The objective of the PhD in Social Work is to educate scholars for research careers in the social and behavioral sciences. The program is highly interdisciplinary, mentoring students with interests in such areas as social and economic development, child welfare, gerontology, addictions, health, mental health, and public health. Our PhD program in Social Work involves intensive study in social science research methods and personalized mentoring by some of the leading scholars in the field. In addition, our curriculum focuses on research methodology, theory, and data analysis.

We have a very high completion rate, and nearly all of those graduates go on to teaching and research positions in social science institutions throughout the world. An academic career in most large universities requires faculty who can maintain a rigorous research agenda, while teaching and providing service and leadership to the school and the profession. Thus, we teach doctoral students to excel in such areas as conducting individual and collaborative research projects, writing and publishing research findings, sharing knowledge with academic colleagues at professional conferences, and bringing the latest knowledge into the classroom for the benefit of future students, practitioners and educators.

Contact:Doctoral Education Program Office

PhD in Social Work

A completed master's degree in social work, public health, or related social science is required of all applicants for admission; a minimum of two years of post-master's practice and/or research experience is strongly recommended. The deadline for applications to the PhD in Social Work is December 1 of the year preceding enrollment.

Students need a minimum of 72 graduate credit hours for a PhD from the Brown School. These can include 21 master's-level credits. While in the program, the student takes a variety of theory and research methods courses, plus 15 units of elective credits outside the traditional social work curriculum. Electives may include classes in psychology, psychiatry, public health, anthropology, education, law, economics, or political science. Teaching practicums, research assistantships, and the writing of an "area statement" round out the required credits. Competence is assessed through a qualifying examination and the defense of the dissertation. We are unable to offer distance learning or part-time study.

The curriculum at the Brown School emphasizes substantive, theoretical and methodological preparation. Courses include:

  • Introduction to Advanced Research
  • Conceptual Foundations of Social Science Research
  • The Role and Use of Theory in Applied Social Research
  • Foundations of Data Analysis
  • Applied Linear Regression Analysis
  • Structural Equation Modeling

The first year of study includes basic principles in research, statistics, measurement, as well as theoretical orientations and content underlying the knowledge base of social work and social welfare.

The second year turns to a more individualized program of study. A curriculum plan is developed by each student and the adviser, focusing on an area of specialization within the field of social work.

The orientation of the PhD program is interdisciplinary, requiring 15 credits of course work in the social sciences. Social science courses are selected that are related to the student's developing area of specialization. Courses in research methodology, research and teaching practica, and specialized courses also help to build the student's expertise as a social work scholar.


Mary McKernan McKay
Professor; Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School
PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago
Child mental health services; HIV prevention and care; poverty

Associate Dean for Doctoral Education

Renee M. Cunningham-Williams
Associate Professor; Director, NIDA T32 (TranSTAR) Pre- and Postdoctoral Training Program; Director, PhD Program in Social Work
PhD, Washington University
Epidemiological, prevention, and intervention research; health and mental health disparities; pathological gambling and comorbidity; risk taking, substance use and antisocial behaviors; crisis intervention

Endowed Professors

Wendy Auslander
Barbara A. Bailey Professor of Social Work
PhD, Washington University
Health behavior and health promotion; childhood abuse and adolescent risk behaviors; trauma treatment for adolescent girls; family, psychosocial, and behavioral issues in diabetes; HIV prevention; community participatory research; cultural and ethnic factors related to health; intervention research and evaluation

Ross C. Brownson
Bernard Becker Professor; Director, Prevention Research Center
PhD, Colorado State University
Chronic disease prevention through environmental and policy change; evidence-based public health; policy effects on physical activity and obesity; dissemination research

Shenyang Guo
​Frank J. Bruno Distinguished Professor of Social Work Research; Assistant Vice Chancellor for International Affairs - Greater China
PhD, University of Michigan
Quantitative research methodology; program and practice evaluations; child welfare; child mental health

Debra Haire-Joshu
Joyce Wood Professor; Director, Center for Diabetes Translation Research; Director, Center for Obesity Prevention and Policy Research; Faculty Director, Envolve Center for Health Behavior Change
PhD, Saint Louis University
Health policy; preventing obesity and diabetes in underserved populations; transdisciplinary approaches to biomedical, behavorial, and public health research

Sean Joe
Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development; Associate Dean for Faculty and Research
​PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Role of religion in black suicidal behavior; salivary biomarker discovery for adolescent suicidal behavior; father-focused family-based interventions; preventing self-destructive behaviors in African-American adolescent males; racial inequality in adolescent development

Melissa Jonson-Reid
Ralph and Muriel Pumphrey Professor of Social Work; Director, Center for Violence and Injury Prevention
PhD, University of California, Berkeley
Education and child welfare services policy; child abuse and neglect; interagency service delivery systems; school social work

Matthew W. Kreuter
Kahn Family Professor of Public Health; Senior Scientist, Health Communication Research Laboratory; Faculty Director, Envolve Center for Health Behavior Change
PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Health communication; cancer prevention and control; integrating health and social services; health disparities

Nancy Morrow-Howell
Bettie Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy; Director, Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging
PhD, University of California, Berkeley
Productive and civic engagement in late life; social engagement in later life

Enola K. Proctor
Shanti K. Khinduka Distinguished Professor; Director, Center for Mental Health Services Research
PhD, Washington University
Mental health services delivery; post-acute health and mental health community care; outcomes of clinical practice; evaluation of clinical social work

Mark Rank
Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare
PhD, University of Wisconsin
Poverty and economic inequality; social welfare; family; social policy; demography; life course

Michael Sherraden
George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor; Director, Center for Social Development
PhD, University of Michigan
Asset building; civic engagement and civic service; productive aging; social policy; community development; youth development


F. Brett Drake
PhD, University of California, Los Angeles
Children born prenatally exposed to drugs; child protection and child protective practice

Michal Grinstein-Weiss
Director, Envolve Center for Health Behavior Change; Associate Director, Center for Social Development
PhD, Brown School at Washington University
Public policy; economic & social mobility; asset building

Carolyn Lesorogol
Associate Dean for Global Strategy and Programs
PhD, Washington University
International social development; capacity building and participatory development; institutional change; political economy; ethnographic research

Douglas A. Luke
Director, PhD Program in Public Health Sciences; Director, Center for Public Health Systems Science
PhD, University of Illinois
Evaluations of public health programs; tobacco control and prevention policy; community health interventions

Timothy McBride
PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Health policy; health economics; health insurance; Medicare and Medicaid policy; rural health care; health reform; Social Security and pensions; state health policy

Rodrigo S. Reis
PhD, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, Brazil
Physical activity and public health, with particular interest in community interventions for promoting physical activity; effect of the built environment and community on health; active transportation and health

Fred Ssewamala
PhD, Brown School at Washington University
Microfinance; Asset-based social programs; disadvantaged children; social and economic development policy; children and adolescent health

Vetta L. Sanders Thompson
PhD, Duke University
Cultural competence; racial identity; disparities in health and mental health services; psychosocial implications of race and ethnicity in health communications; access to health services

Associate Professors

Derek Brown
PhD, Duke University
Health economics; stated preference methods & health-related quality of life; child abuse and neglect; Medicaid

Leopoldo J. Cabassa
PhD, Brown School at Washington University
Racial/ethnic disparities in health and mental health care; implementation science; integration of physical and mental health services; mental health services

Alexis Duncan
PhD, Saint Louis University
Psychiatric epidemiology; obesity and eating disorders; substance use and related disorders; comorbidity; child abuse and neglect; behavior genetics

Tonya Edmond
Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion
PhD, University of Texas at Austin
Violence against women; trauma-focused intervention research; evidence-based practice

Amy A. Eyler
PhD, Oregon State University
Physical activity; childhood obesity; policies and preventative health

Patrick J. Fowler
PhD, Wayne State University
Housing and homelessness; child maltreatment and child welfare system; developmental psychopathology; policy and program evaluation; prevention science; violence exposure

Jenine Harris
PhD, Saint Louis University
Dissemination research; social network analysis; social media; public health systems

Darrell Hudson
PhD, University of Michigan
Health disparities; mental health; health behavior; health education; violence and injury prevention

Lora Iannotti
Associate Dean for Public Health
PhD, Johns Hopkins University
Young child nutrition; micronutrient deficiencies; infectious diseases and poverty pathways; evaluation research

Kimberly Johnson
PhD, University of Minnesota
Epidemiology; human genetics; cancer

Jack A. Kirkland
MSW, Syracuse University
International & national community economic development; urban issues; international, state, and regional planning; international social development; multicultural education

Patricia Kohl
Associate Dean for Social Work
PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Child welfare; evidence-based practice; engaging hard to reach populations in treatment; parent training

Von Nebbitt
PhD, Brown School at Washington University
Urban African-American children and youth, with a primary research agenda of increasing empirical and theoretical knowledge of the effects of living in urban public housing

David A. Patterson
PhD, University of Louisville
Alcohol and other drug treatment retention and effectiveness; implementation of evidence-based practices; Native American and Indigenous People’s health and wellness; underrepresented minority college success

Jason Purnell
PhD, Ohio State University
Health behavior; information and communication technologies; health disparities

Jean-Francois Trani
PhD, Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, France
Mental health; disabilities; international social work

Assistant Professors

Sheretta T. Butler-Barnes
PhD, Wayne State University
Positive youth development; African Americans; academic achievement; mental health; religiosity

Christine Ekenga
PhD, New York University
Chronic disease epidemiology; cumulative risk assessment; environmental health; occupational health; disaster epidemiology and public health preparedness

Vanessa Fabbre
PhD, University of Chicago
Aging and the life course; health and mental health; gender and sexuality; interpretive methodology

Molly W. Metzger
PhD, Northwestern University
Affordable housing; social policy; poverty and inequality

Sojung Park
PhD, University of Michigan
Health and well-being of older adults; environmental gerontology; community-based long-term care; cross-national/cross-cultural studies

Carrie Pettus-Davis
Director, Institute for Advancing Justice Research and Innovation
PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Intervention research; criminal justice; substance abuse; mental health; social support