What it meant to me to do a PhD by Published Work

Dr James Derounian – a National Teaching Fellow – and academic at De Montfort University explains his adventures in completing a PhD by published work

At the start of my 2020 doctoral thesis, I quoted the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, (1843): “Life can only be understood backwards; but must be lived forwards”! I am grateful to the Education Department and colleagues/ supervisors – Paul Vare, Jenny Fryman and Alex Masardo who ‘held my hand’ on this journey. These colleagues spanned my twin research interests of community engagement and higher education teaching and learning.

For years I consistently hit a brick wall, that either I ‘bit the bullet’ to assemble an 80,000-word thesis, or forgot the whole idea. Then around 2018, a breakthrough: the offer of a doctorate by published work. In which I set about presenting a series of nine of my academic and practitioner published articles; and around these developed a coherent narrative of about 30,000 words.

So it was that I came to research and publish ‘A confluence of two rivers: A reflection on the meeting point between community development and higher education teaching and learning’. And much to my pleasure and relief, in the process I discovered a theme and coherence to my life and career! My PhD had “a central aim to explore and determine the nature and degree of connectedness between higher education teaching and learning, and community development theory and practice.”

As someone with a natural propensity towards journalism – a butterfly flitting happily from one fascinating topic to another – the postgraduate research required a deep dive in to theory – all sorts of arcane and fascinating adventures in hyperglossia, native American Indian concepts like radical hope; Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development ZPD and Snyder’s (2000) Hope Theory! To name but a few. Ultimately, I was rewarded with praxis – a fabric woven together from complementary theories and practices.

Thank you for this opportunity to make sense of my 40+ year career, and associated life! If you enjoyed reading this, then take a look at my article for WonkHE: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/how-undertaking-a-phd-by-published-work-took-me-on-my-own-career-journey/

And am I finished with learning? Am I heck:

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me” (Isaac Newton, 1643-1727