The General Examination is composed of the Qualifying Scholarly Paper (QP) and oral defense. Together these evaluate the student's ability to understand, think and communicate effectively about critical issues and questions and to assess a student’s ability to apply relevant theory and empirical research in selected substantive and or interventive areas in a scholarly paper suitable to peer review publication.   The student’s capacity for conducting rigorous analyses of  secondary data or a systematic or scoping literature review is also evaluated. The QP is designed to scaffold students’ scholarship and research capacity, building from the research practicum experience and strengthening readiness for dissertation research.

Each student works closely with the advisor and subsequently with the Supervisory Committee to identify and define the questions and issues to be pursued in the QP in the student's Individual Development Plan (IDP). The QP serves as the written component of the General Examination. Presentation of the completed paper is the official Graduate School Oral General Examination/defense.  All coursework, with the exception of the dissertation credits (SOC WL 800), must be completed prior to taking the General Exam.


The student selects the paper topic in consultation with the Supervisory Committee. As noted above, the topic selected must link to the IDP and demonstrate the student’s knowledge of relevant substantive, interventive, and analytic capabilities specified in the plan. The topic should also be relevant to social work's mission to enhance social justice, and advance the Social Justice Learning Objectives. The QP may involve either

  1. a systematic  or scoping review of the literature or
  2. an empirical analysis of secondary data, where the type of analysis undertaken is appropriate for the research topic.

Original data collection is strongly discouraged, since this is typically a lengthy process beyond the scope and recommended timeline of a QP.  If the student and their Supervisory Committee Chair want to gather quantitative or qualitative data, they are to petition the Program Director for approval.

The QP should build from prior learning, yet must be distinct from work that the student may have done in Research Practicum quarters or work during a research assistantship, traineeship, fellowship, or class. 

The Qualifying Scholarly Paper and Oral General Examination are to be completed before the beginning of Autumn Quarter of the fourth year in the program (see Academic Milestones timeline below).  If that deadline is not met, the student and their chair must submit a petition to the PhD Director providing an explanation of the circumstances of the delay and a plan for the timely completion of the paper. If this memo is not provided, or if the plan for timely completion is not fulfilled, the PhD Director will recommend to the PhD Program Committee that the student be placed on academic warning.

Academic Program Milestones

Expectations for completing the QP are noted in the following timeline:




Submit Qualifying Scholarly Paper Outline to Supervisory Committee

Winter Year 2

Autumn Year 3

Submit Final Committee-Approved Qualifying Paper to PhD Program Director

Autumn Year 3

End of Summer: Year 3

Present Paper at Oral General Examination (defense)

Autumn Year 3

End of Summer: Year 3



The content, quality, and format of the paper must be comparable to scholarly articles in major professional journals, as judged by the student's Supervisory Committee members. The paper may be written for a social welfare or other related journal. Early in the process (in the paper outline), the student and committee identify potential target journals (prioritizing one) for the paper. The length of the paper should be appropriate to the target journal’s requirements, although students often have to reduce the QP length prior to submission

To ensure that the paper is suitable for publication, committee members, especially the chair, must be fully engaged in reviewing drafts and offering feedback. Whatever the type of scholarly paper, it is imperative that the approach selected allow the student to display a mastery of the subject, its theoretical base and empirical foundations, and its applicability to a social welfare problem or issue. The paper must be submitted for publication at least by the time the Dissertation Prospectus is submitted. It does not need to be accepted at the Prospectus approval phase, however.


Students are expected to register for SOC WL 600 with the appropriate committee members, typically the Chair, when working on their QP.

The student works with the Supervisory Committee and others who have expertise in the subject matter or methods in drafting the paper. Since a publishable paper should reflect a distillation and synthesis of knowledge, students should expect to revise the paper multiple times as they gain mastery of the subject matter and work to convey that mastery succinctly. Committee members should see drafts on an ongoing basis, not just prior to the oral defense, and provide feedback within two weeks of receipt of each draft. This is inherently an iterative process wherein students obtain input along the way in a timely manner.

The QP will be sole-authored by the student.  However, if the student has used a faculty member’s data or if the chair or other committee members have assisted with substantial revisions, the paper may be co-authored when submitted to a journal.  The student and the Chair mutually decide about co-authorship.

A workshop regarding QP procedures and timelines will be offered to students and all committee members Fall Quarter of Year 2 and at the beginning of Year 3.

Process and Evaluation Standards

The first step of the QP is for the student to identify a Chair for the Supervisory Committee, who can work with the student to clarify their topic and approach and begin to develop an outline.  Then the student must identify at least three committee members in addition to the Chair; one other member from Social Work, a second member from within or outside the School; and a GSR from outside the School to officially form the Supervisory Committee with the Graduate School (See section on formation and operation of the Supervisory Committee).


Next, the preparation and defense of the Qualifying Scholarly Paper involves four steps:

1. Submission of a detailed outline for the paper to the Supervisory Committee (no later than Spring Quarter of year 2) (See below for components of the outline). The Supervisory Committee should meet with the student to approve the outline and discuss any additional feedback, frequency of meetings, schedule and timelines for review.

Paper Outline

A detailed outline of the proposed paper (6-8 pages) must be approved by the Committee and submitted to the Program Director for inclusion in the student's official file. The outline contains the following components:

(a)  statement of paper topic
(b) articulation of how the paper fits with the student’s IDP
(c)  description of each proposed section of the paper, including clarity about data source(s) 
(d) description of the analytic approach if appropriate
(e) explanation of how the paper is relevant to social work's mission to enhance social justice. This will vary with the type of QP (literature review or secondary data analysis) but some possible areas to address are:  knowledge of social justice theories relevant to the paper topic/substantive area;  understanding of social justice implications of findings; or conceptualization and completion of research that can contribute to social work practice or policy to  advance social justice
(f) sources of data that will be used, if appropriate
(g) representative bibliography 
(h) specific journal (or journals listed in order of preference) where student plans to submit the final approved manuscript

If a student does not submit an outline by the end of Autumn Quarter of year three, the student and his/her committee chair must submit a petition to the PhD Program Director providing an explanation for the delay and a plan of action.

2. After Committee approval of the outline, work on the research and writing of the paper proceeds. Per the Academic Milestones chart, students are expected to complete the QP within three quarters (one of which is the summer) from approval of the outline. However, completion of the QP in two quarters is strongly encouraged to ensure timely completion of the doctoral program.

Students work closely with their Supervisory Committee in preparing the scholarly paper. The Chair plays a critical role in providing structure for the QP process and meeting regularly with the student. The student must make revisions that are responsive to comments/concerns suggestions made by the Supervisory Committee on an ongoing basis as well as prior to approving the paper for submission to external reviewer.

3. The Supervisory Committee will have two weeks to review and approve the QP.  After the QP is approved by all members of the Supervisory Committee, it is submitted to the PhD Program office with the Committee Approval form and a tentative time for the defense may be scheduled.

Concurrently, the Program Director appoints two faculty reviewers within the School but external to the committee to review the paper and provide feedback to the student and Committee.

4. On receipt of the reviewers’ feedback, the Supervisory Committee determines whether further revisions are needed or whether the student may proceed to the Oral Examination and respond to feedback in this venue.

  1. Feedback re: minor revisions:  if the reviewers’ feedback indicates only minor revisions, the student will proceed with the Oral Examination.  The Chair should work closely with the student to develop a response to the comments from the faculty reviewers.  Not all minor revisions need to be addressed prior to the oral defense.
  2. Feedback re: major revisions: in such cases, the Committee will decide whether revisions to the paper are required before the student may proceed to the Oral Examination. If the Committee decides to require such revisions, the student must address the concerns of the reviewers and resubmit the paper to the Committee within six months. (The student will be given an automatic six-month extension in the General Exam timeline.) The student is encouraged to meet with the reviewers to discuss the revisions. The Chair should take an active role in working with the student to address major revisions in order to proceed to the Oral Exam. If the revised submission is still determined to be inadequate, the Committee Chair will meet with the PhD Program Director to discuss the student’s progress and status in the program. If there are major concerns, the PhD Director will ask for a review of the student by the PhD Program Committee.

5. The Supervisory Committee Chair obtains input from all committee members and fills out the QP evaluation form, which must be submitted to the Program Office prior to the oral exam. The student submits two hard copies and one electronic copy of the QP along with the signed approval form and committee evaluation form to the PhD Program Office.

6. The Oral General Examination/defense is scheduled as soon as possible after all members of the Supervisory Committee approve the final paper. Because of the difficulty of obtaining room space for the Oral Exam, the student, with approval of their Chair, may tentatively reserve a room before final approval by the Supervisory Committee, with the understanding the date may need to be changed if there are major revisions. (See section on “Setting up and Completing the Oral Examination.”) The time between submission of the QP and date of the presentation should be two to three weeks to allow for time for review and feedback.

7. The student consults with all members of the Supervisory Committee, including the GSR, about their schedules to finalize the exam date and time.  At least four members of the Committee, including the Chair and GSR must be present (with the exception of the GSR, any member or the student can be present by phone or video).

8. The student sends an invitation to the School of Social Work community to attend the oral presentation.

9. The PhD Program Office must be informed as soon as the request for the Oral Exam is submitted (See General Exam Procedures checklist that the PhD Program Office gives to Supervisory Committee Chairs (link)

External Reviewers

As noted above under Process and Evaluation Standards, the PhD Program office, in consultation with the student and Chair, recruit two social work faculty reviewers who assess the paper, and complete a reviewer evaluation form. Reviewers are instructed to making comments on the review form, and forward the form, comments, and any changes on the manuscript to the Assistant Director of the PhD Program.  Reviewers are given 2 weeks to read and evaluate the paper. The completed reviews are submitted to the Committee Chair and the PhD Program Director at least 1 week before the scheduled Oral Exam. If the two reviewers disagree substantially on the rating, the PhD Program Director or a member of the PhD Program Committee will serve as a third reviewer. As noted above under Process and Evaluation Standards, based on the extent of the revisions recommended, the Supervisory Committee will determine whether the student may proceed to the Oral Examination.

Scheduling the Oral Examination

The student must go online at the Graduate School website to submit the request for General Examination at least 2 weeks prior to the examination date: include, date, time, and room number in the request.

Before the "Request for Examination" is submitted online, the student consults all members of the Supervisory Committee, including the GSR to set the exam date and time. At least four members of the committee, including the Chair and GSR must be present. (With the exception of the GSR, any member or the student can be present by phone or video.)

The PhD Program Office must be informed as soon as the request is submitted. This time period is necessary for the Program Office to check that all program requirements have been met and all incompletes in required courses resolved in the quarter in which the orals are taken. PhC status cannot be awarded until these requirements have been met.

The PhD Program Office prints out the warrant for the Examination and forwards it to the Supervisory Committee Chair, along with the SSW Evaluation Form. The GSR must ensure that all required persons are present and that the General Examination warrant showing Graduate School approval is present at the examination. There are no separate forms for the GSR to complete.

4. The Oral General Examination: Defense of Qualifying Scholarly Paper

The oral exam has two parts:

1) An open session where the School of Social Work community is invited. Consistent with the program’s emphasis on providing opportunities for students to strengthen their skills in presenting their work, students are strongly encouraged (although not required) to individually invite social work faculty and students and any other relevant university colleagues to attend the presentation of the paper portion of the exam.  Students prepare a PowerPoint presentation of approximately a half hour, followed by questions from Committee members and other members of the audience.  They may ask the student to respond or elaborate on the paper or provide clarification of content, to address feedback given by the external reviewers, and to think ahead to the implications for future research and career activities, particularly the dissertation

2) At the end of the presentation and follow-up question and answer session, the student and audience will be excused and the Supervisory Committee will meet in a closed session to discuss their evaluation of the student's performance.

The committee rates the student's overall performance as (1) pass with distinction, (2) pass, (3) marginal pass, or (4) fail. If a student does not pass the oral exam, or any part thereof, one retake of the oral examination is permitted. It should be scheduled as soon as possible after the first session, and requires the same attendance rules as the first.

A pass with distinction is only noted on the SSW evaluation form and can only be given after the first taking of examinations. If there are sections to be repeated, the performance can be rated no higher than pass.

After the Committee discussion, only the student rejoins the committee to hear their evaluation with the student. When that is complete, members of the audience may be invited into the room.

Ratings of a student's performance on both written and oral examinations shall be recorded by the Supervisory Committee chair on a School of Social Work Evaluation of General Examination form provided for this purpose.  The Graduate School warrant is also completed and signed by all members of the committee.

The completed "Warrant" and the "Social Welfare Doctoral Program Evaluation of General Examinations" are returned to the Program Office by the Supervisory Committee Chair. The Office notifies the Graduate School of the decision by recording it in MyGrad. The Warrant and evaluation form are retained in the student's School of Social Work file.

Upon Graduate School approval, the student is advanced to candidacy. Students who have passed the Graduate School General Examination and who have completed all requirements for the degree except the dissertation and the Final Examination are awarded Candidacy. For further information, see The Graduate School: Graduate Study and Research section Admission to Candidacy for the Doctoral Degree.