Advancement to Candidacy

Doctoral Candidacy Examination (Three Major Papers) Each student is expected to specialize in three areas:
  • a social problem/social issue/social theory area,
  • an intervention area/practice model,
  • a research methodology area.

These areas are expected to be linked to form a foundation for the dissertation work. For example, one might specialize in "substance abuse among minority youths" as a social problem, in "prevention" as an intervention area/practice model related to this social problem, and in "longitudinal research" as a research methodology appropriate for the development of knowledge and skills about the problem or the intervention. Other examples: "gender and depression" (problem area), "self-help" (intervention area/practice model), and "ethnographic research" (research methodology); "child sexual abuse" (problem area), "court-ordered or mandatory family treatment" (intervention/practice model), and "survey methods" (methodology area); institutional racism and discrimination (problem area), community organization (intervention area/practice model), evaluation (methodology area).

During the first three semesters of study, students work on producing a major paper on each of these areas. Each paper represents a substantial, critical literature review and analysis demonstrating advanced analytical skills, of approximately 40-60 pages or more. The problem/theory and intervention papers at least should be written with a view to eventual publication, and students should have a good idea of journals suitable for their submission. Students use their various course assignments to progress on these papers, and faculty teaching in the program are expected to tailor their course assignments in keeping with the objective of helping students to complete their three papers. However, it is expected that these papers are in addition to regular coursework assignments.

Students pass their Doctoral Candidacy Examination by obtaining a grade of B+ or higher on each paper from each of three faculty members. This allows students to advance to candidacy.

Students begin to formulate topics for their three papers as soon as possible following admission to the program. They meet and discuss mutual interests with several faculty members in the School and other departments — with a view to choosing faculty members to supervise their work in each area. These three faculty members form the student's Doctoral Candidacy Examination Committee. The student and each supervising faculty member should agree on a topic early on and all members should be aware of the nature of the other papers the student is planning to prepare and with whom. Papers may be written in accordance with a written question/guideline developed with the supervising faculty.

Doctoral Candidacy Examination Committee

The Doctoral Candidacy Examination Committee is composed of three faculty members who are members of FIU's Graduate Faculty. At least two are from the School of Social Work at FIU, and one may be from another academic unit at FIU. It is advisable to pick an outside member at this stage, to facilitate the future composition of the Dissertation Committee. The Chair of the Doctoral Candidacy Examination Committee must be a faculty member from FIU's School of Social Work and have Dissertation Advisor Status.

Typically, each member of this committee works with the student in one of the three areas: social problem/issue/theory, intervention area, research methodology. The student selects a Chair by the beginning of their second semester of study. The Chair and other members assist the student in any task relevant to a successful completion of the three papers. The Chair and the student keep other members abreast of ongoing work and progress, by means of copies of correspondence, evaluations, etc. Ideally, this committee should meet once every semester to review the student's work, until the student advances to candidacy. In any case, this committee must meet at least once to review the student's work. This committee should meet at least once to review the student's work. Changes in an appointed committee must be approved by the Doctoral Program Coordinator.

Social Problem/Issue/Theory Paper

There are no a priori limits on suitable topics in this area, which usually refers to a "social problem" – usually manifest in individual, familial, organizational, institutional, or broadly societal dysfunction – or a "public issue" that is of significant concern to one or more actors in social welfare. Examples of broad, multidimensional problem areas include child abuse or neglect, crime and delinquency, homelessness, human rights abuses, inadequate health care insurance, urban poverty, psychological distress or mental illness, racism, sexism, substance abuse, unemployment, urban deterioration, youth violence, and many others. Some examples of public issues include acculturation, aging of the population, disaster relief, ethnic disparities in access to health care, family preservation, globalization and social policies, housing, social support, technology in human services, medicalization, multiculturalism, refugee resettlement, rights of the disabled, etc.

Students are encouraged to focus on particular aspects of a social problem or issue, for example, how specific groups are affected by or respond to it, or the merits or shortcomings of one or more theories used to explain the problem or issue. This focus enables students to demonstrate their understanding of a reasonably-sized body of literature.

Students are expected to demonstrate an advanced understanding of how the problem or issue is defined and explained by various actors or stakeholders, and of the historical, policy, institutional, and other contexts within which the problem or concerns about the problem reside. This might include the history of varying definitions of the problem, the salient indicators of the problem as currently defined (e.g., characteristics of affected populations, prevalence and incidence rates, evolution over time), the major social policies (e.g., laws, regulations, court decisions, dominant or normative ideologies) that pertain to the problem or issue, as well as the characteristics of key service delivery systems (e.g., major programs and their financing, their stated goals and structures and eligibility criteria) that attempt to respond formally or informally to the problem or issue. This might also include a critical understanding of major ideological, theoretical, and empirical perspectives which seek to explain the origin, development, and consequences of the problem or issue.

Students demonstrate their understanding by means of the breadth and depth of the coverage, by their reference to seminal, appropriate, and timely literature, by the quality of their logic and argumentation, by their ability to critically engage with (rather than merely summarize) relevant literature related to their topic, and by the clarity and accuracy of their language and presentation.

Intervention Area Paper

Intervention strategies, programs, and/or practice models and methods are employed by professionals in the field of social welfare — or by professionals in closely connected fields that influence or impact significantly on the activities and methods of social work professionals — in order to bring about change in individuals, families, groups, organizations, communities, institutions, and society.

Familiar interventions include, but are not limited to, administration, advocacy, assessment, case management, casework, client education, community organization, consciousness-raising, crisis intervention, early intervention, family treatment, group work, hospitalization, individual psychotherapy, organizational development and change, planning, policy analysis, prevention, psychopharmacology, research, and supervision. Associated with many of these interventions are practice models such as the behavioral, biopsychosocial, biopsychiatric, cognitive-behavioral, ecological, empowerment, feminist, humanistic-existential, psychodynamic, recovery, strengths-based, systems, and task-centered.

Students are expected to demonstrate an advanced understanding/ appreciation of ethical, ideological, theoretical, organizational, and research issues involved in the development, application, and evaluation of the intervention, program, or method, especially as applied to a particular group or population. This might include knowledge of its origins and development over time and an understanding of how different practice models have shaped it. It would include a clear description of the intervention and its basic principles, as well as a critical review of the empirical literature that has developed around efforts to determine the effectiveness of the intervention. Where theory and research in the intervention have been developed largely outside the field of social welfare or the profession of social work (e.g., behavior therapy, psychopharmacology), the student should demonstrate an understanding of factors within the field or profession (e.g., values and norms, skills and training, ideological, political or economic constraints, nature of clientele) that may affect how the intervention can be employed or adapted. The relative advantages or disadvantages of the intervention with respect to other interventions or methods should also be discussed, as well as its limits or adverse effects. Finally, gaps in knowledge and future research directions should be outlined.

Research Proposal

Research methodology generally refers to the definition of a research problem or study of phenomena of interest, the critical review of scientific literature bearing on this problem, the formulation of research questions, hypotheses, or objectives, and the specification of a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed study design to collect and analyze information bearing upon the questions or hypotheses. The design itself involves a choice of a general approach to be used in the inquiry (e.g., exploratory, quasi-experimental, descriptive-correlational, participatory, ethnographic, phenomenological, etc.), including a description of the procedures to be used to select a population for study, to select methods or create instruments to organize data or measure variables, to determine the reliability and validity of the observations or measurements made, and to analyze the data so as to answer the research questions, reach theoretical saturation, accept or reject a hypothesis, or meet stated research objectives. Research methodology also involves explicit consideration of ethical issues that bear on the protection of human subjects and the information they provide to us, and the uses to which research findings might be put. Last but not least, research methodology usually involves a theory or world view which directs the researcher to select which type of data are relevant for observation and analysis.

Students are expected to demonstrate research competency by drafting a research proposal (see Appendix 1 of the Handbook, "The Research Proposal"). It is normally expected that with relatively minor modifications, this research proposal will constitute the student's formal Dissertation Proposal approved by their Dissertation Committee after advancement to candidacy.

Evaluation of the Three Major Papers

The passing grade for a major paper in the Doctoral candidacy Examination is B+ or higher. The following criteria are normally used by members of the Doctoral Candidacy Examination Committee to evaluate the three papers:

  • ability to analyze, conceptualize, and think critically
  • ability to synthesize information and present it in a readable form
  • demonstration of substantive knowledge of up-to-date information, social work/ social science theories, and intervention practices related to the student's major topic of interest
  • application of social work/social science knowledge to a significant social welfare problem/issue
  • demonstration of knowledge and understanding of research methodology pertinent to pursue a dissertation in the student's chosen area of study; potential to turn the research proposal into a formal Dissertation Proposal
  • potential to turn papers into publications in peer-reviewed outlets

Although students will likely produce several drafts of each paper, only the final draft is graded for the purposes of the Doctoral Candidacy Examination. Committee members are expected to respond to written drafts within three weeks at most. Each Committee member evaluates each paper independently. Their grade is forwarded to the Doctoral Program Coordinator, accompanied by a written evaluation which covers the above and/or other pertinent criteria.

Advancement to Candidacy

To advance to candidacy, students must pass all their required coursework with a grade of "B" or higher (GPA of 3.0 or higher) and obtain a grade of "B+" or higher on each of their three major papers from each of their Doctoral Candidacy Examination Committee members. Students should note that they and their committee chair must complete form D-2 Program for Doctoral Degree and Application to Candidacy with the University Graduate School. The form is available at In addition, students and their advisors are to complete, by the end of each year of study, the Annual Student Evaluation and Mentoring Plan (available at the website above). The Doctoral Policy Committee will review the progress of all students at the end of each year of study, after the evaluation and mentoring plan is completed.

Deadline for Advancement to Candidacy

Students are expected to advance to candidacy by the end of their fourth semester of study at the latest. Students who fail to meet this deadline can apply to the Doctoral Program Coordinator for an extension of no more than two semesters. Students applying for such an extension may forfeit any financial assistance they may be receiving. The extension is granted only on the basis of a well-justified plan for successful completion of the three papers. Students who fail to meet this second deadline (i.e., who fail to advance to candidacy by the end of their sixth semester of study) are terminated from the Ph.D. Program.

Review of Steps Leading to Advancement to Candidacy (The first three steps are simultaneous)

  • Complete each semester's courses satisfactorily
  • Meet and discuss interests with as many faculty members as possible
  • Identify topics for each of the three papers
  • Identify faculty members likely to work with you, especially a major professor who will serve as Chair of your Doctoral Candidacy Examination
  • Obtain the Doctoral Program Coordinator's approval for the composition of your Committee
  • Work on the papers under the supervision of the members of your Doctoral Candidacy Examination Committee; submit drafts to each member for comments
  • Early during the semester in which you expect to have your papers successfully graded, usually the third or fourth semester of study, file Form D-1 (Appointment of Dissertation Committee, available at student forms site noted above)
  • Obtain a final grade and a final written evaluation for each paper from each member, and ensure that these are forwarded to the Doctoral Program Coordinator
  • Submit a copy of each final paper to the Doctoral Program Coordinator
  • File Form D-2 (Program for Doctoral Degree and Application for Candidacy)