Negotiating identities in a professional doctorate: Tracing student perspectives

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 34: Higher Education on the Edge

July, 2011, 394 pages
Published by
K. Krause, M. Buckridge, C. Grimmer, & S. Purbrick-Illek
0 908557 85 X

Professional doctorates have emerged as a new form of degree directed to research training for career professionals beyond the academy. Empirical studies have largely focused on structural components with limited investigation of the experiences of the student- practitioner and how they understand and are shaped by undertaking this type of doctoral program. This paper reports on the first phase of a longitudinal qualitative research study tracing a group of professionals’ conceptions of their own learning and identities as they participate in a recently accredited work-based professional doctorate provided by a government health department and an Australian university. We focus on how these practitioners seek to mediate and make sense of the two potentially very different learning cultures of the workplace and the university as they engage in the early stages of the program. The findings to date suggest that undertaking a work-based professional doctorate by research requires considerable ‘identity work’ to negotiate, and seek to integrate, worker and scholar identities, practices and products. This appears to be a complex and personally mediated process involving individual life histories, aspirations and connections to differing professional communities of practice. We conclude that despite the labour involved in participating across workplace and university settings these professionals value the affordances provided by both sites of learning, are variously shaping into ‘scholar- practitioners’ and that their pathway through this professional doctorate is likely to have important implications for leadership within Australia’s public health workforce.

Keywords: professional doctorate, communities of practice, scholar-practitioner