Wilfrid Laurier University Graduate Calendar - 2010/2011
Canadian Excellence

Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

This program provides students with opportunities for advanced scholarship and professional growth in one of two fields: Studies in Social Work Practice, or Critical Social Policy and Organizational Studies.

The field Studies in Social Work Practice encompasses a wide variety of practice issues and  diverse practice settings. Students apply quantitative and qualitative research methodologies to the study of service fields such as health and illness, mental health, child welfare, addictions, corrections, disabilities, seniors and immigration. Students explore paradigms essential to understanding the practice relevance of, for example, feminism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, social change, global studies, post-modernism, and self and subjectivity. Students engage in critical reflection of social work practice from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives.

The field Critical Social Policy and Organizational Studies draws upon scholarship in policy development, advocacy for social justice, and administration to guide PhD students through a critical analysis of current policy and organizational issues.   Students develop research questions from their professional or personal experience that focus on the production and/or reproduction of oppression using socialist, feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial, critical disability, anti-homophobic, and other critical perspectives.

Admission Requirements

The PhD program seeks applicants who possess the following qualifications:

  1. A Master of Social Work degree from a recognized university, normally with at least an A- average in the master's program. Applicants with other graduate degrees and strong social service experience may be considered.
  2. Normally a minimum of three years post MSW experience. In addition, the applicant must provide evidence of a level of professional competence suitable for admission to the PhD program.
  3. Evidence of scholarly ability for clear and creative thinking and the ability to pursue independent study.

Program Requirements

The program consists of a minimum of eight half-credit courses. Seven courses are required for all students and the eight is an elective corresponding to the student's study plan and interests. A comprehensive paper and a dissertation are required.

Course Load

During the first academic term each student, in collaboration with the PhD Program Co-ordinator, will prepare a study plan based on the above guidelines.

Course Schedule

Term One (Fall)

  • SK702 - Advanced Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Social Work Research
  • SK790 - Social Work Thought and Theory Development
  • SK791 - Epistemology and the Nature of Social Work Knowledge

Term Two (Winter)

  • SK805 - Applied Qualitative Research Methods
  • elective (either this semester or in term three)

Term Three(Spring)

  • SK701 - Multivariate Analysis for Social Work Research
  • elective (if not taken in term two)

Term Four (Fall)

  • SK820 - Doctoral Seminar
  • SK894 - Writing for Publication

Terms Five to Seven (Winter, Spring, Fall)

  • SK893 - Comprehensive Examination (This is the period during which all requirements for the comprehensive paper must be completed.)

Terms Eight to Twelve

  • SK899 - PhD Dissertation

Note on Statistics Courses
All students accepted into the PhD program are expected to ensure that they are prepared to take SK701 - Multivariate Analysis for Social Work Research in the third term. If, upon acceptance, students believe that they do not have the skills and knowledge to take SK701 - Multivariate Analysis for Social Work Research, which is an advanced course and assumes a relatively solid knowledge of fundamental statistical methods, students will be expected to update their knowledge of statistics. Such a person is strongly encouraged to take a Master's level statistics course prior to entering the program in the Fall. Otherwise, a student can take the course while in the program, prior to the first Spring term.

Comprehensive Paper

The PhD comprehensive paper serves to assess the student's ability to: (1) integrate social work knowledge, theory and practice; (2) analyze the implications of knowledge and theory for social work practice; and, (3) demonstrate a broad knowledge of the selected area of study.

Students complete a comprehensive paper and an oral examination. Guidelines for the content, scheduling and format of the examination are included in the PhD Student Manual.

Students must register for SK893 - Comprehensive Examination by the fifth term. All requirements for SK893 - Comprehensive Examination must be completed no later than the seventh term in residence. The Chairperson and the members of the Comprehensive Examination Committee must be appointed at least four months prior to the proposed examination date.

All members of an Examining Committee must have Graduate Faculty Status at the time of appointment to the Committee.

One of two decisions are open to the Examiners: Pass or Fail.

To pass the comprehensive paper, a student must receive a passing grade from at least two of the three readers. Students must receive a passing grade on both the written paper and the oral defense. If a student receives a failing grade on the paper, they will not be permitted to defend the paper at an oral examination.

Students who successfully complete the comprehensive examination are admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree and are entitled to register for SK899 - PhD Dissertation.

A student failing the comprehensive paper can rewrite the comprehensive paper once. A student who does not complete the requirements for SK893 - Comprehensive Examination after two attempts, or within three consecutive terms, will be required to withdraw from the PhD program.


The regulations and procedures at the university in which the student is registered will govern both the dissertation and the examination formats.

Residence Requirements

Students are required to spend a minimum of four terms as full-time students. It is expected that most students will extend this period beyond the minimum.

Time Limits and Status

Each PhD student is required to submit, by May 1 annually, the PhD Supervisory Report Form. See the section on in the Graduate Calendar on Academic Standing for details.

Pre-Candidacy (Years I and II)
Students are expected to spend at least four (but not more than seven) academic terms in preliminary study to qualify for admission to candidacy for the PhD degree. Students may apply for such candidacy when they have met the following requirements:

  • Successfully completed the required courses and any additional course work prescribed by the student's doctoral committee.
  • Successfully completed and defended the comprehensive paper.

Candidacy (Year III and Beyond)
Following admission to candidacy, a student has a maximum of five terms in which to meet the following requirements:

  • Completion of additional course and/or practicum requirements prescribed by the doctoral committee.
  • Completion and defence of the dissertation.

It is necessary to maintain continuous registration unless an inactive term has been granted per university policy.


All standards for examinations are set by the Graduate Faculty Council and the Senate of the University. The regulations for doctoral students are as follows: the student is expected to pass, with a minimum of a B grade, the core courses and all additional course work required by the PhD Committee. In addition, the student is required to pass a comprehensive written examination covering the areas addressed in the student's selected area of concentration or write and orally defend a comprehensive paper covering the same area of concentration.


The role of the practicum is to enhance a student's ability to translate new concepts into forms pertinent to social work practice and scholarship.

The PhD Committee, following as assessment of the student, may recommend a practicum as part of the study plan. A student may also request permission to complete one practicum.

Supervisors of these placements will normally have a doctorate as well as considerable practice experience. Grading will be on a satisfactory/failure basis and will utilize the written learning objectives agreed to by the student and supervisor, which will include at least one written assignment per credit. A practicum will be for a minimum of three contact hours a week over a 13-week period, including at least one hour of supervision, for one-half credit. A maximum of three half-credits can be taken as practica, however, a student who chooses to complete a practicum will be exempt from only one elective, regardless of the number of practica.


PhD students are expected to teach in the Master of Social Work program and are encouraged to enroll in the Instructional Development non-credit course for PhD candidates which focusses on effective teaching skills. The Faculty of Social Work is committed to providing appropriate teaching opportunities for PhD students subject to congruence between the expertise of students and the courses available.