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The contemporary rapid evolution of doctoral programmes with their emphasis shifting to the development of a skilled, versatile researcher away from simply the production of an erudite thesis, has not been matched by parallel progression in the assessment process of the doctorate. Those who supervise and examine doctoral candidates seem only to have custom and practice and their own limited experience to steer their decisions in a fast-changing environment. The speakers will raise issues which stem from both their own work within HE and from the expectations of those who seek well qualified researchers both within and outside the Academy.

The speakers will then raise challenging questions for participant discussion about how assessment could be adapted to maintain the benefits of doctoral diversity while providing transparent evidence to employers and the wider society of the specific valuable skills of successful doctoral candidates.



12.30 – 13.10

, lunch and networking

13.10 – 13.15

SRHE welcome and housekeeping

13.15 -14.45

Pam Denicolo:  Fitness for purpose of doctoral assessment, then, now and for the future

Marion Heron:  Doctoral literacy practices

Rosemary Deem: The oral defence and what is not being examined?

14.45 – 15.00


15.00 – 16.00



Group activity

Groups will engage with the relevant, challenging questions provided, recording their answers for sharing with others.

16.00 – 16.25

Plenary discussion of main issues arising

16.25 – 16.30

Summary and close



Pam Denicolo:  Fitness for purpose of doctoral assessment, then, now and for the future

The doctorate can be considered in terms of curriculum, curriculum being the totality of experiences a student has, including a) its purpose ie aims and objectives, b) the critical content matter, c) what resources are available for teaching and learning, including how and by whom it is taught, d) how its success is evaluated. As described in my chapter in a recent book (Osterling, Denicolo and Apelgren, 2022) and in many other publications, in the last 25 years all of a, b, and c have developed and changed radically. (Some examples and illustrations will be provided.) What has not been addressed effectively or indeed at all, is d.  Evaluation includes, though is not limited to, continuous or in-course assessment and the final assessment.  Evaluation also includes feedback of various kinds from stakeholders, ie students and their prospective employers, research funders and society at large. All this feedback has impacted on a, b, and c in various ways to cause the aforementioned change. If we have changed all those aspects, the question arises about whether we can be sure that assessment methods are effective for purpose and comparable between disciplines and situations and, if not, what needs to change.

Denicolo, P M, Duke, D, Reeves, J D, 2022 Doctoral Final Examinations: (Ir)Relevance to New Skills and Future Challenges, in Osterlind, Denicolo and Apelgren (Eds) Doctoral Education as If People Matter, Leiden: Brill.


Marion Heron:  Doctoral literacy practices

Over the last three decades doctoral education has expanded and diversified, offering a range of study routes and doctoral outputs. At the same time, the competitive context of academia and pressures over future careers has shaped and permeated doctoral experiences and doctoral education in general. Although many doctoral practices are visible and explicit, such as networking and conference presentations, there is considerable ambiguity over what comprises doctoral study and the range of literacy practices students are expected to engage in. Unfamiliarity and tacit expectations of doctoral literacy practices can give rise to a lack of access for some doctoral students. What is needed therefore is an explicit acknowledgement of what the emerging doctoral literacy practices are, their value, and how they are acquired.

In this section of the session, we will discuss what these doctoral literacies are, how they are recognised, and how we can support doctoral students in developing doctoral literacies that are valued by the community. This prepares the debate for the following section in which we discuss how to assess the doctorate and what we are missing.


Rosemary Deem: The oral defence and what is not being examined?

This part of the workshop examines the criteria (often quite generically described) that we use to assess doctoral researchers’ theses in oral defences, asks what examiners are looking for in the viva and also, importantly, considers what is not assessed (such as transversal skills, generic methods training, capacity to present research findings to non-specialist audiences, teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking). It also explores some variants of what is assessed in different types of doctoral degrees. Some doctoral programmes do offer wider approaches to doctoral thesis examining, such as the University of British Columbia Public Scholars scheme where candidates have to give a public lecture as well as an oral defence. In addition, many professional doctorates assess coursework that is not exclusively made up of research methods but also contains disciplinary or interdisciplinary content and transversal skills too, before proceeding to a dissertation. As more doctoral researchers are going into non-academic roles after graduating, assessing wider skills and expertise is becoming more important but few institutions or HE systems have responded with new ideas or a wider range of criteria.  What might be included in a broader set of assessment criteria and how would it work (oral defence plus a skills assessment?).

Speaker bionotes

Rosemary Deem is Emeritus Professor of HE Management at Royal Holloway (University of London), where she was also Dean of History/Social Science (2009-11);Vice-Principal, Education (2011-17); Vice-Principal for Teaching Innovation & Equality/Diversity (2017-19); Doctoral School Dean (2014-19). At Bristol University Faculty of Social Sciences & Law was Postgraduate Dean (2004-6) and Faculty Research Director (2007-2009). At Lancaster University, Head of Educational Research (1992-4), Dean of Social Sciences (1994-1997) and University Graduate School Founder/Director (1998-2000).  Fellow, UK Academy of Social Sciences since 2006. Co-editor, Higher Education (Springer) 2013-present. Appointed OBE for services to HE & Social Science 2013.  2015-2018 first woman to Chair UK Council for Graduate Education. Chair of Trustees, Sociological Review Foundation 2020 – present. Have supervised and examined many doctoral students in the fields of Education, Sociology, Management and Gender Studies.  1999-2009 held several SRHE roles including 2004-6 Chair of Publications Committee, 2007-2009 Vice Chair of Society & Chair, Research and Development Committee.

Marion Heron is Associate Professor in Educational Linguistics at the Surrey Institute of Education, University of Surrey. She supervises a number of doctoral students in the areas of applied linguistics and second language teacher education. Her research covers a wide range of topics which all focus on understanding higher education practices from an applied linguistics perspective. She has published in the areas of doctoral education, classroom discourse, genre and oracy.

Pam Denicolo, a chartered constructivist psychologist, is Emeritus Professor of Postgraduate and Professional Education at the University of Reading where she developed over the 2000s a Graduate School, initially for the Social Sciences and Humanities, eventually encompassing all disciplines in the university. Contemporaneously she helped establish a School of Pharmacy, having previously been made an Honorary Member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and led the Centre for Postgraduate and Professional Education and Training. Originally her work at Surrey University had encompassed academic staff development and the establishment of doctoral research methods and supervisor training, reflecting her passion for improving doctoral education. Similarly, she has contributed to and served on the executive committees of numerous bodies concerned with that goal, such as the UKCGE, ISATT, Vitae, RIN, QAA and, of course, since 1995 the SRHE PIN.  She has supervised to successful completion 60+ doctorates and examined over 200. Her retirement is filled with national and international consultancies, writing articles and books, presentations, workshops, and editing two book series devoted to Higher Education, predominantly Postgraduate Education.



February 22nd, 2024 from 12:30 PM to  4:30 PM
Society House, Regents Wharf
8 All Saints Street
London, N1 9RL
United Kingdom
Event Fee(s)
Event Fee(s)
Member Price £0.00
Guest Price £75.00
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