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Welcome to the PhD Program at the College of Social Work!

At the University of South Carolina, our PhD program in social work is distinguished by its emphasis on community-engagement, trans-disciplinarity (i.e., team science), and leadership for social change. Each year, we invite a small, selective group of scholars to join us.

As an up-and-coming College of Social Work, we’re pleased to offer PhD students a personal touch. It often begins when we arrange a connection with one or more faculty members who share your interests. We offer an annual PhD Open House each fall for you to visit the campus, learn about our curriculum, and meet some faculty members and current PhD students. After the program begins, the first year of coursework includes a weekly Professional Seminar designed to support and accelerate your transition to academia. The second year includes a hands-on Proposal Writing Seminar to assist you in applying for a research grant. In the second or third year, you complete a Teaching Practicum with an experienced instructor and a Research Practicum with an experienced researcher. We want to see you succeed, and we offer extensive resources to help. In addition, you’ll find numerous opportunities across the university campus.

As a member of the University of South Carolina community, you will have access to the diverse and innovative faculty within our College of Social Work and across the university. College of Social Work faculty members have research collaborations with public health, psychology, business, pharmacy, computer science, medicine, education, nursing, engineering, and more. Some of these collaborations extend across the United States and around the world (including Korea, Vietnam, India, West Africa, China, and Central America). Our faculty has been recognized for their contributions to research, teaching, policy, program development, and community engagement.

Furthermore, many of our faculty members are carving out unusual niches in social work research and education. Check out their faculty bios. You just might find a unique fit with your own interests. For example, we have faculty members conducting social work research on food security, youth and college sports, robotics and the elderly, religious congregations, kidney dialysis, refugee resettlement, community violence, interprofessional education, parenting children with autism, Buddhism and social work, and social entrepreneurship as well as research in more familiar social work settings such as child welfare, mental health, the military, criminal justice, and schools. Many of our faculty members conduct community-engaged research. Others use the nationally known SC Data Warehouse, a data set that uses unique anonymous identifiers to link clients across all major federal and state programs in South Carolina (including health, behavioural health, education, social service, Medicaid, and criminal justice).

Please explore the information on our web site about our curriculum, research and funding opportunities, and current faculty members and PhD students. Note the FAQs that anticipate many of your questions. Then, let me know if you have further questions.

We look forward to working with you! Our PhD program will both nurture and challenge you. You will find endless opportunities for research, teaching, and leadership as you connect with scholars from many disciplines and various corners of the world.

We welcome you to apply!

Terry A Wolfer, MSW, PhD
Professor & PhD Program Coordinator


Ph.D. Curriculum

The USC CoSW Doctoral Program prepares graduates for careers in research and higher education. Starting in the first year, a primary faculty mentor and an advisory committee advise each student. By the second year, the advisory committee includes a faculty member from a discipline other than social work. This strengthens our transdisciplinary approach to research.

To develop research skills, USC CoSW Ph.D. students engage in a variety of experiences: 

  • coursework (minimum of six research courses: four in social work and two out of department) 
  • a supervised research practicum 
  • supervised research assistantships
  • independent research for the dissertation

Professional development seminars in the first two years prepare students to write for publication and funded grants. Starting early in the program, faculty support students in developing peer-reviewed conference presentations and journal articles. Students are expected to attend three research colloquia each year, though many attend more. They choose from among the scores that are offered across disciplines on the USC campuses. 

To develop skills as educators, USC CoSW Ph.D. students go through a series of supervised experiences. They develop a teaching practicum that is commensurate with their prior teaching experience. For example, one who is inexperienced might serve as a teaching assistant to a professor and practice class facilitation, course preparation, and student assessment. One who is experienced as a social work instructor might develop a new elective course with supervision from a faculty member. 

All CoSW Ph.D. students are required to take a course in the College of Education on “Principles of College Teaching.” In addition, CoSW Ph.D. students attend the USC Graduate School core instructor day-long workshop for graduate students from across disciplines.  

After attaining these basic milestones, Ph.D. students are eligible to teach in the CoSW BSW or MSW programs, and almost all choose to do so. As they develop teaching experience, they use the resources of the USC Center for Teaching Excellence (available to all faculty) and develop a teaching portfolio to demonstrate their teaching proficiency before graduation. 

Click here for a full description of the course of study you will pursue as a Ph.D. student: Ph.D. Curriculum (pdf)

To download the 2017-18 Ph.D. manual, click here.


Doctoral Program: Ph.D. in Social Work

Transdisciplinary Community-Engaged Research and Education

Our Mission: The College of Social Work Doctoral Program prepares social work scholars to advance social well-being and social justice through leadership in transdisciplinary community-engaged research and education.

In the University of South Carolina’s social work Ph.D. program, you will immediately begin advancing social well-being and social justice through scholarship. Our dynamic approach to doctoral education prepares you for transdisciplinary community-engaged research and education.

Our faculty, who are leaders in research and teaching, mentor students in a small and personal program known for its national and international leadership in social work education.

At USC, you’ll produce innovative research that directly and immediately benefits communities and individuals. This hands-on approach focuses on diversity, open-mindedness, and action.

We merge social justice with community-engaged research that cuts across disciplines. Our college includes numerous action research projects as well as The Center for Child and Family Studies and the Institute for Families in Society—where students can be directly involved in research, technical assistance, and training. And many faculty and students are involved in collaborative research with other colleges, departments, and universities. Our external partnerships involve major state and national health and human service systems. And our international affiliations extend to Asia and Latin America.

Specifically, graduates of the Doctoral Program will possess:

  • A strong grounding in rigorous quantitative and qualitative methods
  • A transdisciplinary perspective on social work and social welfare that incorporates knowledge from social, behavioral and health sciences
  • The capacity for community-engaged leadership in research to promote social change through university-community partnerships of significance
  • The ability to provide educational leadership in disseminating knowledge relevant to social work and social welfare through teaching at the bachelor's, master's and/or doctoral level of education

To download the 2017-18 Ph.D. manual, click here.

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