What is an MPA?

By Dr Ian C Elliott, Dr Peter Falconer and Susanne Ross

What on earth is an MPA? Is that similar to an MBA? Why would anyone want to do an MPA? These are just some of the questions we have been asked when speaking to public service professionals about the development of the MPA at Queen Margaret University.

So what is an MPA? Well, to start with, it is a Master of Public Administration. In other words, it’s the public sector equivalent of a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

In that case presumably it must be similar to an MBA? Well, yes and no. The MPA and MBA are what are known as Type 3 master’s programmes – in other words, post-experience master’s. Entrants to this type of programme would typically have at least two years experience. In this sense the MBA and MPA are similar – both are typically post-experience master’s programmes.

But is the content of an MPA similar to an MBA? This is where things start to get more complicated. There is no single set curriculum for MPA programmes. As a result some (though not all) MPA programmes have content that is very similar to what you would find on an MBA. Modules can include things like strategic management in the public sector; human resource management in the public sector; financial management in the public sector and so on. In other words, an MBA with a public sector slant.

So why would anyone want to do an MPA? Increasingly there is a recognition that private sector management techniques do not always translate into public service environments. Different skillsets and different perspectives are needed to transform public services. Those with professional experience will likely have significant management skills already. Studying an MPA, as opposed to an MBA, can help develop new skills and new perspectives.

The QMU MPA in Edinburgh is structured around a philosophy of transformational change. In designing the curriculum our starting point was to consider what makes public services distinctive – their central role in promoting social justice and equality. Modules include ‘Gender and Equality’ and ‘Social Justice and Critical Perspectives on the State’ alongside ‘International Trends in Public Administration’ and ‘Leading Change in Public Services’. Rather than reflect public services, the State and society, this MPA programme aims to shape the public service landscape of tomorrow.

If that is something you can relate to then this might just be the MPA for you. Further information is available in this programme leaflet or at our website. For more information contact co-directors Dr Ian C Elliott: ielliott@qmu.ac.uk or Susanne Ross: sross@qmu.ac.uk

Dr Ian C Elliott, Senior Lecturer in Business & Public Services, QMU Edinburgh.

Susanne Ross, Lecturer in Business & Public Services, QMU Edinburgh.

Dr Peter Falconer, Reader in Public Services Management, QMU Edinburgh.

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Would you like £2,000?

Would you like some money to support a small piece of research or to deliver a research seminar series? Are you an Early Career Researcher or Doctoral Student wanting to differentiate your CV? Would £2,000 help you develop a small piece of research – potentially as a launch pad to a larger scale grant application?

 

Increasingly academics are being encouraged to apply for external funding – consequently many of these funds are becoming more and more competitive. At the JUC Public Administration Committee our role is to support the future of public administration research and teaching. As such we have developed these two new funding competitions:

 

If you are an early career researcher, doctoral student or even established academic within public administration we would love to hear your ideas. You should be within an institutional member of PAC or have attended the PAC Annual Conference in order to be eligible to apply. To find out about joining PAC please email our secretary: sandraodelljuc @ yahoo.co.uk

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Guest Blog: Postgraduate Students Face Funding Pressures

By Woody Whittick, MPA student at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

The Scottish Government have made many strong commitments to education – not least of which is the commitment to ‘free’ education for undergraduates. It has also expressed a commitment to increasing postgraduate student numbers (see here) (particularly for people sharing protected characteristics such as disability). As part of this support for postgraduates there are loans available to support both the payment of fees and living expenses: http://www.saas.gov.uk/full_time/pg/index.htm

I applied to do the Master of Public Administration (MPA) at Queen Margaret University in order to enhance my future career prospects, which have been set back by incurable health problems. However, I was shocked to discover that although postgraduate students elsewhere in Britain can access living costs (maintenance) loans whether they study full- or part-time, in Scotland only full-time postgraduates can receive maintenance loans.

This rule has put me in a catch-22 situation. Multi-systemic symptoms worsen with extended or cumulative sitting, so I can’t manage full-time work or study, or both part-time work and study. Years of limited earnings have prevented me accumulating savings. I need to study part-time, but can’t afford to without a maintenance loan.

This seems deeply unfair as the decision to only allow full-time students to receive a maintenance loan is disproportionately detrimental to disabled people and to women. We still live in a society where women are statistically more likely than men to have responsibilities for childcare or adult dependants, and therefore may be less able to study full-time or save in advance for living expenses. They may, like me, have to give up part-time work in order to study.

I have received some support from Queen Margaret University which has helped. But this doesn’t solve my living expenses problem. I have searched widely but unsuccessfully for alternative maintenance funding.

In the end I have started the MPA as a full-time student – facing no other feasible option. Unfortunately however, within a few short weeks my neurological symptoms worsened. I feel this proves my point – the current rules are discriminatory towards those with disabilities. This seems to run counter to both the Equalities Act and Human Rights legislation. However, a ‘statutory authority exemption’ applies, meaning I cannot take legal action to redress discrimination using the Equality Act. The only legal recourse is via Judicial Review, at a likely cost of c£30K+. Again, I face a seemingly insurmountable hurdle.

The current status of my case is that I am awaiting the outcome of an appeal to SAAS. I hope that the concerns I have raised, as summarised above, will be taken into account and I will be given the support I need to continue my studies. In the meantime have established that the rule originates from a 2015 statutory amendment. I discovered that the regulations have been successfully challenged at Judicial Review on the grounds of age discrimination, resulting in the upper age limit for loans being raised. I seem to be the first person to have highlighted that these regulations are also discriminatory in other ways. I also now understand that although the government has committed to undertaking Equality Impact Assessments before implementing new legislation, it seems they failed to do so in this case.

Unless my appeal to SAAS is successful and the rule is overturned (at least for me individually) I will probably have to withdraw from my studies completely. Even if SAAS find a way to apply discretion and uphold my appeal, that will not change the rules for other people. It is an incredibly frustrating situation – and one of the ironies if this is that I am not even asking for grant funding – I am only asking for a loan which I would then be required to pay back.

Thankfully there does seem to be a lot of political support for this issue. My local MSP and I have both raised concerns with the Cabinet Ministers for Education and Equality, with cross-party support from the shadow Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative MSPs with portfolios for Education or Equalities, who have all raised concerns to John Swinney through the appropriate channels. We await his response and hope that others will not face the same challenges and frustrations that I have encountered in seeking to complete postgraduate study.

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Could you inspire a future business leader?

I’ve fairly recently taken over coordination of one of our first year modules on ‘Introduction to Business’. It’s been a few years since I last worked with first year students so I’m really looking forward to it.

‘Introduction to Business’ is as it sounds. The module will introduce students to the global economic, political and social forces that shape business. We’ll be discussing how businesses compete internationally and contemporary challenges such as climate change, ethical supply chains and, of course, Brexit.

But in order to enrich the learning with real life examples I need help. I’m looking for guest speakers who have been involved in business and have a story to tell. Maybe you have started your own business? Maybe you’ve been involved in international expansion? Or has your business been affected by Brexit?

Sessions run on Friday morning from 1015-1315 from 22 September to 8 December. Please get in touch if you would like to contribute.

The core text is Janet Morrison, 2016, Global Business Environment: Challenges and Responsibilities. Available here: http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Global-Business-Environment-by-Janet-Morrison/9781137483744. Other information about the course including lecture slides will be uploaded to the university Virtual Learning Environment – The Hub.

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Electioneering versus Governing

The next UK General Election will be held on 8 June 2017 – just over 2 years since the last one despite the establishment of 5 year parliamentary terms under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The argument made by Prime Minister Theresa May was that this was,

“…the only way to guarantee certainty and security for years ahead”.

Yet will this guarantee certainty? Well, one certainty seems to be the ever increasing popularity, by politicians, of elections and referendums. A quick search shows how many elections have been held across the UK since 2010 with a particular peak of elections and significant referendums since 2014.

Elections since 2010:
2010 UK General Election
2010 English Local Elections (32 London boroughs, 36 metropolitan boroughs, 76 second-tier district authorities, 20 unitary authorities and various Mayoral posts)
2011 UK Voting System Referendum
2011 Welsh Devolution Referendum
2011 Northern Ireland Local Elections
2011 English Local Elections (36 Metropolitan boroughs, 194 Second-tier district authorities, 49 unitary authorities and various mayoral post)
2012 Scottish Local Elections
2012 Welsh Local Elections
2012 English Local Elections (28 English local authorities, three mayoral elections including the London mayoralty)
2012 London Assembly Elections
2013 English Local Elections (27 non-metropolitan county councils, eight unitary authorities and 2 mayoral elections)
2014 European Parliament Election
2014 Scottish Independence Referendum
2014 Northern Ireland Local Elections
2014 English Local Elections (32 London boroughs, 36 metropolitan boroughs, 74 district/borough councils, 20 unitary authorities and a number of mayoral elections)
2015 UK Parliament Election
2015 English Local Elections (36 metropolitan boroughs, 194 second-tier districts, 49 unitary authorities and 6 mayoral elections)
2016 English Local Elections (124 local councils and 4 mayoral elections)
2016 Scottish Parliament Election
2016 Welsh Parliament Election
2016 Northern Ireland Assembly Election
2016 London Assembly Election
2016 EU Referendum
2017 Scottish Local Elections
2017 Welsh Local Elections
2017 English Local Elections (27 county councils, 7 unitary authorities, 1 metropolitan borough, 8 mayoral elections)
2017 UK Parliament Election
NB: Also 31 by-elections between 2010-2017 and many community council elections.

It could be argued that this is a good thing. It shows the vibrancy of our democracy and the increasing voice of citizens in influencing government policy. However, it poses many significant challenges for those who work in public policy and administration: the cost of electoral administration; the opportunity cost of elections and the risk of voter fatigue.

Not only do elections involve a lot of political planning and campaigning but they also require significant administration including the training and management of polling staff and count staff. An election is not something that can easily happen on a whim. It requires a lot of planning, coordination and, importantly, investment.

A second issue with elections is that they divert attention away from the development of public policy and the delivery of public services. Since 2014 in particular there have been significant votes involving all UK Political Parties including the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, the 2015 UK General Election, the 2016 EU Referendum and now the 2017 General Election. There is a huge opportunity cost involved in these major election campaigns – whilst campaigning and voting takes place our political representative, public officials and public service professionals are subject to purdah rules and must divert their energies from public service delivery to the major operational challenges of an election.

The other significant cost of this is that it risks leading to voter fatigue and apathy. The immediate reaction from many to the UK General Election announcement was fairly muted. It isn’t currently clear how the public will respond to the announcement and what the resultant turnout will be. But what is clear is that at some point the votes must be counted – and the government(s) must govern.

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Practising What We Preach

The current academic literature on public administration is full of research on collaborative governance, integrated services and community participation. This research reflects a reality where boundaries between public, private and Third Sectors are increasingly blurred and where services are being redesigned to better meet rising public expectations at the same time as facing the challenges of austerity and Brexit. These themes are all discussed in modules such as ‘International Trends in Public Administration’ on our MPA programme.

From the earliest discussions in developing the MPA programme I knew that I wanted to include the ACOSVO Leadership Exchange programme as part of our postgraduate degree. There were some important reasons for this: 1) I knew that ACOSVO was an excellent organisation that reflected many of our values; 2) I felt it was important that a public services degree has a strong link with the Third Sector; and 3) I wanted to ensure that the MPA had an appropriate blend of theoretical content and practical application.

All of this was in line with the aims of our MPA programme to enable learners to:

  • Build on their professional experience by engaging critically with, and reflecting on, themes and issues in public administration in order to better shape the public service landscape of tomorrow.
  • Critically evaluate the theories and practice of public administration as a tool for public service improvement.
  • Be critically reflective leaders who contribute to the social and economic sustainability of the communities they serve.

Having been through the first year of this programme I am delighted with the results. Firstly, it has been a pleasure to work with ACOSVO. As part of the development of the programme I went on a leadership exchange myself and found the experience invaluable. Some of my colleagues have since done the same and have reported similar valuable learning experiences.

What has been most rewarding about the experience has been the feedback I have received from students. This has been overwhelmingly positive. It has proven difficult for some to find exchange partners, particularly given that our students are conducting the Leadership Exchange as part of the MPA. However, everyone has been matched and all have really enjoyed working with their exchange partners.

Comments I have received include from one student who noted that she was reassured to see just how much the theory of our programme related to practice in different organisational contexts. Having seen public administration from both the theoretical and practical perspectives gave her a new found appreciation of the subject and the value of her learning on the programme. For another student the experience in working with his exchange partner had also proven just how much the challenges facing our public services cut across organisational boundaries. He planned to continue the exchange process beyond his studies and has set up a number of ongoing meetings with his exchange partner to continue the learning. Finally, another student had noted that he had been partnered with a senior manager within a Third Sector organisation. Coming from the public sector he had little prior experience of the Third Sector and admitted that he had previously held views of Third Sector organisations that proved to be out of step with reality. He was now open to the idea of a future career in the Third Sector thanks to his experience in the exchange programme.

My overall view is that our MPA programme could not achieve it’s aim ‘to enable students to critically evaluate the theories and practice of public administration’ without the strong industry links that have been facilitated through our partnership with ACOSVO. And so much current public administration research and practice involves collaboration – it would be a nonsense if we didn’t practise what we preach!

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MPA Visit to Brussels 2017

Brussels is seen by many as the capital of Europe and the EU. It is the location of key EU institutions such as  of the European Commission, Council of the European Union, and European Council. It is also the location for committee meetings and some plenary sessions of the European Parliament albeit the primary home of the European Parliament is Strasbourg.

What is striking about Brussels is the extent to which it has been at the centre of European affairs, almost reluctantly so, for centuries. A rather unassuming plaque on Grand Place marks the spot where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels worked on The Communist Manifesto.

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Nearby is the house where Victor Hugo developed writings that would become his masterpiece, Les Miserables. Both Karl Marx and Victor Hugo had sought political refuge in Brussels. Other writers to have been inspired by Brussels include the Brontë sisters and our very own Sir Walter Scott. It is clear that Brussels has been a welcoming and tolerant place for centuries. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that it later became the de facto capital of Europe.

The primary purpose of our visit was to explore the European institutions and get a better sense of how the EU works and how this then affects public administration. A key highlight of the trip was our visit to the EU Parliament and the adjoining visitor centre – the Parliamentarium.

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The Parliamentarium provides an exceptional account of the development and workings of the EU institutions. The exhibition starts with some deeply moving accounts of Europe before the EU was established – plagued by war and poverty.

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These stark images were set alongside some key quotes setting out the vision of a more prosperous, peaceful and united Europe that latter became the European Union.

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Later parts of the exhibition set out how early agreements on integration of the Western European coal and steel industries later developed into the European Economic Community and eventually to the establishment of the European Union with free movement of people, a shared currency and free trade. Again the images portraying the expansion of the EU community were set alongside images of major world events such as the Fall of the Berlin Wall which influenced it’s development and expansion over time.

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The final part of the exhibition explained how the different parts of the EU work in practice. This allowed our MPA students to fully explore the nature of decision-making within the EU.

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Having completed our tour we congregated at the Parliamentarium cafe and were struck by the presence of several copies of the letter from UK Prime Minister Theresa May to European Council President Donald Tusk which invoked Article 50 just a few days before our trip.

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Exploring the city further during our visit it is clear that Brussels remains a tolerant and welcoming place. Today Brussels is the multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-ethnic capital of Europe. It has the second highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any city in the world (62%). It remains hugely influential within Europe and indeed throughout the world. It will continue to do so without the UK being a member of the EU. Hopefully it will continue to be a tolerant and welcoming place – and perhaps parts, or the whole, of the UK will be welcomed back some day.

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I certainly think Brussels left it’s mark on our students. Visiting the EU institutions and seeing how they work has, I hope, raised their awareness and appreciation of the EU more than any book or academic journal article would. I only wish more students and more members of the public could benefit from this experience.

I now look forward to our new cohort of MPA students and hope that we may be welcomed back to Brussels next year. As for Scotland and the UK – it would seem like anyone’s guess as to what will happen next – but I look forward to finding out!

We are now accepting applications to start the MPA in September 2017. Find out more here:  http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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New Module in ‘Orwellian Doublespeak for Contemporary Public Administration’

I have developed a new core module for the Edinburgh MPA which I am very excited about. ‘Orwellian Doublespeak for Contemporary Public Administration’ will offer insights into distorting the meaning of words and the use of policy-based evidence making to create alternative facts and populist fictions.

 

Previously I have noted the importance of academics connecting with the real world and that we engage with real debates on the future of public administration. Increasingly this takes the form of dismissing experts, as previously demonstrated by Michael Gove, in preference for soundbites, unsubstantiated assertions and pure gut instinct. This module has been developed not to challenge any of this but to reflect the needs and desires of the modern workplace. Therefore I have developed this new practice-based module which will start this time next year – 1 April 2018.

 

Content includes:

Brexit – How the UK will be able to retain all the benefits of EU membership and the benefits of being outside the EU without suffering any downsides.

Fake News – How to dismiss facts and evidence with two simple words.

Scottish Independence – How it’s a great idea (for Scottish students only) OR How it’s a terrible idea (all other students).

International Relations – How to build walls not bridges – and then do neither.

 

The full module descriptor can be accessed here.

 

The module will be co-taught by both academics and appropriate experts including our Honorary Professor Donald Trump. For more information on the MPA programme please see our course pages here: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277. Applications are now open!

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Guest Blog: User Charges and Marketization in Higher Education

By Oladipo Osuntubo, Doctoral Researcher at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

Higher Education in most countries has experienced remarkably consistent reforms in management and finance in the past few decades. These reforms are remarkable because they follow consistent patterns in countries with very different socio-political, welfare and economic systems and university traditions. Furthermore, they can be seen in countries at very different stages of technological and industrial development. This is a relatively global phenomenon with countries such as Nigeria, Chile and the UK (particularly England) adopting practices which include:

  • reduction of, or total elimination of, subsidies by the state;
  • introduction or increase in tuition fees paid by students;
  • encouragement of competition between universities as a way of improvement;
  • deregulation of university sectors to allow private-for-profit providers.

My research involves a comparative examination of contemporary reforms in Higher Education as described above in the context of new public management (NPM) reforms and human capital theory. A cross-national study between Nigeria and Scotland is being conducted because in the context of tuition policies for undergraduate study, these two countries appear to operate policies at two ends of the continuum: with tuition charged for most Nigerian students and none charged for home /EU students in Scotland.

A key focus is the implications of user charges for access by considering the tuition element of undergraduate study as well as the theoretical and practical justifications for reforms. Other themes to be explored include drivers of reforms in Higher Education funding including potential influences of international bodies like international financial institutions and a critique of some of the rationales for market type reforms.

A qualitative approach is being adopted within this study. Currently I am conducting interviews with academics, university finance officers and government policy-makers from both Scotland and Nigeria. Interviews typically take no longer than 40 minutes.
It is hoped that the findings will inform ongoing debates in the reform of Higher Education in Nigeria and Scotland including:

  • the implications of user charges or reduction of subsidies for access;
  • challenges of policy transfer;
  • rationales for state investment in Higher Education; and
  • a critique of theoretical and ideological justifications for reforms.

If you would be available and willing to take part in this research study please contact me directly at OOsuntubo @ qmu.ac.uk

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Interview with Stuart Duncan, Public Services Management Graduate

NB: This was previously published on the QMU website: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/press_releases/Interview-with-QMU-graduate-Stuart-Duncan-Executive-Masters-Public-Services-Management.htm

Stuart Duncan is from Bo’ness and is married with two children. He graduated with Executive Masters in Public Services Management (now Master of Public Administration – MPA ) from QMU in 2010.

Stuart was working full-time when studying at QMU and was fortunate to have his studies funded by his employer. He has over 15 years senior management and leadership experience and has a strong track record for leading change and delivering policy by building and maintaining collaborative relationships within and outside the Scottish Government.

Before enrolling on the Executive Masters in Public Services Management at QMU, Stuart was leading the creation and establishment of one of Scotland’s largest public service partnerships.

In 2009, Stuart moved to Scottish Government to work in the Justice department and led a number of major summary justice reform programmes.

In 2014, Stuart was appointed a Programme Director at the Scottish Government and authored the Digital Strategy for Justice in Scotland. He has since been leading an implementation programme to deliver the objectives set-out in the strategy; transforming administrative, civil and criminal Justice in Scotland.

In January 2017, Stuart joined the Leading Improvement Team in the Scottish Government to help departments and organisations across the public sector shape their change and improvement work.

Why did you choose to study Executive Masters in Public Services Management at QMU?

“Despite having two degrees already, I knew I wanted to continue my learning and reading in the area of public services management. I was lucky enough to have a supportive employer who was keen to support me. Scottish Court Service was offering a place on the first cohort. I applied for the opportunity and was fortunate enough to secure a place, studying part-time.

“My professional career is grounded in a technical background and I wanted to develop and grow in the area of general management, with a focus on leading change and improvement.”

How did you find the workload?

“I did my undergraduate and first postgraduate courses part-time, so I knew what I was letting myself in for. I was fortunate to have a support network in place that made studying part-time easier, but it was equally important for me to have a structure in place to manage the workload.”

What obstacles did you encounter during your studies and how did you overcome them?

“I had a full time job when I did my postgrad and also had a young family. The biggest challenge for me was to create the time and space to study. For me, it was important to put a proper structure in place and give myself the best environment to learn and reflect.”

How do you think your QMU degree has equipped you with the skills and knowledge to development your career?

“The Executive Masters in Public Services Management helped me better understand the evolution of government in the UK and devolved administration here in Scotland. The knowledge which I acquired certainly made me more inquisitive. Even now, I constantly question policy and look for evidence to verify decisions.”

Top tips for future students?

“Always be prepared to question and challenge convention. As Henry Ford said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”, so be prepared to critically evaluate why things are done a certain way.”

Life after graduation?

“At the time of completing my postgrad, I was creating one of the largest public sector partnerships in Scotland. Once this was established, I moved to Scottish Government to lead policy implementation of major reforms to summary criminal justice.”

Where are you now? Do you have any further future plans?

“I authored The Digital Strategy for Justice in Scotland which was published in August 2014. Since then, I’ve been directing a programme of work across public services with the purpose to use digital technology to deliver simple, fast and effective justice at best cost. In 2017, I’m joining the Leading Improvement Team in Scottish Government to help implement continuous improvement across the public sector.”

Anything that you might have done differently?

“Reflecting on my professional career to date, I’ve always looked for the perfect time to move jobs and found that there really isn’t one. I’ve stayed in posts for too long. Going forward, I want to find a better balance between fulfilling responsibilities and developing my career.”

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

For more information on Master of Public Administration (MPA) at QMU visit: www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277

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Why do a PhD?

I have supervised three PhD students to completion and am currently supervising three others at various stages. Many people have spoken to me in the past about thinking about doing a PhD. Here I want to consolidate some of my thoughts on why anyone would do a PhD.

Being a PhD researcher is a great opportunity. But it’s also a significant burden. It’s important that anyone considering applying for a PhD gives it some serious thought. As a minimum it is a three year, full time, commitment. Much more so than undergraduate or other postgraduate study it is all consuming. So it can feel, though doesn’t have to be the case, that you’re life is put on hold for at least three years. At the end you may graduate with a PhD or indeed you may not. It may lead to an academic career or it may not. OK – but it’s not all bad! DON’T STOP READING YET!

So why would anyone choose to do a PhD? I think there are three things to consider: the PhD as an academic apprenticeship; choosing a research topic; and choosing a supervisor.

An academic apprenticeship

The PhD, along with the Professional Doctorate, is the highest award of degree. Unlike the Professional Doctorate (such as the DPA) the PhD is seen to a significant degree as a route towards an academic career.

Alongside your research you may also have the opportunity, or even be required, to teach. You may also have a dedicated desk or office alongside academic staff, you may be invited to take part in other aspects of university administration, you will be expected to present at academic conferences and even publish research papers. It is, typically, more than the individual dedicated study of a research topic as a lone researcher.

The end result of a PhD is that you are recognised as a peer amongst fellow academics. You are “one of us”. As such it is seen as a way to developing an academic career. At the same time you may be perceived by others as over qualified or “too academic” for other jobs. So you have to enjoy academic life and want to develop a career in academia in order to consider applying.

A research topic

The next stage in choosing to do a PhD is to consider the research topic. It has to be something that grabs your interest and sparks your intellectual curiosity. This is a topic that you will be immersed in for at least three years so you have to be really interested in the topic.

Other things to consider here are the nature of the topic. Is it located within a clearly defined subject area or discipline. Is it multi- or inter-disciplinary? Do you see yourself developing a career in that area (back to my first point). Also what links are there between the university / Director of Studies and the discipline? For example, out university is an institutional member of the UK society for public administration – the JUC Public Administration Committee. This brings with it many networking and development opportunities (again back to point one).

It’s also worth considering how any topic has been framed. Naturally most PhD students want to make a topic their own so you may want to ensure that it is not too narrowly defined and that there is scope to put your own mark on it. That is really important as again you may want to consider the type of career you want to have and ensure that the PhD topic will take you in that direction. For example my own PhD included some economics, some strategy and some public administration (and I have taught all three since). In the PhD topic I currently have advertised (see here for details) I have deliberately crafted the topic (on Leading Change in a Public Service Context) fairly broad so that any prospective student can make it their own.

A supervisor

Not only are you choosing a research topic but also a supervisor. It’s vitally important that students and supervisors have a positive relationship. So, as a student, it’s important to do your research!

I remember on my first day as a PhD student all the other students (who were already at least one year through their research) saying how lucky I was to have Prof Stephen J. Bailey as my supervisor.

In many respects the choice of supervisor is much more significant than the institution within which you conduct your research. Just because someone is based in a so-called ‘good’ university does not make them a ‘good’ supervisor! You should find out a little bit about their approach to teaching and research. Their views on students. Their perspective on the nature of the PhD. How many non-completions they have had – and why. Their links to industry and throughout academia. Ultimately upon meeting a prospective supervisor you’ll be able to make a judgement as to whether this is someone you want to work with for the next three years or not! All of these factors may have an impact on both your progress and even your potential career prospects.

Conclusion

I can only speak from my own experience – every PhD is different. I never expected to do a PhD (or even go to university for that matter). But I was fortunate to be given the opportunity of a bursary at Glasgow Caledonian. I was given a desk in a PhD office with some really amazing PhD students who I learned a huge amount from and many of whom are still close friends. I had a fantastic, challenging and yet supportive, supervisor. The PhD was really tough – and got tougher as time went on – but I learnt a huge amount from it that has underpinned my approach to teaching and research ever since. Since completing the PhD I’ve been fortunate to establish an academic career and I love what I do.

So, if you’re thinking of doing a PhD – and you’ve managed to get to the end of this blog post – GO FOR IT!

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