The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in social work prepares students to conduct research that contributes to the knowledge base of social work, to become leaders in the profession, and to teach social work in postsecondary educational institutions.

Students are required to earn 78 s.h. to earn the degree. Those who enter the program with a MSW are granted 30 s.h. credit; they must complete an additional 48 s.h. for the degree. Individuals with master's degrees in related disciplines (for example, psychology or sociology) may choose to earn a PhD in social work without first earning the MSW. Credit from a related master's degree may be applied to the PhD degree program, as determined by the School of Social Work.

Students complete required coursework, research, and teaching practicums; pass a comprehensive exam; write a dissertation; and defend the dissertation in an oral exam. Their work includes courses in one of four outside disciplines—sociology, psychology, public health, or education—to assist them in preparation for the comprehensive examination and dissertation.


Individualized and Interdisciplinary Curriculum

The program allows students to develop a coherent program of study to pursue their own research interests. Students take coursework in a core social work curriculum, a concentration (sociology, psychology, education, or public health), research methods, and electives in order to develop a focal area of social work knowledge (e.g., family violence). Students may methods and electives in any college or department at the University of Iowa. The median time to complete the degree is four years.

The School of Social Work provides a supportive environment with substantial opportunities for mentoring and interaction with faculty members. Throughout the PhD program, the school assists students in developing a program of study based on their unique educational and career goals. There are many opportunities to work closely with faculty members. In the first two years, students complete a mentored research practicum with a faculty member and a mentored in-class teaching practicum. During the second year, students choose a faculty member to guide them through the comprehensive examination and dissertation processes.

Listed below are the general categories of coursework required to earn the degree; for more specific information on courses, curriculum, and requirements of the Doctor of Philosophy in social work, visit the UI General Catalog.

Degree Requirements
Title Hours
Core curriculum 16
Concentration courses 9
Research methods and/or statistics 9
Additional upper-level electives 6
Dissertation hours 8
Hours applied from Master's Degree 30
Total Hours 78

Important Deadlines

Application Deadline: February 1st (for Fall admission)


For admission and application information, see the Graduate Admissions Process page.

Learning Objectives

Graduates will:

  • locate their work in the intellectual landscape of social work;
  • critically analyze theories, practices, policies, and research in at least one specialized area of social work knowledge;
  • disseminate knowledge that contributes to the advancement of social work research, practice, and policy, including writing publishable, peer-reviewed manuscripts; presenting at local, national, or international conferences; and/or producing policy briefs or white papers; and
  • in the social work classroom, create a learning culture and classroom climate that is inclusive of a diverse population of students and diverse learning styles.

Funding Your PhD Program

The School of Social Work typically offers students admitted to the PhD program at least three academic years of funding for their studies.  Funding may include a combination of the following sources:

  • School of Social Work Research Assistantship (RA):  These awards come from the School of Social Work and provide a stipend as well as a tuition waiver and benefits.  The amount of the stipend depends on the extent of the RA appointment during the academic year (25% to 50% time).  The School of Social Work occasionally offers current students additional summer RA positions that do not include tuition waivers or benefits.
  • Grant-Funded Research Assistantship (RA):  The funding for these RAs comes from a faculty member's research grant.  The amount of the stipend depends on the extent of the RA appointment (up to 50% time).  RAs of at least 25% time include a stipend as well as a tuition waiver and benefits.
  • Teaching Assistantship (TA): TAs of 25% to 50% time provide a stipend as well as a tuition waiver and benefits.  The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences provides a limited number of TA positions to the School.  The amount of the stipend depends on the extent of the TA appointment.  Students must apply for TA positions in the Spring.

The School of Social Work administers several scholarships and awards.  Additionally, Social Work PhD students at Iowa are often successful in securing fellowships or research funding from the Graduate College and from external sources such as foundations and social work organizations.

Throughout their doctoral studies, the School of Social Work makes additional funding available to our students to present at professional conferences.  During the dissertation phase, the school offers additional funds to help students cover costs associated with conducting their dissertation research.

Note: a 25% time appointment means it is 25% of full-time equivalent (FTE), that is, 10 hours a week of work, on average. A 50% time appointment averages 20 hours per week. 

For more information, please contact:
Megan Gilster, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Ph.D. Program Director
207 North Hall (NH)