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 3-credit courses and a 1-credit integrative seminar throughout their time in the program (34 credits total).

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
  • Integrative Seminar

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, and a required research practicum. It advances scholarly capacity to engage in high-level, meaningful science that improves the health and well-being 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 Ph.D. 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.

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 practicum education.

Graduate Program Videos

Spotlight on Social Work PhD Students and Alums

Stephanie Wladkowski ’14PhD

Breaking Ground with Qualitative Research in Hospice Care

Stephanie Wladkowski ’14PhD was a clinical social worker in hospice care when policy changes impacted her clinical practice. In a search for answers, Wladkowski began her PhD in Social Work at Simmons. Her dissertation, “Dementia Caregivers and Live Discharge from Hospice: What Happens When Hospice Leaves?,” has inspired further research in the field.

Nathan Brewer ’10MSW ’18PhD

Nathan Brewer ’10MSW ’18PhD on Protecting College Students

Nathan Brewer ’10MSW ’18PhD is Director of the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center (SARP) at Boston University (BU). After receiving his Master’s in Social Work from Simmons, he returned to the University to pursue his PhD in Social Work alongside his clinical practice. We spoke to Brewer about his experience in the program, and his current work at Boston University.

Wilfred Labiosa ’20PhD

Wilfred Labiosa ’20PhD Continues the Simmons Tradition of Social Work in Puerto Rico

Wilfred Labiosa ’20PhD opened a series of Waves Ahead community centers in Puerto Rico, a nonprofit dedicated to working with marginalized and vulnerable people in Puerto Rico — most notably, LGBTQ+ elders.

Mbita Mbao ‘22PhD

Mbita Mbao ‘22PhD Offers Wisdom and Caring for an Aging Population

When Mbita Mbao ’22PhD was looking for a doctoral program in social work, Simmons met all of her requirements: a Boston location and the ability to take all of her in-person classes in one day per week. More important than these criteria, Simmons had Dr. Johnnie Hamilton-Mason, Interim Director of the School of Social Work.

Kyle T. Ganson ’20PhD

Kyle Ganson ’20PhD Broadens the Gender Perspectives of Eating Disorders

Kyle T. Ganson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. As part of his studies at Simmons, he created the course “Social Work Assessment and Treatment of Eating Disorders,” to be taught in Spring 2024. We spoke to Ganson about his doctoral experience at Simmons and the inspiration behind the course.

Erin Fraser DSW ’25

Erin Fraser DSW ’25, LCSW, CRAADC Becomes First Female Executive Director of Benilde Hall

On October 1, 2023, Simmons School of Social Work doctoral candidate Erin Fraser became the first female Executive Director of Benilde Hall, a recovery center in Kansas City, Missouri. Fraser spoke with us about her reaction to this historic appointment, her enthusiasm for supporting underserved individuals, and her conception of leadership.

Photograph of Annmary Connor in front of brick wall

Building Generational Wealth and Strong Communities Through Homeownership

Annmary Connor '23DSW is the Executive Director of Bread & Roses Housing (BRH) in Lawrence, MA, a community land trust that provides affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income individuals in Greater Lawrence. We spoke to Annmary about the importance of this...

Photo of Jerrica Raspberry Lawson

Jerrica Raspberry Lawson '17MSW, '26PhD Researches the Role of Social Work in Improving Black Maternal Health Outcomes

What Jerrica Is Studying After graduating from Simmons Social Work with an MSW in 2017, Jerrica Raspberry Lawson, with Tiffany Cooper '16MSW, founded Kujichagulia Wellness Center, a virtual practice that provides culturally affirming, trauma-informed counseling and other services. Jerrica builds...