PLEASE NOTE: Although an MSW thesis is encouraged, it is not required for the Master of Social Work degree at UBC.

The Master’s thesis demonstrates a student’s mastery of the field she or he presents including a thorough knowledge of the relevant literature. The thesis is based on independent study and scholarly research of a theoretical, empirical or historical focus which builds or tests theory through disciplined and focused study. In addition, the thesis demonstrates the candidate’s competence in completing a research project.

  • A thesis requires the completion of a 6 credit dissertation in addition to the completion of the regular (30 credit) course requirements.
  • The student is required to arrange their own Supervisor within the School. It is up to individual faculty members to make their own decision to supervise student’s theses, based on the research topic and the students’ academic preparedness for writing a thesis.
  • The student’s work for the thesis is guided by a committee of two faculty members whose research areas are relevant to the student’s thesis topic.
  • The student has a role in selection of the committee which normally is established in the fall term.

The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies has clearly defined rules regarding thesis requirements, outlined in the “Instructions for the Preparation of Graduate Theses”. (Available on the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies webpage at

The Thesis Supervisor

1. The thesis supervisor provides advice and assistance in the student’s selection of courses.

2. (a) The thesis supervisor provides advice and assists in the development of the student’s Directed Field Studies (DFS or practicum); carries responsibility for liaising with the agency and its field instructor(s) in relation to the DFS; assures that the specification, process and outcomes are documented; and has final responsibility for evaluation and determination of the grade.

(b) The thesis supervisor provides advice and assistance in the development of the student’s thesis, oversees and guides the direction of the thesis, and has final responsibility for evaluation and determination of the grade. Should the student decide not to complete the thesis, then a grade of “W” (withdrawal) will show on their transcript.

In general, the thesis supervisor provides advice and assistance in relation to any problems encountered in the student’s programme. The thesis supervisor chairs the student’s Programme Committee and in this way carries a liaison and coordinating function between the student and the Programme Committee.

The Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies web page ( contains more specific details on the roles and responsibilities of the thesis student, the thesis supervisor and the thesis committee.

The Student

1. In consultation with the thesis supervisor, the student is expected to arrange a course plan consistent with the course requirements for the MSW degree and with the student’s chosen topic.

2. Graduate students are expected to develop a Directed Field Studies (DFS) plan. This plan should include the following elements:

– the theme(s) to be pursued through DFS

– the method(s) to be used in working on the theme(s)

– the setting(s) in which the work will be done

– expected relationships between DFS and other courses

– the objectives of the work and/or the anticipated outcome(s)

3. Thesis students are expected to develop an equivalent thesis and DFS plan. The elements of the thesis plan, together with certain procedural requirements, are outlined in the “instructions for the Preparation of Graduate Theses” (via the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies webpage

Thesis Supervisor and Student Roles and Responsibilities

As required by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, students who decide to pursue a thesis should have a designated Thesis Supervisor and Programme Committee. Students who are interested in pursuing a thesis should identity themselves with a faculty member and discuss their interest in pursuing a thesis in the fall term. Once the faculty member is willing to supervise the student, a programme committee will need to be struck in due course.

Thesis Supervisory Committee

In consultation with the student, a committee of a minimum of two faculty members will be established to review the student’s research proposal, the design and final report. One of the members must have expertise in research methodology. The chairperson of the committee will act as the student’s principal thesis supervisor. Regulations of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies regarding approval of the thesis and thesis abstract will apply.

In constituting a supervisory committee, the following should be observed:

1. The Chair of the committee (the research supervisor) must be a Professor, Associate Professor or Assistant Professor and a member of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. They should normally be at least of the rank of Assistant Professor, and from the Department in which the degree is to be taken, although she/he may be drawn from other Departments where appropriate.

2. Committees should be constituted as soon as possible after the thesis topic is known.

3. In its procedures for assessing the thesis, an extra-departmental or outside examiner is to be selected by the Committee.

4. The Committee, including the external examiner, is responsible for evaluating the thesis. Each member of this Committee will also receive an opportunity to contribute an assessment of the student’s thesis for the purpose of establishing the grade to be assigned to it.

5. The Committee must meet at least once a term to review the student’s progress in the program.

Members of Supervisory Committee who are not full-time Faculty members

Although supervisory committee must be chaired by a full-time, senior member of faculty, the committee may include as voting members individuals who are not full-time members of faculty. In particular, professors emeriti, honorary faculty, adjunct faculty and off-campus professionals who are academically qualified to advise graduate students may be members of the committee if approved by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

When a faculty member approaching retirement accepts an assignment as Chair or as research supervisor, the faculty member should ensure that provision is made for an alternate supervisor when the need arises.

Thesis committee members who go on leave, retire, or withdraw from the committee for other reasons before the thesis and thesis defense are completed must arrange for a replacement no later than May 31 of the academic year in which this change occurs. This should be changed through a request to the MSW Graduate Advisor.

Students are advised to consult with their Thesis Supervisor to determine their availability, particularly during the summer months.

I. Selection and Approval of Topic

Students who are interested in writing a master’s thesis must find a faculty member who is taking thesis students, and ascertain if they can work together. The faculty member will decide according to the feasibility of the research project and the scholarly readiness of the student.

Once the student has a confirmed thesis supervisor, the following information is a useful reference to plan for the thesis writing process.

Prior to the end of October, the student should submit to the thesis committee chairperson a preliminary proposal covering the following:

a brief literature review
a proposed focus of the research and major research questions
the policy or practice implications of the research
the availability of study populations, data, etc.

II. Preparation and Oral Presentation of the Proposal


Following approval of the research topic, the student will make a formal thesis proposal presentation before undertaking actual thesis research. This proposal will be prepared under supervision of the Faculty Supervisor and in consultation with a second reader who comprise the Thesis Supervisory Committee. The thesis proposal should be a well developed but succinct document containing the following:

1. A clear statement of the social problem and the research question.

2. A presentation of the relevant literature and the theoretical framework.

3. A description of the research design and instruments and data gathering methods.

4. An outline of the plan for data analysis and the rationale for the level and method chosen, applicable statistical tests and computer programs.

5. The completed Ethics Approval Form.

Copies of the proposal must be provided to all committee members at least two weeks (10 working days) prior to the meeting. The research supervisor in consultation with the Graduate Advisor sets the date for oral presentation. This is an open meeting and all graduate students as well as faculty members should receive written notification of the presentation. All students and faculty members are encouraged to attend thesis proposal presentations.

Oral Presentation:

As part of the thesis proposal, the student is expected to make an oral presentation of approximately 10 minutes in which student discusses his or her proposed research and conceptual rationale. Student usually prepares a brief handout or overhead transparencies to accompany their oral presentation. Thesis proposal presentation is chaired by the Faculty Supervisor or designate.

Following the oral presentation, the Thesis Supervisory Committee shall have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments. Questions and comments may also be permitted from other individuals present. The purpose of this presentation is to provide the committee with the opportunity to raise questions and problems they may see with the proposed study before the students undertakes the actual research. Following the question period, the Thesis Supervisory Committee will meet in closed session in order to evaluate the proposal.

Upon completion of the thesis proposal presentation, MSW students receive a Thesis Proposal Evaluation from the Thesis Supervisory Committee, and formulate a plan with the Committee regarding completion of the thesis. The Committee may decide that the proposal is acceptable as is, acceptable with revisions, or the student may be required to have a second proposal presentation. If revisions are requested, it is the responsibility of the Faculty Supervisor to communicate desired changes to the student. A formal memo drafted by the Faculty Supervisor, summarizing the nature of the changes, should be sent to the student and a copy retained in the students file. Any subsequent changes to the proposal, requested by either the student or a Supervisory Committee member, shall be discussed and agreed upon by a meeting of the Committee.

Thesis Progress:

III. The Research Report

Suggested Report Outline

1. Introduction

Present a clear, brief statement of the major question(s) with concepts defined where necessary. Why is the problem important for study? What implications does the problem have for social work and/or social welfare and how will the study advance knowledge?

2. Theoretical Framework/Literature Review

What other relevant research has been done with regard to the problem and how is the proposed research related? Review the theory(ies) and methodologies that have been used or could be used to understand the problem. Explain how these relate to the current proposal.

3. Methodology

Describe the design of the study and indicate the reasons that this approach would provide the desired outcomes. Describe the procedures used in collecting, organizing and analyzing the data.

4. Results

Present results and analysis in full.

5. Conclusions

Present a full discussion of results including implications/recommended for social work.

IV. The Oral Defense

An external reviewer is named by the Faculty Supervisor in consultation with the Director of the School. Prior to the defense, the thesis is read by the Committee and the external reviewer.

The student is required to make an open oral defense of the thesis according to the following procedures:

1. When the thesis defense has been scheduled, copies of the thesis must be provided to the Committee members and the external examiner at least 2 weeks (10 working days) prior to the meeting. One copy of the thesis will be made available for examination by all those who are interested.

2. The thesis is presented to a meeting open to the faculty, graduate students of the School of Social Work, and interested community members. A written notification of the presentation must be circulated at least 10 days in advance.

3. This meeting is chaired by the Faculty Supervisor.

4. Members of the committee pose questions to the student. At least one of those questions will assess the application of present learning to future social work practice.

5. Following the open meeting, the Committee and external reviewer meet in camera to review the oral defense and make a disposition. The external reviewer provides an appraisal of the thesis but does not vote on the grade.

6. The Committee then meets with the student to discuss the decision of the Committee which may be to:

a. accept

b. accept with minor revisions

c. accept with major revisions

d. reject

Minor revisions may be approved by the Faculty Supervisor on behalf of the Committee, whereas major revisions require the approval of all members of the Committee. If revisions are requested, it is the responsibility of the Faculty Advisor to communicated desired changes to the student in a form of a memo summarizing the nature of the changes.

7. Submission of Thesis

a. The original unbound, unpunched, copy of the completed thesis, along with the signed frontispiece, is submitted to the Special Collections Division of the UBC Main Library.

V. Suggested Timetable

(based on completion within 12 months)


Consultation with thesis supervisor regarding topic


  • letter/certificate of approval from site agency. This may require a formal presentation or application to any agency ethics review committee.
  • copies of standardized measures or sample questions from questionnaires/interview schedules to be administered
  • copies of subject consent forms.
  • completed copy of UBC Ethics form.
  • Choose thesis committee member(s).
  • Presentation of proposal to thesis committee.


Submission of Ethics form, with all signatures and attachments, to UBC Ethics Committee (four to six weeks may be required for ethical review).


Oral Presentation of the thesis proposal


Data collection.


All course work complete.


  • Drafting of initial chapters: Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology.
  • Data analysis.
  • Drafting of results and conclusions chapters; review of draft thesis by committee; revisions and preparation of draft.


  • Set date of thesis defense and post notices.
  • Thesis defense.
  • Final revisions to the thesis, if required by the Faculty Supervisor.
  • Submission to Special Collections as described. For further details, see “Instructions for the Preparation of Graduate Theses” via the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies web page (

Thesis Advising during Summer Session

Students are advised to consult with their Faculty Supervisor to determine their availability, particularly during the summer months.