Qualifying Paper

The Qualifying Paper (QP) is a preliminary exam, administered in line with Graduate Division policy. It is a single, standalone paper. The QP is considered the next degree milestone following the First Year Comprehensive Exam.

The Qualifying Paper is typically completed by the end of the second year in the PhD program, or third year in the Combined MSW/PhD program. The outside submission deadline to maintain normative time in the program is six weeks before the end of the fall semester of the students' third year in the PhD program, or fourth year in the Combined MSW/PhD program, such that a satisfactory grade can be assigned by the end of the fall semester.

Preparing the Qualifying Paper

In the Fall semester of Year 2, students should enroll in independent (SOC WEL 296) or group study (SOC WEL 298) units with their PhD Faculty Advisor, and begin drafting the QP. Students should consult and/or adjust the QP proposal throughout year 2 to ensure ongoing shared expectations for the QP, and file any QP Proposal revisions with the Doctoral Chair.

Scope and Purpose

The Qualifying Paper should synthesize and critically evaluate an important, broad body of literature about an intellectual question related to a social problem. The QP topic should be broad enough to provide the student with a strong foundation in an area of study - and deep enough to build a solid foundation for a specific research agenda. Students should work closely with their PhD Faculty Advisor to carefully define the problem and its boundaries. To shape the focus, students should also identify and consult with faculty members with relevant expertise, both inside and outside the School of Social Welfare. Students are encouraged to enroll in independent studies and coursework that will build expertise on the QP topic. The QP topic and scope must be approved by the PhD Program Chair in consultation with the student’s PhD Faculty Advisor.

The QP should distill the student’s knowledge of (a) the scope and significance of the social problem; (b) theories about the root of the social problem; (c) empirical evidence relevant to understanding and solving the problem; and (d) implications for social welfare research, practice, and policy. The QP should demonstrate mastery of the state of the evidence on the social problem. The QP is not a descriptive literature review for a single research project like a dissertation; instead, it is a theoretically- and methodologically-grounded synthesis of research. It should ultimately make a compelling case for addressing a critical gap(s) in knowledge in a future research.

Qualifying Paper Length

There is no prescribed length for the QP. The length should be determined in consultation with your faculty advisor and will vary as a function of the question related to the social problem you are addressing. QPs are loosely expected to range from 40-100 pages in length.

Qualifying Paper Evaluation Criteria

The QP will be evaluated with respect to the five major objectives listed below. These objectives are not intended to be used as headings or items in a checklist. For example, your thesis (1.C), theoretical framework (2), and research synthesis (3) should thread throughout the QP to create an integrated whole.

  1. Introduce the problem.
    1. Clearly state the problem and its significance.
    2. Define key constructs and substantive issues.
    3. State your thesis.
  2. Distill relevant theory(ies) and/or frameworks for understanding the problem.
  3. Synthesize empirical evidence relevant to understanding and solving the problem.
    1. Critically evaluate the evidence and address any methodological challenges.
    2. Articulate important unanswered questions and how they might be addressed empirically.
  4. State your conclusion, as relevant to your thesis: What is the current state of knowledge? What are areas of consensus and/or controversy? What are productive future lines of inquiry?
  5. Unpack implications. Make specific recommendations for advancing research, policy, and practice in social welfare. Implications must flow directly and concretely from your analysis.

Possible Outcomes

Accept (A)

The work meets scholarly standards for substantive, rigorous intellectual work.

Accept with Revisions (Ar)
With small revisions, the work would meet scholarly standards for substantive, rigorous intellectual work. Small revisions include, for example, minor oversights, omissions, or errors, but not major gaps or mistakes in argument or analysis. (Revisions will be reviewed by doc chair

Revise and Resubmit (RS)
The work requires substantial revision to meet scholarly standards for substantive, rigorous intellectual work; but the work demonstrates capacity. Substantial revision suggests, for example, adjustments that would be required to address major gaps or errors in the argument or analysis, unclear conceptual framing, or lack of rigor throughout.

Reject (X)
The work does not meet minimum standards and raises concerns about the student’s ability to successfully complete the PhD program requirements.

Roles of Doctoral Faculty

Qualifying Paper Outline

The student’s Faculty Advisor must collaborate with the student to determine the QP’s appropriate (a) topic and scope (balancing breadth vs. depth concerns), (b) general length, (c) dissemination plan (or state that the paper is intended only for internal use), and indicate their approval of a QP Proposal by October 15 of the year in which the QP will be submitted. Advisor-approved QP Proposals are then reviewed and approved by the Doctoral Program Chair.

If the QP, or derivative works, are developed with an intention for external distribution (e.g., publishing), students and PhD faculty advisors should discuss and then document in the QP Outline how the respective contributions of both individuals will be credited (e.g., authorship, acknowledgements).

The QP Proposal will be returned to the student (unapproved) if the expected scope and length the paper is insufficiently clear and/or a workplan (with timeline) is omitted (please consider faculty leaves and sabbaticals in this process). Please provide a communication plan to document how you intend to discuss progress and receive and respond to feedback. Students will be notified within 4 weeks whether the QP proposals are approved by the Doctoral Chair.

Qualifying Paper

The Faculty Advisor must provide consultation and feedback on the QP. This is often done through independent (SOC WEL 296) or group study (SOC WEL 298) units. The Faculty Advisor approves the QP before submission. Other faculty members are permitted and encouraged to help students develop their QP, but no other faculty or members of the QE committee (if formed) are required to approve the paper in advance of submission. If the QP has been co-supervised (due to QP topic complexity, faculty leave, etc.), co-supervision should be clearly indicated. If a faculty member (aside from the PhD Faculty advisor) engages substantially in the development of the QP, independent study units with that faculty person may also be warranted.

The QP submission should include a cover memo that briefly describes contributors to the product. Contributions may include various dimensions of the CRediT Taxonomy and/or other dimensions.

Submitting the Qualifying Paper

Students should submit their advisor-approved QP to the GSAO in the Spring semester of Year 2. Failure to submit in Year 2 will often trigger a Progress Review Meeting in which the student and faculty on the Progress Review Committee will discuss academic progress. Students should expect a grade on their QP six (academic year) weeks after submission. If a student does not receive a passing grade on the QP by the end of the Fall semester of Year 3, the student may be recommended for placement on academic probation.

Once the advisor-approved QP has been submitted, the Doctoral Program Chair will choose two faculty to read the QP. Readers are based in part on nominations by the student’s Faculty Advisor (who cannot serve as a reader), and must include one SSW senate faculty member. Co-supervisors of the paper will also be excluded as Readers. The QP will be returned to the student with a grade (superior, satisfactory, or unsatisfactory) and comments in the form of a “double-blind” comprehensive peer-review. We acknowledge that attempts for a review wherein the authors and readers are naive to each other’s identity may be compromised in a small school where interest areas of doctoral students and faculty are known to each other, but the spirit of this process will be maintained. If Readers arrive at different grades, they will be asked to find consensus, with the doctoral chair serving as tie-breaker if consensus cannot be reached. The doctoral chair will designate a replacement for themselves in cases where they serve as faculty advisor on a QP.

The student will be given one opportunity to revise the QP, and the grade on that version will be the final grade. The paper will be returned to the same Readers, unless the Faculty Advisor makes a successful appeal to the Doctoral Chair to reconsider the assignment. If the grade is unsatisfactory, the Doctoral Faculty will decide whether the student should be recommended for placement on academic probation or dismissal from the PhD program.

Students should not expect doctoral faculty to contribute to QP development or reading during the summer term. Exceptions are rare, and may only be made by mutual consent.

Reasonable accommodations for disability that do not fundamentally change the nature or expectations of the QP should be expected. Faculty advisors do not directly negotiate accommodations with students. Students seeking accommodations should consult with their disability specialist at DSP to determine next steps. The Doctoral Program Chair, Equity Officer, and GSAO are available to address needs or concerns related to the process of seeking accommodations related to disability.

After the QP has been satisfactorily completed, the student must:

  1. Form a Qualifying Examination Committee,
  2. Declare two fields of expertise on which he or she will be examined by their Qualifying Examination committee, and
  3. Complete a Dissertation Prospectus.