A PhD in Social Work equips students with the skills and experience to apply social research methods and tools to critically examine some of the most pressing contemporary issues in social work practice, policy and education. Students are encouraged to develop a topic of interest that directly relates to their own practice experiences or is of wider interest and relevance to the delivery of social work services and support to disadvantaged individuals and groups, either in the UK or overseas.
Students will be supported to develop research questions and design a study that enables them to rigorously research their topic of interest and make an original contribution to the knowledge base of social work. Topics may directly explore practice issues or contribute more broadly to social work knowledge, working with specific groups and communities and addressing systems of inequality and social disadvantage. Where appropriate, students are encouraged to work in collaboration with relevant organisations and user and interest groups to ensure their research outputs and key findings can directly inform social work practice and service delivery.
We are a multidisciplinary, research-intensive school which brings together theory, policy and practice. Our research engages with and influences national and international policy. Our policy experts come from a wide variety of backgrounds in social policy research, social work, sociology, gender violence, childhood studies, disability studies, health and social care, history, human geography, economics, psychology, physical activity, nutrition and health sciences, urban studies, and poverty, based within seven specialist research centres.
Supervisors in social work bring diverse interests across child and family social work (for example, looked after children; adoption and fostering; supporting parents with substance misuse or learning disabilities; domestic violence responses and interventions) and adult social care (for example, disabled adults' social care needs; housing and homelessness; mental health social work; social work with older people and carers; inclusive service provision for LGBTQ+ individuals).
The school is an exciting environment for postgraduate studies; we welcome students from the UK and abroad to join our diverse and highly-rated research team. We particularly welcome applications on topics with direct relevance to national and international social work and policy concerns.
An upper second-class honours degree and a pass at MSc/MA level (or equivalent experience/qualification).
See international equivalent qualifications on the International Office website.
Read the programme admissions statement for important information on entry requirements, the application process and supporting documents required.Go to admissions statement
Fees and funding
- UK: full-time
- £4,758 per year
- UK: part-time
- £2,379 per year
- Overseas: full-time
- £20,700 per year
Fees are subject to an annual review. For programmes that last longer than one year, please budget for up to an 8% increase in fees each year.
More about tuition fees, living costs and financial support.
University of Bristol students and graduates can benefit from a 25% reduction in tuition fees for postgraduate study. Check your eligibility for an alumni discount.
Funding for 2024/25
The Faculty of Social Sciences and Law has an allocation of 1+3 and +3 ESRC SWDTP scholarships. Applicants may also be interested in applying for funding from the University of Bristol scholarship fund and the alumni PhD scholarship fund.
For details and deadlines of ESRC PhD studentship applications, please visit the SWDTP website.
Further information on funding for prospective UK and international postgraduate students.
Studying social work will equip you with a wide range of skills across a broad spectrum of interests and fields. The skills in analysis and research you will develop are relevant to vocational or non-vocational work in many different settings.
Previous graduates have gone on to have careers in higher education, policy-related fields, local government, other public sector bodies and third sector organisations. Careers have included those related to health and welfare, social work practice, academic posts, community work, the criminal justice system, management and research consultancy.
Meet our supervisors
The following list shows potential supervisors for this programme. Visit their profiles for details of their research and expertise.
The school houses seven specialist research centres:
- Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences
Staff in the Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences conduct research focusing on physical activity and nutrition, and their associations with health across the lifespan. The primary areas of focus include biomedical, psychosocial and socio-environmental aspects of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and nutrition.
- Children and Families Research Centre
This centre is a hub for research and training in child welfare, family policy, social work and young people's relationships. Our members have backgrounds in social policy, social work, psychology and sociology. We have strong national and international links with child welfare academics, policy makers, practitioners and service users.
- Centre for Gender and Violence Research
The centre is a leading site for the study of gender-based violence. Members have a long history of researching violence against women and gender-based violence in different contexts. This includes theoretical and empirical studies and evaluations of policy and practice locally, nationally and internationally. Our research covers victims/survivors, perpetrators, children, agency approaches and international comparisons using a gendered analysis.
- Centre for Research in Health and Social CareThis centre focuses on both applied and theoretical research into key health issues at national and international level. There are currently around 30 staff and postgraduate students working across a wide spectrum of research areas: inter-professional and inter-agency work, evidence-based care, health inequality, mental health and health issues relating to ageing, children and gender.
- Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice (including the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research)
The centre was formed in 1998 to provide a more integrative perspective on existing scholarships in criminal justice, socio-legal studies, poverty and social exclusion. Our members come from a wide range of disciplines and have expertise in a number of policy areas, with particular strengths in data analysis and social statistics. We aim to promote a supportive arena for critical national and international analysis and research into monitoring the nature and extent of poverty, social exclusion and injustice.
- Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research Research at the Centre for Urban and Public Policy Research is concerned with governance, housing, citizenship, globalisation and the transformation of social and economic life in cities. Centre members come from the disciplines of economics, social policy, history, geography, social economics and social work. We combine interests in theoretical approaches to social and urban theory with practical involvement in current issues of policy in the UK and across the world. Our staff members have active research links with institutions in east and south-east Asia, the European Union and Europe, particularly the Balkan countries. This results in work with a strong international and comparative dimension, which we see as one of our key strengths.
- Norah Fry Research Centre The Norah Fry Research Centre is a leading international centre specialising in research with and for disabled adults, children and their families. The centre is known for its work to include people with learning disabilities in the research process, as well as the development of accessible, easy-to-understand information and the dissemination of research findings in multiple formats to different audiences.