Rich Douglas, Ph.D., PMP

Professional Doctorate
in HRD

What is a Professional Doctorate?

First, let's answer the question, "What is a doctorate?" The doctorate represents the highest level degree awarded by colleges and universities all over the world. It represents the pinnacle of academic achievement.

The doctorate takes two basic forms: scholarly and professional. The scholarly doctorate is usually (but not always) the Ph.D., the Doctor of Philosophy. It may or may not have a "taught" portion (courses), but it culminates in a dissertation or thesis that makes an original contribution to one's academic discipline. The professional doctorate, however, takes a similar approach (a set of coursework followed by a thesis/dissertation), but the original contribution is made to the field of practice. Thus, a Ph.D. in Business advances theory in the science of business administration, while the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) contributes to the better practice of business administration. (In reality, these lines are sometimes blurred.)

Why a Professional Doctorate?
Over the past 40 years or so, we've seen a sort of inflation of degrees both expected by employers and held by employees. This has been caused by many factors, including the plethora of degree options available to working people and the demise of lifelong employment--where employers were more likely to develop their employees themselves. As a result, there's been a real increase in the number of people pursuing the doctorate on a part-time basis in order to advance their careers. However, universities have been offering up the same Ph.D. model--often even when they offer "professional sounding" titles like the Doctor of Education or Doctor of Business Administration. We need something different. We need something new. We need the professional doctorate.

Okay, what is it?
The professional doctorate follows the same basic structure as the academics-oriented Ph.D.: courses, comprehensive examinations (sometimes), dissertation proposal, and dissertation (or comparable project). But the philosophy behind the degree is remarkably different. Faculty members are more likely to be drawn from professional areas versus academia, the coursework is often scheduled in ways amenable to busy working people, and the dissertation is designed to contribute to practice, rather than academic theory.

Why a Professional Doctorate for HRD Leaders?
Several reasons. First, the field of HRD is severely lacking in terms of strategic leadership (and leaders). We prepare people for HRD roles (instruction, course development, administration, etc.), but not to be strategic HRD leaders. Second, there is a real and persistent gap between HRD scholarship and HRD theory. We need leaders grounded in both. But where will they come from? Well, academics aren't going to become practitioners, and practitioners aren't going to become academics. But they can learn from each other, and I feel it's the practitioners who will cross this bridge, synthesize the best of HRD scholarship and practice, then take it back to the field to improve both their careers and the practice of our profession.

My Story
As far as academic and professional doctorates go, I've done one of each. My Ph.D. is in Nontraditional Higher Education from The Union Institute. I also hold the Doctor of Social Science in HRD from the University of Leicester. The first degree was an example of the mismatch I described above, where practitioners were earning the Ph.D. The second doctorate was ostensibly a professional doctorate, but it was built and run by academics and was very much rooted in scholarship. Valuable? Certainly! But we can do so much better. I'd like to try, which is why I'll be developing a proposal for universities who might interested in working with me to take on this challenge. Watch this space for that proposal!