Designing Doctoral Education Programs in Design: Articulation with Post Doctoral Career Pathways

Trudi Cooper Edith Cowan University, Western Australia

Dr. Terence Love Curtin University, Western Australia


This paper reports research focusing on articulation of design-focused doctoral programs with the career development opportunities that follow. This research is important: post-doctoral career pathways are an important element of knowledge creation; immediate post-doctoral years are most productive in generating discipline knowledge and proposing changes to professional practice; and discussion of articulation with post-doctoral career pathways is almost completely absent from the literature of design education and design research.

The paper identifies adverse consequences of lack of post-doctoral articulation, explores stakeholder concerns, investigates program and assessment issues, and identifies some implications for improving design-focused doctoral programs. The paper concludes by summarizing the main issues in articulating design focused Professional doctorate and PhD education to post-doctoral career pathways to support industrial competitiveness, national economic and social development, and the development of design research as equal to other more established fields of study.


There has been worldwide re-envisioning of doctoral education (see, for example, Buchanan et al., 1999; Deem, 1998; Demicolo, 2003; Durling & Friedman, 2000; ESRC, 2001; Gaff, 2001; Kemp, 1999; Love, 2003; Nyquist, J., 2000; Nyquist, J. D. & Woodford, 2001; Pizzocaro, Arruda, & De Moraes, 2000; Thorne, 1999; Woodford, Bettina, n.d.; Woodford, B., 2001, 2000; Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 2001) that has drawn attention to the centrality of  articulation with post-doctoral career pathways (see, for example, Agre, 2003; Balcioglu, 2000; Engineering Council, 1997; ESRC, 2001; Gaff, 2001; Kemp, 1999; Newhouse, 1999; Nyquist, J., 2000; Nyquist, J. D. & Woodford, 2000; Tellefsen & Love, In Press; Thompson et al., 2001; Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 2001). Implicit in these discussions is the need to identify the purposes of education specific to individual doctoral programs

This paper provides a conceptual framework bringing together the discourses of post-doctoral articulation and the purposes of doctoral education with respect to stakeholders. Stakeholder issues include:

·        Doctoral qualifications provide credentials for career enhancement, and public recognition of personal academic achievement.

·        Immediate post-doctoral years are productive in terms of contribution to and development of knowledge in a discipline and professional practice

·        Post-doctoral career pathways are an important aspect of building discipline knowledge

·        Doctoral education is a driver of social and economic development and future growth of knowledge services within an economy (Blondal, Field, & Girouard, 2003; Candy & Maconachie, 1997; Considine et al., 2001).

Each of the above is important to professionals who use design activities as part of their professional practices. The above make it surprising that discussion of post-doctoral career pathways is almost completely absent from the design-related doctoral literature.

Adverse Effects of Lack of Articulation

Neglecting articulation between doctoral programs and life events that follow dislocates them from the reasons for their existence. Lack of clarity about purposes of doctoral education creates problems in evaluation, in supervision, and, for students, in maintaining confidence morale and direction. This lack of clarity can be seen in:

All the above derive from a lack of understanding of the importance of articulation with postdoctoral paths to other stakeholders. It echoes past situations in now well-established disciplines such as Engineering.

Practical disadvantages of poor articulation between post-doctoral pathways and design-focused doctoral programs include:

Conceptual and Practical Issues

Articulation between post-doctoral pathways and design-focused doctorates raises several important conceptual and practical issues. Addressing these will move design research and professional practice onto a more equal footing in research funding and status with professions such as Medicine, Law and Engineering. Key considerations addressed in this paper are:

Purposes of doctoral education

Doctoral programs are evaluated in terms of their purposes implying a need to specify purposes a particular program is intended to satisfy. The history of doctoral education shows that the professional doctorate, in theology, medicine and laws, has mediaeval origins and predates the philosophical doctorate, which only emerged early in the 19th century (Friedman, 2002). The content of professional doctorates was controlled to the dominant social institutions of the day, and those admitted to professional doctorates were required to swear oaths of service (Friedman, 2002). The philosophical doctorate developed from the masters of philosophy and the arts who, by contrast, Friedman (2002) claims saw themselves as ‘servants of free inquiry’, subject to neither the authority of church nor state and not beholden to provide practical social or professional services. The conflicting purposes of doctoral education can be categorised according to whether the intention is to provide benefit to individual students or broader society; and according to whether ‘inquiry’ is conceived normatively or transformatively, (Cooper, 2003, in press), see diagram 1.


Seek new knowledge for its own sake irrespective of considerations of immediate utility and profit; to question what others accept irrespective of social disapproval; personal wisdom; individual freedom from the restrictions imposed by conventional beliefs and expectations.


Transformative/ social: Emancipative and transformative social and personal change; social movements and political change through personal change; to increase individual tolerance of difference.


Student development within normative bounds of culture ‘the cultured man’; student development to meet the utilitarian aspirations of students for their future employment and personal life goals within the existing social order;


Normative professional and vocational preparation, to both serve industry (or empire) and the professions, including business, welfare and personal services in the existing social order

Diagram 1: Normative/transformative versus individual/societal conceptualisations of the purpose of education, adapted from Cooper (2003, in press)

Theoretically, the purposes of professional doctorates inhabit normative quadrants of the diagram because of links to authority of dominant social institutions. The philosophical doctorate should inhabit transformative quadrants because of lack of subjugation to authority of social institutions, and association with concepts of academic freedom. In practice these distinctions are blurred by normative effects on philosophical doctorates via the hegemony of established disciplines, and by transformative effects on professional doctorates via emergence of radical critique in the professions.

Identification of stakeholders and stakeholder concerns

The identification of stakeholders depends on who is considered to have a legitimate interest. Uncontested stakeholders in design-focused doctorates include:

Other stakeholders for whom a case could be made include parents of doctoral students (who provide support), dependents of doctoral students (who forego income for the period of candidature), university host communities, those who might benefit from better designed artefacts and services, and taxpayers.

Stakeholders’ concerns about articulation include:

As a result of the above concerns, assumptions that underlie doctoral education are being questioned, evaluated and reformulated across most countries and disciplines.

Returning to the schema in diagram 1, stakeholder expectations might be positioned as shown in diagram 2.

Transformative- individual

Students desire to pursue own interest

Student post-materialist life goals

Academics concerns about disciplinary development

Transformative- societal

Radical professional organisations expect critical skills and perspectives

Professions desire better theoretical bases

Normative- individual

Student desires for career prospects

Academics concerns about disciplinary development

Normative- societal

Professional orgs want better skills

Government desire for social economic benefit

Employers desire for professional competencies

Research organisations expect competency in research skills concerns about

Professions desire better theoretical bases

Diagram 2: Conflicting stakeholder expectations about the purposes of doctoral education.

Program and Assessment Issues

Variability of orientations to study (Marton et al., 1997) supports Deem’s (1998) arguments for four forms of doctorate:


  1. Long thesis leading to a philosophical doctorate
  2. Extended formal research training plus major dissertation leading to a philosophical doctorate
  3. Formal coursework, a project with a shorter dissertation or equivalent professionally-appropriate work, for a professional doctorate
  4.  A portfolio-based philosophical doctorate containing published articles by the candidate.

Traditionally, the  ‘long thesis’ philosophical doctorate led to research and teaching careers in universities. This remains appropriate for students with capacity to work independently and studying for intrinsic reasons - notwithstanding the typical high attrition and slow progress. Its limitations imply, for many stakeholders, it is unlikely to remain the preferred pathway.  Challenges include improving supervision and support; helping students identify research problems contributing to design-focused knowledge; and resolving the issues of artefact-based submission (Durling, 2002) that have figured strongly in the international conferences (Buchanan et al., 1999; Durling & Friedman, 2000; Pizzocaro et al., 2000), and  discussions on drs and phd-design mailing lists (

The extended formal research training plus major dissertation leading to a philosophical doctorate offers an alternative pathway that addresses many of the training problems associated with the ‘long thesis’. This pathway is appropriate for students looking for research careers either within university or industry or in government because they learn a range of methods and other skills. Moves towards basing doctoral education on pre-specified competencies (see, for example, ESRC, 2001; Research Councils & AHRB, 2003) depends largely on increased formalised training.  Competency-based assessment of doctoral skills would enable awards to offer professional certification of students’ capabilities. It may be a challenge to ensure adequate opportunity to practice a variety of research skills and develop capacity for collaboration and independence in students’ approaches to research. A further difficulty inherent to design-focused doctoral competencies is teasing apart the competencies specific to:

Design-focused research adds two additional epistemological dimensions compared to traditional research.

Professional doctorates usually target professional practice in a chosen profession. Increased understanding that design-focused activity is central to all professional practice (Love, 2003) means a likelihood of  increasing numbers of design-focused doctoral professionals  in most disciplines. The post-doctoral pathways in these cases are as yet underdeveloped. Design-focused professional doctorates offer potential in developing the foundations of professional practice, both normatively, in terms of developing current theory and practices, and transformatively through increased attention to radical and critical processes to reshape practices involving design activity from foundation upwards. These offer opportunities to raise the status of design-focused professional activity; to challenge ways professionals conceptualise design-related aspects of their practices; and to improve the contribution of design activity to social and economic development. The professional doctorate model can enable candidates to gain advanced skills relevant to professional practice, and solving of real life problems, whilst honing their critical and analytical skills. A challenge for those developing professional doctorates is how to maintain genuine linkages with professions whilst also making space for transformative radical professional critique.

Portfolio-based philosophical doctorates as suggested by Deem (1998) include the candidates research published in journals. This might be useful to candidates with good written skills, or who are working as a team member on a large project. As an assessment method, it would be compatible with the practices of learning communities. There are implications for supervision and support because current arrangements mainly focus around the thesis. Portfolios offer an alternative form of assessment for philosophical and professional doctorate without substantially changing the purpose of either award. There is no obvious reason why professional doctorates cannot be assessed by portfolio, especially in cases where the portfolio could be assessed according to criteria and competencies developed in conjunction with specific professional communities.

Innovations in examination methods; alternative pathways to the philosophical doctorate (Deem, 1998); and competency-based assessment in the UK (ESRC, 2001) (Research Councils & AHRB, 2003), have made the academic goals of the professional doctorate and philosophical doctorate less distinct. This trend is further accentuated by recent proposals that universities should consider employing practitioner teachers (Gallagher, 2000), for whom the optimal qualification is likely to be a professional rather than philosophical doctorate.

Implications for Design-focused Doctoral Programs

In universities, until recently, there has been a relative lack of awareness of the central role of designing (as in making a plan to change human futures) in professional practice and knowledge production in all disciplines. This implies that there is a need to identify how the extensive body of knowledge from Design Research can be collaboratively pursued in other disciplines, and how this can be embodied in design-focused doctoral programs. This process will be aided by doctoral research, both philosophical and professional that explicates the common theoretical bases and shared practices of design disciplines.

Currently in Australian research finding bodies problematically place Design Research either a subset of Creative Industries as in Art and Design, or a subset of technical research funding panels such as Engineering as in Engineering Design leading to a lack of appreciation of the central role of design research in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of design activity in professional practices in all disciplines.  This funding impasse limits the scope of doctoral programs and the ways that they can articulate with all possible post-doctoral careers. Addressing this issue implies collaboration with other disciplines and raising the consciousness of national doctoral funding bodies about the breadth of the role of design activity and design research.


This paper has reported research exploring the importance of the articulation of post-doctoral pathways with design-focused doctoral programs. Neglect of post-doctoral pathways is associated with a range of adverse consequences for students, the university, the professions and potential employers. The analyses suggest articulation issues are important and stakeholder issues relating to articulation should be considered before commencing the development of doctoral programs. Understanding and prioritizing stakeholder issues depends on prior decisions about the specific purposes of education as they apply to particular doctoral programs.

The paper has raised suggestions for conceptual and practical issues that must be addressed in articulating professional doctorate and PhD education in design to provide a smooth transition and support for post-doctoral career pathways that support industrial competitiveness, national economic and social development, and the development of design disciplines as equals to other more established fields of study.


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