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Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare

The Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work PhD program prepares students for leadership in the advancement of social welfare education, practice, policy development, and research. The program promotes social justice and global understanding through scholarly inquiry using indigenous and mixed method approaches. Emphasis is placed on knowledge development which enhances the wellbeing of Native Hawaiians and the diverse people and communities of Hawai‘i and the Asian-Pacific Region.

PhD Curriculum

The doctoral program is designed to provide sufficient structure to allow students to progress smoothly through the program and, at the same time, provide the flexibility and rigor that are the hallmarks of doctoral education. The organization of the curriculum is divided into core required courses to ensure that all students are equipped with comparable basic knowledge; specialization work, in which students largely design their own curriculum; electives; a dissertation design requirement; and the dissertation. The PhD in Social Welfare requires 46 hours of course credit excluding dissertation credits.

Core Required Courses

The core program is comprised of a series of required courses that all students must take. These core courses are in the areas of logic of inquiry, quantitative and qualitative research methods, policy analysis and program development in social work, and analysis and development of knowledge in social work. The core courses provide intensive and extensive knowledge of social work’s use of the existing social science knowledge base, appropriate research methodologies, analytic strategies, and effective intervention approaches to social problems and the delivery of human services.

The objectives of the core courses are to:

  1. Provide knowledge unique to social work and social welfare;

  2. Provide a framework for integration of knowledge, particularly the knowledge obtained from courses in other university units;

  3. Provide the basic training necessary for empirical research and scholarship; and

  4. Ensure that some of the unique components of the program, such as cultural perspectives, concerns of the people of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, and a focus on research and knowledge development are integrated into the curriculum.

The core curriculum of the PhD program consists of the following courses:

Fall semesters only:

  • SW 651 Quantitative Methods I (3)
  • SW 750 Analysis and Development of Knowledge for Social Work (3)
  • SW 752 Qualitative Research: Philosophical, Methodological and Analytic Approaches (3)
Spring semesters only:
  • SW 654 Multiple Regression in Behavioral Research (3)
  • SW 731 Social Policy Analysis (3)
  • SW 751 Quantitative Methods II (3)

Prerequisites and Course Sequencing

Students accepted with a master’s degree in allied areas (e.g. public health, counseling, psychology, nursing, medicine) are required to take and pass the following prerequisites:

  1. SW 630 Social Welfare Policy and Services (prerequisite for SW 731), its equivalent, or a waiver examination;

  2. SW 640 Introduction to Scientific Methods and Principles in Social Work (prerequisite for SW 651), its equivalent, or a waiver examination;

  3. SW 699 Directed Reading (1 credit) on the social work profession which includes social work history, contemporary issues and the nature of social work practice.
All required core courses must be completed before the qualifying exam.

Qualifying Examination

The objective of the Qualifying Examination (QE) is to assess students’ knowledge, analytic competence, and ability to apply and integrate concepts across the areas of the core curriculum. All PhD students must pass the QE in order to proceed in the program. When all required core courses are completed, and readiness to take the QE is determined with his or her faculty advisor, the student will notify the Doctoral Program Chair. If a student has an incomplete, or “I” grade, for any of the core courses, she or he is not eligible to take the QE.

Students may take the entire QE (parts A through D) during finals week of the Spring semester (mid-May) or the week prior to the beginning of the Fall semester (mid-August). Students also have the option to take one half of the QE (Parts A and B) at the end of the Spring semester (mid-May) and the remaining half (Parts C and D) at the beginning of the Fall semester (mid-August) after all core courses are completed. QE scheduling may be influenced by faculty availability or other scheduling considerations.

The qualifying exam committee will consist of SSW faculty who taught courses in the core curriculum. This committee will be responsible for creating and grading the qualifying exam. A draft of the qualifying exam will be presented to the PhD Program Committee for review. The qualifying exam committee will determine the scheduling and duration of the exam.

The qualifying exam will be a written exam consisting of questions pertaining to all areas of the core curriculum. Exam questions will be developed to test students’ ability to integrate and apply knowledge within and across areas covered in the core curriculum. Students must complete all parts of the exam and no part(s) of the exam can be delayed.

The exam committee will be given two weeks to grade exams and one week to develop recommendations for the students (e.g., retake the exam if student “fails”; take additional prescribed courses if student “conditionally” passes, etc.) Exams are to be graded without knowledge of the test-taker’s identity.

Students who fail the exam or part of the exam will have the option of retaking the failed part of the exam. Students who fail the exam or part of the exam twice will not be permitted to remain in the program.

The student is admitted to pre-candidacy after successfully passing the qualifying exam. Action to admit a student to pre-candidacy is reported to the Graduate Division on Student Progress Form I – Pre-Candidacy Progress.


The individualized specialization plan is the key focus of the doctoral curriculum. A student’s specialization plan emphasizes her or his commitment to the careful study of human/social problems, and the development and evaluation of policies and programs designed to prevent or remediate social problems. In particular, the specialization allows students to plan programs of study consistent with their career goals. Students select one human/social problem relevant to social work as a focus for their specialization.

Each plan provides a focus on the developmental work that needs to be done in a social/human problem of the student’s choice. By providing a critical methodological and substantive education, the PhD program will produce social work scholars who will possess the requisite expertise to make significant contributions to state, national, and international efforts to resolve major social welfare problems. A student must complete at least two specialization courses prior to enrolling in the Specialization Integration Seminar (SW 755). Successful completion of SW 755 is required.

Teaching and Research Practica

Research and teaching practica were designed to provide students with direct mentoring and hands-on experience. Students are required to take a minimum of one semester in teaching and one semester in research. Practica are completed between passing the Qualifying Examination and the Comprehensive Examination. The teaching practicum provides students with opportunities to develop skills for academic positions and future leadership roles. A critical part of development as a scholar is knowledge development through research. The research practicum targets the development of students’ research skills with these specific goals:

  1. to provide research experience through participation in a supervised research project prior to the dissertation;
  2. to involve students in doing research early in their doctoral studies;
  3. to increase students’ research skills; and
  4. to develop skills in writing for publication.


Students are required to complete at least two elective courses. One elective must be in the area of research methods and statistics, and the second elective in program evaluation. These courses must be chosen from the list of approved electives. These elective courses are intended to reinforce each student’s knowledge in any of the core or specialization areas.

All electives are subject to prior approval by the student's advisor. If the class is not already on the PhD Program Committee's approved list, the student must submit a graduate catalog outline or other course description prior to the beginning of the first class for PhD Program Committee review and approval. If the PhD Program Committee approves the course, it will be added to the electives list. Students may take additional courses beyond the two electives to further their preparation.

Doctoral Committee and Comprehensive Examination

Doctoral Committee

The doctoral committee conducts the comprehensive examination and approves the dissertation research proposal and the dissertation itself. To form this committee, the student is advised to first seek a graduate faculty member who is qualified (Full Graduate Faculty-tenured faculty) and willing to serve as chair of the doctoral committee. The committee must consist of Hawaii graduate faculty. The majority of the committee must be from the School of Social Work and at least one faculty member must be from another field of study. The chair of the committee must be from the School of Social Work and both the chair and outside member must be full member‘s of the regular graduate faculty. The chair of the PhD program recommends to the dean of the Graduate Division appointment of the doctoral committee on Student Progress Form II, Advance to Candidacy.

Dissertation Design

The dissertation design requirement includes a dissertation seminar or at least one directed reading and research course (SW 699). This requirement will integrate and focus the student’s learning in the specialization area, as it is related to the dissertation research, and facilitate the student’s movement toward the dissertation.

Comprehensive Examination

An oral comprehensive exam is required. The purpose of this exam is to ascertain the student’s comprehension of the specialization area and the student’s readiness for dissertation research. Thus, this exam will cover the student’s area of specialization as well as a dissertation proposal consisting of the first two chapters of the dissertation (the statement of the problem, review of the literature, research design and method). As described above, the doctoral committee conducts the comprehensive examination. Passing this exam constitutes approval of the dissertation proposal. The chair of the PhD program reports the results of the examination to the Graduate Division on Student Progress Form II, Advance to Candidacy.

Doctoral Dissertation and Final Examination

Doctoral Dissertation

The doctoral dissertation is a scholarly document resulting from original and independent research. The dissertation is a major undertaking that reflects the highest standards of scholarship and makes an original and significant contribution to knowledge and practice in the field of social welfare and/or the profession of social work.

Work on the dissertation is conducted under the supervision of the dissertation committee chair as well as the approval and direction of the doctoral committee. When the dissertation proposal has been approved by the doctoral committee, Graduate Division must be notified on Student Progress Form II, Advance to Candidacy. The student may then register for SW 800 Dissertation Research during the next registration period. The student must be registered in SW 800 during the entire term in which the work for the degree is completed.

The chair of the doctoral committee should provide primary direction regarding research methods, preparation of results, and the writing of the dissertation. The chair and the student are jointly responsible for informing the committee members about the progress of the research and the dissertation.

A majority of the doctoral committee members, including the committee chair, must approve both the dissertation and the examination on the dissertation. The chair of the doctoral committee must ensure that the final form of the dissertation, including revisions agreed upon, is acceptable to a majority of the committee.

The student must submit copies of the completed dissertation at least four weeks prior to the date of the final oral examination (dissertation defense).

Other requirements for the dissertation include the following:

  1. Presentation and Defense of Dissertation Proposal. The student must present the dissertation proposal to the doctoral committee during the comprehensive examination.

  2. Original Research. Dissertation research promotes the integration of conceptual issues, knowledge of a social problem, research design, and promotes the skills necessary for empirical research. Therefore, all dissertations must involve original research conceptualized by the student, and the collection and analysis of data.

  3. APA Guidelines. The content and style of both the dissertation proposal and the dissertation itself must conform to the most current edition of the APA publication guidelines. Dissertations must also conform to Graduate Division guidelines.

  4. Human Subjects Approval. Human subjects approval for the dissertation research must be obtained from UHM’s Office of Research Services before data from human subjects can be collected.

  5. The doctoral committee members express their approval on the signature page of the dissertation and on Student Progress Form III, Dissertation Evaluation.

Final Examination (Dissertation Defense)

The final examination is primarily a defense of the dissertation but may also cover related subjects. This examination is required of all candidates for the doctoral degree. The examination is oral and is conducted by the full doctoral committee. A majority of the doctoral committee members, including the committee chair, must vote “Pass,” otherwise the student fails. Notice of the final oral examination must be published on News@UH, the newsletter of the University of Hawai‘i system, and is open to the public. The chair of the PhD program reports the results of the final examination on Student Progress Form III, Dissertation Evaluation, after all other requirements for the degree have been fulfilled.

Part-Time Requirements

Part-time students are defined as students who are enrolled in the PhD program for less than 8 credit hours per semester. The program recognizes the benefit of having people who are employed while being engaged in doctoral studies and will endeavor to make courses available to part-time students.

Part-time students who have not completed the core must take at least 6 credits per semester. Summer courses, if offered, can be counted against this total. Students who do not meet this requirement will be required to seek an official leave of absence from the program. Directed reading hours may be counted in this total.

Please refer to the official PhD Program manual for additional detailed program information.

How to Apply

For PhD admission requirements and application information, please refer to the PhD Admissions Page at: http://www.hawaii.edu/sswork/phd-admission.html.

For more information, please review the information on this site, or contact Dr. Jing Guo, PhD Program Chair, at jingguo@hawaii.edu or Jennifer Kishida, PhD Program Assistant, at jenkishi@hawaii.edu or (808) 956-3831.