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Find out about the research we do in Social Work

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Social Work PhD

Start date




Mode of study

3 years full-time

6 years part-time



International £23,615

UK £4,786

MPhil option available
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Research profile

Social Work at Brunel University is aligned with grand challenges for social work research including focus on individual and family well-being, creating a stronger social fabric, and developing a just society. The Social Work team has expertise in many current issues with which social work engages, such as ageing, children and families, LGBT identities, mental health, migration, health, loss/grief and environmental concerns.  The team holds strengths in social policy and interdisciplinary practice as well as planning for and adapting to current societal shifts. Brunel is one of the leading providers of social work and social policy research in London, funded by high-profile organisations like the ESRC, the AHRC, Nuffield Foundation, the Rowntree Trust, the European Union, the Department for Education and Skills and the NHS.

Find out about the exciting research we do in this area. Browse profiles of our experts, discover the research groups and their inspirational research activities you too could be part of. We’ve also made available extensive reading materials published by our academics and PhD students.  

Learn more about research in this area.

Brunel Experts by Experience has a long and proud history at Brunel whereby service-users help the delivery of Social Work training to students and staff.

 In the Division of Social Work we have members of staff who are:

  • Editor of Ageing and Society, the leading social gerontology journal in the UK
  • Fellows of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA)
  • Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health
  • Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences
  • University of Auckland Ralph & Eve Seelye Charitable Trust Award Fellowship holder
  • Serve on many editorial boards and have won many teaching awards

Other activities include:

  • Health Research Authority Social Care Research Ethics Committee.
  • National Institute for Health Research-Health Services and Delivery Research panel
  • Welfare, Health and Wellbeing theme at the Institute of Environment, Health and Societies.

The Division of Social Work has:

  • specialism in gerontology and children and families
  • commitment to anti-oppressive practice
  • service user perspectives and experiences
  • specialist researchers in gender and sexualities

You can explore our campus and facilities for yourself by taking our virtual tour.

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Find a supervisor

Our researchers create knowledge and advance understanding, and equip versatile doctoral researchers with the confidence to apply what they have learnt for the benefit of society. Find out more about working with the Supervisory Team.

You are welcome to approach your potential supervisor directly to discuss your research interests. Search for expert supervisors for your chosen field of research.

Potential research students are encouraged to contact members of staff in the area of interest to receive guidance on how to focus the research proposal and to discuss their research areas.  

Applicants are welcome to contact us about their own specialist topics and projects.  We particularly welcome proposals on

  • Ageing and LGBT identities
  • Ageing and spiritual and emotional well-being
  • Positive ageing and resilience
  • Ageing and virtues, especially wisdom, courage, and beauty
  • Anti-oppressive practice and the development of resilient practitioners
  • Diversity in contemporary family life
    • Religious minorities
    • Masculine identities
    • Mixed couples
  • End-of-life, palliative care, and hospice
  • Loss and grief; death and dying
  • Mental health
  • Migration
  • Public policy and personal life
  • Risk and its perception
  • Spirituality
    • Spirituality and health
    • Spirituality, religion, existentialism and meaning systems in social work.

PhD topics

While we welcome applications from student with a clear direction for their research, we are providing you with some ideas for your chosen field of research:

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    Research journey

    This course can be studied 3 years full-time or 6 years part-time, starting in January. Or this course can be studied 3 years full-time or 6 years part-time, starting in October. Or this course can be studied 3 years full-time or 6 years part-time, starting in April.

    Find out about what progress might look like at each stage of study here: Research degree progress structure.

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    Research support

    Research support

    Excellent research support and training

    The Graduate School provides a range of personal, professional and career development opportunities. This includes workshops, online training, coaching and events, to enable you to enhance your professional profile, refine your skills, and plan your next career steps as part of the Researcher Development Programme. The researcher development programme (RDP) offers workshops and seminars in a range of areas including progression, research management, research dissemination, and careers and personal development. You will also be offered a number of online, self-study courses on BBL, including Research Integrity, Research Skills Toolkit, Research Methods in Literature Review and Principles of Research Methods.

    Library services

    Brunel's Library is open 24 hours a day, has 400,000 books and 250,000 ebooks, and an annual budget of almost £2m. Subject information Specialists train students in the latest technology, digital literacy, and digital dissemination of scholarly outputs. As well as the physical resources available in the Library, we also provide access to a wealth of electronic resources. These include databases, journals and e-books. Access to these resources has been bought by the Library through subscription and is limited to current staff and students.

    Dedicated research support staff provide guidance and training on open access, research data management, copyright and other research integrity issues.

    Find out more: Brunel Library

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    Careers and your future

    You will receive tailored careers support during your PhD and for up to three years after you complete your research at Brunel. We encourage you to actively engage in career planning and managing your personal development right from the start of your research, even (or perhaps especially) if you don't yet have a career path in mind. Our careers provision includes online information and advice, one-to-one consultations and a range of events and workshops. The Professional Development Centre runs a varied programme of careers events throughout the academic year. These include industry insight sessions, recruitment fairs, employer pop-ups and skills workshops.

    In addition, where available, you may be able to undertake some paid work as we recognise that teaching and learning support duties represent an important professional and career development opportunity.

    Find out more.

    Social Work is an evidence-based profession. Research on the efficacy of social work interventions and on service user perspectives and experiences of services are crucial to it. This research is highly valued by the profession. PhDs in Social Work are respected in the field and set an academic research-active practitioner apart from practitioners in general. University departments that deliver social work education expect most staff to have PhDs.

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    UK entry requirements

    The general University entrance requirement for registration for a research degree is normally a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (1st or 2:1). 

    An interview will be required as part of the admissions process and will be conducted by at least two academic staff members remotely via MS Teams, Zoom, or face to face.

    Applicants will be required to submit a personal statement and a research statement.
    Please contact your proposed supervisor, where possible, to receive feedback and guidance on your research statement before submitting it. Learn how to prepare a research statement here.   

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    EU and International entry requirements

    If you require a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK, you must prove knowledge of the English language so that we can issue you a Certificate of Acceptance for Study (CAS). To do this, you will need an IELTS for UKVI or Trinity SELT test pass gained from a test centre approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and on the Secure English Language Testing (SELT) list. This must have been taken and passed within two years from the date the CAS is made.

    English language requirements

    • IELTS: 7 (min 6.5 in all areas)
    • Pearson: 64 (59 in all subscores)
    • BrunELT: 68% (63% in all areas)
    • TOEFL: 98 (min 23 in all areas)

    You can find out more about the qualifications we accept on our English Language Requirements page.

    Should you wish to take a pre-sessional English course to improve your English prior to starting your degree course, you must sit the test at an approved SELT provider for the same reason. We offer our own BrunELT English test and have pre-sessional English language courses for students who do not meet requirements or who wish to improve their English. You can find out more information on English courses and test options through our Brunel Language Centre.

    Please check our Admissions pages for more information on other factors we use to assess applicants. This information is for guidance only and each application is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Entry requirements are subject to review, and may change.

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    Fees and funding

    2024/5 entry


    £23,615 full-time

    £11,805 part-time


    £4,786 full-time

    £2,393 part-time

    Fees quoted are per year and are subject to an annual increase.

    Some courses incur additional course related costs. You can also check our on-campus accommodation costs for more information on living expenses.

    Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. Recently the UK Government made available the Doctoral Student Loans of up to £25,000 for UK and EU students and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

    Scholarships and bursaries