Practitioner researchers
: A phenomenological study exploring the experiences of PhD students researching their field of professional practice

  • Joseph Waghorne

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This study explores the lived experience of PhD students who are researching their field of professional practice. Traditionally PhD programmes were shaped around a normative understanding of what a PhD student is -someone who is young, professionally inexperienced, and studying full-time. Broader societal and academic trends have caused a massification of doctoral education, bringing many new types of people to study at doctoral level. To ensure the PhD programmes can support them, it is vital to understand the experience of non-traditional PhD students. While existing literature has looked at the student experience of doctoral study, there is little empirical research which explores the experience of professional practitioners studying for a PhD. Current research focused on professionals is primarily focused on professional doctorate students,which has a different structure to the traditional PhD. Toexplore the experience of PhD students who are researching their field of professional practice, this study used a descriptive phenomenological methodology to conduct and analyse the research data. Themethodology used in this study employs the framework of analysis from Giorgi (2009) to bring forth the general structure of the phenomenon. This study has shown that there are five invariant constituents which are vital to the general structure. The first –Understanding what a PhD is –finds students are conceptually unprepared in their understanding of what the degree is when they begin. This becomes a conceptual threshold which the student must cross before they can move on with their study. The second –Learning and support during the PhD are not limited to what is provided formally by the university –shows the importance of informal support, primarily the importance of peer support. Forming strong peer bonds is an essential form of support for PhD students learning and wellbeing. The third -Supervisor relationship is the primary source of interaction between student and the university –finds practitioner students are unable or reluctant to interact with other parts of the university ecosystem. There is often a mismatch in expectations between student and their supervisors related to their professional status. The fourth -The PhD is only one part of the students’ lives and must be managed alongside other parts –explores further the ways these external demands impact the PhD experience. The final invariant constituent -Doing a PhD irreversibly changes the way students view their practice and themselves –reveals the ontological shift undertakinga PhD has on the student and the way this impacts their relationship with their practice. This study addresses a gap in the literature by focusing on an under-researched group of PhD students and furthers our understanding of the experience of this group of students. It could be used in informing developments of PhD programmes to address some of the needs of the changing body of students.
    Date of AwardApr 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorCarol Robinson (Supervisor), Rachel Masika (Supervisor) & Gina Wisker (Supervisor)

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