School of Health Professions

PhD Social Work

This PhD is aimed at social work practitioners, researchers, managers and educators, and offers you an opportunity to grow the knowledge base of social work through your own original contribution to research. You will work on an advanced research project with a supervisory team who closely align with your research interests, and will meet with you throughout the programme to support you as you develop your research skills and knowledge.

Careers with this subject

The PhD in social work opens up career opportunities in social work research, teaching, and policy, both in a higher education setting, in local government and in the third sector. Other graduates choose to continue as a practitioner researcher and use their skills in their social work practice.

Course details

  • Programme overview

  • This full time or part time doctoral programme is suitable for people who have a particular research question or topic in mind, and wish to explore this through independent study in order to produce an original contribution to the subject. If you aspire to a research career this is the most appropriate research degree to undertake. 
    You will be guided by a small supervisory team of academic experts under the direction of a Director of Studies and will be expected to fully engage with skills development and training and to present your research in a range of scholarly contexts.
    Your PhD will be assessed via submission of either a written thesis (up to 80,000 words) and a viva voce (an oral examination).
    For full details of what doing a PhD entails at the University of Plymouth, please visit our postgraduate research degrees pages
    What skills will I learn?
    You will learn valuable skills in research methods, time management, project management, person centred skills in interviewing, writing and critical thinking skills, skills in presenting and disseminating research.
The modules shown for this course or programme are those being studied by current students, or expected new modules. Modules are subject to change depending on year of entry.

Entry requirements

All applicants must meet the entry criteria for a Faculty of Health research degree which are:
  • you'll usually need a 2:1 degree from a UK University or equivalent and an academic IELTS score of 6.5 (with no less than 6 in each component test area) or equivalent if you are a non-UK applicant
  • two satisfactory academic references
  • evidence of funding for the duration of your course.
For more general guidelines and application requirements, please visit the research degrees applicants page.

Fees, costs and funding

Please visit tuition fees for postgraduate research for information about fees.
If you are a full time student, you will pay full time fees for three years. If you have not submitted your thesis by the end of this period, then you may pay for an optional one year writing up period.
If you are a part time student, you will pay part time fees for four years. If you have not submitted your thesis by the end of this period, then you may pay for an optional 'writing up' period of up to two years.
You are responsible for meeting all of the costs related to your own research project, beyond the resources available in the department.
Please visit our postgraduate research money matters page to find out more about issues related to fees, funding, loans and paying for your programme of study.

How to apply

Potential applicants should first identify a member of academic staff who may be a suitable supervisor, and contact them by email to discuss possible directions for a research proposal. The research proposal must be agreed by the supervisor and the school’s postgraduate research coordinator (Dr Lisa Bunn) before an application to study can be made. You can identify research areas of interest at the University by browsing our school’s research groups and looking at publication outputs from Plymouth-based researchers. 
In addition to completing the online application form (which includes space for a personal statement), you must also upload a research project proposal. Your research proposal should outline your research topic, your key aims and the research question/problem you are addressing, a brief literature review, your proposed methodology, and an explanation of why this topic is significant or important.
Your personal statement should briefly explain why you have chosen to apply to our programme and what you feel you can offer our research community.
Submitting your application
Complete your application and upload supporting documents to the Doctoral College by completing our online application form.
Questions on the application process?
We're here to help. Please contact the Doctoral College and we'll be happy to assist you.
More information and advice for applicants can be referenced in our admissions policy which can be found on the student regulations, policies and procedures page. Prospective students are advised to read the policy before making an application to the University.
If you have a disability and would like further information on the support available, please visit Disability Services.
Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office
Find more information about applying for a postgraduate research programme
During the PhD you will engage and critique contemporary approaches, theories and research evidence and apply these to the social work practice context. We take an interdisciplinary approach, and encourage supervisory collaborations with colleagues from other disciplines within the School of Health Professions, and from other faculties at the University of Plymouth.

Research areas

Researchers in the team have particular expertise in:
  • migration and bordering in social care
  • mental health
  • social work and the law
  • food poverty and insecurity
  • practice education
  • creative and participatory research methods
  • workplace stress and wellbeing
  • harmful sexual behaviour
  • child sexual abuse
  • therapeutic social work
  • trauma and attachment informed approaches to social work
  • safeguarding and child protection.
However, this is not an exhaustive list, we encourage applications from any relevant area of social work, and will work with you to identify a supervisory team in your specific area of research and practice.
Computer darkened

Facilities and resources 

All PhD Social Work students will be provided with:
  • a suitably qualified supervision team that encourages the development and successful pursuit of their programme of research
  • access to the University’s IT and online systems including email, software and digital learning environment
  • access to the University’s Library resources through Primo, the gateway to print and electronic collections such as books, e-books, journals, digital maps, British Standards, e-newspapers and more
  • access to a suitable programme of research-related skills and development opportunities that contribute to their ability to successfully complete their programme of study
  • access to and support for a range of development opportunities that contribute to their ability to develop personal and, where pertinent, employment-related skills
  • guidance on the ethical pursuit of research and the avoidance of research misconduct
  • mechanisms for addressing their feedback both as individuals and collectively
  • access to a desk, computer and lockable space for personal items (this may be shared)
  • access to all student-focused resources listed on the Student Portal including at least one subject-relevant taught postgraduate module run by the University.

Social Work Research Group

The social work research group takes the International Federation of Social Workers Global Definition of Social Work as the basis for our work:
  • we support research which promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people
  • our central principles are social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities
  • our work is underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge
  • our research engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.
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