Methods: Two data sources were used to provide a representative description of Canadian PhD social work student experiences in 2019-2020. Secondary data analysis was conducted on the doctoral social work student data (n=157) from the 2019 Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey (CGPSS). Primary analysis was conducted on an online survey of Canadian social work PhD students (n=69) regarding their experience applying for doctoral fellowships and scholarships.
Results: Likert-style scales from both studies found averages in the middle of five-point scales, which may indicate an overall student rating of moderate for Canadian doctoral social work education. The CGPSS data suggests that Canadian social work PhD students may perceive that this moderate level of education quality persists across programs in the country, given that they assign higher average scores to staying at their current institution and keeping their current supervisor. There was also notable variability within the moderate range of Likert-style scores, with the following program dimensions rating relatively low: a) advice on availability of financial support; b) quality of academic advising and guidance; c) opportunities for student collaboration; d) amount of and opportunities for coursework; and e) opportunities for interdisciplinary work. With 23.6% of CGPSS participants in year five or above and 23.8% actively conducting thesis research and preparing their dissertations, it appears that most of those senior-year students may not graduate until at least year six. While only a quarter of participants had completed their thesis proposal, 33.1% of participants expressed that they expected to graduate this year or next year. From the fellowship survey, there was a strongly significant relationship between attending fellowship workshops and fellowship success (OR=4.74; p<0.01) and a significant relationship between receiving supervisor feedback and fellowship success (OR=3.72; p<0.05). Yet despite these odds, students self-rated all activities (e.g., writing centre, online resources) somewhat comparably. The highest-rated activity (administrative faculty feedback) had the second-lowest odds of facilitating fellowship success. Qualitative responses indicate that students may not fully appreciate the true value of fellowship workshops.
Conclusions and Implications: Data presented here offers a baseline from which to further assess PhD programs of social work as they resume pre-pandemic operations. However, a separate study of students commencing these programs during the COVID-19 pandemic may be warranted to understand the distinct dynamics of their experiences. Directions for future research include: a) comparative studies of similar contexts; b) comparative research of social work PhD programs across jurisdictions; c) empirical inquiry from non-student (e.g., faculty) stakeholders involved in the design and delivery of social work PhD programs; and d) long-term study on program and career outcomes, attuned to demographics, funding, and determinants of student success.