Four Competencies

A defining characteristic of our Doctoral Program is the identification of the competencies that we want our students to have when they graduate from our program.

Our curriculum and professional development opportunities are focused on assisting students to meet these four competencies. Student performance on the competencies is assessed annually as part of our faculty’s review of students’ activities and accomplishments.


Research involves the mastery of skills needed to design and conduct a systematic, empirical, objective, public and critical investigation of a social welfare problem or issue. Doctoral students graduate with the capacity to frame a question about a social welfare issue or problem that can be evaluated or examined using social science research methods. Their dissertation research may be descriptive, designed to develop a theory, or intended to test a hypothesis. The typical doctoral student has a prospectus approved within two years of completing coursework and a dissertation defended within five years of completing coursework, although many complete all requirements sooner. Through the dissertation, students demonstrate the ability to conduct independent research and to make appropriate use of quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods of analytical techniques. The majority of our doctoral students present research at professional conferences and author or co-author a publishable-quality article for a peer-reviewed journal during their time in the Doctoral Program. In the first three years of the full-time program, 20 hours each week are devoted to a paid individualized research fellowship matching a student’s interests with a faculty member’s research projects. Specialized research mentorships are also available for both full-time and part-time students who wish to work with an individual faculty member on a specific research topic.

Recent dissertation topics include:

  • Caregivers of children with HIV/AIDS
  • Well-being of family caregivers of adults with mental illness and a co-occurring substance-abuse disorder
  • Security of attachments of infants in foster care
  • Parenting styles and school social competence
  • Welfare recidivism
  • The effect of patient socioeconomic status on physician’s treatment decisions

Recent Dissertations

Social Welfare Theory

Students in the Mandel School Doctoral Program acquire the skills needed to use theory and conceptual frameworks in social science research. Upon completion of the program, students will be able to use theory to develop research questions and hypotheses for empirical testing and will possess an understanding of the conceptual nature of theory and the ways theory can be applied to the development of knowledge in social welfare. Through coursework, research fellowships and dissertation work, students apply a theoretical framework in research to a social welfare problem and are able to discuss implications of empirical research findings on theoretical relationships.


We expect scholars and leaders be able to effectively communicate with others and to be able to teach. Students can take coursework related to teaching and engage in a teaching mentorship with a faculty member. During the mentorship, students practice didactic, interactive and experiential teaching strategies in classroom settings. They also learn approaches to other forms of knowledge dissemination such as presentations and writing papers for publications.

Teaching involves a conceptual understanding of how people learn and the ability to translate this understanding into constructing and delivering learning opportunities to diverse audiences. Formal coursework on social work education and funded teaching mentorships allow doctoral students the opportunity to develop knowledge of the history and current context of social work education and skills in educational program design, curriculum development, and the delineation and assessment of educational objectives. Students have an opportunity to participate in seminars on teaching offered by the University Center for Innovations in Teaching Excellence. Due to considerable teaching experiences as teaching assistants as well as adjunct faculty who teach courses in our master’s degree program, doctoral students typically leave the program with a teaching portfolio that can be used as a strong foundation for employment applications and interviews.


Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences others to achieve a common goal. Leadership in academia is unique in that the organizational structure is more horizontal and shared, while in most organizations it is hierarchical. Students will achieve competency in academic leadership by understanding their and others’ style of leadership and participating in student and professional activities that enhance leadership skills. Students are encouraged to participate in professional social work organizations in their areas of expertise as well as to assume leadership roles in on Mandel School, university and community committees.