The dissertation is an original piece of scholarly research on a topic that has been jointly agreed upon by the student and her/his Supervisory Committee members. It is a major undertaking that should reflect the highest standards of scholarship and make a significant contribution to knowledge and practice in the field of social welfare and the profession of social work.

"A candidate must present a dissertation demonstrating original and independent investigation and achievement. A dissertation should reflect not only mastery of research techniques but also ability to select an important problem for investigation and to deal with it competently." (University of Washington Graduate School)

Dissertation Research 

After the dissertation prospectus has been approved by the Supervisory Committee and the PhD Steering Committee, the student normally works primarily under the direction of the chair. The extent to which other members are involved during the course of the dissertation research is determined on a case-by-case basis. If a dissertation study significantly changes as it progresses from that originally approved in the Prospectus by the Supervisory Committee and Steering Committee, the changes must be reviewed and approved by the Reading Committee members of the Supervisory Committee.1

Dissertation Research Colloquium

At some point during the dissertation process each candidate is required to make a 30-minute presentation of her/his research at a Dissertation Colloquium.2 The colloquium is an open assembly of Social Welfare Faculty, PhD students, and others (e.g., faculty from the School of Social Work and other departments, MSW and BASW students, and community persons) who have interest in the proposed research. The Dissertation Colloquium provides (1) a forum for the productive and timely exchange of ideas, suggestions, and resources with doctoral candidates as they work on their first major independent research endeavor and (2) an opportunity for doctoral candidates to articulate to others their research goals, plans, and questions. The timing of the colloquium will depend on the specific needs of each student and be determined by the student and Supervisory Committee. Two options are available:

  1. At any point during the dissertation research process when the student and Supervisory Committee determine that a public presentation of the research and findings would be useful for the student. (This could be as a practice job talk or for the general purpose of sharing the research with the community.) The student’s Supervisory Committee is typically in attendance, and one member serves as discussant and facilitator of the Colloquium.
  2. As an opening presentation during the Oral Dissertation Defense. (If this option is chosen the Social Work community must be invited to the presentation. Note: Graduate School guidelines recommend that at least a portion of the Oral Dissertation Defense be open to the public.)

Consistent with the program’s emphasis on providing opportunities for students to strengthen their skills in presenting their work, students are strongly encouraged to invite not only social work faculty and students but also any other relevant university colleagues or community members to attend the Colloquium. At least two weeks prior to the date of the Colloquium the student sends an email announcement with the presentation information and an abstract.

Writing and Submitting the Dissertation

Two general formats have been approved by the Graduate School and the social welfare faculty. The first, more traditional within the Arts and Sciences, is the monograph or “book” format for a dissertation. In this format, the dissertation is organized as an integrated set of chapters written as a logical progression of ideas pertaining to a central topic.  The second dissertation format, more prevalent in the health sciences, is a series of three to four research papers that may differ in topic but are clearly reflective of a coherent program of research. (*When the dissertation is composed of a set of research papers that are inclusive of co-authored manuscripts, the candidate must be the primary contributor and lead author on all published papers.)  Each format has advantages and disadvantages having to do with publication goals and career plans, and these should be carefully considered by the candidate in consultation with his/her dissertation committee.

For instructions on formatting the Dissertation, follow the School of Social Work Dissertation Style Guidelines. Also referenced in the guidelines document are templates for the required preliminary pages and for paragraph styles. The final dissertation must be submitted to the Doctoral Program Office for approval before it is submitted to the Graduate School, thus students need to contact the Program Office during the final stages of writing to ensure that all the guidelines are understood and complied with. For submitting the final to the Graduate School, students must follow the procedures outlined in the Graduate School’s Dissertation Submission Guidelines for Theses and Dissertations. This document outlines the process for submission of doctoral dissertations.

All members of the Supervisory Committee must be provided a draft of the dissertation chapters at least 6 weeks in advance of the Oral Defense and a complete draft of the dissertation (with all required sections) at least 2 weeks in advance of the Defense.2

Resources for Dissertation Research and Writing

All-But-Dissertation Survival Guide
This monthly newsletter provides practical strategies for successfully completing your doctoral dissertation, periodic interviews with scholars about the tips they wish they'd known at the beginning of their own careers, and teleworkshops. 

 A discussion and support site aimed at helping people finish their dissertations.

Summary Notes of Writing for Social Scientists
Presents an outline of Howard S. Becker's suggestions for writing.  Taken from his book, Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986). 

Thinking About Your Thesis
This article by Erika Simpson provides guidelines for finishing a thesis or dissertation.

Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation
This article by S. Joseph Levine provides guidelines for thinking about a thesis or dissertation, writing a proposal, completing the project, and defending it.. 


Final Program Office Check

Before scheduling the oral defense, the student must contact the PhD Program Assistant Director for a final degree check, which will be done via email. This will ensure that all degree requirements have been met.

SSW Approval of the Dissertation

Once the entire dissertation is complete, it must be submitted it to the School of Social Work Doctoral Program Office for approval before submitting the final to the Graduate School. Each document will be checked page-by-page, and notations made of all errors to be fixed. 

As a general guideline, the SSW check should be arranged at least 2 weeks prior to the time the final will be submitted to the Graduate School. For formatting guidelines, see the School of Social Work Dissertation Style Guidelines.  Contact the PhD Program Assistant Director in advance to request this check. Provide electronic files for checking instead of paper copy. This check can usually be accomplished in 1-2 working days if scheduled in advance.

Final Examination: Oral Defense

When the dissertation is complete and the doctoral Supervisory Committee agrees that the candidate is prepared to take the Final Examination (Oral Defense), the Program Director, Assistant Director, and Graduate School must be informed of the decision.3

All members of the Supervisory Committee must be provided an initial draft of all chapters at least 6 weeks prior to the Oral Defense and a complete draft of the dissertation (with all required sections) at least 2 weeks in advance of the Defense.4

All members of the Supervisory Committee (including the GSR) must be consulted by the student and approve the date, time, and location for the Oral Defense. The student then logs in to MyGrad to request scheduling of the Defense. (This must be done at least 2 weeks prior to the date of the oral defense.) As soon as the request is made, the student must send an email to the Assistant Director of the Social Welfare Program indicating that the request has been made (the MyGrad system tells students that the departments are being notified, but that's not true). The Assistant Director will approve the request through MyGrad. 

The Final Oral Defense is intended as an opportunity for the student to clarify, elaborate, or justify the procedures used and the findings obtained. At least four members of the Supervisory Committee (including the Chair, all other members of the Reading Committee, and the GSR) must be present at the defense, and all members of the Reading Committee (composed of at least 3 members of the Supervisory Committee, including the Chair) must approve the final product. (The GSR must be there in person; any other members may participate by phone or video-conferencing.) The student may choose to present the public Dissertation Colloquium as part of the Defense (see Dissertation Colloquium section above).

The defense session is normally about 2 hours. The committee Chair completes the Dissertation Evaluation Form. After the defense has been conducted, the committee may approve the dissertation or require the student to make additional modifications or additions. Upon a successful defense and acceptance of the dissertation by the SSW and the Graduate School, the PhD in Social Welfare is conferred. 

The Reading Committee approves a dissertation through an online process. All members of a Committee must log into MyGrad Committee View, including non-UW Reading Committee Members. Members log in using their UW NetIDs and will see the option to approve the dissertation after the student's final exam has been scheduled. Any non-UW Reading Committee members must obtain a UW NetID when the join the committee. The PhD Program GPA can assist in this process.

Participating in Commencement Exercises

Consistent with the eligibility criteria for participation in the University of Washington’s June commencement exercises, individuals are eligible for participation in the School of Social Work’s June commencement exercises if the doctoral degree has been earned during the preceding Summer, or the Fall or Winter term of the current academic year.
Alternatively, if a doctoral candidate has a reasonable expectation of graduating in either Spring or Summer of the current academic year he/she may choose to participate.  “Reasonable expectation of graduation” is interpreted as having progressed sufficiently in the writing of a dissertation that is of sufficient academic standard that there is strong consensus by the candidate’s Reading Committee that a dissertation defense can be scheduled in sufficient time for graduation by the end of the Summer term (after the commencement exercises).   

The PhD Program Director must approve commencement participation for any student who has not completed all requirements, including submission of the final dissertation to the Graduate School.


  1. Approved by Steering Committee, 5/26/98.
  2. Approved by the PhD Steering Committee, 11/6/2012.
  3. Graduate School revisions in General Examination and Defense Process instituted May 2009.
  4. Approved by Steering Committee, 12/7/2010.