In collaboration with their dissertation mentors and later with their dissertation committees, students begin developing a dissertation topic in the first semester of the DSW program. Through a closely mentored, tightly structured process, students complete an original work of scholarship that makes a contribution to the clinical social work literature and knowledge base. The dissertation engages students in deep study and positions them as knowledge experts in their content area.
Students have a variety of options to choose from when deciding how to answer their research question. They may choose to do an empirical dissertation, in which they collect data that they analyze using quantitative or qualitative methods. They may do a curriculum development, in which they design an evidenced-based academic curriculum or training program. They may decide to develop a new treatment intervention or adapt an existing intervention to a new client population. Some students choose a conceptual-theoretical approach that involves critically analyzing existing theory and research to understand a question or issue in a new way. Historical dissertations interrogate an historical event, period, or perspective related to social work. Program evaluations are done by students who want to assess whether a program is working and develop strategies for improvement.
The Finished Product
The final product may be in the form of a traditional chapter-style manuscript, two publishable articles, or one publishable article accompanied by a critical review of the literature.
All of the DSW dissertations are published on Scholarly Commons, the University of Pennsylvania’s open-access repository for scholarly work. This ensures that the knowledge produced by our students is readily available and accessible for front-line social work practitioners and others who are seeking information on a particular topic.