7th International Conference on Professional & Practice Based Doctorates

The Role of Practice in Doctoral Degrees
  • Conference
  • Professional & Practice-Based Doctorates
  • International
23 — 26 Feb 2021 

Reflecting developments in the field of professional doctorates, for its 7th iteration, the International Conference on Professional Doctorates transforms into the International Conference on Professional and Practice Doctorates.

The ICPPD conference series, run in partnership with Middlesex University since 2009, is now the leading event focusing on the development, provision and impact of professional, practice-based and practice-led doctorates in institutions across the globe.

Defined by Practice?

Doctorates that include significant elements of practice are long established in the arts, engineering, psychology, education and health professions. A substantial element of such degrees may occur in work situations, reflecting their relationship to creativity, problem-solving and change agendas. Professional doctorates and industrial PhDs fall into this category and there is also a practice-turn’ for PhDs.

The term practice’ is used across many domains with little reference to what is meant by practice (or practices) — for example, professional practice, work-related or work-based practice, pedagogical practices and even doctoral practices. There are questions to be asked about what is meant by practice and also if there should be strong distinctions made between practice and theory which can create an unhelpful dualism.

Discussing Issues. Influencing Policy

As with previous conferences we expect to develop a summary of conclusions and recommendations which can be used to influence national and international consideration and policy on doctorates. Such issues may include:

  • Is there concern that labelling doctorates as professional’ and therefore more likely to be practice-based creates anxiety about their value?
  • Is the separation of theory and practice flawed not least because it ignores the degree to which academic study is itself practice’?
  • Does it lead us to question the extent to which legitimate occurs in disciplines and the professions?
  • Rather than attempting to differentiate between forms of doctorate, could we instead conceive of a broad continuum of research-oriented work capable of encompassing a range of approaches?
  • Could it be argued that the reforming nature of the practice-based doctorates and concerns with academic standards is heralding a more transparent and criterion-referenced approach to assessment, in contrast to potential polarisation of norm-referenced doctoral assessments?

The impact and influence of COVID-19 on the Role of Practice in Doctoral Degrees

In the new COVID19 context we need to respond more creatively to circumstances such as new conceptualisations of risk, resilience and complexity which lead to changing ways of working, especially through technology.

In light of this, you may wish to consider and edit your presentations alongside issues related to the pandemic. If you are making a submission in the 2020 second open call you may wish to consider your work alongside issues related to the pandemic. In both circumstances we have selected a few points that you may wish to consider. These issues/​points for consideration are not exhaustive and we hope you will provide your own COVID commentary, addendum, rationale, etc. where your topic warrants a degree of deliberation related to the COVID situation. 

Some positive factors arising from the new situation are that they have provided the opportunity to accelerate developments in, e.g. online learning and supervision, environmental and sustainability concerns, bringing to the fore global inequalities, highlighting differences with direct consequences for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion. Overall, there is an opportunity to move away from the continuing dominance of the discourse of markets and managerialism with its links to neoliberal ideology, dominant policies and normative narratives.

The interrupted state of doctoral education 

There are implications for outcomes and future ways forward in undertaking research. At every stage in the research process, additional challenges may arise and change may be required to consider the new normal. Much of the activity in doctoral research has been interrupted, often because of concerns for research participants and ourselves as researchers, but also there may be a need to look again at the research topics. Approach and methods may need to change, e.g. collection of data at a distance, and of course an increased focus on ethics e.g. weighing competing values like public safety and personal freedom, less focus on profit and more on humanitarian concerns.

We are now universally steered towards new behaviours and new needs, and as researchers engaged in practice, we need an awareness of these new research imperatives. Reflecting on our practice within the new wider context is needed and requires organizational cultures and techniques for creating community, addressing the challenges of digitally mediated working and learning environments, through relational networks both human and non-human, such as technologies. For doctoral research purposes this may mean that a new curriculum and pedagogy of personal engagement is required.

The Risk environment has changed

To alleviate the health risks there are now changing ways of working across sectors. Exceptional use of technology means an increased digital risk environment such as technological crashes and cyber threats. There are risks of unemployment with those remaining in employment having changed and extended work-roles putting their well-being at risk.

Regarding governance and policy — there are risks associated with regulatory compliance as well as risk due to evolving government mandates, safe spacing, stressed and anxious communities. Policy responses are needed to reduce existing and emerging inequalities, protect and support the vulnerable.

Should organisations now be moving from efficiency to resilience?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations, including educational institutions were focused on streamlining roles and workflows that focused on increasing efficiency. The efficiency focus has caused inflexible and fragile systems. In the COVID 19 crisis, these organizations were more susceptible to risk because they were unable to respond adequately to breaks in structure. For example, some organisations had cut staff to the bone and there was no flexibility to respond to the pandemic.

In contrast, resilient organizations are better equipped to respond to structure disruptions. An example of organisational resilience is where structures for student and staff mental health and well-being already in place, were able to be built upon.

Organisations are requiring people to become more resilient in this humanitarian crisis

We were in a situation where organisations often required individuals to look after themselves; not to overwork, to take leave, eat and sleep well or they were themselves at fault. Now, this could accelerate into being responsible for your own resilience. Some organisations are dealing with this more sympathetically than others. In the COVID-19 crisis we have seen both humanisation and dehumanisation of workers, as we take responsibility not only for our own resilience, but for our mental health and emotional well-being. We also need to be concerned with others often managing relationships in digital environments.

People who support care and kindness to others recognise the humanitarian crisis of the pandemic by prioritizing the well-being of colleagues, students, stakeholders etc as people over their professional roles. Organizations can consider the conditions under which employees work and support their needs in all the different and converging high-risk situations, emphasizing their well-being as people over their role as workers. 

Can Practice Theory guide our work?

This conference has the main theme of Practice’ and inevitably practices have needed to change with the new circumstances. It seems reasonable to argue that much that can be found in practice-theory is relevant to apply and consider within our new set of changing practices. For example, a more practice-conscious understanding of the nature of knowledge, its justification, and the rationality behind how it is understood by practitioners is now even more valuable.

The theories of practice that we may draw upon deal with activities and actions often in the sphere of work and focus on individual actions which have social and corporeal realities that are structured, emergent and creative. The theories stress the complexities of these situated practices and significance of power relations, conflicts, and interests and imperatives. Current circumstances are situationally tied to theories that consider practice. Practice theory is therefore valuable as an inseparable package of theory, method and vocabulary (Nicolini, 2017).

Practices are already there and many practice theorists give a steer as to how we might approach them. Kemmis (2019) for example suggests we should respond with sensibility. It can be an opportunity to build a better future. Practice theory has become and may continue to be, a more helpful and compelling engagement for doctoral candidates whose focus upon practice often demands real world’ change.

Can a new compelling landscape of research be developed that imagines a new future, so we can build a better one. We hope you can creatively respond to the new circumstances as appropriate when considering or editing your presentations


  • The Gartner Website
  • Kemmis, S. (2019) A Practice Sensibility: An Invitation to the Theory of Practice Architectures. Singapore, Springer
  • Nicolini D. (2017) Practice Theory as a Package of Theory, Method and Vocabulary: Affordances and Limitations. In: Jonas M., Littig B., Wroblewski A. (eds) Methodological Reflections on Practice Oriented Theories. Cham, Springer

Keynote Presentations

  • John Bramwell

    formally Acting Director of Education and Senior Advisor on Higher Education Policy, British Council
    • International Perspectives on Practice-Centred Research and Awards
  • Dr Liz Dempsey | Senior Higher Education Adviser, The British Council

    • International Perspectives on Practice-Centred Research and Awards
  • Dr Gill Houston

    Chair, UK Council for Graduate Education
    • The UK doctorate: maintaining quality and standards in a shifting landscape
  • Professor Harry Kelly

    UK Director of Chemistry Recruitment and Development, GSK
    • Innovative Collaborative Training Models – GSK & The Universities of Kent & Strathclyde
  • Professor Davide Nicolini

    Professor of Organization Studies, Warwick Business School
    • There is nothing as practical as a good theory or is there? Revisiting the relationship between practice and (academic) theory from a praxeological perspective


Download as PDF