The Doctoral Program

Grounded in the recognition that direct practice and scholarly inquiry are complementary, Simmons's Ph.D. in Social Work prepares advanced clinical scholars for careers that significantly impact the direction of our profession. The Doctoral Program builds on our school's mission to contribute to the development of the social work profession in a multicultural society, to enhance the human service delivery system, and to work toward the goal of social justice.

Tamara Cadet

PhD in Social Work

download the PhD brochure as a PDFDesigned for practicing social work clinicians, the Doctoral Program is offered on a part-time basis. No clinical practicum is required. Graduation requires a total of 15 courses (45 credits), plus successful completion of a comprehensive qualifying paper and the doctoral dissertation.

The class schedule ordinarily consists of two courses during each of the two semesters (fall and spring), with additional opportunities for elective course study in the summer. all required courses are offered on Thursdays, for a full day of study, allowing most students to maintain employment as they progress through the program. Doctoral-level courses are demanding, and students typically find that six to ten hours a week per course of outside classroom work is necessary to accommodate reading and writing assignments for each course. Most students complete the program and defend their dissertation in five to seven years.

Several elements of our program support a focused learning experience. Coursework, practica, the comprehensive paper, and the dissertation prepare students to become experts in the relevant concepts, methods, traditions, and intellectual skills necessary for a successful career as a scholar in social work.


The program allows for flexibility; however, all students are required to take the 11 courses (33 credits) with four electives chosen to meet individual student needs. The SSW regularly offers elective courses in teaching, practice, program evaluation, social policy, and ethics.

Scholarship and Writing

Writing is the most important skill in professional social work leadership. it is a key underpinning of research, publication, teaching, and even practice and administration. Writing skill levels are enriched through three approaches:

  1. A heavy emphasis on scholarly writing in coursework. Assignments are designed to help students master increasing levels of writing competence, as are the comprehensive paper, dissertation proposal, and dissertation.
  2. Monthly workshops where students can work on abstract writing and paper preparation.
  3. A required course on writing for publication that follows the process of developing an article from an initial idea through submission to journals. The student concludes the course with a paper ready to submit for publication.


The Doctoral Program advances student competence through two strategies:

  1. SW671: Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.This course is offered on at least alternate years and delivers comprehensive training in effective pedagogy.
  2. Teaching Practicum. A graduation requirement starting with the class entering fall 2009, the practicum builds on the student's teaching experience and knowledge. It can take many forms, such as teaching two or three classes as a module within an ongoing course; teaching a full-semester course as an adjunct instructor; or prior teaching experience for those who come to Simmons as experienced instructors. In every case, the practicum will involve a supervised and mentored teaching experience with some written reflection and documentation.


Scholarly inquiry reflects a wide range of practice settings and research questions. The Doctoral Program advances student research competences through required and elective courses in research methods and statistics. Students take five required research courses, exposing them to and providing skills in a variety of methodologies. In addition, students have opportunities to participate in research initiatives through practica and assistantships internal and external to Simmons.

The Comprehensive Paper

The comprehensive paper represents a major transition point in a student's progress through the Doctoral Program. Written and submitted after two years of coursework, the comprehensive paper signals a student's readiness to develop a dissertation proposal. Based on the knowledge and skills gained in earlier courses, the "comp" reflects a student's command of a content area and the ability to integrate multiple theoretical, practice, and policy perspectives that lead to a viable researchable question.

The Dissertation

The production of a dissertation and its oral defense are major components in doctoral education. The dissertation is both a product and a process. As a product, it must address, in a creative and original way, a substantive area of concern to social work in an attempt to advance professional knowledge and to contribute to the ongoing development of the profession's knowledge base. As a process, the dissertation is an educational endeavor in which the student demonstrates the ability to integrate social work practice, knowledge, and theory with sound empirical research principles.

Current PhD Students

Detailed information is available to current PhD students in a dedicated section of our website.

A Rich and Varied Body of Knowledge

SSW doctoral candidates conduct thorough, thoughtful research, generating powerful dissertations. Some recent topics include:

  • Reclaiming and Constructing Identities: The Journey Out of Homelessness for Persons With Mental Illness
  • Self-perceived Unpopularity in Children and Adolescents: Its Antecedents, Characteristics, and Relationship to Later Maladjustment
  • To Hear and to Respond: The Influence of Zen Buddhist Meditation on the Practice of Clinical Social Work
  • Helpful and Unhelpful Interactions Between Professionals and Parents of Children with Cognitive Challenges: A Developmental Perspective
  • Adaptation and Transformation: The Transition to Adoptive Parenthood for Gay Male Couples
  • Young, Urban, Unwed Fathers: Depressive Symptoms, Problem Behaviors, and Psychosocial Correlates
  • El Sufimiento de los Colombianos en Nueva Inglatera: Como Salen Adelante (Suffering of Colombians in New England: How They Cope)