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How to apply for a research degree

For all the information you need on how to apply for a research degree and to make sure you fulfil the entry requirements visit our 'How to apply' page

You should have a good honours degree (2:1 or above) or masters degree or equivalent in the relevant subject area.

International applicants should be aware of our English language requirements

Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice

 PDSP Alumni

The Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice is designed for people in practice. It provides opportunities for developing and researching sophisticated systemic ways of working and for creating exceptional, relational achievements. It encourages innovative research and scholarship in the University's established systemic portfolio.

This a part-time PhD level doctorate by research which invites inquiry into any area of systemic practice: therapy, organisational consultation, leadership, training, supervision, coaching, community development.

  • Inquire into and develop an area of systemic practice in sophisticated and creative ways, producing a unique and exceptional contribution in developing relational achievements which are both practical and useful to others.
  • 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.
  • Participate in a dialogically reflexive research community which meets for five blocks of three days for each of two years with a support programme for subsequent years and which includes the Bedfordshire International Systemic Summer School throughout your period of registration.
  • The course has national and international presenters, and 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.
  • You will be part of an international practice research community with national and international visiting lecturers from the systemic, social constructionist communities.
  • You will be supervised by highly experienced systemic practitioner researchers, academics from within the University and have consultations with members of the international systemic community.

Programme summary

Course Tutors


Dr Gail Simon, Professor Ravi Kohli, Dr Elizabeth Day, Dr Birgitte Pedersen, Dr Julia Jude, Dr Lisen Kebbe, Dr Jenny Helin, Dr Ged Smith, Mr John Burnham, Dr Andreas Juhl, Dr Gill Goodwillie, Professor Sheila McNamee, Dr Christina Schwabenland, Dr David Wilkins, Professor Emily Munro, Dr Lisa Bostock, Dr Chris Papadopoulous, Dr Alfredo Gaitain, Professor Dorte Marie Sondergaard, Dr Patricia Hynes, Dr Carlene Firmin, Dr Camille Warrington, Dr Joanne Hill, Dr Hoda Wassif, Dr Mark Wareing, Dr Helen Connolly.

Visiting Faculty

We have had a number of esteemed professional and academic colleagues who contribute to the teaching of the Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice including Professor John Shotter, Professor Ann Cunliffe, Dr Imelda McCarthy, Professor D. Soyini Madison, Professor Mary Gergen, Professor Kenneth Gergen, Dr Lisen Kebbe, Dr Jenny Helin, Dr Alex Chard, Dr Anne Hedvig Vedeler, Professor Kevin Barge, Professor Shoshana Simons, Nora Bateson, Professor Sheila McNamee, Dr Kimberley Dark, Dr Taiwo Afuape, Dr Glenda Fredman.


The Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice is a part-time programme with two years of regular meetings and up to five years to submit your final thesis. You participate in the annual Bedfordshire International Systemic Summer School and have supervision throughout your time on the programme.


You meet four times a year in Luton during each of the the first two years plus the annual Bedfordshire International Systemic Summer School. These meetings create a lively learning community of practitioner researchers who support each other and enjoy learning from each other's research. It is very much a dialogical community for professional knowledge generation.

Who is this doctorate aimed at?

This doctorate has been designed for people wanting to undertake research directly related to their practice. Systemic Practice occurs in wide range of environments and with a broad range of people and settings. Practitioners coming into this course will have an advanced appreciation of the use of systemic ideas in work areas that might include organisations, communities, therapy, groups, teaching and supervision. We are looking for practitioners who want to develop and write about innovative, leading-edge systemic practice.

What is special about this programme?

This programme 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.

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.

What will I get out of this programme?

The Professional Doctorate is the highest degree one can undertake in the UK and equivalent to a PhD. It is a doctorate by research with a thesis of up to 80,000 words.

This doctorate provides opportunities for experienced practitioners to make an original and significant contribution to their professional field through research in your own field of professional practice.

You will be part of an international systemic and relational practice research community through regular meetings, the annual Bedfordshire International Systemic Summer School and other conferences.

Encouragement to publish and present at conferences and to further your career.

Throughout the programme, there are regular opportunities for tutorials and participants can keep in touch with staff and peers via a sophisticated range of online technologies available through the university.

Participants on the PDSP are able to access a range of online books, papers, lectures, tutorials and online meeting space between regular meetings at the University.

In addition to the regular PDSP programme, 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.

Entry requirements

You will normally be an experienced systemic professional working as consultant, therapist, leader, trainer, supervisor, community worker or similar.

You will have an advanced level of understanding of systemic practice and be interested in inquiring into relational practice using dialogical, collaborative, narrative, appreciative, post-Milan, postmodern practices from the systemic social constructionist communities.

It is expected that you will possess a minimum of a postgraduate qualification in an area of systemic practice or equivalent or higher professional qualification and a minimum of three years systemic practice experience.

You will be working in a relevant professional context which enables you to carry out a practice-based inquiry and to generate accounts of that practice for relevant audiences.

Application Process

You are advised to read the current Programme Handbook and arrange a time to speak with the Programme Leader before applying. You then need to submit:

  1. Research Degree Application Form.
  2. Working Proposal. A three page treatment of a possible systemic research proposal, situated in your professional practice. Please write clearly and integrate a range of systemic theory into your statement. Indicate why you are drawn to this subject, why it is important for you and potentially for others. We appreciate that such interests are evolving and are likely to shift or change.
  3. Reflective Statement. Six pages of autobiographical writing discussing your values, your intellectual and professional journeys, aspirations, and life experiences that have led to your decision to apply to this programme. Include examples of artistic or literary work, hobbies, politics, things or people that matter to you.
  4. Academic Writing Sample: A writing sample of eight-to-ten pages (typed, double-spaced) that demonstrates your capacity to think critically and reflectively and demonstrates graduate level writing abilities. This must use a proper referencing system. You may submit copies of previous work, such as a recent academic paper, article, or report that reflects scholarly abilities.
  5. Curriculum Vitae
  6. Two Letters of Recommendation. One referee should be able to comment on your ability to do advanced academic work. Both should use standard business format and include full contact information - name, email, phone number, and mailing address and state the capacity in which they know you.

Please submit all the above in this order as a single Word or PDF email attachment. The Letters of Recommendation must be sent as separate PDF files.

Contact information

  • Next intake: September 2019
  • Location: Postgraduate Centre, Luton campus, University Square, Luton, LU1 3JU See map and directions
  • Duration: Part-time students: 36 months minimum, 60 months maximum.
  • Fees: £tba per annum
  • Open to: UK / EU / International students
  • To discuss: Please email Dr Gail Simon gail.simon@beds.ac.uk to arrange a talk on Skype, phone or in person.
  • To apply: For an application form and further details, please email pdsp@beds.ac.uk
  • Programme Director: Dr Gail Simon, Principal Lecturer in Systemic Practice.
  • Website: www.beds.ac.uk/pdsp

Click here for the Bedfordshire International Systemic Summer School

Bedfordshire University Research

Research - REF» Research Graduate School» Academic programmes» Professional Doctorates» Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice