Theorising Social Work Research

Doctoral and advanced studies in Social Work Seminar topics

Doctoral and advanced studies in social work 15th November 1999, Warwick

The UEA Doctor of Social Work Degree Course Leaders: David Howe, Diana Hinings and June Thoburn Development

The Doctor of Social Work Degree resulted from a discussion with the Norfolk Director of Social Services, David Wright, about a strategy for research literacy in his workforce, and also about ways of strengthening morale and improving the status of social workers. The establishment of the Making Research Count collaboration was one outcome; the other was the development of the DSW, since it fed into debates within the UEA staff group about whether our range of research and taught postgraduate programmes was appropriate to the needs of practising social workers. With the growth of modular taught masters programmes, it was concluded that there was no longer a place for our MA/MSW by research. We still had a steady stream of practising social workers or managers wishing to study for an MPhil/PhD on a part-time basis. Whilst we considered that these more traditional research degrees were appropriate for those wishing to move into careers as researchers or academics, we were less sanguine about their value for those whose purpose was to study at greater depth a particular practice issue.

The Doctor of Social Work Programme at UEA

The first point to make is that this is a research and not a taught doctorate. It comprises two evaluated pieces of the candidates own practice with an individual, group or community (10,000 words each) together with an assignment on research methods and a research thesis of 60,000 words. The case assessment assignments and the thesis involve doctoral level research into different aspects of a particular theme or issue relevant to practice within a social work setting. Those not currently in direct practice (including managers, service planners, consultants, or educators) may undertake the degree if they are able to identify two pieces of practice which they can research, undertake and evaluate for their case assessment assignments.


Entry requirements are a professional social work qualification and a masters degree. The minimum period of study is 3 years and the maximum is 5 years. It is anticipated that the majority of the candidates will be studying on a part-time basis, but, provided that the case assessment requirements can be completed, it is possible to undertake the degree on a full-time basis.

Candidates attend UEA for 6 days for each of the first 2 years as well as having individual supervision. Year 1 classes concentrate on the case assessment work, and for some candidates this may continue into year 2. Research methods classes and support groups form the main element of the UEA programme from year 2 onwards. Candidates work closely with a UEA supervisor. At the end of year 1, a separate external examiner is appointed for each student.

The two case assessments and the research methods assignment have to be successfully completed and examined before the candidate proceeds to the final stage, although preparatory work on the thesis and some collection of data may proceed in parallel with the research methods teaching and assessment.