and final class evaluations every semester. New GTAs are observed in the classroom at least once each semester for the first academic year.
  • SW 987: Teaching Social Work: Philosophy and Methods is required of all students in the spring semester of the second year.
  • Students may wish to take an elective course on teaching methods from the School of Education.
  • The KU Center for Teaching Excellence offers many workshops on teaching.
  • International and other students for whom English is a second language must also comply with university regulations for demonstrating language ability for teaching. (Contact the Applied English Center for further information.)

Performance of Duties

GTAs shall perform their duties in accordance with the instructions of the associate dean for Academic Programs, resource faculty, supervisors, departments, and/or schools and in adherence to University and Board of Regents policies.


GTAs shall obtain course evaluations from students enrolled in their courses in accordance with department, school, University and/or Regents policies or requirements. In addition to the procedures established by the KUSSW, GTAs will be evaluated each semester in accordance with the provisions in the KU/GTA contract.

Research Assistantships

Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs) are usually available within the school in various fields of study, depending on availability of funded projects. Students sometimes find GRAs in other departments as well. Students who are interested in GRA positions within the KUSSW should contact the associate dean for Research.

A GRA provides an excellent opportunity to learn and apply research and training related knowledge and skills under the close supervision and support of faculty. GRAs also may provide opportunities for professional presentations, publications, networking with other scholars in the field, and ideas for dissertation research. Graduate Studies requires that GRAs have an educational purpose. GRAs provide a stipend and certain benefits, including partial or full payment of tuition and fees.

Policies and Procedures

GRA Employment Guidelines are described in Appendix VIII. A student should check with the principal investigator for the research project about policies, procedures, and expectations for the particular GRA position of interest. For other general policies, procedures, and benefits related to School-based Assistantships, contact the associate dean for Research. If the student has additional questions about university wide policies and procedures for Assistantships, the student should consult the Graduate Studies website and contact Graduate Studies directly as needed.

The student should become familiar with all aspects of university and academic standards for ethical conduct in research, including institutional review board (IRB) procedures for the protection of human subjects. The faculty mentor and the PI can provide guidance about this.

Tips for Seeking Funding

Students are encouraged to seek funding, such as scholarships and fellowships, in support of their doctoral education. There are external funding opportunities that can support doctoral education, even without work commitment. These include awards, scholarships, and fellowships from the KU Graduate Studies, external funding not specific to a dissertation (e.g. Council on Social Work Education Doctoral Fellowships), and external funding for dissertation research (e.g. Fulbright grants or Hartford Foundation Fellowships, federal Fellowships, and more).

Check the Graduate Studies website frequently for university funding opportunities.

KU Graduate Studies and the KUSSW offer travel funds to support doctoral students in delivering paper and poster presentations at national conferences. Graduate Studies funding is generally available at least twice a year and students must immediately submit their funding request when the Request for Proposals (RFP) from Graduate Studies is announced. Funding is often quickly depleted given continuous high demand and competition from all units on campus.

Dependent on the availability of financial resources, the KUSSW desires to fund up to two conference trips during the course of a doctoral student’s education. Each travel request may be funded up to $2000. Unspent funds are not carried over; students are limited to receipt of support for a maximum of two conferences. Requests for travel funding from the SSW should be submitted to the PhD program director who will work with the dean and the budget director to make the funding decision. Students are advised to prioritize when and how travel funds will be used. For example, paper presentations may be of higher value than poster presentations, depending on the conference. Also, planning ahead to use travel funds to attend a national academic/research conference in one’s final year in the program may also be wise in that the student may want to be available for job interviews that take place at the conference.

Students are encouraged to identify external sources of support, preparing applications, and notifying the PhD program director and other applicable faculty if there are ways faculty can assist in the application process (such as providing letters of support or nominations).

Job Search

The KUSSW PhD program prepares its graduates for employment as teachers, researchers, and scholars. Most academic positions combine teaching, research, and scholarship, though some  are almost exclusively teaching, and some are almost exclusively research. Outside of the academic world, PhD’s find employment in federal, state, and local agencies as administrators and research staff. Mentoring by faculty throughout the PhD journey will help students determine the best job “fit” and offer valuable guidance to the student as the student prepares  for the job market. Tips for ‘Academic Job Searches’ are presented in Appendix XI.

Request a copy of one of the PDFs listed below by emailing the PhD Program Director, Becci Akin at

  • Appendix Ia: Academic Progress Form (pre-2018)
  • Appendix Ib: Academic Progress Form (2018 - present)
  • Appendix II: Research Skills Elective Requirement
  • Appendix III: SW 875 Readings and Investigations (R&I)
  • Required Outline for Course Proposal
  • Appendix IV: Qualifying Paper Procedures and Submission Form
  • Appendix V: Grade Form—Qualifying Paper
  • Appendix VI: Dissertation Proposal Planning Form
  • Appendix VII: Evaluation Form for Oral Examinations
  • Appendix VIII: GRA Employment Guidelines and Procedures
  • Appendix IX: Authorship, Ownership and Acknowledgment
  • Appendix X: Doctoral Candidates Checklist
  • Appendix XI: Academic Job Searching

Technical Standards

First, students must attest that they possess the physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral attributes necessary to fulfill the requirements of social work education. To adequately prepare for, and engage in, social work practice, students must be able to demonstrate the following abilities in order to fully participate in all aspects of coursework and the field practicum. 

  1. Communication- A student must be able to communicate effectively, sensitively, and professionally with other students, faculty, staff, clients, field instructor, and practicum agency staff in accordance with the NASW Code of Ethics.  Communication includes not only speech but also reading and writing.  The student must be able to communicate effectively and efficiently in oral and written form.  
  2. Motor and Sensory- A student must have sufficient motor and sensory function to be able to attend class and complete a practicum placement, with or without accommodation, by executing motor movements reasonably required to function in an academic environment and provide services to clients.  Where indicated by a letter of accommodation from the Academic Achievement and Access Center, they shall make reasonable accommodation in order to allow the student to meet these standards.
  3. Intellectual, Conceptual, Integrative and Quantitative Abilities- A student must possess reasoning, analysis, and synthesis abilities.  Problem solving, a critical skill required of a social worker, requires all of these intellectual abilities.  These skills are necessary in order for students to make proper assessments, prioritize interventions, and measure/report client and community outcomes.
  4. Behavioral and Social Attributes- A student must possess the behavioral and social skills required for full utilization of their intellectual abilities, the exercise of sound judgment, the prompt completion of all responsibilities as specified in the BSW & MSW handbook, and the development of sensitive and effective professional relationships with clients and community members, in accordance with the NASW Code of Ethics.  A student must be able to function effectively under stress.  A student must be able to adapt to changing environments, display flexibility, and learn to function in the face of uncertainties inherent to social work practice.  Compassion, integrity, concern for others, interpersonal skill, interest, and motivation are all personal qualities that will be assessed during the admissions and education process.  A student must be willing to effectively use help and supports for medical or emotional issues that interfere with performance.
  5. Self-awareness-A student must know how his/her values, beliefs, past experiences, and attitudes impact their own thought processes and behaviors.  The student must be prepared to engage in self-reflection and change behaviors that obstruct his/her work with clients and community members, agency staff, field instructors, other students, faculty, and staff.  A student must be able to tolerate ambiguity.  
  6. Appreciation of diversity- In accordance with the NASW Code of Ethics, a student must be able to work with a variety of diverse groups, and progress towards cultural competence regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical ability.