Pathways to a PhD

4 June 2024

As part of our Summer conference, which will take place in Cardiff in June, we are pleased to publish this blogpost in collaboration with Cardiff University, our event partner.

Guest blog from Professor Ben Hannigan (Professor of Mental Health Nursing and Director of Postgraduate Research) and Professor Kate Button (Professor of Physiotherapy and Head of Research and Innovation), School of Healthcare Sciences at Cardiff University.

Research produces the evidence necessary for the development of healthcare practice, education and service organisation. Within nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions this places a premium on the task of sustaining, and growing, research capacity. Securing a strong and independent future research workforce in healthcare means supporting and expanding opportunities for doctoral education.

In the School of Healthcare Sciences, we supervise doctoral students from across the UK and around the world, including Saudi Arabia, China, Libya, Kuwait and elsewhere. Our multi-professional and international learning environment is perfectly placed to provide opportunities for applied healthcare research in the NHS and overseas. The varied backgrounds of students and academics, and our collective research interests, promote awareness of global health challenges and the different approaches which exist to tackle these.

Many decide to undertake a PhD after completing a Master’s degree, or to develop research skills as part of their career pathway in the NHS, other healthcare systems or in academia. In the School of Healthcare Sciences we encourage intending students to closely read information about our PhD programme and our supervisors’ areas of expertise and interest, and to make contact with potential supervisors prior to applying to discuss project ideas. The journey from enrolment as a student to the award of the doctoral degree follows a period of advanced study, through which new disciplinary knowledge is created. Usually this culminates in the submission and examination of a monograph-style thesis of some 80-100,000 words in length.

Doctoral study also provides wider development opportunities. In the School of Healthcare Sciences this includes:

  • becoming a graduate tutor and securing an Associate Fellowship with AdvanceHE
  • participating in our doctoral training programme and leading events
  • representing the postgraduate research community on School, College and University panels
  • Attending writing retreats
  • Organising our yearly research symposium; and more.

PhDs can be funded in a number of ways, such as through the salaried scheme funded by the Health and Care Research Wales Faculty and through the National Institute for Health and Care Research Fellowship programme. Many health professional doctoral students engage in their research on a part-time basis, often with support from their employers through the payment of tuition fees and partial release from work commitments. Small funds of money, applied for through charities, can help meet some of the costs. In Cardiff we also supervise students who are funding their PhDs themselves. Services such as FindaPhD will routinely carry advertisements for funded secured PhD studentships (typically covering tuition fees, and a stipend), led by supervisory teams.

For research-experienced professionals who have missed opportunities earlier in their careers to secure a doctorate, it is becoming more common to offer a route involving the presentation of prior publications coupled with a narrative which synthesises what has been learned and demonstrates how the criteria for the award of a PhD have been met.

As our past and present students tell us in their online testimonials, studying for a PhD is immensely rewarding. In healthcare sciences, doctoral preparation also brings the chance to create new knowledge which can make a practical difference to people and society. For nurses, midwives and allied health professionals real opportunities to get started on the research journey exist, and we warmly encourage prospective students to reach out to their local universities and to begin honing their ideas.

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