The School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences has a vibrant and multi-disciplinary research environment, which is home to a wide range of research projects that tackle important questions in the social sciences. We have an excellent international reputation for producing high quality research which has global impact. Our work is centred around three key themes: persistent and emerging socio-economic challenges, policy and practice in divided societies, and national global social justice.

If you are interested in pursuing doctoral research in Social Work at Ulster University, you’ll be joining a community of academics who are engaged in research with practitioners and services users in Northern Ireland and internationally. We aim to support research awareness in undergraduate students and research skills through our post qualifying training. Our researchers work in partnership with social workers, social work employers, the HSC R&D Division, Northern Ireland, the Office of Social Services (Department of Health Northern Ireland) and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council, to respond to the evolving research needs of the profession.  We work in collaboration with the International Federation of Social Work, on global social work workforce research.  We also engage in cross-disciplinary research and work in close collaboration with social work academics in the island of Ireland using the Social Work Education and Research Forum, and we are involved in European networks such as European Social Work Research Association, with Special Interest Groups.


Social Work Research at Ulster University

The social work team produce high quality research outputs and contribute to international networks relating to identified areas of practice.

We aim to:

  • Ask critical questions about how professionals make decisions, assess risk and apply evidence across a range of areas including adult safeguarding, child protection, probation and mental health.
  • Provide evidence around workforce wellbeing for social work and social care professionals, using a range of research questions, and utilising complex qualitative and quantitative methods, including statistical analysis of data drawn from international, national, and regional sources.
  • Promote research mindedness and evidence-based practice within the social work workforce.
  • Inform our undergraduate and post graduate teaching with current research findings

Our research falls under the following main themes:

  1. decision making and risk in probation, child protection and adult social care;
  2. resilience and wellbeing amongst social work professionals and health professionals;
  3. social work in schools;
  4. intimate partner violence;
  5. domestic violence;
  6. addiction issues in migrant populations;
  7. family involvement in youth justice;
  8. understanding capacity in children with learning disabilities;
  9. children’s rights;
  10. social work education;
  11. service user perspectives on education and social work practice;
  12. bureaucracy in social work;
  13. relationship based social work;
  14. information technology in social work;
  15. self-directed support.

We welcome interest from prospective PhD candidates in any of these areas.

For more information on the research interests of each staff member in Social Work, please visit the Social Work page on the website of the Doctoral College. For more information on how to prepare an application, including how to draft a research proposal, please visit our School’s webpage that describes the variety of PhD Opportunities.


Dr Campbell Killick

Dr Killick studied social work as an undergraduate at Ulster University from 1989 until1992. He has worked in statutory social work for almost 30 years. Campbell is currently coordinating undergraduate teaching in relation to risk and assessment. He is the Course Director for master’s level research training that welcomes social workers, service users and others.Campbell’s research interest includes risk, safeguarding and professional decision making.Campbell is on the coordinating committee for the DARE biannual symposium on Decision Making, Assessment, Risk and Evidence based Practice.

Dr Denise MacDermott

Dr MacDermott’s research focuses on social work education and applied learning from collaborations and partnerships with social work educators, service users and experts by experience from the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland.  Dr MacDermott’s research documents collaborations with the voluntary sector and the valuable and distinctive contribution these are making to social work education in Northern Ireland through applied learning, partnership and participation. Denise’s accumulated publications and research contribute to the wider field of social work education with a focus on the connections between vocational research and innovative curriculum design.

Dr Paula McFadden

Dr McFadden’s research interests are centred on workforce wellbeing, resilience and burnout.  At present Dr McFadden is leading on a UK wide multi-disciplinary research study on workforce wellbeing and coping while working during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Additionally, she is involved in research in association with the International Federation of Social Workers and Bath Spa University on Global Working Conditions across international countries. Dr McFadden is supervising PhD students whose interests are related to social work workforce and practice issues. Dr McFadden welcomes applications from potential PhD candidates who are interested in pursuing research in the realms of social work workforce wellbeing and related practice areas.

Dr Tony McGinn

Dr McGinn is interested in PhD proposals relating to domestic violence. Tony has published widely on the topic and is currently engaged in the development of IPV perpetrator programmes in Ireland. Tony has also been involved in research and practice development relating to autism, dementia and learning disability. Tony would like to hear from candidates who are interested in completing qualitative or mixed methods evaluations of social work practice modifications, or candidates who would like to know more about completing an evidence synthesis, on any topic area relating to the helping professions.

Dr Emma McGinnis

Dr McGinnis’ research interests focus on hard to reach, hidden and excluded populations, particularly in children and family, and justice services. She has engaged in action research with young people involved in the justice system and published on their experiences of statutory services. Emma’s research with parents of justice system involved children and explored their experiences of formal agencies and processes. Emma is interested in PhD proposals from prospective candidates who want to explore and understand the lived experience of excluded or under-represented populations, including their experience of meaningful participation, when involved with statutory agencies and their processes. This might apply to any statutory agency or service.

Dr Shaun Roddy

Dr Roddy research interests stem from his social work practice. He has experience working in the field of Looked after Children, adult addictions and Child & Adolescent Mental Health. His own PhD focused in on substance misuse amongst migrant populations. Shaun has an interest in substance use and misuse amongst children and adult populations.  Additional research interests include child and adolescent mental health and paramilitary intimidation and violence towards children. Shaun in interested in research proposals from prospective candidates who want to explore some of these issues and nuances.

Entry requirements

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study. We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

English language requirements

In order to be admitted to research study at Ulster, you will need to provide evidence of your English language proficiency as part of your application.

Get full details on the requirements for both home and overseas applicants can be found on our English language requirements page.

Careers and opportunities

PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.

The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015), and while two thirds end up in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the range of skills acquired equips the remainder for employment in a wide range of contexts.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees

Details of tuition fees can be found under the fees schedule for the academic year of entry.

To work out for which fees you would be eligible and to find out more information about potential sources of funding, please view the Fees and Funding pages on the Doctoral College website.


We are delighted that you are considering Ulster University for your research studies.

Get full details on the application process and further guidance on how to apply, and what you will need to upload as part of your application.

Once you have identified supervisors, discussed a research proposal and are ready to make an application, please apply using the online application system.

Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.