PhD Program

PhD Program

Welcome to Carleton’s School of Social Work PhD Program.  This program provides you with an opportunity to advance your research and teaching skills while digging more deeply into a topic that interests you.  Through writing a dissertation, you can make an original contribution to social work knowledge.
The first two years of the program focus on course work where you explore research methodology, theory, and pedagogy.  After that, you complete a dissertation.  The latter part of the program involves significant independent work where you research and write under the supervision of a committee of scholars.
When you are admitted to the PhD program, you usually receive funding for 5 years of study.  It is important that you also explore Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funding to help finance your studies.  The application season is the fall term of the year prior to the award take-up, should your application be successful.  Students will fine tune their external award applications in their PhD Seminar courses.
Newly admitted students are advised to work through the checklist for new Graduate students and to read and understand the Terms and Conditions of Admission and Funding.

Although the program is designed to take 5 years to complete, the university allows an additional year in case you get behind. This 6-year period is referred to as your “time to completion”.  While progressing through the program, the university expects students to achieve a series of milestones (i.e., aspects of the program need to completed by a particular stage in the process).  Our program milestones are the 5.0 credits in course work plus the 0.5 credit in the Qualifying Examination be completed by the end of the first six terms(Fall, Winter, Summer, Fall, Winter, Summer); and the Thesis Proposal defended by the end of Year 3 (9th semester).
Here is what a usual timeline would reflect:

  • YEAR 1 – The focus in year one is course work and the research advocacy practicum.  In your first term of the program, you have the opportunity to get to know faculty and colleagues.  You also begin making a connection with a community partner where you can complete some research in an organization. In your second term of the first year it is helpful to begin having conversations with faculty to explore who you might want to have as your research supervisor. The mentor who you were assigned when you were admitted to the program and the graduate program supervisor can support you in terms of who you might want to speak to. Make an appointment to talk to them about possibilities.
  • YEAR 2 – In year two you continue your course work and, starting in the winter term, your comprehensive exam.  Your comprehensive exam is an opportunity to read material in your area of interest and develop your expertise in that topic by writing a paper consolidating and analyzing the materials that you read.  You want to start planning for your comprehensive exam (i.e., the areas you want to explore and your reading list) in the summer following your first year in the program. This planning should happen with support from your mentor and the graduate supervisor.  Make an appointment to talk to them at the end of your first year.  It is helpful to begin the winter term of your second year with a plan for your comprehensive exam and to have your comprehensive exam committee established (i.e. a supervisor and two other faculty members who will support your work).   It often takes the winter and spring/summer semester to complete the exam.
  • YEAR 3 – In the fall of year 3, students should be planning to write and defend their dissertation proposal which is outlined in the Social Work PhD Thesis Guidelines. In the winter semester you also want to secure ethics approval for your research and start collecting data in the winter and spring/summer semesters.
  • YEAR 4 – In your fourth year you should be moving from data collection to writing your dissertation.  It is good to have a complete draft of your dissertation by the end of your fourth year.  Remember that you do have an extra year if things have taken longer than expected.
  • YEAR 5 – In your fifth year, you should be revising your first full draft based upon feedback from your supervisor and committee members.  It often takes a full year of revisions before a dissertation is ready for defence.

We know that life often throws us unexpected turns so the university has built in an extra year into your completion time to provide you with the flexibility to deal with these events whether they are personal or academic.  This said, it is important that you track your own progress and pay attention to the milestones outlined above.  If you do start getting behind, reach out and talk to the program administrator, program supervisor and your research supervisor to understand your options and to put in place processes that can support your success.

Getting through a PhD Program successfully.
Completing a PhD program on the schedule outlined above requires full time focus.  This can often be quite challenging.  It is important that students in the course work phase of the program develop a sound proposal and apply for external funding to support their studies.  Having external funding makes it a lot easier to weather the challenges of academic work and life.
Every year the university will ask you to report on your progress and whether you met the expectations (milestones) of that year.  The reason for this is it provides an opportunity for you and your supervisor to reflect on what you might need to progress successfully. It is also intended to flag early if you are having difficulties.
It is also very helpful to take advantage of opportunities for research assistantships where you can learn about the research process while being involved in other scholars’ research projects.  This can also provide you with the opportunity to have your name on scholarly publications.  It is helpful that, upon completion of the program, students have been able to be part of additional research projects and to have some publications. To find out about these opportunities, reach out to faculty, participate in co-curricular events.  There are also academic conferences that can be a helpful place for you to learn about research.  A great place to start is the Canadian Association of Social Work Education that hosts an annual conference.  You will also find a variety of graduate student conferences happening at Carleton and other universities in Ontario.  There are some funds available to students who present at these conferences to offset some travel and accommodation expenses.

Course Sequencing
The PhD program is offered on an alternating cohort basis so that every cohort is able to take classes with an incoming cohort. This year, 2023-24, PhD students are entering as Cohort A and will take classes with last year’s Cohort B. Next year’s Cohort B will take classes with this year’s Cohort A. PhD program requirements and graduate student regulations are outlined in the Graduate Calendar.

PhD Program & Course Sequencing: 2023-24 (Cohort A)
Fall Term 2023
SOWK 6101 Theoretical Foundations (0.5)
SOWK 6303 PhD Seminar (0.25 credit)
SOWK 6401 Critical Pedagogy (0.5)
TA assignment (130 hours total – 10 hours per week)
Winter Term 2024
SOWK 6102 Ethical Foundations (0.5 credit)
SOWK 6304 PhD Seminar
(0.25 credit)
Elective (0.5)
Students will have a TA assignment (130 hours total – 10 hours per week)
Summer Term 2024
SOWK 6600 Advocacy Practicum
(0.5 credit) 
SOWK 6800
– Qualifying Exam.  Once registered in the Qualifying Exam, continuous registration is required every term until completion.
Fall Term 2024
SOWK 6201 Theory & Methods (0.5 credit)
SOWK 6301 PhD Seminar (0.25)
Elective (0.5) (if not completed in summer 2024)
SOWK 6800 – Qualifying Exam.
Students will have a TA assignment (130 hours total – 10 hours per week)
Winter Term 2025
SOWK 6202 Research Design (0.5)
SOWK 6302 PhD Seminar (0.25)
SOWK 6800 Qualifying Examination (0.5) – re-register every term until complete.
TA assignment (130 hours total – 10 hours per week)
Summer Term 2025
SOWK 6800 Qualifying Exam (if not completed) or SOWK 6909 – Thesis if completed
Year 3 – Students register in SOWK 6909 – thesis in every term (including summers) until completion providing qualifying exam is complete.  Thesis proposal is developed and defended  in the 3rd year.  TA assignments for fall and winter terms.
Teaching:  Students are encouraged to complete qualifying exam before teaching at the undergraduate level in social work. Course teaching under Article 17 (without competition) is determined with Director in November/December of Year 2.  Students with a teaching assignment will submit a ‘Leave from TA Duties” for relevant term.  That term of TAship will move to the next available term within program time limit (usually summer).
Year 4 – Students register in SOWK 6909 fall, winter, summer term.  Thesis research, data analysis, and writing in progress.  Aim to have a complete draft of thesis by end of this year.  TA assignments in fall and winter terms.
Year 5 – Students register in SOWK 6909 fall, winter, summer term.  Thesis editing and writing  continues. TA assignments in fall and winter terms.  The final approved thesis needs to be with committee in time to schedule defence a minimum of 2 months in advance.

Shared Office Space
Doctoral students will be assigned a shared office space. As a doctoral student, you are awarded a Teaching Assistantship and an office where you can meet with students, as well as to study and conduct research. You will have a mailbox for both internal and external post in the School’s mailroom DT 505. The mailing address is the same as the School.

Elective Courses/Options
1.0 credit is required, one 0.5 elective credit at the 5000 or 6000 level must be taken from SOWK electives, while the other 0.5 credits can be taken in another discipline with the approval of the Graduate Supervisor.  Students are advised to choose electives that will complement their research, and research methodology.  If you are taking an elective outside of Social Work, send the course outline (once available) to the Graduate Programs Supervisor for approval.

Students can choose to do a Directed Study as an elective option(s). SOWK 6405/6406 (0.5) is an individually-arranged independent exploration of selected areas of inquiry that are offered subject to the availability of faculty. Requires a written proposal with clear learning objectives and a study plan. Interested students are encouraged to connect with their program mentor, and/or Graduate Supervisor for advice and supervisory suggestions.  Once a Directed Study Supervisor is determined, email the Graduate Administrator for the updated course outline template, and PhD Program Learning Outcomes.  Sample (template)

SOWK 6600 – Advocacy Practicum (0.5 credit)
** Note – this course may be renamed Advocacy Research Practicum. More information to come.
Students will work collaboratively with a community agency to create a social justice oriented project that will be completed for the agency. The project work will be guided by the student’s mentor and/or graduate supervisor. The project should take approximately 130 hours of work, the equivalent of a 0.5 credit course. Before beginning the project, students must submit a proposal to the graduate supervisor. The proposal must include a description of the organization, a description of the project, an articulation of the tasks involved in completing the project and an agreement for 130 hours of work. This proposal must be approved by the graduate supervisor and signed by the student and a representative from the community organization. Upon completion of the Advocacy Practicum students must submit a summary of the project completed and this must also include signatures of the student and the organizational representative. Please note: normally all 130 hours of the practicum must be completed within the term so that the graduate supervisor can submit a SAT (Satisfied) grade.  Advocacy Practicum: Agreement Template & Completion Summary Template
*** Insurance forms are required, please see Carleton’s information on Paid/Unpaid Work Placements  and FAQs.  Return completed forms to Graduate Supervisor and Graduate Administrator in the School.

Collaborative PhD in Political Economy:
The School offers a Collaborative PhD with a Specialization in Political Economy. Several units in the university participate in this collaborative program, please see further information on the Institute of Political Economy website. Students admitted in the PhD in Social work program who are interested in this option would apply for admission to the collaborative program during the fall semester of their first year.  If accepted to the Collaborative program, students are required to replace their Social Work PhD electives with PECO 6000 and one other course with political economy content. When you graduate the designation on your diploma will be “PhD in Social Work with a Specialization in Political Economy.”

Qualifying Exam Requirements:
The Qualifying Exam is a critical assessment and demonstration of mastery in an area of inquiry related to the research project, involving theoretical, methodological and substantive components. Requires a proposal to the Exam Committee, the successful completion of a Qualifying Exam paper and an Oral Qualifying Exam.  Social Work PhD Qualifying Examination (SOWK 6800) Guidelines

PhD Thesis:
The PhD Thesis is an original scholarly research contribution constituting a significant contribution to the field of social welfare and the profession of social work.
The thesis must meet standards including a formal oral defense governed by the regulations of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs: Graduate Student Thesis Requirements.

There are two options for completing the PhD thesis. One is a monograph, or extended research paper.  The other is an Integrated Article Thesis Option. The option chosen must be approved by the student’s committee.

PHD Thesis Guidelines for Social Work Students 

Integrated Article Thesis Option Guidelines

Students will find the Library’s Guide for Graduate Students in Social Work  a helpful resource for thesis and research.

Graduate Professional Development

As a graduate student at Carleton, you have access to a variety of professional development resources. These include skill workshops, one-on-one career and writing consultations, career-oriented events, and even structured programs. Challenge yourself by acquiring new skills that can help you boost your employability. To learn more, visit the Graduate Professional Development website at