University of Southern California
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Doctor of Philosophy

With the enrollment of a small group of highly qualified experienced social workers, the School of Social Work established the first social work doctoral program in the Western United States in 1953. Over the years, the school has continued the tradition of providing opportunities for learning in small classes, seminars and tutorials.

The major goal of the doctoral program in social work is to produce social work scholars who will have the capacity to make valuable and significant contributions to the knowledge base of the profession. Students acquire the skills necessary to become professional scholars and develop a significant capacity for professional leadership. Toward this end, the school is committed to pursuing excellence in education with persons of definite promise and to seeking gifted students of varied social, ethnic and economic backgrounds.

Through training in specific areas, graduates of the program develop theoretical, conceptual, critical and analytic skills which can be applied to social, organizational, interpersonal and personal problems. They emerge from the program with substantive knowledge and analytic skills that enable them to contribute to understanding social problems and ways of solving them. With these skills, they are able to take a disciplined approach to the issues confronting the profession of social work and the field of social welfare and are prepared to make a significant contribution to the research and scholarship that informs society's effort to improve the human condition.

The Ph.D. program in social work is administered by the Doctoral Committee of the School of Social Work in accordance with the policies set by the Graduate School. The requirements listed below are special to the School of Social Work and must be read in conjunction with the general requirements of the Graduate School.

Admission Requirements

Applicants for admission to the doctoral program must meet the following requirements:

(1) A master's degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education or a master's degree from another field related to social work.

(2) Academic promise, as evidenced by above average achievement in undergraduate and professional education and a personal statement outlining the applicant's scholarly goals.

(3) Professional competence as demonstrated through substantial experience in responsible social work, internships or other positions either during or subsequent to the master's program.

(4) Personal qualities compatible with performance in social work and indicating a potential for leadership in the field: skill in relationships, flexibility and openness to new ideas, maturity, identification with the profession of social work, and commitment to furthering the development of the profession.

(5) Satisfactory performance on the Graduate Record Examination -- existing test scores may be submitted if the GRE has been completed no more than five years prior to the date of application. Information may be obtained from the USC Testing Bureau, YWCA 104, 857 W. 36th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0052.

(6) Satisfactory performance on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for all international students prior to the date of application. Existing test scores may be submitted if the TOEFL has been completed no more than two years prior to the date of application. Information may be obtained from the USC Testing Bureau, YWCA 104, 857 W. 36th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0052.

(7) Submission of application materials as required. Instructions for application to the Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work program may be obtained by writing to the director of the program.

Under unusual circumstances, applications from persons who do not meet these requirements, including those who have just been awarded the M.S.W. degree, will be considered. In cases where the M.S.W. (or its equivalent) has recently been granted and the applicant does not have the prerequisite post-master's degree employment experience, it may be required that such experience be acquired concurrent with enrollment in the doctoral program.

Under very unusual circumstances, applications to the doctoral program in social work will be considered from those who do not hold the M.S.W. or an equivalent degree. Such applicants, in order to be admitted to the program, must have a master's degree (or its equivalent) in a field related to social work and a demonstrated commitment to the field of social work as evidenced by substantial contribution to the knowledge base of the profession. Admission decisions on applicants who do not hold an M.S.W. or equivalent degree will be made by the full Doctoral Program Committee of the School of Social Work rather than by a subcommittee of that body.

Priority will be given to applications that are completed by January 1.

Application Procedure

All applicants to the doctoral program must submit the following information: (1) university application; (2) Ph.D. Information Form for the School of Social Work; (3) personal statement of objectives; (4) career goals; (5) current vita; (6) four letters of reference, at least three of which are from persons who can assess the student's scholarly potential; (7) all undergraduate and graduate transcripts; (8) recent GRE scores; (9) recent TOEFL scores; and (10) examples of appropriate written work.

Foreign Language/Research/English Language Requirements

There is no foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. degree. Competence in advanced research methodology and statistics is required through satisfactory completion of required courses. All international students are required to submit their TOEFL scores prior to the date of application and to meet university requirements for teaching.

Course Requirements

Students must complete a minimum of 45 course units beyond the master's degree (exclusive of SOWK 794 Doctoral Dissertation). Students must complete at least 24 units within the School of Social Work and at least three courses in other departments or schools within the university. At least 8 of these 12 units must be in courses with a substantive rather than a research-methodology or statistic focus. One elective inside or outside of the School of Social Work and one additional research or statistic course inside or outside the School of Social Work are also required. Each student must develop a concentration either in another discipline outside the School of Social Work within the university (such as gerontology; sociology; psychology; preventive medicine; business; policy, planning and development; or political science) or in a problem area where different external courses in different departments or schools bear on a specific social problem like homelessness. An overall grade point average of B (3.0) on all graduate work attempted in the doctoral program is required for graduation.

Core Content
All students are expected to master core content. They must also complete 9 units from the substantive five core courses.

9 units from the following:
SOWK 702Theories of Human Behavior in the Contexts of Social Environments3
SOWK 703Explanatory Theories for Larger Social Systems3
SOWK 733Policy Analysis and Advocacy in a Comparative Social Policy Context3
SOWK 743Theories for Practice with Small Systems3
SOWK 744Theories for Practice with Large Systems3

Core Courses:
SOWK 760LIntroduction to Social Work Statistics3
SOWK 761LMultiple Regression in Social Work Research3
SOWK 762Social Work Research Methods I3
SOWK 763Social Work Research Methods II: Issues in Research for Social Work Practice3
SOWK 764Advanced Multivariate Statistics3

Macro focus: students with a macro focus in policy, community organization or administration must complete either SOWK 702 or SOWK 743 as part of their core curriculum.

Micro focus: students with a micro focus in direct practice must complete either SOWK 703, SOWK 733 or SOWK 744.

Elective: 3-unit elective in research or statistics must be taken in the School of Social Work or elsewhere within the university.

Students must complete a minimum of 10 units per semester in their first semester and second semester of their first year in the program to maintain their status as full-time students and eligibility for financial support from the School of Social Work.

Individualized Course of Study
The second year of the curriculum is largely individualized to meet each student's educational goals. It is organized around a specific field of social work practice or a problem area. In the case of fields of practice or problem area, students gain knowledge of that field's development and policies; one level of comparative practice theory applicable to that field; comparative explanatory theory appropriate to the field and the chosen practice level; and advanced research methods which can be used to explore field-specific questions.

Field of Practice is defined as a field of activity in which there is an identifiable service delivery system, a continuum of care for clients, and a defined or established role for social workers.

Given the current expertise of the faculty and available faculty resources, students may choose from the following fields of practice specializations: (1) family and children, (2) mental health, (3) health, (4) occupational/industrial employment, (5) aging/gerontology, or (6) economic security/income maintenance.

Additional fields of practice can be added to the above choices depending on faculty interest, expertise and availability.

Problem Area is defined as a social or service delivery problem that is relevant to the field of social work such as homelessness or urban health systems.

Practice Theory is defined as advanced knowledge of comparative practice theories at one point on the intervention continuum as they relate to the field of practice chosen. The practice intervention continuum is defined to include practice with individuals, families and groups, as well as community practice, administration, planning, and policy practice.

Explanatory Theory is defined as advanced knowledge of comparative social science theories as they relate to the field of practice and level of intervention chosen.

Specialized Research Skills is defined as advanced skills in research methodology and statistics which support the student's dissertation within the field of practice.

Students fulfill the requirement for the mastery of the content of their individualized course of study through a combination of at least three (2-unit) directed tutorials (SOWK 790) with members of the Social Work faculty, at least three university courses in other departments of the university and an elective.

For students to enter their course of individualized study at the beginning of their second year of full-time study, they and their advisor begin planning their individualized curriculum during the first semester of the first year in the program. Students are required to file and have approved a plan of individualized study. This plan is filed with the doctoral committee, which reviews and approves the plans submitted by the end of the second semester.

Opportunities for Further Skill Development

The program offers to students, on an elective basis, skills training in both teaching and research.

Teaching Skills
All doctoral students must engage in two semester-long teaching experiences before they graduate. These may be fulfilled by co-teaching, teaching-assistant or solo-teaching experiences. Students must take instruction in teaching before they begin these teaching experiences in a course approved by the doctoral committee within or outside the School of Social Work. International students must meet the standards set forth by USC's American Language Institute for English as a Second Language fluency requirements.

Additional Research Skills
Students are also offered the opportunity for enhanced skills building in research through a research internship. The one- or two- semester internship (SOWK 785), starting typically in the spring of the second year, is designed to provide students with hands-on, practical experience with an ongoing faculty research project prior to the start of their own dissertation research. Typically, activities include data collection and/or analysis. The practicum is expected to yield a paper of publishable quality co-authored by the student and the faculty member.

Students may enroll in SOWK 699 Special Topics by petitioning the doctoral committee in writing. The decision to grant or deny admission will be based on each applicant's learning and research interests and permission of the instructor.

The usual program includes two years of full-time course work, plus an additional period for completing the qualifying examinations and dissertation. In rare cases, students who are not able to take the full-time program because of employment may spread course work out over three years. They must, however, have the equivalent of full-time study in residence for at least one year.

Students should specify whether they are applying for the full-time or part-time program at the time they apply to the program. Part-time students usually carry two courses per semester during the academic year. They may wish to accelerate their progress by enrolling in appropriate courses when available during the summer session.

The time limit for completing all requirements for the Ph.D. degree is eight years from the first course taken at USC to be applied toward the degree. Students who have completed an applicable master's degree at USC or elsewhere (almost all students in the social work doctoral program must complete the Ph.D. in six years.

Transfer of Credit

The transfer of post-master's doctoral course work from another institution will only be considered if a grade of B or better (A=4.0) has been obtained, and the course has been completed within the last five years. Transfer of credits must be petitioned and approved by both the School of Social Work and the Graduate School.

Screening Procedures

When students have completed a minimum of 16 units (but not more than 24 units) of doctoral course work, the doctoral committee assesses their performance and makes a decision about their readiness to continue in the program. If the decision is to deny permission to continue, the students are so notified. If permission is granted, a guidance committee is established.

Guidance Committee

The guidance committee is composed of five faculty members, four of whom, including the chair, are from the School of Social Work and one from an academic unit of the university other than the School of Social Work. The function of the guidance committee is to oversee the development of the student's academic program through the qualifying examination.

Qualifying Examination

As a prerequisite to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree, students must pass written and oral qualifying examinations. In order to take examinations, students must complete all core courses, at least 6 units of SOWK 790 and at least 32 units of course work in the doctoral program with a grade point average of at least 3.0 in each course attempted.

All students must pass a qualifying examination by completing a paper that the examination committee judges to be of publishable quality and passing an oral examination on subject matter related to the paper. The paper must deal with a substantive theoretical, model-building or methodological issue in the student's chosen area. Critical reviews of the literature or reports of empirical studies conducted by the student specifically for the qualifying examination are acceptable. The topic of the paper will be chosen in conjunction with the student's chair and must be defended before and agreed to by the entire examination committee. The content of the paper is to go beyond products developed for tutorials and must be an independent effort. Further details for completing the paper and oral examination are provided as needed. When students pass the written and oral portions of the qualifying examination, they advance to candidacy.

In accordance with university policy, since the two portions of the qualifying examination are considered part of a single examination, only one retake of either portion of the examination is permitted. When the oral examination has been passed, the student is formally admitted to candidacy.

Doctoral Dissertation

When the student is admitted to candidacy, a dissertation committee is established consisting of three members of the guidance committee, one of whom must be from outside the School of Social Work. The dissertation committee has the responsibility of providing consultation in research, approving the dissertation, conducting the final oral examination and recommending the candidate for the Ph.D. degree. The doctoral dissertation should make a contribution to knowledge and theory related to the profession of social work. Dissertations must not only show technical mastery of the subject and research methodology but must also demonstrate the candidate's ability to work independently as a scholar.

The first step in the dissertation process is the development of a dissertation proposal. Normally about 25-30 pages, the proposal should contain a clear statement of purpose, a rationale for the research, research questions or hypotheses, a review of pertinent literature, and an explication of the research methods to be used including the design, instrumentation, sampling procedures and plan for analysis. The proposal must include human subject clearances for the anticipated research obtained from the appropriate school and university committees.

The dissertation proposal is defended before the student's dissertation committee, and the committee approved the proposal. A copy of this approval is filed with the director of the doctoral program.

It is expected that students will begin work on their dissertation prospectus as soon as possible after completion of the qualifying examinations, and that an acceptable proposal will be presented within three months of the completion of the examination.

Abstract of Dissertation
Since the abstract of the dissertation is also published in Dissertation Abstracts International, is should be written with care and must be representative of the final draft of the dissertation. A shorter abstract for publication in Social Work Research and Abstracts is also required.

Final Oral Examination
Upon approval of the final draft of the dissertation by all members of the dissertation committee, the candidate must pass a general final oral examination. After the candidate successfully completes the final oral examination, the committee recommends the candidate to the Graduate School for the Ph.D. degree.

Rita and Maurice Hamovitch Research Center

The Hamovitch Research Center, located in the School of Social Work, serves as the administrative umbrella for the school's centers of research excellence. These centers of interdisciplinary research include the areas of mental health, health, corporate and industrial social work, child abuse, interpersonal violence and other projects of interest to individual faculty. The center hosts seminars and colloquia which are open to the university and community.

Research projects are supported by federal, state, county and school resources. The center engages faculty in research, demonstration and application in building and testing theory, developing research instruments, testing models of service and treatment modalities, evaluating programs and service policy. The center also provides opportunities for doctoral students to acquire research training through ongoing and newly initiated faculty research projects. Doctoral students are encouraged to apply to participate in such projects which often lead to dissertation possibilities. Predoctoral fellowships and/or research assistantships for projects conducted at the center are sometimes available to incoming and ongoing doctoral students. The center also enables doctoral students to conduct their own research through the auspices of the center, including their dissertation research. All doctoral students are encouraged to attend and participate in the center's colloquia and programs to enhance their involvement with and skills in research and knowledge development.