Social Work

Simmons University's PhD in Social Work program is designed for experienced practitioners to develop scientific research skills so they can advance the evidence base of the field. As the program enters its 40th year, it is leading innovation in PhD education by now offering its program online in order to better meet the needs of students who are balancing work and family responsibilities, live outside of the City of Boston, and who seek a student-oriented doctoral education. Simmons School of Social Work has more than 12 years of online teaching expertise it is bringing to the online PhD program. Faculty teaching in the PhD program are interdisciplinary scholars with experience working in on-ground and online research collaborations and teaching in online platforms.

Students sitting in class

The Simmons PhD in Social Work honors the practice experience of its students, while challenging them to view social work practice through a scientific lens as they transition to scholars. Our faculty are committed to collaborative and supportive mentoring of PhD doctoral students and encourage them to pursue a career path that is the best fit for their research and scholarly interests. Simmons PhD graduates engage in research that informs real-world practice issues.

The PhD program is offered on in an online format that mirrors our historical on-ground program. The program has 3 academic semesters (Fall, Spring, and Summer). For the first 2 years, students take 2 courses and a seminar (7 credits) in both Fall and Spring and either 1 or 2 courses (3-6 credits) in the accelerated Summer term. Most courses are offered on Thursdays. Courses are designed to optimize learning and employ a format of active engagement among students and faculty. All courses are synchronous and held on Zoom, with some asynchronous content.

In addition to coursework, students complete teaching and research practicums and a dissertation. All of these can be done through online engagement. PhD students are welcome to be a part of the on-ground campus community as well. PhD students can come to campus to engage with faculty and students, teach courses and work on research projects, and participate in University activities and events. Students usually complete the program, including defense of the dissertation, in 4 to 6 years.

PhD students take 11 core courses and have 9 elective credits. Core courses are listed below. Elective credits may be obtained through Simmons University courses, including additional teaching, leadership or practice courses offered in the DSW program, through local university consortium programs in Boston or other options.

PhD Courses

All students are required to take the following courses:

  • Quantitative Scientific Methods  
  • Introduction to Statistics and Data Analysis
  • Introduction to Multiple Variable Statistics
  • Intervention Research
  • Survey Research Methods
  • Qualitative Scientific Methods
  • Qualitative Data Analysis
  • Social and Behavioral Theory
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Policy Analysis in Political, Social and Economic Contexts
  • Integrating Public Policy Issues and Outcomes into Social Work Research
  • Teaching Methodologies, Course Design and Assessment

Supplemental Courses

Students can take elective courses at any time during their tenure in the program.

The PhD program prepares students to become effective educators. Students receive formal training in the classroom and through a teaching practicum with our seasoned professors as part of the program requirements. Students entering with prior teaching experience work with their advisor and program director to ensure they add new knowledge and skills to their teaching portfolio. Qualified students are able to apply to the School of Social Work’s adjunct instructor pool to teach online and/or on-ground at any time.

The PhD Program is a research program. All courses have a research focus. The program advances student research skills through required methodological, statistical, and data analysis courses. It advances scholarly capacity to engage in high-level, meaningful science that improves the health and wellbeing of individuals and populations. Students have opportunities to participate in research assistantships internal and external to Simmons University.

Qualified students will take a comprehensive exam on curricular content from required coursework. Qualified students also will submit an empirical manuscript to a scientific peer-reviewed journal approved by the faculty. Upon meeting these requirements, the student will move into candidacy, and be eligible to begin dissertation work.

Students must complete a dissertation to graduate. The dissertation is an independent research project that demonstrates the candidate's ability to successfully engage in scholarly work. Specifically, the candidate will demonstrate empirical and conceptual knowledge, the ability to apply rigorous scientific methodology to a substantive area of study, and the capacity to articulate the applied relevance of the findings to the field. The doctoral candidate has the option to complete a traditional dissertation or three-paper dissertation.

The PhD program employs a mentorship model designed to help practitioners become scholars. Each student has a dedicated mentor, however our model emphasizes the importance of PhD program faculty and students working collaboratively to support student needs. We recognize that the professional development process is stronger when students hear diverse perspectives and faculty work together to help students develop their goals and plans for future success.

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  • Doctorate
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Social Work at Simmons University

Our progressive, hands-on curriculum integrates education and practice with social justice values, multicultural perspectives and a strong emphasis on field education.

Graduate Program Videos

Our Faculty

Michelle Putnam photo

Michelle Putnam

  • Professor and Jennifer Eckert '08 School of Social Work Chair and Director of Doctoral Program
Jennifer Putney photo

Jennifer Putney

  • Associate Professor and Director of Center for Innovation in Behavioral Health Education and Research