Fall 1995, Vol. 2, No. 2
Is There a Ph.D. in Your Future?
by Linda May Grobman, ACSW, LSW
The number of Ph.D. graduates in social work has remained fairly constant over the past 10 years, while the number of social work programs has grown steadily. In 1992-1993, 229 students were awarded the doctoral degree by Schools of Social Work responding to a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) survey reported on in Statistics on Social Work Education in the United States: 1993. But according to a recent report, approximately 400 social work faculty openings are advertised per year.
What does this mean for aspiring social work educators? It means JOBS and plenty of them. It's a seller's market for people who have a Ph.D. in social welfare or social work, say those who have graduated with such a degree in recent years.
While a Ph.D. is required for most college and university teaching positions, not everyone with a Ph.D. ends up in front of a classroom. "The main door that was opened [by getting a Ph.D.] was the one to the Ivory Tower," says Columbia University School of Social Work Assistant Professor Randy H. Magen, Ph.D., ACSW. "However, it also opens doors for interdisciplinary collaboration and contact as well as with agencies interested in conducting research. I have known people to go into agency work (research positions or administrative positions) as well as positions in the government, both research and policy."
Opportunities also exist for social workers to work with college students outside the classroom. Jack Curran, a Ph.D. student at the State University of New York Albany, works part-time in the counseling center at Manhattan College in New York. "It's a great fit for social workers," says Curran of working in a college counseling center. To move on to higher level positions on college campuses, such as Dean of Students or Vice President for Student Services, one needs a Ph.D. Because Curran's goal is to do just that--use his social work background in an administrative position within the higher education arena--he has taken electives in higher education as a part of his doctoral program.
Admission to a Ph.D. program may not be as complex as one would think. "Because I had graduated recently from the same school of social work, the admission procedure was quite straightforward," says Cynthia Tandy, MSW, a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia School of Social Work in Athens. "As I remember, it was just a matter of an application form."
Of 1375 hopefuls who completed similar applications in 1993, 590 were accepted. Admissions requirements are similar from program to program. Typical requirements include the following:
- master's in social work from a CSWE-accredited program or a closely related discipline
- two years of work experience in social work or human services (this is sometimes waived for highly qualified candidates)
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score set by the school
- TOEFL score set by the school (for students for whom English is a second language)
- strong commitment to the profession's values, goals, and purposes
- commitment to scholarly work congruent with the objectives and resources of the doctoral program
- superior academic ability.
Application materials, in addition to a formal application, may include the following:
- transcripts of undergraduate and graduate work
- professional and personal letters of recommendation
- examples of scholarly writing
- personal statement of the applicant's interests and objectives
A personal interview may also be required.
What's It Like?
Some people hold on to the old stereotype of doctoral candidates as "perpetual students"--people who keep going to school because they don't know what else to do or because they don't want to grow up. But is doctoral work just an extension of the earlier educational process?
To the contrary, most who are going through it will agree that doctoral education is much more exacting than their previous educational experiences. "I found the Ph.D. program more focused, more rigorous, and more individualized [than the MSW]," says Randy Magen. "The Ph.D. program necessarily focused on developing research skills."
Says Cynthia Tandy of her program, "Overall, the program is quite academic, with an increased emphasis on research, writing, and demonstrating an accumulation of knowledge. It's more demanding and challenging than the MSW program was. I guess I'd describe it as intense, interesting, and stimulating." Most projects, she explains, are done independently, so there is less of the camaraderie one might find in a master's level program, where there are more group projects and classes taken together.
The actual content of the doctoral program varies from school to school. While the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) provides a mechanism for supplemental accreditation for social work programs at the bachelor's and master's levels, there is no such accreditation at the doctoral level.
The Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE), founded about 20 years ago by leading faculty in schools of social work, says that doctoral programs do not need such supplemental accreditation, but should instead develop within the philosophy of the host institution. Nevertheless, GADE has developed guidelines for doctoral programs in social work. Schools are not required, but are encouraged, to follow these guidelines.
"....In most programs students focus their studies on advanced courses in a substantive area of specialization and on research and statistical methodology," says GADE chairperson Enola K. Proctor, of the Washington University George Warren Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis. "This focus is consistent with the purpose of doctoral education, to prepare individuals to conduct research to advance the social work knowledge base." She explains that many, but not all, programs require a research and/or teaching practicum. Qualifying examinations, preparation of a dissertation proposal, and completion of dissertation research are also required.
Typically, a full-time student can complete doctoral course work in two years, with an additional one to two years for the dissertation.
Paying for It
For those who decide to take the plunge into the Ph.D. waters, money is often available, usually in the form of teaching or research assistantships. At the University of Georgia, says Cindy Tandy, assistantships pay about $7500 a year, and tuition is waived. Students often work part-time, as she does at the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, for additional income and experience. There are also university-wide assistantships, in addition to School of Social Work assistantships, she explains.
According to CSWE, 597 social work doctoral students received financial aid in 1993. A total of 886 grants were awarded, meaning some students received aid from more than one source. Approximately forty percent of grants came in the form of research or graduate assistantships, 30 percent were school or university funds, and 7 percent were loans. The other 23 percent came from various sources, including federal, state, and local government funds; Veterans benefits; voluntary funds such as social welfare agencies and foundations; foreign governments; and work study programs.
Becoming a college professor (the ultimate goal for many doctoral candidates) carries a certain amount of prestige and many professional rewards. Seeing one's students learn, grow, and develop into competent professionals is one of the greatest payoffs for faculty members.
Salaries vary depending on geographic region, level of program (graduate or undergraduate), rank, and the faculty member's primary responsibilities. According to the Council on Social Work Education report Statistics on Social Work Education in the United States: 1993, the median salary for an assistant professor in a social work graduate program was $35,828; in an undergraduate program it was $31,400. Associate professors made $44,820 (graduate) and $38,785 (undergrad). Full professors fared best at $56,839 (graduate) and $47,248 (baccalaureate).
Taking the Plunge
The social work profession needs more people dedicated to scholarly work, whether education, research, or a combination of the two with advanced practice. Doctoral work can be demanding. For those with the commitment, time, resources, and ability, it can lead to new, exciting, and rewarding career paths.
Linda May Grobman, ACSW, LSW, is the publisher/editor of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER.