What is a doctorate?

Doctorates represent the highest level of academic qualification that a university can award.

They are only awarded to those who have demonstrated their ability to create or interpret new knowledge which extends the forefront of their discipline, and merits publication in peer-reviewed journals within their field. Their recipients are singled out, not only by the award itself, but by being entitled to be addressed, publicly and in written communications, as “doctor”.

Doctorates were traditionally restricted to the professional scholar. More recently, the demands of the knowledge economy, the emergence of the “lifelong learning” concept, and the consequent expansion of all types of opportunities within higher education, have together given birth to the professional doctorate.

What is a professional doctorate?

A professional doctorate is a programme of study, catering specifically for the needs of experienced practitioners in a particular profession, the successful completion of which results in the award of a doctorate. They are typically undertaken by practitioners with a desire to develop their higher level competencies, or by former practitioners who have decided to undertake an academic career.

Candidates for the award enrol on a programme with a cohort of other practitioners from similar professional backgrounds, rather than studying alone. They undertake research for a thesis which is related to their professional expertise and experience. They are also provided with much higher levels of support and tuition than has traditionally been provided for full-time campus-based doctoral students. Professional doctorates are therefore sometimes described (misleadingly, in my view) as “taught doctorates”.

Taken together these features provide an achievable route by which an experienced professional can achieve a doctorate by part-time study based partially on existing knowledge and experience.

The Salford model

Candidates for the Salford award start work on their research as soon as they join the programme. From day 1, the programme starts methodically preparing them for their end goal – the successful defence of a thesis at a viva voce (oral examination) resulting in the award of a doctorate. Every aspect of the programme is designed to equip candidates with the means to produce a high quality, academically credible, thesis based on their own professional knowledge, capable of satisfying even the most critical of examiners.

Paul Chynoweth

Programme Leader

“Doctorates are entirely different from any other qualification that you will have studied for in the past and represent the ultimate academic achievement. The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ) only allows universities to award doctorates to candidates for work which generates new knowledge, of publishable standard, and which extends the forefront of their discipline. Although traditionally restricted to professional scholars, the specific needs of practitioners who aspire to achieve a doctorate in their specialist field are also now catered for by professional doctorate programmes. Salford’s programme combines a unique step-by-step framework with high levels of tuition and support, tailored exclusively to the needs of experienced professionals in the built environment.”

Through a process of reflection candidates are encouraged to generate explicit academic knowledge from their wealth of existing tacit professional knowledge. By so-doing, they are able to produce research results which are mature, credible and relevant, whilst at the same time minimising study time. Candidates also become familiar with a range of practice-based, real world, research methods with which to underpin their work, and with the philosophical knowledge necessary to defend their chosen approach before the examiners.

The means by which this is achieved are described in the content and tuition sections of this web site.

Further reading

Nancy-Jane Smith, Achieving your Professional Doctorate: A Handbook, Open University Press, 2008 (ISBN: 9780335227211)

Paul Chynoweth, ‘Professional Doctorates in the Built Environment: How Higher Education is Responding to the Changing Needs of Industry and the Professions’ Proceedings of the Built Environment Education Annual Conference 2006, Bonnington Hotel, Bloomsbury, London, 12 – 13 September 2006