This article focuses on the development of academic social work in Estonia by analysing 15 doctoral dissertations on social work undertaken by Estonian social work scientists between 1991 and 2018. The phenomenological approach to interpretive studies focuses on the question of how those doctorate studies perceive social work as a profession and field for practice-based research. Although many are not explicitly concerned with epistemological questions or with positioning social work as a profession in Estonian society as such, 10 out of the 15 studies are geared towards social work practice and all studies explain their research methodology. The nine practice-oriented studies are qualitative studies, lacking an outspoken, clear idea about the specific character or epistemology of social work research except for the last one, defended in 2018. PhD researchers witness the development of social work as it evolves from a helping profession into a more self-confident profession, with its own core values and tasks and positioned on the same level as other front-line professionals.