Programme structure

Overview of programme structure

Conferring of Dr Pat Bonello and Dr Marguerite Hughes

Conferring of Dr Pat Bonello and Dr Marguerite Hughes

The Doctor of Social Science (DSocSc) is a four year, distance learning programme, aimed at social professionals working in the areas of social policy, social work, social research and youth and community work. The DSocSc provides a structured learning environment in which to pursue doctoral study, involving two years of taught modules followed by two years spent conducting independent research. Teaching is delivered through a combination of face-to-face workshop weeks and online learning approaches.  The programme provides participants with the opportunity to acquire competency as an autonomous researcher, gain a deeper understanding of theoretical frameworks underpinning social sciences and social policy, and identify the roles of research and evaluation within organisations.  There is a particular emphasis in the programme of the conduct of social research, focusing not just on issues of design and methodology, but also the politics and ethics of undertaking research.

In the first two years, participants take four modules per year, each of 15 credits. These modules provide participants with the necessary skills to undertake their own substantive piece of research in years three and four, culminating in the production of a 60,000 word dissertation in year 4.


As an alternative to the traditional research-based PhD, the DSocSc provides a more structured learning environment that combines both teaching and research. There are currently 18 students enrolled on the programme, with a range of different professional backgrounds, including public sector management, social research, education, community work, international development, social work and youth work.

Professionals working in the above areas are increasingly being expected to ground their practice and decision–making in evidence from research and evaluation.  The DSocSc programme provides participants with the opportunity to:

  1. Acquire competency as an autonomous researcher able to undertake and interrogate research and to communicate its outcomes.
  2. Gain a deeper understanding of theoretical frameworks underpinning the social sciences and social policy and examine how these can bring insights to their own practice and organisation.
  3. Develop skills in qualitative and   qualitative and quantitative research design and methodologies in order to produce reliable primary data, and be able to analyse and critically evaluate primary and secondary data.
  4. Identify the roles of research and evaluation within organisations and apply existing research findings to issues emerging in the workplace and other relevant contexts.
  5. Demonstrate intellectual/professional leadership through the use of research as a method of developing organisations and service provision.


The DSocSc programme is underpinned by a number of key themes which run throughout the four years and are reflected in the modules offered:

Conducting social research:  from design to dissemination .  The focus here is on qualitative and quantitative research methods and skills as well as the experience and politics/ethics of conducting social research.

Social policy debates and processes . Contemporary social policy debates are engaged with in order to strengthen students’ analytical skills in critically evaluating policy-making processes and outcomes.

Social justice.  What does the creation of a more socially just and equitable society mean and entail?  The programme addresses this question by examining ideas of social justice and how these are applied in professional practice, policy debates and research.

Integrating research in organisational contexts.  The application of research in organisations receives repeated attention in the modules offered in this programme.

Teaching mode

The DSocSc is a collaborative professional learning and research programme which is delivered through a combination of distance and face-to-face approaches.  Modules are taught via week-long workshops held at UCC (four weeks in years one and two, and shorter thesis workshops in years three and four) supplemented by online discussion and individual tutorials which enable participants to build on and maintain continuity between workshops. This approach seeks to provide participants with the flexibility to manage their learning in ways that suit their professional and personal lives.  It is expected that students will spend approximately 15 hours on study per week, including reading, research and participation in online discussions throughout the programme, although this may vary at particular times in the year.


Most of the modules in Years One and Two are assessed via written assignments (5,000 words). However, continuous thesis work during these two years also moves students towards the production of a substantive research proposal and programme of research to be undertaken in Years Three and Four. In Years Three and Four, participants work with an individual supervisor (supported by group workshops) to produce a 60,000 word dissertation. Although shorter in word count, the dissertation is similar in form to, and as intellectually rigorous as the conventional PhD thesis.  However, it may be more concisely written and presented, as it does not have to demonstrate the full range of the student’s competence, which is assessed over the full four years through a variety of challenging assignments.


The programme is based on a pedagogical philosophy of self-directed learning, with peer and tutor support playing a role in enabling participants to be connected to, and part of, an interactive learning community. Indeed, a key strength of the DSocSc programme is that students benefit from each other’s experiences in a more structured learning environment than would be so in the case of conventional PhD research.

Students will be provided with tutorial support from the beginning of the programme. The tutor will support the participant in a variety of ways, for example by facilitating the development of necessary learning skills, advising on written and project work, and supervising the research dissertation

Year by year…

Year 1

  • Introduction to Social Research (15 credits)
  • Philosophies of Social Science (15 credits)
  • Research Methods and Skills (15 credits)
  • Social Policy Debates and Processes (15 credits)
  • Participants also undertake 30 credits of thesis work.

Year 2

  •  The Politics of Social Research (15 credits)
  • Organisational Analysis (15 credits)
  • State and Society (15 credits)
  • Designing for Research and Evaluation (15 credits)
  • Participants also undertake 30 credits of thesis work.

Year 3

  • Specialist component (identifying a research topic and initiating a specific research project) 90 credits

Year 4

  • Supervised research/thesis work (90 credits) with supervised write-up of dissertation.