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Comprehensive Paper

Note: See the academic calendar for the Academic Regulations of Comprehensive Requirement.

The PhD comprehensive paper serves to assess the student’ s ability to:

  1. Integrate social work knowledge, theory and practice;
  2. Analyze the implications of knowledge and theory for social work practice; and
  3. Demonstrate a broad knowledge of the selected interventive area.

Timing of Comprehensive Requirement

Full-time students should register for the comprehensive requirement (SK893) in the fifth term; the proposal for the comprehensive paper should be approved by the end of the fifth term, and by the end of the seventh term, full-time students are expected to have met all requirements of SK893 and thus be eligible for admission to candidacy.

Part-time students should begin SK893 by term eight and complete the comprehensive requirement by the end of Term 11.

Comprehensive Committee

As full-time students approach the fourth term, and when part-time students are preparing to register for SK820, they should give consideration to choosing an advisor and members for their comprehensive committee. The committee should be formed at least four (4) months prior to the date of the intended completion of the comprehensive requirement. All members of the committee must have graduate faculty status and normally the committee will be comprised of three members:

  • An advisor who is a member of the Faculty of Social Work;
  • One member from outside the Faculty of Social Work; and
  • One member from the Faculty of Social Work.

After consultation with their advisor and preferred committee members, students should submit the following to the associate dean, PhD program:

  • The names of the proposed committee members.
  • The topic or title of the proposed comprehensive paper.
  • A brief rationale identifying the expertise that each committee member brings, and the relevance of the composition of the committee as a whole to the student’s topic.
  • If a proposed member is not a current member of the Graduate Faculty, a CV for that member should be included so that he or she can be nominated for temporary membership of the graduate faculty.

The associate dean will take this information to the PhD Admissions, Curriculum and Student Affairs Committee for approval. If the proposed committee members do not include a member from outside the Faculty of Social Work, or the proposed advisor is not a member of the Faculty of Social Work, the student should explain, in writing, the unusual circumstances that have guided this request. If the PhD Admissions, Curriculum and Student Affairs Committee has questions or concerns, the student and the advisor may be invited to attend the meeting to discuss the concerns.

Following approval by the PhD Committee, the PhD associate dean will advise all persons involved of the decision via email.

Format for the Comprehensive Requirement

Comprehensive Paper Proposal Guidelines

The proposal should be 10-15 pages long and include the following:

  • The purpose of the paper.
  • The importance and relevance of the proposed review.
  • The paper’s potential contribution to the development of knowledge.
  • Main concepts, theoretical frameworks and/or areas of research to be discussed.
  • Types of conclusions to be reached based on the analysis, including for example:
    • Critical understanding of concepts or theories.
    • Integration of not-yet-connected bodies of literature.
    • Identification of research gaps.
    • Determination of methodological direction for future research.
  • The paper’s contribution to the student’s dissertation work.

Once the proposal is approved by the comprehensive committee, students are expected to write the paper independently.

Paper and Oral Defense

  • The paper should demonstrate thorough knowledge and critical awareness of the content area. Citation of work already done in the field should be included as well as a conceptual base underlying discussion.
  • The paper should be typed, double spaced, formatted and appropriately referenced using APA guidelines. The paper should also be well written and well organized in a monograph of 50-70 pages. The paper offers a cogent analysis of the social work practice/policy issues, examines the research methods useful for investigation of the topic, and offers a position for potential research.
  • The paper should be original and creative, and not merely a summary of the works of others. A conceptual paper is one that includes analysis, that is, taking an idea apart and looking at the pieces; synthesis, that is, how the idea relates to other ideas; and evaluation, which includes critical analysis of ideas. For example, what makes sense, what does not, where might this apply and where not? What are the potential inconsistencies here, and comparison with other ideas. In such a paper, the students should develop their own theses and ideas, based on the work of others, but put together in a new way, or applied differently.
  • Once the comprehensive proposal is approved by the comprehensive committee, the student works independently, except as referenced below, until it is completed and submitted to the PhD associate dean for distribution to committee members. While students may obtain help with typing and proofreading, it is expected that otherwise the paper is the student’s own work.

Advisement of Students

The comprehensive requirement represents an independent effort. However, "independent” does not mean the student is required to write the paper in isolation: s/he is able to consult with her/his advisor and/or comprehensive paper committee members as s/he writes. It is often helpful in fact to be able to touch base with faculty members, check out ideas, discuss the analytical direction of the comprehensive paper etc. However, advisors, committee members, and professors, from other departments or universities should not read or provide feedback on any drafts of the comprehensive paper before it is completed and copies provided to all committee members. Students may use the services of an editor, professional, peer or otherwise.

Administration of the Comprehensive Requirement

When the comprehensive paper is completed the student will submit copies to the comprehensive committee chair two weeks prior to the date of the defense. The chair will distribute the copies to the committee members. The chair will convene a meeting of the committee and student to hold a defense of the paper according to the guidelines specified below under Defense of the Comprehensive Paper.

Outcome of the Comprehensive Requirement

Papers will be read by all three (3) members of the student's comprehensive committee and graded on a pass/fail basis. Two pass grades are needed for the student to successfully complete the requirement. Students must pass both the written and oral parts of the comprehensive defense. A candidate may be asked to make editorial but not substantive changes to the comprehensive paper before it is placed in the archives of the Faculty of Social Work.

If a student fails to receive a passing grade from at least two readers, the paper can be rewritten only once. A student who does not complete the requirements for SK893 after two attempts, or within three consecutive terms, will be required to withdraw from the PhD program.

Defense of the Comprehensive Paper

The examiners will be the three (3) members of the committee and the defense will last up to two hours. The subject matter covered in the oral examination will be related to the topic of the paper but may include issues omitted as well as those included in the paper. The decision open to the examiners is pass or fail. The student must receive passing grades from at least two of the three examiners.

Any deviation from the above procedures would require specific consideration of the PhD Committee. Students normally submit a coil-bound copy of the comprehensive paper to the Faculty of Social Work to be placed in the Faculty of Social Work library.