Doctoral Training: Diversifying the experience may be the future

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By Professor Barry Drust

Photo by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

On a recent visit to Australia I spent some time with head of post graduate research at the university I was visiting. As I’m interested in doctoral training it was a great opportunity for me to get some insight into how other institutions and other nations think about doctoral training. As part of this conversation we ended up talking about the different funding opportunities that are available for doctoral studentships. One programme that sparked a lot of discussion was the Australian government’s national industry PhD scheme (  This initiative bases a PhD research programme around an industrial application using a collaborative relationship between academics and industry supervision to co-design a project. This approach is aimed at supporting individuals to not only undertake industry-focused research projects but to be equipped with the knowledge and skills that are required to better translate university research into commercialisation outcomes. This will enable individuals to have the ability to work at the interface of research and industry. Interestingly the scheme targets both talented students and those already in employment who are capable of doctoral level work alongside the roles required by their employers. This represents a useful strategy that offers the opportunity to develop key research skills while retaining industry employment and the associated benefits. 

This programme really resonated with me as it seems to recognise and support the need for innovation on doctoral training. This innovation increases diversity in the profile of the candidates working on doctorates. This in my view is clearly a good thing as it not only increases opportunity for education but also helps enhance the richness of the research environment for all by introducing different thinking. It also seems to be responding to the view held by many that the skills needed in research now extend beyond those associated with research design and delivery to others that facilitate the translation and implementation of research into the real world.  

Its these considerations that were important when we developed the Doctorate in Sport and Exercise here in The Graduate School of Sport and Professional Practice. My own journey into higher education has definitely made me want to create opportunities for non-traditional students to complete doctoral education. My experiences in professional sport have also shown me a number of times that so much high-quality knowledge does not shape practice as a result of the inability of it to be easily translated. Seeing other doctoral projects that are attempting to do similar things, albeit in a slightly different way, is definitely a great source of positive reinforcement for our thinking here at Birmingham.

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