May 28, 2024  
2013-2014 Graduate Catalog 
2013-2014 Graduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Social Work Major, PhD

The College of Social Work offers the Doctor of Philosophy with a major in social work.

The focus of social work education at the doctoral level is to foster the development of an attitude of scientific inquiry, knowledge of the scientific method, ability to extend the knowledge base of social work practice, and effective participation in leadership roles in social work education, research, and practice.

The emphasis of the doctoral program is upon

  • The analysis of direct intervention and social administration and of the interrelationships among each of them and their social policy, organizational, and community contexts. 
  • Research-based knowledge to inform and guide social work practice, social policy, and social welfare program development.

The program consists of foundation courses, elective courses, and dissertation research. The courses are available only in Knoxville. Students and their committees can develop a plan for completing their research in Nashville and Memphis based on the availability of dissertation resources.

Students have the opportunity to work in the Children’s Mental Health Services Research Center as part of their training. The center focuses on services to children who have experienced mental health problems associated with abuse, neglect, violence and a variety of psychosocial problems.


The PhD program is designed for students who have completed a master’s degree in an accredited school of social work and have post-master’s social work/social welfare experience. Applicants who do not meet these requirements, but believe they have equivalent credentials should contact the director of PhD program for further information regarding admissions criteria.

Submit online application to the Graduate Admissions Office. Departmental applications may be downloaded at


A minimum of 66 hours beyond the master’s degree including the following.

  • Completion of 27 hours of required course work. 
  • Completion of 15 hours of advanced electives, at least 12 of which are taken outside the department, and 9 of those 12 related to the dissertation. 
  • Completion of at least 24 hours of dissertation research. 
  • Successful completion of qualifying and comprehensive examinations.
  • Completion and defense of the dissertation.

The curriculum of the PhD program consists of foundation course work, electives, and dissertation research. The foundation curriculum consists of 27 hours of course work in the history and philosophy of social work, issues in direct service and administration and planning, areas of practice, and research methodology and statistics. Upon this foundation, students and their academic committees develop a plan of study consisting of course work in social work and other departments of the university.

Typically, the 24 hours of foundation curriculum are completed and elective course work begun during the first year of study SOWK 670  and the elective requirement are completed and dissertation research begun in the second year of study. Dissertation research is continued in the third year of study. While it is generally expected that the course work will be completed on a full-time basis, dissertation research can be completed on a planned part-time basis.

Specific courses required are SOWK 601 , SOWK 602 , SOWK 603 , SOWK 612 , SOWK 613 , SOWK 650 , SOWK 670 , and any two graduate level statistics courses approved by the doctoral program chair.


All doctoral students are required to pass a qualifying examination and a comprehensive examination. The qualifying examination covers the foundation curriculum. The comprehensive examination is administered by members of the comprehensive exam committee and is designed for the student to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the major and cognate areas and the dissertation topic. In case of failure of either examination, the student may request a retake. The result of the second examination is final.