Research Training in Doctoral Programs - What can be learned from Professional Doctorates?

Source: OAI


Doctoral education in Australia is currently under pressure to become more industry focused. This report discusses the relatively recent experience of offering doctoral education through professional doctorate programs as a contribution to the improvement of doctoral education in Australian universities. The evaluation focused on the extent to which such programs had developed practices for sustaining closer collaboration between universities and industry, through:

• a review of the general literatures relating to the role of doctoral research in contributing to the growth of knowledge and innovation;

• a multi-method exploration of the range of practices and relationships associated with professional doctorate programs; and

• the development of strategies and policy recommendations for optimising doctoral education in Australian universities in terms of industry-focused outcomes.

When set against the 800-year history of the PhD, the professional doctorate is a young doctorate, the first being set up in Australia within the last two decades. The nature and status of professional doctorates remains unclear to many, including a number of university administrators of research training, as well as government and industry personnel. The fact that 61 per cent of professional doctorate programs fall under the classification of ‘research’ higher degrees is not widely understood. Moreover, the 131 programs we found to exist in 35 of the 38 Australian public universities, exhibit a wide range of structures and features.

While there is strong evidence of an increase in the number of professional doctorates being offered in Australian universities, and there is some evidence of innovation in a number of professional doctorate programs, it appears that industry-focused doctoral education is still in its infancy. With a few exceptions, neither industry nor universities were engaging in any significant way to develop sustainable partnerships to serve and support the work of doctoral education. While the government White Paper Knowledge and Innovation (Kemp, 1999a) is clearly having an impact on universities in terms of active improvement of the quality and accountability of research training, industry remains to be engaged in any systematic or sustained way.

Most operational professional doctorates programs may be characterised as having ‘surface’ level links, in that they exhibit the following features:

• A particular industry or group of industries is the source from which most clients come and to which they return;

• There is some attempt made to involve non-academic individuals from industry and/or a professional group in course delivery, supervision or assessment (this is likely to be limited and ad-hoc);

• Research and research activities are workplace-based; and

• Marketing materials stress the value of the program to targeted professions.

A few programs exhibited ‘deep’ levels of linkage with professional and industry bodies as indicated by the following:

• Their establishment is driven by a particular industry or professional association (eg, peak industry groups define the nature of the training to be undertaken and the skills/attributes that are to be developed);

• Industry and/or professions are partners in the delivery and supervision of programs, and this is built into the funding and/or sponsorship arrangements that exist between universities, participants and external bodies;

• Industry/professional bodies play a substantial role in the assessment and credentialing process;

• Research training outcomes are of a nature and in a form that is recognisable as beneficial to the industry/professional partner; and

• The community of learning built around the program includes both academic and industry and/or profession based participants.

While the strengths in a number of the ‘surface’-linked programs investigated are impressive, the potential for professional doctorates to offer a context for more innovative and industry-focused doctoral training is yet to be realised. In particular, there are significant possibilities for the design and development of doctoral programs that deliver new types of quality research training. Programs that are deeply linked to industry and/or the professions are needed to achieve this. There is no evidence that surface levels of engagement evolve into deeper ones.

Download full-text


Available from: Pat Thomson
  • Source
    • "Currently, a total of 131 professional doctorate programs are offered by 35 of the forty Australian universities. Professional doctorates are rapidly emerging in the fields of education, health, psychology and business (McWilliam & others, 2002). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: This paper reports on an aspect of a pilot project in 2003 by the authors comprising a bibliographic analysis of all (51,000+) Australian PhDs. The pilot work provides both data and methodological bases for a larger project that investigates the nature and development of PhDs in Australia as they evolved in the context of economic, social and educational changes. This paper reviews the evidence from the bibliographic data held in library catalogues of PhDs in each Australian university. It provides a review of the numbers and range of PhDs in Australia for each decade from 1950 to 2000. This is contextualised in terms of the changes to Australian tertiary education over the period and other factors that contribute to the rise of PhDs in Australia.
    Preview · Article · Jan 2011
  • Source
    • "This has led to professional doctoral students being described as 'researching professionals' rather than 'professional researchers' (Bourner et al., 2001; Tennant, 2004) as the focus of the professional doctoral research is on problems of direct relevance to the student's own professional contexts and working lives (Bourner et al., 2001). McWilliam et al. (2002) summarised the characteristics of professional doctoral students as mostly mid-career professionals; studying part-time while working full-time (Crossouard, 2008); having careers that make them experience-rich but time-poor; working in professions where there is little or no recognition or reward for postgraduate study; and undertaking further study for intrinsic reasons rather than for monetary gain or other extrinsic rewards. While professional doctoral students have a wealth of professional experience, they do not necessarily have research skills or training. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The professional doctorate is a degree that is specifically designed for professionals investigating real-world problems and relevant issues for a profession, industry and/or the community. The exploratory study on which this paper is based sought to track the scholarly skill development of a cohort of professional doctoral students who commenced their course in January 2008 at an Australian university. Via an initial survey and two focus groups held six months apart, the study aimed to determine if there had been any qualitative shifts in students' understandings, expectations and perceptions regarding their developing knowledge and skills. Three key findings that emerged from this study were: (i) the appropriateness of using a blended learning approach in this professional doctoral program; (ii) the challenges of using wikis as an online technology for creating communities of practice; and (iii) the transition from professional to scholar is a process that requires the guided support inherent in the design of this particular doctorate of education program. © Common Ground, Denise Beutel, Larina Gray, Stephanie Beames, Val Klenowski, Lisa Ehrich, Cushla Kapitzke.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2010
  • Source
    • "In the institutions included in the study there were no professional doctorates offered in any of the science or engineering faculties – a not unusual situation as also highlighted by the Maxwell and Shanahan surveys. At the time of this study there were no professional doctorates in engineering offered in Australian universities, and of the 10–15 professional doctorates in science most had only been offered in the past two years (McWilliam et al., 2002). In this study, some of the professional doctorate programs were introduced in the early 1990s, following the NBEET (1988; 1990) papers. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: For more than a decade professional doctorates in Australia have continued to grow and diversify across a broadening array of disciplines. An empirical study of “The Doctoral Education Experience” in Australian universities included an examination of doctoral experiences in departments offering both PhD and professional doctorates. This paper discusses professional doctorates in education, management, law and the creative arts, remarking on similarities and differences found between PhD and professional doctorate programs, providing an insight into practice. Three specific areas are discussed. The first is the recruitment and selection of students, student choice of professional doctorates and perceived career benefits. The second area is the structure and organisation of PhD and professional doctorate programs, including the identification of the research topic. The third area is the perceived status of professional doctorates vis‐à‐vis the PhD. The findings are discussed within the context of government policy on postgraduate education and the emerging literature on professional doctorates. The concluding section of the paper considers the issue of differentiation between the doctorates and possible future developments. Within the context of Australian higher education the main difference could become the capacity to pay: attempts to impose fees in advance for professional doctorates are reinforced by recent government policy on student financing.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2005 · Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management
Show more