Qualifying Paper

Purpose of Qualifying Paper

The purpose of the qualifying paper is for students to demonstrate mastery of practice theories, intervention research and policies associated with their focus area. In the paper, students demonstrate mastery of a specific topic in their focus area and critically review the relevant literature. The new qualifying procedures involve two stages: Stage I involves a comprehensive literature review. Stage II involves writing a scholarly paper. Passing the qualifying paper demonstrates that students have achieved a level of knowledge sufficient to begin the dissertation stage.

Timeline of Qualifying Paper

Semester and Year Program Milestones
Year 2 Fall Semester Select faculty advisor
Identify topic and three graders for the qualifying paper
Year 2 Spring Semester Compile a reference list and submit an outline
Year 3 Fall Semester Complete and submit a comprehensive literature review (Stage I)
Year 3 Spring Semester Complete and submit a scholarly paper (Stage II)

Process to Complete the Qualifying Paper

Stage I: Comprehensive Literature Review

During the Fall semester of their second year, students will work with their primary faculty advisor, in consultation with the PhD Program Director, to identify their topic and area of research interest as well as three professors who will serve as the qualifying paper graders. At least two graders must be members of the School of Social Work’s graduate faculty. The third grader may be either a professor from another department/college or a member of the Social Work graduate faculty. If the third grader is from outside the School of Social Work, he or she should be an expert in the student’s focus area. In selecting social work professors as graders, students are advised to select one with expertise in policy implications and one with expertise in practice implications. These faculty members may later serve as members of the student’s dissertation committee.  Students then meet with each professor to secure their agreement to participate. If one of the proposed graders declines, students must seek approval from the PhD Program Director for another potential grader.

Once all three graders have been approved and have agreed to serve, during the Spring semester of the second year, students present their graders with a reference list and an outline to be used in developing their paper. Graders may make recommendations regarding additional literature to review and issues to consider. Students then complete and submit their comprehensive literature review to each grader for grading during the Fall semester of the third year.

Stage II: Scholarly Paper

During the Spring semester of the third year, students are expected to write a scholarly paper for journal publication. The scholarly paper may either draw from the comprehensive literature review from Stage I or involve an empirical analysis of data. If the graders’ feedback indicates any revisions, students will proceed with the revisions and include a response to the graders’ comments. Students will submit a revised scholarly paper based on the graders’ feedback. Students will have one semester to complete a revision. The scholarly paper needs to be submitted for publication no later than the beginning of the fourth year.

Structure/Content of Qualifying Paper

Stage I: Comprehensive Literature Review

Students are expected to take up to, but no more than, one semester to complete the comprehensive literature review in their focus area. This review will take place after they have completed their required course work, that is, in the Fall semester of Year 3.The comprehensive literature review will vary in length from 30-50 pages, not including references. It contains a synthesis and critical discussion of theory and empirical research in the student’s focus area. It is expected that the literature review will critically discuss multiple theoretical perspectives and multiple methodological approaches used to investigate the area of interest, as well as important findings from existing research. Papers will also contain sections elaborating the implications of this scholarship to social work practice and social work policy as well as future areas of investigation.  Intervention and policy sections should contain a critical discussion of relevant social work scholarship. Issues to be addressed in the social work sections include: specific implications of scholarship in the focus area for social work interventions and policies, how particular policies have supported or obstructed particular interventions, and how beliefs about certain kinds of interventions have informed policy decisions.

Stage II: Scholarly Paper

Students are expected to write a scholarly paper for journal submission. The paper’s length and format should follow the requirements of the journal where the paper will be submitted. The goal is to draw from the comprehensive literature review students have completed in Stage I and to develop this into a publishable conceptual paper.  If students think a conceptual paper is not feasible or appropriate for their focus area, they may conduct an empirical analysis to extend knowledge and present results of their research. The scholarly paper may build from prior learning, and it needs to be a first-authored peer-reviewed paper for publication.

Grading of Qualifying Paper

Stage I: Comprehensive Literature Review

All 3 graders will read and evaluate the comprehensive literature review and will grade the paper as either “pass” or “fail.” A passing grade indicates the student’s readiness to begin the dissertation proposal process. Students need to demonstrate (1) a thorough and well-defined review and a critical analysis and synthesis of the literature in their focus area; (2) a solid understanding of theoretical frameworks that are used in their focus area; and (3) a critical analysis of relevant research designs and methodologies.

Graders are expected to notify the PhD Program Director of their grading decision within 3 weeks of the student’s submission of the paper. To pass the comprehensive literature review, all three graders must judge the paper as a “pass.” Should one or more grader judge the paper as a “fail,” the student may consult with the professor(s) and submit one revision. If one or more professors still judge the paper as a “fail,” the student may appeal to the PhD committee or choose to discontinue the PhD program. If the student’s appeal is denied by the PhD committee, he/she will be dismissed from the PhD program.

Stage II: Scholarly Paper

All 3 graders read and evaluate the scholarly paper. The content and quality of the scholarly paper needs to be comparable to scholarly articles in professional journals. The graders will determine if the paper (1) meets the requirement of a scholarly publication; (2) needs revisions to meet the requirement; or (3) fails the requirement of a scholarly publication. Graders are expected to notify the PhD Program Director of their grading decision and provide comments to the student within 3 weeks of the paper submission.

The paper does not need to be accepted by a journal to satisfy the scholarly paper requirement.  To pass the scholarly paper, all three graders must judge the paper/revision as a “pass.”  Should one or more graders judge the paper as a “fail,” then the student may consult with the professor(s) and submit one revision. If the graders’ feedback indicates revision, the student will proceed with the revision and include a response to the graders’ comments. The student will submit a revised  scholarly paper based on the graders’ feedback. The student will be encouraged to meet with the graders to discuss the revision.

Students will have one semester to revise the scholarly paper, no later than the beginning of the fourth year. If the student does not complete the scholarly paper by the beginning of the Fall semester of the fourth year, the student needs to submit a petition to the PhD Program Director to explain the reasons for the delay and a plan for the timely completion of the paper.

If one or more professors still judge the paper as a “fail,” the student may appeal to the PhD committee or choose to discontinue the PhD program. If the student’s appeal is denied by the PhD committee, he/she will be dismissed from the PhD program.