PhD Program FAQ
The PhD program prepares academics and scientists focused on the discovery of new knowledge through research. PhD candidates are interested in a career in academia, teaching or other research-intensive environments. A PhD program is centered around pursuing an original research project that culminates in a dissertation based on the original research and contribution to social work theory.
The DSW program prepares social work professionals who want to pursue practice leadership or management roles. DSW candidates pursue innovative ways to apply known research and theory to practice. The DSW program is centered around a practice-oriented scholarly capstone project involving a Grand Challenge for Social Work.
The majority of the doctoral program’s graduates accept positions conducting research and teaching in universities and research institutions throughout the world. Other graduates choose to work with governmental organizations shaping policies and providing leadership in a managerial or executive capacity.
The purpose of our program is to produce high-ranking scholars interested in the fields of research, scholarship and teaching. Although opportunities to build practice experience are available through research, our program is not designed for those seeking advanced clinical training.
Given the current expertise of the faculty and available resources, the doctoral program offers the following specializations: families and children, mental health, health, work and family/organizations, aging/gerontology, and economic security/income maintenance. Additional fields of practice can be added to these choices depending on faculty interest, expertise and availability. Doctoral students are encouraged to follow their own research trajectory, not just support their faculty mentor’s work. All students also develop a concentration in another discipline, such as homelessness, poverty or family violence.
The faculty mentoring relationship is an important component of our student’s progression and success in academia. Faculty mentoring prepares students for leadership in research, teaching, the application of knowledge and professional practice, and strengthens the values of excellence, mutual respect, collegiality, honesty and integrity. Each student is assigned a faculty mentor to help guide them throughout the duration of the program. Students also will be part of a faculty mentoring team comprising the program’s research clusters.
Yes, our doctoral curriculum is highly interdisciplinary with the intent of producing graduates who are capable of original research and passionate about advancing the profession’s knowledge base. The PhD program encourages students to develop expertise in other disciplines, as each student must develop a specialization either in another discipline outside the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work (such as gerontology, sociology, psychology, preventive medicine, business, political science, or policy, planning and development) or in an area where external courses in different departments or schools bear on a specific social problem (such as homelessness). Many of the PhD faculty hold joint appointments with other schools and contribute their unique knowledge and expertise to the field of social work through research and teaching.
Students must complete a minimum of 48 course units (exclusive of SOWK 794 - Doctoral Dissertation), with at least 24 units within the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and at least three courses (12 units) in other departments or schools within the university. At least eight of these 12 units must be in courses with a substantive focus, rather than a research-methodology or statistic focus. Students must also take at least one three-unit elective and one additional research or statistics course either in the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work or elsewhere in the university. However, many students exceed the 48 units, as they take additional courses related to their research area. For a complete list of program requirements, please refer to the USC Catalogue.
The school promotes research learning in many ways, beginning with required research collaborations with an assigned faculty mentor and other members of our doctoral faculty through our research clusters. These collaborations continue for the duration of the program and aid students in the preparation of publishable journal articles and grant writing with funding opportunities. Yearlong seminars are held periodically to help students successfully compete for federally sponsored dissertation grants. Formal training is provided in multiple research competencies, with emphasis on methods and statistics courses. Comparative research training is offered for international scholars, and research agreements with foreign institutions support data collection abroad.
Research clusters were established to bring people with common academic interests together, allowing for meaningful ways to foster interdisciplinary and community collaboration and bolster high-impact research.
The Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services maintains several strategic affiliations to promote research and scholarly activity, including an agreement for research development with the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center based at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, representing a consortium of more than 100 investigators and staff from research organizations throughout the nation. In addition, the Hamovitch Center is home to the USC Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging; the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, the California Social Welfare Archives, which houses the most extensive and complete collection of social welfare history in Southern California; and the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work journal holdings, including three international journals. The center also has a leading role in promoting evidence-based social work and translational research by actively working with and supporting the international Campbell and Cochrane Collaborations and several evidence-based clearinghouses.
It typically takes four to five years to complete the doctoral program.
Los Angeles is home to a variety of intriguing neighborhoods, diverse culture and a plethora of activities. For the first year, we recommend PhD students live near USC’s University Park Campus or in downtown Los Angeles, where access to the university and its resources is most convenient. Visit USC Housing for more information.