Students must complete a minimum of 12 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 Suzanne Dworak-Peck 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:
Given the current expertise of the faculty and available faculty resources, students may choose from the following fields of practice specializations: (1) families 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.
Students prepare an individualized course study plan with their faculty adviser in the spring of the first year that is approved by the doctoral committee. It details classes and tutorials that each student will take during the second year of the program.
Opportunities for Further Skill Development
The program offers students skills training in both teaching and research.
All doctoral students must teach for two semesters before they graduate. Requirements may be fulfilled by coteaching, teaching as an assistant or solo teaching. Before beginning these teaching experiences, students must take a teaching course approved by the doctoral committee. International students must meet the English proficiency standards set forth by the American Language Institute and participate, if necessary, in specialized training offered by the Center for Excellence in Teaching.
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 599 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 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 PhD 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 PhD 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 Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the Graduate School.
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 qualifying exam committee is established.
Qualifying Exam Committee
The qualifying exam committee is composed of five faculty members, four of whom, including the chair, are from the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and one from an academic unit of the university other than the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. The function of the qualifying exam committee is to oversee the development of the student’s academic program through the qualifying examination.
As a prerequisite to candidacy for the PhD degree, students must pass written and oral qualifying examinations. In order to take the examinations, students must complete all core courses, at least 6 units of SOWK 790 tutorials and at least 32 units of course work in the doctoral program with a minimum grade point average of 3.0.
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.
When the student is admitted to candidacy, a dissertation committee is established consisting of three members of the qualifying exam committee, one of whom must be from outside the Suzanne Dworak-Peck 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 PhD 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 submitted to the student’s dissertation committee and defended. Upon approval of the proposal, a copy 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, it 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 PhD degree.