Department of Social Work and Social Care

Apply to study for a PhD in Social Work and Social Care

The Department of Social Work and Social Care at the University of Sussex is home to a diverse and interdisciplinary group of researchers. Our research interests cover a wide range of areas, encompassing social work practice, social care policy, childhood and youth, and wellbeing and social care.

The Department hosts three active research centres:

At PhD level we have 2 routes of entry:

  • 1+3
    You take the Social Research Methods MSc before entering the PhD course.This programme of study provides a thorough grounding in research methodology and methods to support independent research.
  • +3
    If you have a substantial level of research methods training at Masters level, you can enter the PhD course directly. If required, specific training can be provided via selected modules from the Social Research Methods MSc course.

Prior research experience

If you are applying for the +3 route and have previous, relevant research experience that you would like us to be aware of, please provide an overview of this in an additional document headed 'Prior research experience'. This should include brief details of research methods courses that you have taken and  research studies you have been involved with, including the methods involved.

Step One: Checking the fit between your research interests and potential supervisors

We are keen to receive PhD applications in the areas in which we have specialist expertise and renown. You can check how your research interests and  approach relate to those of our own below:

For more information about doctoral studies at the University of Sussex, visit the Doctoral School website.

Step Two: Developing your research proposal

If there is a good fit between your research interests and our research profile, you can use the guidelines below to shape your research proposal before submitting it to us to review. The proposal helps us to consider your preparedness for PhD study, and also the feasibility of the proposed study and its potential contribution to knowledge. The proposal therefore needs to describe as clearly as possible what you want to research, why, and how you plan to conduct the study.

The guidelines are for both the 1+3 and +3 PhD routes. However, the research proposal for the +3 PhD will be longer (6-8 pages in length) than that for the 1+3 (3-4 pages). It will also be expected to show a deeper understanding of social science research methodology and research design.

The structure of your proposal

  1. Your proposal should start with a working title which clearly reflects its focus.
  2. The opening section should explain the research focus and context and provide a rationale which introduces what you propose to research and why it is important - both to you and more generally.
  3. This section should end by making it clear how your research can contribute new knowledge or understanding and with a set of research questions that will guide your research. Like your working title, these will probably change as you refine your project, but they are an important starting point.
  4. The next section should provide a focused overview of the key debates in the  literature that are most clearly most relevant to your study. You should end this section by making it clear how your research relates to existing research in the field.
  5. The next section should include a discussion of  your methodological approach, so that it is clear how the design of the proposed study has been shaped by such things as your ontological and epistemological approach. It is also important to outline your research methods and explain what makes them appropriate for a study of the type proposed. 
  6. The proposal should conclude with a discussion of any ethical and practical issues that you have identified and an indicative timeline, including the time it will take to analyse your data and to write your thesis. A full-time PhD is undertaken over 3 years (maximum 4), or 4 years (maximum 6) if studied part-time.
  7. The proposal needs to include citations to the  literature used to support your arguments and finish with a full list of references.
Step Three: Submitting your application and supporting documents

When you have finished writing your proposal, you should submit it online as part of your application for either the 1+3 or +3 PhD. You will also need to submit the following documents and if any are missing this will slow down the review process.

  1. Research Proposal
  2. Masters Degree Transcript
  3. Masters Degree Certificate
  4. Bachelors Degree Certificate

If any of the above cannot be submitted at the point of application, you should send an email explaining why this is to immediately after submitting your application.

Please also submit an up-to-date CV.

English language requirements

If you do not have a degree from the UK, or English is not your first language, you will be required to provide evidence of your English language proficiency. If you have evidence of this when you submit your application, this should be included. If not, any offer made would be conditional on your being able to supply relevant evidence before commencement of your studies.

The English language requirement for this course is IELTS 7.0, with not less than 6.5 in each section.


You should nominate two academic referees who can testify to your capacity to engage with independent study and research. Please advise your referees that references should be submitted on headed paper.

Statement of academic interests

Please provide a brief account of your academic interests.

What happens next?

In addition to the quality of the application and how it meets the criteria for either a +3 or 1+3 place, we consider whether we can supervise your project. In those cases where the academic selectors feel there is both the potential for a worthwhile and successful study at doctoral level and there are potential supervisors available, we will proceed to interview.  These interviews will be conducted in person, or by telephone or Skype and allow us to explore your application with you in more detail while also allowing us to answer any questions you have.

See more details - including how to apply - for the Social Work and Social Care PhD. You can also download the promotional leaflet for the course.