The Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice

This a part-time PhD level doctorate by research which invites you to study something that fascinates you from within the areas of systemic practice: therapy, organisational consultation, leadership, training, supervision, coaching, community development.

The Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice is designed for people in practice. We provide you with opportunities for developing and researching sophisticated systemic ways of working and for creating exceptional, relational achievements and knowledge generation. We encourage innovative research and scholarship supported by experienced research supervisors. The programme is housed in the University's established systemic portfolio and in the Institute of Applied Social Research.

The programme has a reputation for systemic innovation and academic excellence in the areas of professional practice, systemic theory and systemic research. It was originally designed by Professor John Shotter, Dr Peter Lang and Martin Little from KCC in conjunction with the University of Bedfordshire in 2006.

What can this research degree offer me?

This research doctorate will

  • support you to study and develop an area of systemic practice in sophisticated and creative ways.
  • be a space for you to create a unique and exceptional research contribution which makes a real difference to practice, policy or training and which adds new learning for your professional community.
  • offer you research supervision by highly experienced systemic practitioner researchers, academics from within the University and regular group research consultations.
  • encourage you to develop innovative approaches to systemic inquiry reflecting the methods, theory, values and ethics of systemic practice and taking inspiration from the fields of post-positivist qualitative inquiry. You can reflexively research aspects of professional practice or bring a systemic lens to other real life issues.
  • offer you a dialogically reflexive research community which meets five times a year for three days in each of the first two years and after that, with a support programme for subsequent years and which includes the annual residential Bedfordshire International Systemic Practice and Research School throughout your period of registration.
  • provide you with an international practice research community with national and international with national and international presenters of note from the systemic, social constructionist communities.
  • support and encourage you to publish and present your work at conferences and to further your career.
  • help you develop your academic skills and provide regular writing workshops and retreats.
  • ensure you have access to the university's digital library and other online platforms specific to the programme which offer you readings, presentations, guidance, and more. You can also post questions in your own cohort specific channel.

Programme Structure

The Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice is a part-time programme which takes between three and five years in which to submit your final thesis.

In years 1 and 2, you have with two years of regular meetings online (while social distancing is required) or in Luton. They usually take the form of three day blocks with additional evening webinars. This includes:

  • two reading seminars - i) systemic theory and research and ii) new materialism, Black, Indigenous and Queer Theory
  • webinars in research methods
  • reflective groups on social injustice, systemic practice and research
  • workshops on a variety of systemic practitioner research methods
  • research consultation days in your own year group
  • presentations from guest lecturers.

These meetings create a lively learning community of practitioner researchers who support each other and enjoy learning from each other's research. It is a relaxing and energising event experimenting with how to be a dialogical community for professional knowledge generation.

Doctoral researchers across all years participate in the annual residential Bedfordshire International Systemic Practice and Research School, in writing retreats and PDSP hosted conferences and workshops. See PDSP events

You can also attend lectures, presentations and conferences hosted by the Research Graduate School or the Institute of Applied Social Research in which this programme is based.

In addition to all of these learning opportunities, you will need to spend the equivalent of two days a week in self-study.

Research Supervision

You have regular supervision throughout your time on the programme with a team of two research supervisors. We have built up a strong team of research supervisors, all of whom have doctorates and are specialists in their field. We work at finding you suitable supervisors in terms of your subject and anticipated methodology. Most supervisors are qualified and experienced systemic practitioners with their own research doctorate. In addition, we are fortunate to have research supervisors from around the university who are subject or methodological specialists.

Supervision mainly takes place online as few participants live close to the university.

Who is this doctorate aimed at?

This doctorate has been designed for professional people who are interested in researching something directly related to their practice.

We expect you will be committed to inclusive practice, to social justice and see critical thinking as part of your research journey. The systemic community needs research, researchers and research practices which represent the communities it serves and in which we each live.

As doctoral researchers, you will need to have an advanced understanding of systemic ideas in work areas that might include organisations, communities, therapy, groups, social work, teaching and supervision. We are looking for practitioners who want to develop and write about innovative, leading-edge systemic practice.

Our doctoral researchers come from around the UK, Europe and South East Asia.

What is special about this programme?

The Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice is an applied alternative to a PhD for advanced practitioners who want to benefit from membership of a systemic research school and its specialist understanding of systemic theory, practices and values. This doctoral research programme enables practitioners to engage in practitioner research which will usually be focused on an area of practice in which practitioners are engaged.

Your research journey will take place in a learning community made up of fellow doctoral researchers, course tutors and supervisors and visiting faculty. We have different learning spaces each designed with their own pace and culture. Some are fast presentations for didactic knowledge sharing. Others are more experiential, reflective spaces. The programme is committed is to a dialogical learning culture, offering students support, sharing and co-creating new ways of being-thinking-doing within the systemic practice and research field. We are also good at helping you stay on track!

This programme started in 2006 and builds on the KCC School of Systemic Practice. It encourages new ways of inquiring into systemic practice, into the fluid and shifting connections in the reflexive shaping of a) systemic theory and practice and b) systemic research theory and practice.

Please contact

Dr Isabelle Brodie


Our Tweets: @uniofbeds