Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

The goal of the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare Ph.D. program is to prepare students to become leaders nationally and internationally in advancing social work practice and policy through research, teaching, and scholarship. Our students graduate from the program with the critical knowledge and skills they need to become innovative stewards of the discipline who generate and disseminate knowledge as researchers, scholars and educators.  The school is known nationally and internationally as a prime innovator in the Strengths Perspective for social work practice. Ph.D. students have played a key role in advancing this work to its 21st century applications.

Program Highlights

  • Creative, critical thinking about social work practice, social policy, and guiding theoretical frames
  • Advanced quantitative and qualitative research skills
  • Opportunities for innovative scholarship and for the development of teaching skills
  • Student-centered educational approach
  • Financial support and mentoring for students
  • Appreciation for human diversity and the development of a global perspective
  • Racial, social, economic, and environmental justice focus
  • Study Abroad opportunities

Ph.D. students are immersed in the excitement and creativity in the profession — how professionals come to know what they know, how they put that knowledge into practice and how it affects social justice.

Consider Our Program

The Ph.D. program offers effective options for building knowledge by initiating systematic inquiry into methods, forms, and outcomes of social work practice and social welfare policy. We are dedicated to educating scholars who desire to build knowledge for the profession through quantitative, qualitative, theoretical, or conceptual analyses, and historiographic investigations. Demand for our Ph.D. graduates is high. Our alumni are engaged in teaching, research, and administrative endeavors and are found in faculty positions at premier research universities and at smaller colleges and universities throughout the United States and abroad.


Ph.D. courses prepare students as scholars with conceptual and methodological sophistication.

  • The history and philosophy course focuses on the intellectual history, current status, and innovation of social work ideas, ideologies, and theories.
  • In the research sequence, students learn both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, designs, advanced modes of analysis, theory for research, appropriate applications, and research design which centers racial and social justice.
  • The policy course provides the opportunity to analyze policies of interest to the student and how policies impact populations of interest.  Students develop and apply a critical perspective when considering human problems, strengths, and strategies for change and transformation.
  • Integrative papers and electives help students develop deep understanding in areas of special interest.
  •  A required course as well as teaching seminars for GTAs prepare students to be effective educators.
  • The dissertation involves advanced and focused research into a topic selected by the student, based on quantitative, qualitative, historical, conceptual, or other methods of inquiry.

GTA & GRA - Teaching and Research Opportunities

Our Ph.D. program contributes significantly to the model of strengths and community-based research, service, and education developed by the School. Under the direction of faculty members, many Ph.D. students work on research projects and serve as teaching assistants. For example, doctoral research assistants work in such areas as aging, asset-building, child welfare, criminal justice, diversity issues, domestic violence, health and disability, child and adult mental health, poverty, social policy, substance misuse, and LGBTQ+ populations.

It is part of the School’s mission to focus on teaching, inquiry, and practice that benefit populations who have been oppressed by our systems and institutions. The School is committed to diversity, inclusion, and multicultural perspectives. Many of the faculty are involved in research and service projects which aim to achieve direct and positive impacts on Black, Indigenous and people of color as well as other oppressed groups. Ph.D. students work with faculty to bring these projects to life.