CADD CORNER: Thinking of a Doctoral Degree? Here are the Differences


By Evaon Wong-Kim, PhD, Director, CSU Los Angeles School of Social Work

After I completed my MSW/MPH dual-degree program at Cal I started working full time as a medical social worker. During this time, I also collected enough hours toward my LCSW and after taking all the needed courses and prep courses for the written and oral exam, I got my LCSW in 1995.

At that time I recall thinking, “Now what?” Interestingly, my mentor and Professor at Cal called and said, “Evaon, time to come back for your PhD.” What timing. Getting a PhD was always an end goal and something I dreamt about doing, but really? Quit my job and return to school full time? With a 9-year-old son and a mortgage? Many social workers may be thinking about returning to school for more education. Recently one of the part-time lecturers at Cal State LA and I had a conversation about that particular topic. This CADD Corner article aims to provide some helpful information to those of you who may be thinking about getting a PhD or DSW, PsyD or EdD. It is not meant to be all inclusive, but a general informational article to help you get started, if you are thinking about going back to school, whether it is full time or part time, on-ground, or online.

One reason to get a PhD is that it will train you to be an independent researcher, so that you can engage or lead research and/or become a full-time faculty member at a university training BSW, MSW or doctoral students. Most Schools of Social Work only hire those with MSW and PhD for tenured/tenure-track teaching positions. Although faculty at different universities teach two to four classes a semester and it sounds easy, most are required to do research and publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals. While research may sound intimidating, do remember you had to take research classes during your MSW as this subject area is one of CSWE accreditation curriculum requirements, so it should not be entirely foreign to you.

If research is not your interest, and you are excited about learning more social work practices then another degree such as DSW, Doctor in Social Work, is now becoming more popular and may be a better option. Although the MSW is considered as a terminal degree and many universities hire MSWs to teach in the BSW or MSW programs, the DSW offers advanced training in social work practice or administration. Different DSW programs offer different foci, so visit the university website and contact faculty or director of the program to get more specific information.

Other doctoral degrees such as a PhD in Psychology, Public Health, and Criminal Justice are other PhD programs pursued by social workers. Similar to PhD in Social Work, PhDs in other disciplines also focus heavily on research training. If you have a particular university you want to apply to and also a research topic in mind, it will be advantageous to contact a faculty member who is an expert in that area. Having a mentor before you start a doctoral program will very likely get you started sooner on the research training. Once you start working with the faculty member, you may even be invited to be a research or teaching assistant.

The PsyD, Doctor of Psychology and EdD, Doctor of Education, are two other popular doctoral degree programs many social workers are interested in pursuing. The PsyD provides clinical psychological training, and this degree may find employment at hospitals or schools to provide psychological assessment or psychotherapy. The EdD focuses on real world educational issues including education leadership, or administrative training in managing K-12 or higher education institutions. Many California State Universities offer EdD programs, thus bringing down the cost of a doctoral degree.

If financing a doctoral degree is a major concern or barrier, contact the program administrators to find out what resources may be available to you if you are accepted. Some doctoral programs provide fellowship and also external resources such as federal traineeship so that you may get a tuition waiver. If you are interested in teaching at a California State University, check out the Doctoral Incentive Program:

The most important step is to do some research such as contacting faculty who work in the areas of research that interest you. You may also want to talk to those who are have completed the program to get some insight about the process. The more information you have, the easier it will be for you to start a doctoral program. After so many years I am now the one who asks my students: “When are you going back for a PhD?”


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