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PhD in Social Work

Building on our unique MSW program that emphasizes the critical analysis of social policy, social work practice and leadership, the PhD program focuses on social work and social justice. It is designed to stimulate and support scholarship on the ways in which social policies and social work practices can contribute to redressing social inequalities and enhancing social justice.

Ph.D.PhD in Social Work

Building on our unique MSW program that emphasizes the critical analysis of social policy, social work practice and leadership, the PhD program focuses on social work and social justice. It is designed to stimulate and support scholarship on the ways in which social policies and social work practices can contribute to redressing social inequalities and enhancing social justice.

PhD students will develop a critical appreciation of current and emerging social work scholarship related to social justice, and deepen their understanding with relevant perspectives from other areas of study. These objectives are achieved through a combination of course work, research seminars, and independent study.

The PhD program will prepare candidates for research, teaching, and positions of leadership in social work and social welfare.

Course Requirements

Candidates for the PhD are required to complete a minimum of six post-MSW courses.

A Ph.D. candidate admitted without master’s level courses in epistemology (SOCWORK 737) and in critical analysis of practice/policy (SOCWORK 700/731 or 701/703) will be expected to complete these courses in addition to the requirements of the doctoral program.

Candidates may be required to complete courses beyond the minimum requirements of the program in order that they achieve the breadth of perspective required by the program and are sufficiently prepared for their research.

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination is designed to evaluate the breadth of students’ knowledge of debates and developments in contemporary scholarship in social work and social justice. PhD candidates are required to situate their anticipated research topics in a wide and critical review of related theory and research, and to demonstrate their capacity for the integration of ideas and their skills in scholarly inquiry and writing. Candidates will consult with their supervisor in order to define the focus and parameters of the comprehensive exam and, by September of their second year, submit a twelve page double-spaced proposal and a bibliography (of about 50 articles and book chapters) for the supervisor’s approval. With approval secured, candidates are expected to submit the completed examination (50-60 pages, plus references and appendices) by December 15th. Examination papers are evaluated by supervisors and by a second faculty member knowledgeable in the candidate’s area. Oral Examinations will normally be held in January of Year 2.


Students will be required to undertake original thesis research in areas of their substantive interest, engaging fully with its theoretical and methodological dimensions and demonstrating its contribution to academic and professional debate and action. By the beginning of their third year, students will submit a written thesis proposal to their supervisory committees, outlining the theoretical, substantive and methodological issues with which they plan to engage. PhD candidates will defend their thesis during a final oral examination. University regulations and procedures relating to supervisory committees and general degree requirements set the parameters for the program and are specified in the School of Graduate Studies calendar.

Students will bring to the PhD program critical perspectives on social work that are grounded in earlier studies and in experience in the field, as well as social research skills.


To be eligible for admission to the PhD program, applicants are normally required to have:

  • a completed MSW degree with an average of at least an A-. Applicants with master’s degrees in other subjects must be able to demonstrate substantial knowledge of the social service/ social welfare field and have experience of working in justice and equity-seeking services or organizations;
  • a completed graduate-level course in social research methods; and
  • demonstrated interest and experience in critical approaches to policies, practices, and knowledge-building in social work.

Applicants will be evaluated on the basis of their qualifications and the alignment of their interests with the research interests and availability of faculty.  Students considering admission to the PhD program are strongly encouraged to explore doctoral funding opportunities available from the Ontario Graduate Scholarship, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, or the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.  Deadlines for these funding applications occur in the Fall prior to September admission. Please consult the School of Graduate Studies, Scholarships and Awards webpage for more details.

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Application Materials

Please upload scanned copies of all of your documents. In order for your application to be considered complete, it must include the following items:

  • Online Application Form and Fee
  • Statement of Interest (applicant uploads pdf directly)
  • Resumé (applicant uploads pdf directly)
  • Referee Reports (referees complete online report directly using e-referencing system - due within two weeks of receiving email request)
  • *Transcripts (applicant uploads unofficial transcript directly). Original transcripts must be sent directly from issuing institution.
  • Copies of your two most recent papers, publications, presentations and/or agency reports (applicant uploads pdf directly)
  • *English proficiency requirements, if applicable (applicant uploads unofficial copy; original sent directly from issuing institution)

*Note: Official transcripts and English Proficiency documents must be sent directly from issuing institution(s) to:

Darlene Savoy, Director's/Graduate Administrative Assistant
School of Social Work, McMaster University
1280 Main Street West, Kenneth Taylor Hall, Room 319
Hamilton ON L8S 4M4  

Timelines for Application

Deadline: January 15th (Please consult our website after September 1, 2021 for information on the September 2022 admissions process)

Review of applications will begin in January and admissions will be made to outstanding candidates as early in the new year as possible. If possible, please upload an unofficial copy of your transcript(s) and English Language Proficiency (if applicable) so that we may expedite assessment of your qualifications.

Offers of admission and financial assistance are normally sent out late January to end of April.

Application Form and Fee

Application forms must be completed online (Note: portal is now closed for September 2021 admission). Please note the search criteria on our application portal for Academic Program is “Social Sciences PhD” and Program Description is “Social Work PhD” (SOCWRKPHD). Please be sure to choose, "Full-time" option as our program is not offered on a part-time basis. In the “Upload Documents” section, in addition to your CV & Statement of Interest, please also upload Samples of Writing, Unofficial Transcript(s) and TOEFL (if applicable).

A non-refundable $100 (CAN) application fee is applied to all applications. The fee can be paid on-line by Visa or Mastercard.  If you choose to pay by cheque or money order please send it to the School of Graduate Studies address noted below. There is a handling fee of $15 (CAN), making the total amount due $115 (CAN).

School of Graduate Studies
McMaster University
Gilmour Hall, Room 212
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton ON Canada L8S 4L8


Applicants must provide one official transcript of university academic work completed to date, sent directly from the issuing institution to the School of Social Work (address above).

Statement of Interest

Our PhD program takes as its central focus the fundamental tensions and challenges for social work practice and policy as they relate to social change and the enhancement of social justice. In articulating your interest in the program, please address the following (in a maximum of ten double-spaced pages):

  1. a) How do you understand the relationship between social work and social justice?
  2. b) In light of this understanding and the experience that you bring to the program, briefly describe your research interests and how you see your research unfolding. Using relevant literature, identify:
  • issues or questions that you want to explore.
  • their relationship to social justice concerns and the aims of the School’s program.
  • methodological approaches that you visualize using or exploring.
  • potential practice/policy implications of your research.

An MSW is normally required for admission. If your master’s degree was in a field other than social work, describe how your academic, community, activist and/or professional background prepares you for doctoral studies in our PhD program (Maximum length of 2 pages).

Letters of Reference

A complete application includes three referee report recommendations, at least two of which should be from academic referees, that assess your potential for doctoral studies and your suitability for our PhD program in social work and social justice. Referees will be asked to comment on your background (for example, your accomplishments, critical analysis skills, or engagement with social justice issues). McMaster University uses the Electronic Referencing System. You must enter the email addresses of your referees as part of the on-line application form. The system will automatically send an e-Reference request on your behalf to the referees once you submit your application. Referees have two weeks from receipt of email request to submit the e-Reference.

English Proficiency Requirements

If applicable, an official copy of your TOEFL score, or other evidence of competency in English is required. A minimum TOEFL score of 580 (or 237 on the computer-based TOEFL test) is needed.

Additional Information

Please complete our Pre-Application form so that we can verify your academic qualifications before you send a full application.

The School of Graduate Studies policy with regard to students with disabilities can be found in section 6.6 of the School of Graduate Studies Calendar. The full policy and further information may be obtained from the School of Graduate Studies or the Student Success Centre 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail  For further information, consult McMaster University’s Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Apply Now 

At McMaster University, full-time PhD students are guaranteed minimum funding of $17,500 (full teaching assistantship + $8000 graduate scholarship) for their first four years of study.  Support for students may also come from faculty research funds in the form of research assistantships or opportunities to apply for sessional instructor positions in the Faculty.

School of Graduate Studies, Scholarships & Funding:


Ontario Student Assistance Program

Application forms and brochures can be obtained from the Student Financial Aid and Scholarships office at McMaster University. Application to OSAP can be made online at

General Bursary and Internal Awards

Students can apply for the General Bursary by going to AwardSpring, which is accessed through the tile on their Mosaic Home page. Award Spring is a new and simpler platform for students to apply for aid and internal awards. With AwardSpring, you can complete one common application that matches you with aid and internal award opportunities you’re eligible for. It also tracks your completion of any additional requirements on a user-friendly dashboard.


The Penny Family Ontario Graduate Scholarship – in support of the study of social policy and social justice

Dr. Harry L. Penny, Founding Director of the School of Social Work, and his family have generously made a donation to McMaster University in order to establish an Ontario Graduate Scholarship.  The scholarship (value: $15,000) is to be awarded by the School of Graduate Studies, on the recommendation of the School of Social Work, to outstanding scholars who are likely to make distinguished contributions to the study of social policy and social justice.


Canada Graduate Scholarships Doctoral (CGS-D) competition is harmonized across all three agencies (CIHR/SSHRC/NSERC). Applications are prepared and submitted by students in the SSHRC On-line System, or CIHR ResearchNet On-line System by the internal deadline set by McMaster (early October) & Vanier, LOI Stage1 pdf by internal School of Social Work deadline (early August). Note: Exact dates subject to change - please consult with the Graduate Administrative Assistant for internal School of Social Work deadlines.

Selecting the Appropriate Federal Granting Agency (all students with health-related research should carefully read this section)

SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships (CGS) Program: Doctoral Scholarships and SSHRC Doctoral Fellowships Program

Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) Doctoral Awards

Vanier Canada Graduate Doctoral Scholarships

Ontario Graduate Scholarships (OGS)

Students are assigned a PhD Supervisor at the time of their acceptance into the program. The Supervisor will be a faculty member of the School of Social Work. An interim Supervisor may sometimes be appointed by the chairperson of the Graduate Studies Committee until an appropriate Supervisor is identified. In exceptional circumstances, a student may make a request to the Graduate Chair that they be assigned a different PhD Supervisor.

The PhD Supervisor acts as the chair of the student's Supervisory Committee, and serves as the student`s primary research and academic advisor through the entire program.

Guide for the Prep of Master’s/Doctoral Theses Supervisory Committee Meeting Report Guide PhD Brochure Apply Now
For more information:
School of Social Work
KTH 319
905-525-9140 ext. 24596
6 years
Required Credential:
M.S.W. or M.A. degree
Program Type:
Thesis, Course Based
Program Options:
Typical Entry:
Current Deadline:
January 15