Student resources


Three images depicting students on campus

The students of the VCU Ph.D. Program in social work foster a lifelong drive to innovate, discover and develop the expertise necessary to share their work with their colleagues, students and the world. Just as we believe the best social work practices and policies are founded on closeness and trust, so too should any program of study. Each year, we welcome not simply five or six new students to our program, but rather new colleagues and friends. Our commitment to a vibrant and unique community provides the fertile ground for the courageous, pioneering and illuminative research for which our students and faculty are renowned.

The program

In the first two years, you will complete coursework that includes a common curriculum and a concentration curriculum. After completion of all required coursework, you will take a comprehensive exam to demonstrate your ability to integrate the whole of your educational experience in the human service field. After admission to candidacy, you will propose, complete and defend your dissertation under the supervision of a dissertation committee.

The VCU Bulletin has additional information about the Ph.D. curriculum and course descriptions.

For more information and assistance with school policies or technical standards, refer to the Student Policy Handbook or the Technical Standards and Essential Functions for Social Work Students.

You will add your own substance to the field of social work during your time here. Through the formulation of personal research, you will make lasting contributions to the intellectual community. Through the opportunity to teach in our top-ranked B.S.W. and M.S.W. programs, you will make lasting impressions on the next wave of social workers. And through your own coursework, research demands and teaching obligations, you will be given a glimpse of what your professional life will entail.

The VCU Bulletin has more information about program goals and outcomes.


You will be paired with a faculty adviser who will work with you during your first year in the program. Your adviser will help you build specialized areas of scholarly interest and prepare you for the transition into Ph.D.-level work and will help determine opportunities for you to become involved in other academic activities such as teaching, university programs and community service. At the end of the first year, you may continue with your current adviser or select another consenting faculty member. Once you are admitted to Ph.D. candidacy, the chair of your dissertation committee serves as your adviser.

Advising tools

Independent study and directed research

Independent study provides you the opportunity to create your own specialized learning experience and pursue educational goals outside of the Ph.D. Program curriculum through intensive study in an in-depth, faculty-mentored opportunity. Independent study proposals should be submitted to the Ph.D. Program director no later than Monday the week before classes start for the semester you plan to enroll in independent study.

The directed research course will provide you the opportunity to do hands-on research prior to the dissertation project relevant to your substantive area or individual learning needs. You will select your topic area and specific project, then implement it in collaboration with a school faculty member. Directed research proposals should be submitted to the Ph.D. Program director no later than the Monday the week before classes start for the semester you plan to enroll in directed research.

For questions about either the independent student or directed research, contact your faculty adviser.

Comprehensive exam and admission to candidacy

After completion of all required coursework, you will be required to take a comprehensive exam to demonstrate your ability to integrate the whole of your educational experience by adequately addressing complex questions pertinent to the current and developing knowledge base of the human service field.

Once you have successfully passed the three portions of the comprehensive exam, you will be approved for degree candidacy and registration for a minimum of three credit hours of dissertation research. Refer to the VCU Graduate School website for more information about degree candidacy requirements or the admission to doctoral degree candidacy form. You are encouraged to engage previous cohorts for support during preparation for comprehensive exams.


After admission to candidacy, you will proceed to propose, complete and defend your dissertation, which will be completed under the supervision of a dissertation committee to include a chair, at least two VCU School of Social Work faculty members and at least one additional member from outside of the school. All nominations must be submitted in writing to the Ph.D. Program director. For specifics about dissertation committee nominations and dissertation guidelines, please consult the Student Policy Handbook.

Your dissertation will be composed of independent research and should be based on an original question or hypothesis relevant to social work. Successful defense of the dissertation after the completion of 54 hours of coursework and dissertation credits completes the requirements for the degree. Dissertation proposals are submitted to your dissertation committee. Follow university guidelines for submission on your completed, approved dissertation and electronic dissertation form.

Graduate Research Assistants

Graduate research assistants are graduate students hired on a part-time basis to assist faculty members (who are the GRA’s supervisor) with their research and scholarship. Graduate research assistantships are a way of supporting the research mission of the university and school while providing financial assistance and support for the professional growth and development of graduate students. There are work-related requirements for all GRAs. First-year students are offered a graduate research assistantship at 16 hours per week; the second year is contingent upon work performance during the first year. At the end of the first year, you will complete a GRA self-assessment. For more information, please see the GRA policies and information.

Guidelines for funding Ph.D. student travel

You are encouraged to present posters and presentations at conferences during your tenure in the program. Please see the student policy handbook for information on funding travel to conferences. You are encouraged to engage older cohorts for examples of conference presentation submissions.

Employment opportunities

In addition to faculty support and mentoring, VCU Career Services can assist you in your academic or industry job search. From resume creation to negotiating a salary, we will provide you with the tools necessary to be successful in your job search.

Check our employment blog frequently for new employment opportunities.

Student calendar

Stay up to date by checking the VCU School of Social Work student calendar.


For questions about the Ph.D. Program, documents forms or policies, please contact Leslie Choplin, D. Ed. Min. at