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Social Work - Research


The School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences (ASPS) is a substantial multi-disciplinary, cross campus centre of research with members working on a wide range of cutting edge methodological, theoretical, empirical and policy related issues. It is distinguished by its applied, interdisciplinary research that draws on national and international comparative methods, to develop innovative and significant impact-centred work which pushes the disciplinary boundaries and promotes important changes within society.

ASPS has developed an international reputation for:

Pioneering theoretical ideas that change the way in which policy, governance, criminology and social work are conceptualised.

Developing cutting-edge research methodologies which produce unique, internationally significant data-sets.

Designing a range of innovative analytical tools that help reform and guide social practice.

Disseminating research outputs to a range of stakeholder groups in order to strengthen, and critically reflect upon, policy and practice. ASPS welcomes applicants interested in researching social policy, criminology and justice, politics, policing, prisons, public policy, social work, poverty, language policy, disadvantage, migration and welfare.


The strength and rigour of ASPS' research has been registered in successive research assessment exercises. In the most recent research assessment exercise, 'REF 2014', seventy percent of ASPS' research has been graded world-leading or internationally excellent, with a 160% increase in world-leading research since the 2008 assessment exercise. ASPS ranks 12th in the UK for outstanding research impact (4*) and 20th for world-leading research (4*).

ASPS distinguishes itself through a long-standing commitment to researching and shaping governance, policy, and practice in divided societies dealing with the legacies of violence and conflict. This focus is being expanded and enriched through strategic diversification into new applied research streams that inquire into, and confront, challenges presented by racism, inequality, economic marginalisation, institutional reform and the crimes of the powerful. Furthermore, the school aims to address blind-spots and lacunas in governance, policy and service delivery which conflict and transition can create, in areas such as gender, disability, ageing, health, criminal justice, and ethnic minorities. These streams are enhanced through transnational research that draws on growing international linkages to better understand how regional and global distributions of power, wealth, infrastructure, resources, and knowledge, impact on governance, policy, and practice on a variety of scales.

The school's research priorities are supported by a vibrant, aspirational culture that supports scholars to develop and pioneer innovative methodologies, analytical tools, and theoretical concepts that can sensitively and rigorously build evidence based, conceptually rich understandings of the complex processes that shape reform, accountability and service delivery. We embrace interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research that harnesses diverse tools and approaches to enhance our response to field-specific challenges.

The school aims to formulate and execute our research collaboratively, and share our findings through innovative mechanisms that cater to the precise needs of diverse user-group. ASPS has also demonstrated a preparedness, when needed, to confront injustice and significant failures in policy and governance in a robust manner, often with significant effect. This distinctive research agenda is operationalised through five research groups:

Social Policy
Criminology and Justice
Public Policy and Government
Social Work
Youth and Community studies


Social work research seeks to provide a knowledge base to support the social work profession in its roles of protecting and supporting the most vulnerable in society. Research applications are welcomed in relation to either of the social work research themes. Mental health problems and positive mental health are key issues in contemporary society. How individuals seek help and the pathways they follow through services is a primary research focus for this cluster. Past research has included social media and the mental wellbeing of young men; statutory mental health social work; community integration of former long-stay hospital patients; loneliness amongst older people; and the mental ill health effects of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Another primary strand within this cluster is on resilience. Past studies have included resilience of child protection social workers and of clergy (in relation to Emotional Intelligence); current studies include resilience of family carers and the development of resilience amongst social work students.

This research cluster undertakes research, teaching and organisation development to support social work and allied human service professions in:

Professional judgement and shared decision making;
Assessment processes and tools to inform decisions;
Risk assessment and management in practice and organisations; and
Creating and using evidence to inform practice and policy.

Research includes studies of professional judgement in child protection, protection of vulnerable adults and the justice sector; developing the Northern Ireland Single Assessment Tool for the health and social care of older people; older people's conceptualisation of elder abuse and neglect; risk communication in dementia and in physical disability services; change processes in intimate partner violence programmes; and supporting the development of the Social Care Governance Workbook, the North-South Child Protection Hub and the Safeguarding Adults at Risk Information Hub.

Entry requirements

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.

Additional information for International applicants may be found

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.

Careers or further progression

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.

Further enquiries

Contact supervisor
Dr Paula McFadden
+44 28 7167 5028


Application date


We are delighted that you are considering Ulster University for your research studies. 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, is available at the link below.

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.

Enrolment and start dates

Year of entry: 2020/21

Postgraduate Information Session 26 March 2020
Register at:

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