PhD in Social Work

About this Programme

The Ph.D. in Social Work is the first PhD pathway tailored to the needs of social workers in Ireland. Drawing upon international models of excellence, this innovative programme enables candidates to contribute to the evidence-base of social work and comparable practice settings.  In addition, it promotes the continuing professional development of practitioners.

We recognise that social workers are well placed to identify the research needs of the profession. The dynamic programme invites candidates to critically engage with cutting-edge developments in research and to extend knowledge in their chosen field through completion of a PhD thesis.  Candidates are supported to engage in critical reflection on questions of practice, policy and ethical importance

The programme values supported peer learning and dialogue, excellent tutorial supervision and integration into the wider research/practice communities. The programme uses a reflective pedagogy to promote critical enquiry throughout the programme. 

The Ph.D. in Social Work opens up a range of new, exciting and rewarding career opportunities. In addition to achieving academic and research excellence, graduates develop strong skills in project management, team-work, public presentation and networking.  This enables graduates to advance their career progression in a variety of psycho-social practice settings.  These include diverse career opportunities within applied social research, academic research/teaching and professional education and continuous professional development, social services policy development, politics, community leadership and planning, advocacy and research translation within community, social services and inter-disciplinary settings.  Graduates are equipped with the skills required to make a significant contribution to shaping and influencing public policy and social services development. The advanced knowledge and skills acquired on the programme enable graduates to pursue career opportunities both nationally and internationally.


Whilst on the programme, your staff member will generate evidence-based research important to your agency.  Typically, candidates will engage with questions about:

  • For whom and under what circumstances are programmes effective?
  • How can models of practice employed internationally translate into an Irish setting to address needs here?
  • What approaches to assessment are effective in identifying need, risk and resilience?
  • How can an understanding of the lived experiences of service-users enhance social work responses to need and service-user engagement with services?
  • Service development initiatives including professionalization, organisational change and leadership.

Please note: This is not a social work qualifying programme.

Programme Aims

On successful completion of this programme, candidates should be able to:

  • Demonstrate emergent doctoral level proficiency in the fundamentals of advanced social work research
  • Act as critically informed researchers who can contribute to the expansion and redefinition of existing knowledge and the generation of new knowledge in the social work field
  • Disseminate and communicate research findings to national and international audiences and critically engage with processes of research translation, impact and practice implementation

Programme Overview

The Ph.D. in Social Work is designed for those working in or planning to work in a variety of social work/social work related fields.

This is a structured PhD programme – for more detail on UCC’s Structured PhD, go to the CACSSS website.

In addition to pursuing their independent thesis, candidates engage in research methods training in years one to two. Structured and supported peer group discussion and dedicated individual supervision are core components of the programme throughout the three years.  The programme is underpinned by a commitment to a reflective model of teaching and learning.

The programme can be pursued as a 3-year full-time PhD programme or a 6-year part-time PhD programme.

Peer-supported learning

The peer-supported learning approach acknowledges variations in students’ learning processes and supports the use of different kinds of structures that contribute to on-going learning. The programme design recognises that candidates learn a great deal from each other in undertaking problem-solving and practical activities, hence, it promotes the use of peer learning throughout the three years.  Peer learning is different from more traditional didactic forms of learning.  It promotes cultures of support and encouragement, thus helping to enhance the morale of participants.  

Peer-group learning offers an opportunity to participants to learn in a more collaborative group learning environment, which contrasts from their work environments, where many social workers practice in isolation. It supports reflective enquiry and on-going academic and professional development. 

Candidates are expected to undertake the following taught modules:

Taught modules

Year One

  • SS7700 Social Work Practice Enquiry
  • SS7701 Methods for Social Work Research I

Year Two

  • SS7703 Colloquium in Social Work Research Design and Dissemination
  • SS7704 Methods for Social Work Research II 

Candidates will typically attend UCC on one Friday per month during term-time in Years One and Two of the programme for the modules, seminars and peer group discussion.  Students will also be expected to participate in individual research supervision with their allocated thesis supervisors.E-resources and online learning tools will be utilised to support learning and participation while candidates are off-site.  Candidates will be supported by their supervisors and the course team to complete independent study on their research thesis. Students will have an annual assessment to review their progress and provide feedback.

More detail on training and development opportunities available to PhD students in the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences is available on the CACSSS website.


The PhD thesis is the primary method of assessment on this programme (maximum of 80,000 words).

Details of assessment for each module are available in the Book of Modules.  Assessment methods complement teaching and learning and include written work, oral presentation and structured peer discussion.  There are no formal written examinations on this course.

Entry Requirements and Application Process

Begin your doctoral research journey on the PhD Social Work by making informal enquiries with any member of the programme team. We are happy to discuss your research plans and to assist you in the formal application process.

Entry Requirements

  1. At least a Second Class, Grade 1, or equivalent primary degree in Social Work or a related field or Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work or a related field or Masters in Social Work or related field. 
  2. Relevant experience in Social Work practice, research, policy or in a cognate field is advantageous

Formal Application process:

To apply, go to UCC Apply

  • CKH91 full time
  • CKH92 part time

Intake will normally be open every two years but subject to discussion with the Programme Director, other accommodations can be made where possible.

The programme can be pursued as a 3-year full-time PhD programme or a 6-year part-time PhD programme. For details of fees, see the Graduate Studies website.


For information on possible funding sources, see:

Course Team and Contact Information

Further information on the application procedure is available from the Postgraduate Prospectus, University College Cork, Republic of Ireland.

Tel.: +353 (0)21 4902645

Fax: +353 (0)21 4903233

Course Team

Name Position Email Research Profile
Dr Fiachra Ó Súilleabháin Course Director Learn more
Dr Eleanor Bantry-White Deputy Course Director Learn more
Dr Caitríona Ni Laoire Senior Lecturer in Applied Social Studies Learn more
School of Applied Social Studies Contact Details:

Tel.: +353 (0)21 490 2228

School of Applied Social Studies

Staidéar Sóisialta Feidhmeach

William Thompson House, Donovan's Road, Cork, Ireland.,