The Professional Doctorate –
A Case study at GCU
Professor Bonnie Steves
Director, The GCU Graduate School
Dr Sheena Blair, ProfD Programme Leader, GCU
Dr Brian Ellis, ProfD Developer, GCU
International Benchmarking – research degrees
QAA Scotland & SHEEC, 30 April 2010
1. What makes a ProfD?
Differences between PhD and ProfD
Professional researchers
Researching professionals
Gold standard route to academia
Entry from selected professionals
Individual study
Cohort based
Focused study that tends not to
Study directly related to
change practice. Emphasis more on professional practice with emphasis
academic knowledge.
on constructive change.
Starting to include a taught element Taught element. Credit rated
Employment related skills may be
part of study but are not a
Focuses upon more discrete
Employment related skills are a key
Offers broader scholarship
History of Prof D’s
 Limitation of the PhD to change practice
 Established in Education, Business,
psychology, Engineering & more recently
Allied Health Professions and Nursing.
 Survey of Prof D awards in the UK (Powell
and Long, 2005) – EdD, DClin, DEng, DBA...
Purpose of the Prof D
 To enhance professional practice
 To carry out a research project based on
professional practice
 To improve clinical/public services
 To contribute to the professional knowledge
Is this research? Yes, if it is evidence-based
and work is carried out at Doctoral level.
Doctoral Work – Makes a significant original contribution to
the development of the subject/discipline
2. A Case Study – The GCU Experience
Glasgow Caledonian University
 Origins date back to 1875
 One of UK’s largest modern
 1500 academic/research staff
 17000 students - 400 PGR’s from over 100 countries
 Over 4000 mature students
 Largest # of PT students in
International student satisfaction
 Top in Scotland 4 years in a row
GCU’s Professional Doctorate
• Recruiting ave. - 18 students/yr
• Total - 61 students, 16% of PGR’s
• 90% retention rate
• Strong cohort and community
• Over 60 staff teach/supervise on it from
all Schools
What is it like to be a “professional” at the moment?
It’s like:
“rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”
“at the end of the day, the pawn and the king go back
into the same box”
“feeling like the Ranger’s supporter at the Celtic end and
vice versa!”
“its like a juggle presently – survival of the fittest”
“its like a computer game and you can see the action but
you do not know the purpose of the game!”
“I am an ever-changing person, in an ever-changing
GCU design – Who is it for?
 “A unique opportunity to undertake an advanced research
and practice development programme that is professionally
relevant” Marketing material for GCU Prof Doc
Key characteristics of the GCU Prof Doc:
Focus mainly on public sector employees
Developing and enhancing services
Educating future leaders/current leaders
Developing the professional knowledge base
Enhancing personal effectiveness and resilience
Motivation for doing a Prof D
 To make a difference in professional practice that
will help people
 To contribute new knowledge based on rigorous
 To learn with a cohort of like-minded
 To engage in life-long learning/CPD
 To gain additional skills and qualifications
 To further professional career
Key features of the GCU ProfD
GCU Design - Admissions
3 years work experience
Upper 2nd class Honours
Clear rationale for application to Prof D
Evidence of support from employer
No credit given for existing academic
Degree Structure
 4 years part-time
Stage 1 (2 yrs) modules:
 Research Methods RM (70 M-level)
 Professional Development PD (50 M-level)
 Project Development, Design and
Management (60 D-level)
Stage 2 (2 yrs)
 Research project and thesis (360 D-level)
Metaphors used to describe experience
Selections from the three diaries concerning the first four days
of the taught element:
 “Start of a journey”
 “First steps of the marathon”
 “A rollercoaster - when the rollercoaster ride has begun there
is nothing to do but cling on!”
 “Pennies dropping and things beginning to make sense”
 “Its like discovering a whole new view – yet in a strangely
familiar continent”
 “Really thorough preparation for the challenge ahead – tools
are in the rucksack for the expedition”
My sense of journey
 I had a route map – the design was there and I had to interpret
it - but my feelings concerning the start of the programme
resonated with the notions of journey, expedition,
progression along a pathway……………..
 I shared the values underpinning the programme design and
was entirely committed to this form of doctoral study
 Understood the structure and rationale, and acknowledged
the complexity………
 “if you are going to change the world its better not to do it
with a group of flying monkeys!”
The Graduate School
Working together
to develop researchers and
research community
GCU Design - Some local complexities
 The ProfD programme framework is hosted by the Graduate
 The Programme is designed and led in partnership with the
Schools of Health and Life Sciences
 Soon to also include new ProfD programmes from Schools of
Law and Social Science and the Business School.
ProfD for Health, Social Care and Nursing Professionals +
DBA, DMan, D App Psych, ProfD for Justice, Welfare and
Policy Professionals.
 The teaching/supervisory teams are drawn from throughout
the university – Health, Business School, Law and Social
Science, Life Science, Engineering and Computing, Graduate
Our frequent thought is:
“It’s like herding cats!”
Students experience of a cross School approach
“Lots of different perspectives – really enjoyable”
“Yesterday’s lectures felt like I had walked through the
wrong door!”
“Great series of master classes”
“strategic thinking in business terms may be different
from health and social care”
“I know some of this stuff – but by other names!”
“The variety of perspectives have been exciting – new
languages to learn”
Student Experience
Students’ reflections
“Really appreciate the support given from the cohort”
“Minimal competition and lots of sharing”
“Feel part of the programme and not just a student on
“Appreciated the availability of staff to help with ideas
and paradigms that I did not understand”
“People took time with me to explore the crushing
work responsibilities, personal lives and study and
how this can produce conflict”
Some final reflections from the diaries (First
cohort/Stage 2)
“My ontological stance is more of a slouch!”
“9.05 and I’m overwhelmed already!”
“So good to be back together again – need to get back
on track”
“The need for rigour is so overwhelming that I am
beginning to think that this is a course designed for
“Learning to defend the project proposal at a basic level
is so helpful and being open to that criticism – a
journey within itself”
Final thought!
In the diary of the third cohort, there is an Entry in the reflective
diary: “By the end of the day my anxiety had given way to
excitement………….bring it on!”
So the challenge for us at GCU and elsewhere is:
• How to sustain the conditions for learning and the learning
climate that nurtures this excitement to become a scholarly