Nearly one hundred executives, directors, and other leaders in their fields have gained research skills, advanced their careers, improved their businesses and found personal fulfilment after graduating from ARU’s professional doctorate programme.
These doctoral level research degrees, which specifically aim to change and improve practice in the workplace, are offered by ARU in a wide range of disciplines including Business Administration, Education, Health and Social Care, Policing, and Practical Theology right through to Science and Technology. The initiative allows professionals who are already well established in their chosen careers to study at doctoral level alongside their work.
“The opportunity helped me to land my ideal job,” says Dr Nicola Hogan, Sustainability Manager at King’s College, London. “Without the doctorate, I don’t think I would be where I am now. There’s just something about having the initials Dr in front of your name which means you’re instantly taken much more seriously in higher education.”
Nicola began her doctorate in 2011, when she was a Sustainable Information Technology Project Manager at the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges.
“Why did I do it?” she reflects, with a smile. “I’ve asked myself that plenty of times! It was partly because most of the work I was doing could inform the DProf, and the DProf could help with the work I was doing, so the two went hand in hand.
“But it was mainly because I loved the job, and I knew that to progress in my career I really needed to have a doctorate.”
Nicola took six years, researching and then writing up her study into Barriers to Institutions Embedding Sustainable Technologies in their Systems.
The research covered a range of areas, from how more effective auto power downs on computers and using smaller and more efficient data centres could help make a university or college more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, to greener ways to use photocopiers across an entire institution.
“For me, it was all about helping the planet and people at the same time,” Nicola says, of the fulfilment she found in her studies. “I wanted to show that you could live both well and in an environmentally friendly way, not least at work.”
“What’s particularly exciting is that our students come from such a remarkable range of disciplines, and backgrounds,” notes Professor Mike Cole, Dean of the ARU Doctoral School. And our students come from places as far away as Trinidad, the Middle East, and Japan.”
Students typically spend two years learning about research, including how to carry out experiments and investigations, ethics, and the art of dealing with data. Then they begin their own research work, before writing up their theses.
Professional doctorate students can meet academics and fellows in their cohort several times a year at ARU as they gather for teaching and supervisions. But as part of a comprehensive package of support, academics will also fly overseas to teach DProf groups.
Dr Keith Gale began his Professional Doctorate in 2010, whilst working as the Chief Contracts Engineer at Hampshire County Council.
He was overseeing infrastructure projects such as building roads, housing and schools, which were typically worth a total of £100 million annually.
“I’d been working in the field for years,” he says, “I had some ideas about how to improve the way major projects were procured and run, potentially saving time, making them more efficient, better quality, and getting improved value for money for the taxpayer.
I did it as a challenge to myself, to explore my ideas. But also because I thought it could do some real good, given how often infrastructure projects are poor quality, overrun and go way over budget.”
Keith analysed the procurement process, from drawing up the initial plans to the awarding of contracts, and how they were then managed. He found his ideas were not just well received, but quickly put into action.
“Hampshire adopted my recommendations,” he says. “And now it looks like they could be implemented across the country. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has used them in a research paper, which should mean more leaders in the construction sector become aware of them, helping to improve their work.”
“It feels great to give something back to a profession which I’ve followed for more years than I care to remember,” Keith says. “I genuinely think my proposals could also be a great help on future infrastructure projects.”
It typically takes four to six years to gain a professional doctorate, although the duration is flexible to make it accessible to as many people as possible. But Nicola warns the commitment should not be underestimated.
“Most of the time, I managed to balance full time work with my research,” she says. “Although there were occasions when I felt like giving up. But I managed to push through, and you feel so proud and fulfilled when you do.”
“Think about why you want a doctorate, and particularly how badly,” Nicola advises. “If it’s important enough to you, then you’ll find a way to get there, no matter how hard it is.
“You have to make sacrifices, like missing out on two weeks in Malaga, or Bank Holidays at the beach. Believe me, I know! It’s like running a marathon. It’s hard work, but at the end you know how much you’ve achieved and you feel elated.”
Keith agrees. “You need determination, tenacity, and to have a strong character,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, particularly alongside a demanding day job. But it’s also very rewarding.
“You meet and get to know your fellow doctoral students, which is fascinating because they come from such a range of fields. You help and challenge each other, and everyone grows professionally because of it.”
Most of a student’s work is carried out at home, but both Nicola and Keith were impressed with the help the university offered as they worked through their doctorates.
“The pastoral care was exceptional,” he says. “The programme was flexible, allowing you to go at your own pace, but the support was there any time you needed it. I’d definitely encourage other professionals to do it. You can make a real difference in your career, and the wider world, and that’s a terrific feeling.”
The DProf programme has proved such a success that it’s being extended to more countries and into other areas of research, with a particular emphasis on reaching students from under represented socioeconomic groups.
Professor Cole concludes, “We’re hugely proud of the DProf programmes at ARU and the research can be so impactful, benefitting the students and their current and future employers. We see how much they give back to their companies or organisations, and society as well. It’s a real win-win, something to celebrate all around.”
The professional doctorates programmes began in the mid 2000s, to offer opportunities to candidates which otherwise they might have been unable to take up. The current cohort of 310 students who are studying for their degrees are drawn from, and based in, countries across the globe.