PhD Program

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social Work program at UBC Vancouver provides opportunities for advanced scholarship, contributing transformative knowledge through research relevant to social work theory, practice, policy, social development, and administration.

The PhD program is for students with a background in social work, giving them an opportunity for advanced scholarship and professional growth in the context of a research-intensive program.

The program provides critical components for professional practice in research, policy analysis, and human service management.

In addition to making an original contribution to social work knowledge, you will be prepared for university teaching and research (theoretical and applied), including program evaluation.

A research-based dissertation adding to the field’s knowledge base is the capstone of this program.

  • Ability to conduct quantitative and qualitative research using a range of paradigms and methods which inform and advance knowledge and its application in the areas of social work
  • Leading-edge substantive knowledge of an area of social work (defined by your research interests), including questions in the area that need to be addressed empirically
  • Comprehensive understanding of professional, educational and policy issues in social work, with an ability to explicate the implications of research for the social good

Degree Requirements

The PhD program should be completed within a period of six years. It is possible to request a one-year extension to this time limit, but such extensions are not automatic.

Achieving Candidacy

All students are expected to be admitted to candidacy within two years of initial registration and must complete within three years. Exceptions to this can only be granted by the Dean of UBC’s Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

To achieve candidacy, students must:

  • Complete all required courses
  • Pass their comprehensive examinations
  • Have their thesis proposal approved

Course Work Requirements

Students in the program will be required to take at least 18 credits of coursework.

Term 1

  • SOWK 601 Advanced Doctoral Seminar (runs alternate weeks across both terms) (3 credits)
  • SOWK 621 Social Theory, Ideology & Ethics (3 credits)
  • Elective to be determined in consultation with supervisor (3 credits)

Term 2

  • SOWK 654 Advanced Qualitative Inquiry (3 credits)
  • XXX Methods course to be determined in consultation with supervisor (3 credits)

Term 1

  • SOWK 623 Advanced Data Analysis in Social Work (3 credits)
  • XXX Theory course in relation to substantive area of study (sometimes a directed study) (3 credits)

Term 2

  • Preparation for comprehensive exams and thesis proposal

Academic Progress

A minimum of 68% (B-) must be achieved in all coursework taken for credit. Where a grade of less than 68% (B-) is obtained in a course and on the recommendation of the PhD Program Chair and the approval of the Dean of UBC’s Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the student may repeat the course for higher standing or take an alternate course.

If the PhD Program Chair does not make such a recommendation, or if the recommendation is not approved by the Dean of UBC’s Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the student will be required to withdraw.

A student who obtains a grade of less than 68% in more than one course can be required to withdraw.

If progress in research is unsatisfactory, a student will be required to withdraw.

The student will be informed of unsatisfactory academic progress in writing before any action regarding withdrawal is taken. In a course that is repeated, both marks will appear on the transcript.

Comprehensive Examinations

The comprehensive examination will take the form of two papers of not more than 7,000 words each.

One paper will focus on theoretical concepts relevant to the student’s proposed field of research, and the second paper will address a substantive topic related to the student’s research, for example, a critical literature review.

The student‘s supervisory committee will determine the specific subjects of each paper.

The student will have 28 days to complete each paper and submit it to their supervisor from the time of receiving the topic.

Both papers will be completed within 82 days at a time agreed upon by the student and their supervisor.

Where the supervisory committee feels it appropriate, students have the option of combining the two papers into a single submission which covers the areas noted above.

In this case, the student would have 56 days to complete with a further 28-day revision period if required.

Comprehensive papers are normally completed within the first two years of the program.

Within 28 days of the final paper submission, the student will undertake an oral defense of the papers to be organized by their research supervisor.

The comprehensive examination is conducted by members of the Supervisory Committee, plus one member who is external to the School and who preferably is a member of UBC's Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The extra member will meet similar eligibility for the Supervisory Committee as laid out in Graduate Studies’ policy.

If either paper is unsuccessful, the student will have a further 28 days to resubmit and defend the paper. Only one resubmission is allowed per paper.

Success of the papers will be determined based on the expectations set out by the committee when assigning the paper.

In general, papers will be expected to show a solid and comprehensive understanding of the relevant literature and an ability to critically analyze the literature presented. Normal scholarly expectations regarding style, presentation and grammatical correctness will also apply.

Upon completion of the defense the supervisor should inform the PhD Chair of the outcome on a Pass/Fail basis. Students who do not satisfactorily defend their comprehensive paper upon the second attempt will be required to withdraw from the program.

Thesis Proposal Evaluation

An examining panel will determine whether the proposal:

Proposal is:

  • clear
  • shows sufficient knowledge of the literature and methodological issue
  • is feasible
  • provides the basis for a dissertation which is original and scholarly

Proposal is:

  • generally acceptable but requires refinement in one or more of the above areas in order to be approved

Proposal is rejected due to one or more of the following:

  • does not demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the relevant literature
  • is methodologically unsound
  • is not feasible
  • does not provide the basis for a dissertation which is original and scholarly

In all cases the student will be provided with oral and written feedback from their research supervisor identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal, any advice the panel may have, and what is required of the student to successfully complete the proposal phase.

In the case of a rejected proposal a substantially revised proposal must be submitted addressing the areas indicated by the panel.

In the case of a deferred proposal, the panel will determine if a further examination is required or if the supervisor can approve the required changes alone. If rejected, a full defense of the new proposal will be required.

Students will be permitted two attempts to successfully defend their proposal. Students who fail to successfully complete the proposal defense within the required timeframe will be required to withdraw from the program. In exceptional circumstances, the Chair of the program can approve a third defense upon advice of the supervisory committee.

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