A Profile of UK Doctoral Candidates in Social Work and Social Care

A Profile of UK Doctoral Candidates in Social Work and Social Care Abstract One important indication of the strength of a discipline is the state of its doctoral research. An important milestone for the official recognition of social work in the UK has been its inclusion in Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) doctoral funding schemes. The current study assesses the longer-term impact of these schemes, via a 2013 survey, following up a previous one in 2008. A web-based survey of social work doctoral candidates in the UK (n = 216) was conducted, to profile student demographics, research topics, methods, challenges of and supports for doctoral work. Most doctoral candidates (70 per cent) were using a primarily qualitative research strategy and only 4 per cent were using a primarily quantitative approach. Social work doctoral candidates were slightly less satisfied with their research degree programme than the general population of doctoral students. Key areas of similarity with the 2008 survey included the demographical profile (gender, age, ethnicity) and the percentage who were qualified social workers; key differences included increased percentages of candidates who were registered full time, funded by the ESRC and doing a Ph.D., as opposed to a professional doctorate. The findings highlight a need for capacity building in quantitative research methods and improved support for this academic community. Social work research, research capacity, academic workforce, Ph.D.s, doctorates Introduction The future relevance and potential contribution of the academic discipline and profession of social work to the amelioration of social ills and the promotion of social justice depend upon the vibrancy of a number of key factors. One of these key factors is the strength of doctoral education. In a recent article, Fong’s (2014) arguments for the importance of doctoral education are encapsulated in the judicious title of her article, ‘Framing doctoral education for a science of social work: Positioning students for the scientific career, promoting scholars for the academy, propagating scientists of the profession, and preparing stewards of the discipline’. Without doctoral candidates who will become educators, discipline leaders and researchers that develop new knowledge and test rigorously practice developments, the future integrity of the discipline and profession will be compromised. Hence, the extent and quality of doctoral programmes provide one proxy for the health of a discipline. Differentially established around the globe, in some countries, social work doctoral education has been well embedded and, in others, it is barely established, if at all. Orme and Powell (2008, p. 995) commented that, in some countries, there is evidence of a strategic approach to the development of social work doctoral study (e.g. the USA) and, in others, there is a more ‘ad hoc’ approach (e.g. the UK). Lyons conducted the first known analysis of the UK social work doctoral population (Lyons, 2002). From a study of social work education (Lyons, 1999), analysis of the Index of Theses (2000) and a research-council-funded national seminar series (‘Theorising Social Work Research’), Lyons concluded that UK doctoral students had experienced both a lack of a cohesive identity as social work doctoral candidates and also a lack of recognition in the academy for social work as a domain of doctoral study. Together, these two factors—lack of identity and recognition—contributed to the perceived absence among doctoral candidates of belonging to a cohesive occupational group. This was not a promising outcome, if the vibrancy of the doctoral programme is taken as a proxy for discipline health. Lyons’s work opened a discussion about the nature of UK social work doctoral education and the extent of similarity to doctoral education elsewhere. In 2005, in response to lobbying from social work academics, the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) recognised a dedicated pathway for social work Ph.D. candidates. This recognition was both economically important because it released financial awards to fund social work doctoral students, via a national competition, and also symbolically important as official recognition of social work as a distinct discipline. These awards were only tenable in prior approved universities, which included both pre-1992 and post-1992 universities, the latter having emerged from former polytechnics with relatively little historical research base. In 2008, the ESRC introduced a system of Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs), based exclusively in pre-1992 universities. Although the projected number of social work studentships in the first phase of DTCs was slightly higher than the number of studentships previously awarded through the dedicated social work pathway, the independent evaluation of the DTC network (ESRC, 2015) concluded that social work, along with education and anthropology, was failing to meet target student numbers. The evaluation report concluded that these disciplines ‘do not attract enough applicants of sufficient quality, or are losing out in the processes of studentship allocations’ (ESRC, 2015, p. 25). This article reports on a cross-sectional 2013 study conducted of UK social work and social care doctoral candidates, which explored the strength of doctoral education. The aims of the study were to: map the demographic, educational and occupational profile of UK doctoral candidates; explore the range of thesis topics and research approaches adopted by doctoral candidates, to provide an indicator of the kinds of research favoured in social work departments; explore the nature of challenges experienced by doctoral students in the pursuit of their studies and the nature and extent of support they receive. The literature review, research findings and discussion have been structured around these three aims. This 2013 study replicated key elements of the research design from a 2008 UK study (Scourfield and Maxwell, 2010), which has allowed trend analysis. Specifically, it allowed comparison of UK doctoral education in social work and social care before and after the establishment of ESRC DTCs and for consideration of the longer-term impact of ESRC Ph.D. funding. Findings of the 2008 study are thematically presented in the next section. Literature review A brief summary review of key literature—structured by the three research aims—is presented, incorporating comparison between the UK and other countries, with most evidence coming from the USA. The demographic, educational and occupational profile of doctoral candidates Liechty et al. (2009) reported that there were 69 US doctoral programmes, enrolling 1,637 full-time candidates and 917 part-time students. Of these, 54 per cent were white, suggesting a diverse doctoral community, and three-quarters were women. Social work academics in the UK are less likely to hold a doctorate than their US counterparts (Moriarty et al., 2015); similarly, they are less likely to have a doctorate than those in Germany, though more likely than those in Denmark (Kornbeck, 2007). Drawing on some aspects of Lyons’s method (2003), Scourfield and Maxwell (2010) conducted a study in 2008 that comprised a web-based survey of doctoral candidates in the UK (n = 136) and search of the Index to Theses. This is the 2008 survey with which the current 2013 study is being compared. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents were women and 60 per cent were studying part time, while working full time. One-third were undertaking professional doctorates (PDs), as opposed to Ph.D.s. One-third of respondents were social work educators, suggesting recognition of the need to become research-active. Many UK social work doctoral candidates commence their studies later in life whilst working, often in academia, rather than the other way around (Moriarty et al., 2015). Social work academics would traditionally arrive with a relatively limited research background, as doctoral qualifications have not been required in their practice career (Orme and Powell, 2006). Although routine comparative analysis is lacking, commentators tend to agree that numbers of social work doctorate students in the UK have traditionally been low, relative to those in other academic fields. Lyons (2000) found that only one-fifth of social work academics had a doctorate in the mid-1990s. Orme and Powell (2006) note Bourner et al.’s (2001) research that found only a single social work PD programme out of 128 social science PDs in 1999. More recently, social work may have caught up with at least some other disciplines; Moriarty et al.’s survey found 43 per cent of social work academics had a doctorate in 2008—very close to the UK average of 45.7 per cent for all disciplines in 2010–11 HESA data (Grove, 2012). Topics and research approaches Horton and Hawkins (2010) found that few US social work dissertations (13.49 per cent) focused on social work intervention and these authors identified a schism between practice and research. Earlier, Harrison and Thyer (1988) had noted the need for US social work doctoral dissertations to have a practice application accompanied by an improvement agenda. Maynard et al.’s (2014) study of US doctoral dissertation abstracts found quantitative analysis present at twice the rate of qualitative analysis. Lyons’s (2003) study found that the majority of social work doctoral theses in the UK addressed adult social work. Scourfield and Maxwell (2010), in 2008, then found that doctoral topics about children and families were much more numerous than topics about social work with adults—an apparent reversal of the previous trend. Most respondents (57 per cent) felt that they were undertaking research that was evaluating practice or policy. Lyons (2003) noted that the choice of topic and approach was likely to be informed by previous practice experience. Primarily qualitative doctoral projects greatly outnumbered primarily quantitative ones in the UK in 2008 (Scourfield and Maxwell, 2010), indicating a need for capacity building, to develop quantitative research skills and create well-rounded scientists of the profession (Fong, 2014). Challenges and support Barsky et al. (2014), from a US perspective, note the need for social work academic staff to have extensive practice experience. The transition of role from established, expert practitioner to that of novice researcher can require high levels of support (Mendenhall, 2007). Liechty et al. (2009) found that up to 50 per cent of candidates in the USA fail to complete doctorates and these authors stress the importance of supporting students to reduce attrition. Khinduka’s (2002) study into completed US social work doctorates found that those schools that had a supportive institutional culture were more likely to achieve ‘excellence in doctoral education’ (p. 685). McRoy et al. (2012) have further noted the need in the USA for a strong infrastructure in order to build and support social work research capacity. Scourfield and Maxwell (2010) attribute the historic lack of UK doctoral candidates in part to the relatively weak research base in social work and they further contend that this dearth of research expertise has been as a result of the low priority given to research by social work employers. Thus, there has been little capacity for providing doctoral supervision and this has created something of a vicious circle. Scourfield and Maxwell (2010) identified that, because of the older age of doctoral candidates, there is only a limited window of opportunity for the dissemination of their work. There is also a strong need for succession planning for academic staff (Shardlow et al., 2013). The role of teaching often takes precedence over that of researcher for social work academic staff in England, particularly in comparison to those in Germany (Kornbeck, 2007). Moriarty et al. (2015) note the heavy administrative burden placed on UK social work academics, who are responsible for liaising with local authority partners, which further contributes to the stress of an already demanding academic role (Shaw, 2014), and to the pressures of completing their doctoral studies whilst in employment. The current study In 2013, Jonathan Scourfield was asked by the research sub-committee of the body representing academic social work in the UK, the Joint Universities Council Social Work Education Committee (JUC SWEC), to repeat the 2008 survey. As noted earlier, this request came in the context of ongoing concerns about social work research capacity in the UK and uncertainty about the impact on social work of recent developments in doctoral infrastructure training. Method A cross-sectional survey of UK doctoral candidates in social work and social care in 2013 replicated aspects of a previous study conducted in 2008, allowing discussion of trends over the five-year interval. The survey was billed as for completion by doctoral candidates in social work and/or social care. The term ‘social care’ was used in recognition that this term is increasingly widely referenced in the UK (although nowhere else in the world) to encompass the full range of care and support, and not just the work of qualified social workers. Sampling procedure An e-mail containing an embedded link to a web-based survey was sent to individuals who were likely to be leading or connected with UK social work doctoral programmes. The e-mail contained a request to forward the invitation to complete the survey to participants on those doctoral programmes. Seven e-mail lists were used: JUC SWEC (seventy-seven universities); the Higher Education Academy social work education list; the Association of Professors of Social Work; the School for Social Care Research; an e-mail list for academics running PDs; named contacts for each of the ESRC DTCs with a pathway including social work and/or social care; and named contacts for every UK social work or social care PD, identified through a Google search. The survey was open for five weeks, in July–August 2013. An incentive for completion of the questionnaire was inclusion in a prize draw for an iPad 2. Inclusion and exclusion An inclusive approach was taken to determining which topics could be classed as social work or social care. However, we took the view that the topic had to be connected either to social work/social care services or to people who are clearly social care service users. Therefore, eight studies were not included, as they concerned populations who may possibly use social work/social care services, but these studies were specifically about contact with public services other than social care, such as education or health care or police, and there was no way of knowing whether the population studied were social care users or not. An example of this category type was ‘children’s participation in the transformation of schools’. If, however, studies were about the lived experience of people with some kind of social need that would very likely result in social care services (e.g. seeking asylum, having a serious mental health problem), they were included in the sample. Any study of people who are necessarily social care service users, such as children in out-of-home care, was included in the final sample, even if the research topics did not directly relate to social care services. A small number of responses were from doctoral candidates whose topics were very clearly not related to social work (e.g. banking regulation, police leadership). Participant characteristics The intended sample was to obtain as many study participants as possible from the population of social work doctoral candidates (total number unknown) in the UK. This population included full- and part-time candidates for Ph.D. or PD. The number of UK universities that offered a social work Ph.D. and/or PD in social work (or of which social work forms a part) was not known. The sample was self-selected on the basis of doctoral candidates that chose to respond to a web-based questionnaire. It is not known what proportion of the population of doctoral candidates in the UK received the invitation to participate in the study. A total of 266 responses were received. Of these respondents, thirty-five partially completed the survey and were excluded from the sample. Therefore, the usable sample comprised 231 completed questionnaires. Of these, a further fifteen were excluded because doctoral topics were judged not to fall into the domain of social work or social care. This left a final sample of 216. Measures A survey instrument—a self-completion web-based questionnaire—was created using Qualtrics.com. The questionnaire employed for the 2013 survey was based on the instrument used 2008, in both cases non-standardised and designed specifically for the survey. In 2008 and 2013, there were questions about student demographics (including participants’ social work practice background), experience of doctoral study, participants’ research topics, research approaches and methods used. The 2008 questionnaire was amended somewhat for use in 2013. An additional question was included to gather information on whether doctoral candidates were categorised as ‘domestic’ or ‘overseas’. Four questions were modified for the 2013 questionnaire. First, a question about enrolment status was modified to include the option ‘staff candidate’ (not included in 2008). Second, the 2008 question about student satisfaction was altered to match the categories of response in the UK Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (Bennett and Turner, 2013), for the purposes of comparison. Third, one of the three categories of research approach offered to respondents to categorise their research (based on a reading of Shaw and Norton (2007)) was modified. In 2008, the first of these categories was worded ‘primarily a contribution to academic theorising about social work’, while, in 2013, ‘understanding’ was used instead of ‘theorising’. Fourth, an additional list of specified research methods was used in 2013, based on a scheme adapted from Shaw et al. (2013). Additionally, some minor changes were made to the wording of some questions to enhance clarity. Analysis Descriptive statistics were produced and chi-square and Fisher’s exact tests were used to indicate whether the 2013 distribution of responses differed significantly from that in 2008. The same tests were applied to cross-tabulations of some of the variables, to explore potential patterns in the 2013 data. A conventional probability level of 0.05 was used to signal a significant result. Results Doctoral candidate characteristics The sample comprised seventy-four men (34.3 per cent) and 142 women (65.7 per cent). Of the 231 respondents, 82.8 per cent self-defined as being of white ethic origin. The age group containing most doctoral candidates was forty to forty-nine and the under-thirties were a small minority, albeit this group made up a larger percentage of the sample in 2013 than in 2008. One in ten was an overseas student. Three-quarters (74.1 per cent) were based in pre-1992 universities. A higher percentage of doctoral candidates were studying at pre-92 universities in 2013. However, there were no significant differences in any of these demographics between 2008 and 2013. Full details are shown in Table 1. Table 1 Demographics of doctoral candidates and university type Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Gender (χ2 = 0.262, df = 1, p = 0.61) Male 43 74 31.6 34.3 Female 93 142 68.4 65.7 Total 136 216 100 100 Ethnicity (χ2 = 5.021, df = 3, p = 0.17) White 121 178 92.4 82.8 Mixed, Chinese and Other 9 15 6.9 7.0 Asian 5 8 3.8 3.7 Black 2 14 1.5 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Overseas studenta (χ2 = 2.534, df = 1, p = 0.11) UK 124 193 94.7 89.8 Overseas, of which: 7 22 5.3 10.2  EU – 8 – 3.7  Non-EU – 14 – 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Age (χ2 = 5.507, df = 4, p = 0.24) < 30 9 27 6.6 12.5 30–39 42 56 30.9 25.9 40–49 43 76 31.6 35.2 50–59 32 48 23.5 22.2 > 59 10 9 7.4 4.2 Total 136 216 100 100 University type (χ2 = 4.953, df = 2, p = 0.08) Pre-1992 81 160 62.8 74.1 Post-1992 43 51 33.3 23.6 Other/missing 5 5 3.9 2.3 Total 129 216 100 100 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Gender (χ2 = 0.262, df = 1, p = 0.61) Male 43 74 31.6 34.3 Female 93 142 68.4 65.7 Total 136 216 100 100 Ethnicity (χ2 = 5.021, df = 3, p = 0.17) White 121 178 92.4 82.8 Mixed, Chinese and Other 9 15 6.9 7.0 Asian 5 8 3.8 3.7 Black 2 14 1.5 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Overseas studenta (χ2 = 2.534, df = 1, p = 0.11) UK 124 193 94.7 89.8 Overseas, of which: 7 22 5.3 10.2  EU – 8 – 3.7  Non-EU – 14 – 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Age (χ2 = 5.507, df = 4, p = 0.24) < 30 9 27 6.6 12.5 30–39 42 56 30.9 25.9 40–49 43 76 31.6 35.2 50–59 32 48 23.5 22.2 > 59 10 9 7.4 4.2 Total 136 216 100 100 University type (χ2 = 4.953, df = 2, p = 0.08) Pre-1992 81 160 62.8 74.1 Post-1992 43 51 33.3 23.6 Other/missing 5 5 3.9 2.3 Total 129 216 100 100 a This question was not asked in 2008 but overseas student status was crudely inferred from doctoral topics. Chi-square relates to only UK and overseas (not EU/non-EU). Table 1 Demographics of doctoral candidates and university type Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Gender (χ2 = 0.262, df = 1, p = 0.61) Male 43 74 31.6 34.3 Female 93 142 68.4 65.7 Total 136 216 100 100 Ethnicity (χ2 = 5.021, df = 3, p = 0.17) White 121 178 92.4 82.8 Mixed, Chinese and Other 9 15 6.9 7.0 Asian 5 8 3.8 3.7 Black 2 14 1.5 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Overseas studenta (χ2 = 2.534, df = 1, p = 0.11) UK 124 193 94.7 89.8 Overseas, of which: 7 22 5.3 10.2  EU – 8 – 3.7  Non-EU – 14 – 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Age (χ2 = 5.507, df = 4, p = 0.24) < 30 9 27 6.6 12.5 30–39 42 56 30.9 25.9 40–49 43 76 31.6 35.2 50–59 32 48 23.5 22.2 > 59 10 9 7.4 4.2 Total 136 216 100 100 University type (χ2 = 4.953, df = 2, p = 0.08) Pre-1992 81 160 62.8 74.1 Post-1992 43 51 33.3 23.6 Other/missing 5 5 3.9 2.3 Total 129 216 100 100 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Gender (χ2 = 0.262, df = 1, p = 0.61) Male 43 74 31.6 34.3 Female 93 142 68.4 65.7 Total 136 216 100 100 Ethnicity (χ2 = 5.021, df = 3, p = 0.17) White 121 178 92.4 82.8 Mixed, Chinese and Other 9 15 6.9 7.0 Asian 5 8 3.8 3.7 Black 2 14 1.5 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Overseas studenta (χ2 = 2.534, df = 1, p = 0.11) UK 124 193 94.7 89.8 Overseas, of which: 7 22 5.3 10.2  EU – 8 – 3.7  Non-EU – 14 – 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Age (χ2 = 5.507, df = 4, p = 0.24) < 30 9 27 6.6 12.5 30–39 42 56 30.9 25.9 40–49 43 76 31.6 35.2 50–59 32 48 23.5 22.2 > 59 10 9 7.4 4.2 Total 136 216 100 100 University type (χ2 = 4.953, df = 2, p = 0.08) Pre-1992 81 160 62.8 74.1 Post-1992 43 51 33.3 23.6 Other/missing 5 5 3.9 2.3 Total 129 216 100 100 a This question was not asked in 2008 but overseas student status was crudely inferred from doctoral topics. Chi-square relates to only UK and overseas (not EU/non-EU). Table 2 presents results on type of registration, employment and social work qualification. There were increased percentages of people studying for Ph.D.s (as opposed to PDs), studying full time and funded by the ESRC. In addition to the results in Table 2, there was a significant association between funding source and type of doctorate (Fisher’s exact test p < 0.001), since ESRC doctoral funding is restricted to Ph.D.s. There was also a significant association (Fisher’s exact test p = 0.001) between category of university and type of doctorate; Ph.D.s by research were a larger percentage of all doctorates in pre-1992 universities (81 per cent) than in post-1992 (57 per cent). There was also an increased percentage of candidates whose highest previous qualification was a master’s degree in research methods. Table 2 Doctoral registration, employment and social work qualification Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Student statusa Full-time 37 85 27.0 39.4 Part-time 100 93 73.0 43.1 Staff candidate – 38 – 17.6 Total 137 216 100 100 Type of doctorateb,c (χ2 = 5.617, df = 1, p = 0.02) Ph.D. 82 159 61.2 73.6 Professional doctorate 49 54 36.6 25.0 Ph.D. by publication 3 3 2.2 1.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Source of fundingc (χ2 = 18.208, df = 4, p < 0.01) University (as employer) 27 44 20.1 20.4 Other employer 20 22 14.9 10.2 ESRC 11 44 8.2 20.4 Self 40 77 29.9 35.6 Another source 36 29 26.9 13.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Type of employment (χ2 = 8.068, df = 4, p = 0.09) Social work educator 44 77 33.1 35.6 Social work manager 14 20 10.5 9.3 Social work practitioner 11 26 8.3 12.0 Other 43 44 32.3 20.4 Not employed 21 49 15.8 22.7 Total 133 216 100 100 Stage of doctoral study (χ2 = 4.724, df = 7, p = 0.69) Master’s in research methods 3 8 2.3 3.7 Year 1 27 44 20.3 20.4 Year 2 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 3 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 4 17 19 12.8 8.8 Year 5 9 21 6.8 9.7 Year 6 or later 9 8 6.8 3.7 Doctorate award in last 2 years 18 26 13.5 12.0 Total 133 216 100 100 What is or was your student and employment statusc (χ2 = 8.285, df = 3, p = 0.04) FT work PT student 81 106 62.3 49.1% PT work FT student 12 36 9.2 16.7 PT work PT student 13 22 10.0 10.2 FT student not employed 21 52 16.2 24.1 Total 130 216 100 100 Qualified social worker (χ2 = 0.669, df = 1, p = 0.41) Yes 106 164 79.7 75.9 No 27 52 20.3 24.1 Total 133 216 Tenure as social worker (χ2 = 7.778, df = 4, p = 0.10) 0–5 years (inc. just qualified) 27 41 20.4 19.0 6–10 years 23 29 17.4 13.4 11–15 years 18 35 13.6 16.2 Over 15 years 41 58 31.1 26.9 N/A 23 68 17.4 31.5 Total 132 216 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Student statusa Full-time 37 85 27.0 39.4 Part-time 100 93 73.0 43.1 Staff candidate – 38 – 17.6 Total 137 216 100 100 Type of doctorateb,c (χ2 = 5.617, df = 1, p = 0.02) Ph.D. 82 159 61.2 73.6 Professional doctorate 49 54 36.6 25.0 Ph.D. by publication 3 3 2.2 1.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Source of fundingc (χ2 = 18.208, df = 4, p < 0.01) University (as employer) 27 44 20.1 20.4 Other employer 20 22 14.9 10.2 ESRC 11 44 8.2 20.4 Self 40 77 29.9 35.6 Another source 36 29 26.9 13.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Type of employment (χ2 = 8.068, df = 4, p = 0.09) Social work educator 44 77 33.1 35.6 Social work manager 14 20 10.5 9.3 Social work practitioner 11 26 8.3 12.0 Other 43 44 32.3 20.4 Not employed 21 49 15.8 22.7 Total 133 216 100 100 Stage of doctoral study (χ2 = 4.724, df = 7, p = 0.69) Master’s in research methods 3 8 2.3 3.7 Year 1 27 44 20.3 20.4 Year 2 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 3 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 4 17 19 12.8 8.8 Year 5 9 21 6.8 9.7 Year 6 or later 9 8 6.8 3.7 Doctorate award in last 2 years 18 26 13.5 12.0 Total 133 216 100 100 What is or was your student and employment statusc (χ2 = 8.285, df = 3, p = 0.04) FT work PT student 81 106 62.3 49.1% PT work FT student 12 36 9.2 16.7 PT work PT student 13 22 10.0 10.2 FT student not employed 21 52 16.2 24.1 Total 130 216 100 100 Qualified social worker (χ2 = 0.669, df = 1, p = 0.41) Yes 106 164 79.7 75.9 No 27 52 20.3 24.1 Total 133 216 Tenure as social worker (χ2 = 7.778, df = 4, p = 0.10) 0–5 years (inc. just qualified) 27 41 20.4 19.0 6–10 years 23 29 17.4 13.4 11–15 years 18 35 13.6 16.2 Over 15 years 41 58 31.1 26.9 N/A 23 68 17.4 31.5 Total 132 216 a Staff candidate response not offered in 2008; b chi-square test excluded ‘Ph.D. by publication’; c significant at the 0.05 level. FT, full-time; PT, part-time. Table 2 Doctoral registration, employment and social work qualification Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Student statusa Full-time 37 85 27.0 39.4 Part-time 100 93 73.0 43.1 Staff candidate – 38 – 17.6 Total 137 216 100 100 Type of doctorateb,c (χ2 = 5.617, df = 1, p = 0.02) Ph.D. 82 159 61.2 73.6 Professional doctorate 49 54 36.6 25.0 Ph.D. by publication 3 3 2.2 1.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Source of fundingc (χ2 = 18.208, df = 4, p < 0.01) University (as employer) 27 44 20.1 20.4 Other employer 20 22 14.9 10.2 ESRC 11 44 8.2 20.4 Self 40 77 29.9 35.6 Another source 36 29 26.9 13.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Type of employment (χ2 = 8.068, df = 4, p = 0.09) Social work educator 44 77 33.1 35.6 Social work manager 14 20 10.5 9.3 Social work practitioner 11 26 8.3 12.0 Other 43 44 32.3 20.4 Not employed 21 49 15.8 22.7 Total 133 216 100 100 Stage of doctoral study (χ2 = 4.724, df = 7, p = 0.69) Master’s in research methods 3 8 2.3 3.7 Year 1 27 44 20.3 20.4 Year 2 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 3 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 4 17 19 12.8 8.8 Year 5 9 21 6.8 9.7 Year 6 or later 9 8 6.8 3.7 Doctorate award in last 2 years 18 26 13.5 12.0 Total 133 216 100 100 What is or was your student and employment statusc (χ2 = 8.285, df = 3, p = 0.04) FT work PT student 81 106 62.3 49.1% PT work FT student 12 36 9.2 16.7 PT work PT student 13 22 10.0 10.2 FT student not employed 21 52 16.2 24.1 Total 130 216 100 100 Qualified social worker (χ2 = 0.669, df = 1, p = 0.41) Yes 106 164 79.7 75.9 No 27 52 20.3 24.1 Total 133 216 Tenure as social worker (χ2 = 7.778, df = 4, p = 0.10) 0–5 years (inc. just qualified) 27 41 20.4 19.0 6–10 years 23 29 17.4 13.4 11–15 years 18 35 13.6 16.2 Over 15 years 41 58 31.1 26.9 N/A 23 68 17.4 31.5 Total 132 216 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Student statusa Full-time 37 85 27.0 39.4 Part-time 100 93 73.0 43.1 Staff candidate – 38 – 17.6 Total 137 216 100 100 Type of doctorateb,c (χ2 = 5.617, df = 1, p = 0.02) Ph.D. 82 159 61.2 73.6 Professional doctorate 49 54 36.6 25.0 Ph.D. by publication 3 3 2.2 1.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Source of fundingc (χ2 = 18.208, df = 4, p < 0.01) University (as employer) 27 44 20.1 20.4 Other employer 20 22 14.9 10.2 ESRC 11 44 8.2 20.4 Self 40 77 29.9 35.6 Another source 36 29 26.9 13.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Type of employment (χ2 = 8.068, df = 4, p = 0.09) Social work educator 44 77 33.1 35.6 Social work manager 14 20 10.5 9.3 Social work practitioner 11 26 8.3 12.0 Other 43 44 32.3 20.4 Not employed 21 49 15.8 22.7 Total 133 216 100 100 Stage of doctoral study (χ2 = 4.724, df = 7, p = 0.69) Master’s in research methods 3 8 2.3 3.7 Year 1 27 44 20.3 20.4 Year 2 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 3 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 4 17 19 12.8 8.8 Year 5 9 21 6.8 9.7 Year 6 or later 9 8 6.8 3.7 Doctorate award in last 2 years 18 26 13.5 12.0 Total 133 216 100 100 What is or was your student and employment statusc (χ2 = 8.285, df = 3, p = 0.04) FT work PT student 81 106 62.3 49.1% PT work FT student 12 36 9.2 16.7 PT work PT student 13 22 10.0 10.2 FT student not employed 21 52 16.2 24.1 Total 130 216 100 100 Qualified social worker (χ2 = 0.669, df = 1, p = 0.41) Yes 106 164 79.7 75.9 No 27 52 20.3 24.1 Total 133 216 Tenure as social worker (χ2 = 7.778, df = 4, p = 0.10) 0–5 years (inc. just qualified) 27 41 20.4 19.0 6–10 years 23 29 17.4 13.4 11–15 years 18 35 13.6 16.2 Over 15 years 41 58 31.1 26.9 N/A 23 68 17.4 31.5 Total 132 216 a Staff candidate response not offered in 2008; b chi-square test excluded ‘Ph.D. by publication’; c significant at the 0.05 level. FT, full-time; PT, part-time. The percentage of candidates who were qualified social workers was similar in 2013 to 2008. A cross-tabulation of funding source and social work qualification found that 61 per cent (twenty-seven out of forty-four) of ESRC-funded students are qualified social workers compared with over 70 per cent of those who are funded by any other source. Research topics and methodological approaches Table 3 presents findings on research approaches and topics. The most popular topic area was children, young people and families, as in 2008. However, overall, there was a significant difference between 2008 and 2013 surveys, with an increase in the percentage studying ‘knowledge, theories, skills and/or values’. Table 3 Research approaches and topics Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Methodologya (χ2 = 2.849, df = 2, p = 0.24) Primarily qualitative 76 151 58.5 69.9 Mixed 41 55 31.5 25.5 Primarily quantitative 7 9 5.4 4.2 Not empirical research 6 1 4.6 0.5 Total 130 216 100 100 Orientation towards social work practicec (χ2 = 9.788, df = 2, p < 0.01) Primarily a contribution to academic theorising/understanding 30 87 23.8 40.3 Evaluation of policy or practice 77 102 61.1 47.2 Action research 19 26 15.1 12.0 Total 126 216 100 100 Topicc (χ2 = 11.79, df = 5, p = 0.04) Children, young people, families 58 75 45.7 35.1 Knowledge, theories, skills and/or values 9 43 7.1 20.1 Adult service users 27 40 21.3 18.7 Organisation, management of personal social services 17 31 13.4 14.5 Methods or settings 9 16 7.1 7.5 Education, training and professional development 7 9 5.5 4.2 Total 127 214 100 100 Specific methods usedb One-to-one interviews, including telephone, couples interviews and co-interviews – 176 – 81.5 Narratives, life history, (auto-) biography, naturally occurring talk – 63 – 29.2 Focus groups and group interviews – 74 – 34.3 Observation/ethnography – 67 – 31.0 Action research and participatory cycles of research – 26 – 12.0 Visual data, photography, drawing, film – 23 – 10.6 Personal records and documents—diaries, journals, letters – 27 – 12.5 Historical archival research – 5 – 2.3 Records and organisational or administrative documents – 51 – 23.6 Internet research – 21 – 9.7 Case studies: of organisations, individuals, events, communities or social groups – 53 – 24.5 Cross-sectional survey – 15 – 6.9 Repeat and longitudinal surveys – 10 – 4.6 Experiment or quasi-experiment – 6 – 2.8 Measurement scales – 21 – 9.7 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Methodologya (χ2 = 2.849, df = 2, p = 0.24) Primarily qualitative 76 151 58.5 69.9 Mixed 41 55 31.5 25.5 Primarily quantitative 7 9 5.4 4.2 Not empirical research 6 1 4.6 0.5 Total 130 216 100 100 Orientation towards social work practicec (χ2 = 9.788, df = 2, p < 0.01) Primarily a contribution to academic theorising/understanding 30 87 23.8 40.3 Evaluation of policy or practice 77 102 61.1 47.2 Action research 19 26 15.1 12.0 Total 126 216 100 100 Topicc (χ2 = 11.79, df = 5, p = 0.04) Children, young people, families 58 75 45.7 35.1 Knowledge, theories, skills and/or values 9 43 7.1 20.1 Adult service users 27 40 21.3 18.7 Organisation, management of personal social services 17 31 13.4 14.5 Methods or settings 9 16 7.1 7.5 Education, training and professional development 7 9 5.5 4.2 Total 127 214 100 100 Specific methods usedb One-to-one interviews, including telephone, couples interviews and co-interviews – 176 – 81.5 Narratives, life history, (auto-) biography, naturally occurring talk – 63 – 29.2 Focus groups and group interviews – 74 – 34.3 Observation/ethnography – 67 – 31.0 Action research and participatory cycles of research – 26 – 12.0 Visual data, photography, drawing, film – 23 – 10.6 Personal records and documents—diaries, journals, letters – 27 – 12.5 Historical archival research – 5 – 2.3 Records and organisational or administrative documents – 51 – 23.6 Internet research – 21 – 9.7 Case studies: of organisations, individuals, events, communities or social groups – 53 – 24.5 Cross-sectional survey – 15 – 6.9 Repeat and longitudinal surveys – 10 – 4.6 Experiment or quasi-experiment – 6 – 2.8 Measurement scales – 21 – 9.7 a Chi-square excludes ‘non-empirical’; b not asked in 2008; c significant at the 0.05 level. Table 3 Research approaches and topics Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Methodologya (χ2 = 2.849, df = 2, p = 0.24) Primarily qualitative 76 151 58.5 69.9 Mixed 41 55 31.5 25.5 Primarily quantitative 7 9 5.4 4.2 Not empirical research 6 1 4.6 0.5 Total 130 216 100 100 Orientation towards social work practicec (χ2 = 9.788, df = 2, p < 0.01) Primarily a contribution to academic theorising/understanding 30 87 23.8 40.3 Evaluation of policy or practice 77 102 61.1 47.2 Action research 19 26 15.1 12.0 Total 126 216 100 100 Topicc (χ2 = 11.79, df = 5, p = 0.04) Children, young people, families 58 75 45.7 35.1 Knowledge, theories, skills and/or values 9 43 7.1 20.1 Adult service users 27 40 21.3 18.7 Organisation, management of personal social services 17 31 13.4 14.5 Methods or settings 9 16 7.1 7.5 Education, training and professional development 7 9 5.5 4.2 Total 127 214 100 100 Specific methods usedb One-to-one interviews, including telephone, couples interviews and co-interviews – 176 – 81.5 Narratives, life history, (auto-) biography, naturally occurring talk – 63 – 29.2 Focus groups and group interviews – 74 – 34.3 Observation/ethnography – 67 – 31.0 Action research and participatory cycles of research – 26 – 12.0 Visual data, photography, drawing, film – 23 – 10.6 Personal records and documents—diaries, journals, letters – 27 – 12.5 Historical archival research – 5 – 2.3 Records and organisational or administrative documents – 51 – 23.6 Internet research – 21 – 9.7 Case studies: of organisations, individuals, events, communities or social groups – 53 – 24.5 Cross-sectional survey – 15 – 6.9 Repeat and longitudinal surveys – 10 – 4.6 Experiment or quasi-experiment – 6 – 2.8 Measurement scales – 21 – 9.7 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Methodologya (χ2 = 2.849, df = 2, p = 0.24) Primarily qualitative 76 151 58.5 69.9 Mixed 41 55 31.5 25.5 Primarily quantitative 7 9 5.4 4.2 Not empirical research 6 1 4.6 0.5 Total 130 216 100 100 Orientation towards social work practicec (χ2 = 9.788, df = 2, p < 0.01) Primarily a contribution to academic theorising/understanding 30 87 23.8 40.3 Evaluation of policy or practice 77 102 61.1 47.2 Action research 19 26 15.1 12.0 Total 126 216 100 100 Topicc (χ2 = 11.79, df = 5, p = 0.04) Children, young people, families 58 75 45.7 35.1 Knowledge, theories, skills and/or values 9 43 7.1 20.1 Adult service users 27 40 21.3 18.7 Organisation, management of personal social services 17 31 13.4 14.5 Methods or settings 9 16 7.1 7.5 Education, training and professional development 7 9 5.5 4.2 Total 127 214 100 100 Specific methods usedb One-to-one interviews, including telephone, couples interviews and co-interviews – 176 – 81.5 Narratives, life history, (auto-) biography, naturally occurring talk – 63 – 29.2 Focus groups and group interviews – 74 – 34.3 Observation/ethnography – 67 – 31.0 Action research and participatory cycles of research – 26 – 12.0 Visual data, photography, drawing, film – 23 – 10.6 Personal records and documents—diaries, journals, letters – 27 – 12.5 Historical archival research – 5 – 2.3 Records and organisational or administrative documents – 51 – 23.6 Internet research – 21 – 9.7 Case studies: of organisations, individuals, events, communities or social groups – 53 – 24.5 Cross-sectional survey – 15 – 6.9 Repeat and longitudinal surveys – 10 – 4.6 Experiment or quasi-experiment – 6 – 2.8 Measurement scales – 21 – 9.7 a Chi-square excludes ‘non-empirical’; b not asked in 2008; c significant at the 0.05 level. The dominance of qualitative research as the preferred methodological approach can again be seen in 2013, with only 4.2 per cent of respondents doing primarily quantitative research, compared with 69.9 per cent using primarily qualitative methods. The list of possible research methods is more revealing still. It was possible for respondents to select more than one method as appropriate. The methodological imbalance is revealed when we see that 81.5 per cent of doctorates include one-to-one interviews, whereas only 2.8 per cent are using experimental or quasi-experimental methods. In keeping with this finding, only seven respondents (3.2 per cent) used the word ‘outcome’ when describing their doctoral topic. Slightly more optimistically in terms of quantitative methods, 9.7 per cent of candidates were using measurement scales. Also, close to a quarter of respondents were using records or other administrative documents, which could include some quantification. Cross-tabulations were conducted of methodology against type of university and funding source. These bivariate analyses did not find any significant associations, however. Satisfaction with doctoral study As noted earlier, the satisfaction question changed in wording for 2013 so it would not be valid to compare with 2008. A more valid comparison, however, is with the UK-wide and cross-discipline Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) 2013 (Bennett and Turner, 2013). The statement ‘overall I am satisfied with the experience of my research degree programme’ was offered to respondents in both surveys, using a five-point Likert scale for response, which ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. In 2008, the social work survey responses were interpreted as being more positive about student satisfaction than the general doctoral student population in the 2007 PRES. (We note the proviso that this was only an interpretation in 2008, with the questionnaire wording being different from PRES.) However, unfortunately, the opposite is true in 2013—social work doctoral candidates appear to be less satisfied than the general PGR population. In 2013, 13.4 per cent (n = 29) of social work/social care doctoral candidates disagreed that they were satisfied overall, whereas, for the general population of doctoral candidates in PRES (n = 47,623), only 8.7 per cent disagreed. In PRES, 9.6 per cent were neutral about their doctoral study, compared with 7.4 per cent in the social work/social care survey. In PRES, 81.7 per cent agreed they were satisfied overall, compared with 79.2 per cent in the social work/social care survey. The percentage difference is very small, but statistically significant. Raw numbers were not published in the Bennett and Turner (2013) summary report on PRES 2013, but working these out from the percentages reported and overall sample size, we find the chi-square test result is 6.755 (2 df, p = 0.03). The figure on p. 19 of Bennett and Turner (2013) confirms the finding. When PRES respondents are grouped by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) panel, those coming under the social work and social policy panel were ranked thirty-first out of thirty-six REF disciplines for satisfaction. The challenges of doctoral study Respondents were asked an open question about which aspects of doctoral study were particularly challenging. Their responses were inductively coded into one of seven categories: time; academia (i.e. unease with the academic environment); isolation; methodology; money; ethics and access; and ‘other’ (various). These results were cross-tabulated against the responses on satisfaction. Not counting a diverse ‘other’ category, the highest levels of dissatisfaction were in those respondents whose main challenges were time, academia or money, all of these having around 15 per cent dissatisfaction. Further cross-tabulations were conducted with the satisfaction data. There was no significant association with age, type of university or full-time/part-time status, although it should be noted that the statistical power for this analysis was weak, as the table had a large number of cells. There was indication of a possible pattern in relation to full-time/part-time status that might be significant in a larger sample. This analysis showed that 85 per cent (twenty-two out of twenty-six) of those reporting isolation were full-time candidates, even though only 39 per cent of the whole sample were full-time. The challenge most often reported by part-time (n = 52) and staff candidates (n = 28) was time. Discussion Several important limitations of this research should be noted. First, the study did not triangulate with any other source of data, such as thesis abstracts, so relies on doctoral candidate self-report only. Second, standardised measures were not used, which limits the scope for comparison with other studies. Third, opinions may differ about the categorisation of research projects, such as according to orientation towards practice or methodology (see Table 3). Fourth, the study sample was self-selecting and differences between respondents and non-respondents are unknown, so selection bias is possible. Fifth, satisfaction surveys can be positively inflated because most people who commit time to any endeavour will wish to justify their efforts and gains. However, although the actual size of the doctoral candidate population is not known, it is worth nothing that the 216 valid responses constitute 72 per cent of the 301 students identified by Shardlow et al. (2013) in their audit, which is a reasonably high response rate. Shardlow and colleagues received responses from only 38 per cent of the universities they contacted, but it is reasonable to assume that most of the non-respondents did not have a doctoral programme in social work, since many of the universities that teach social work do not appear to have a research tradition or staff able to supervise doctoral research. The increased sample in 2013 of 216, compared with 136 in 2008, may have been mostly due to the lure of the iPad and the widening of the survey title to include social care as well as social work. However, the large increase in the absolute number of ESRC-funded doctoral candidates, making them a significantly larger proportion of the student body in 2008 than in 2013, may also go some way to explaining the increase in the number of responses. It is plausible that there would be an absolute increase in ESRC-funded social work doctorates between 2008 and 2013 because of the cumulative effect of recruitment to an ESRC pathway that was only first named as such in 2005 and did not by 2008 have a full quota of students across all three (or four) years of doctoral study. Such an increase is a good news story for social work, as more critical mass should strengthen the intellectual and human capital of the field. The DTC evaluation (ESRC, 2015) shows, however, that the picture is not in fact rosy for ESRC doctoral funding in social work compared with other disciplines. Failure to achieve recruitment targets to doctoral programmes may compromise future funding. Learned societies and interest groups need to keep a careful eye on how things proceed in the next phase of Doctoral Training Partnerships. As JUC SWEC noted in contributing to the DTC evaluation, ‘there is an ongoing need for the ESRC to insist on DTCs with social work pathways achieving their target proportions of social care students’ (ESRC, 2015, p. 26). Changes in the doctoral population There was no significant change between 2008 and 2013 in the demographics of the doctoral population. As in 2008, most candidates were women, although it is important to note that they constitute a much lower percentage of the doctoral population than they do of the social care workforce or social work student population. The apparent rise in the overseas student population is probably an artefact of survey design, since there was no specific question about overseas status in 2008. The percentage of doctoral candidates at pre-1992 universities was 11 per cent higher in 2013, perhaps reflecting the DTC policy. As in 2008, the student population is much older than the general PGR population in the UK. There was almost a doubling of the percentage of candidates under thirty years of age. This might suggest that younger people are commencing social work doctorates at a greater rate, though the raw numbers are very small. It is perhaps good news for those with a strong social work professional identity that the percentage of doctoral candidates who are qualified social workers has not significantly decreased, although there is a slight downward trend. A large majority of those studying social work and social care at doctoral level still seem to be qualified social workers, despite the concern expressed by some in the social work academic community that ESRC funding often attracts doctoral candidates without a practitioner background. There is a wealth of practice experience evident in the doctoral community; the majority of those who are qualified to this level have worked as social workers for more than ten years post qualification. More pessimistically, another possible conclusion to draw is that we are not yet succeeding in attracting a large amount of interest from outside social work to conduct doctoral research on social care, this being one of the strategies outlined in Sharland’s (2009) Strategic Advisor report for the ESRC. As in 2008, a high percentage of social work/social care doctoral candidates are registered part time. The percentage of doctoral candidates registered full time has risen from 25.4 per cent in 2008 to 41.1 per cent in 2013. There is significant change in type of doctorate—proportionally more Ph.D.s and fewer PDs—and source of funding, with the percentage of those with ESRC funding more than doubling. This would seem to be explained by the cumulative effect year on year of ESRC funding, which, although available for part-time study, more commonly supports full-time students. In keeping with the trend for a higher percentage of ESRC funding, there is an increase in the percentage of candidates with a master’s in research methods as their highest previous qualification (as historically required by the ESRC). Research topics and practice orientation The dominance of primarily qualitative research remains in 2013. This is in line with other evidence on the dearth of quantitative methods in UK social work research (e.g. McCambridge et al., 2007; Sheppard, 2015). The results on choice of methods largely reinforce this picture and provide more detail than was available in the 2008 survey. Whatever one’s view of the feasibility or desirability of randomised–controlled trials in social work, it is very surprising that only 2.8 per cent or less are using quasi-experimental methods, which are much easier to use than experimental methods, because randomisation is not required. The very small proportion of candidates apparently studying outcomes for service users is cause for concern. It should be noted that by far the most popular qualitative method was the one-to-one interview, which may suggest the field also has a rather limited repertoire of approaches to generating qualitative data. More respondents selected the option of ‘primarily a contribution to academic understanding’ in 2013 than selected ‘primarily a contribution to academic theorising’ in 2008, but the word ‘theorising’, with its more highbrow connotations than ‘understanding’, may well have put off some doctoral candidates who were nonetheless making a primarily academic contribution from selecting that option. The finding of apparent changes in the spread of topics—once again taken from the categories used by Lyons (2002)—may not be wholly accurate, as there was no consistency of coding personnel or detailed criteria from 2008 to 2013. It can be noted, however, that child and family topics are still more popular than adult social care topics. Satisfaction with study Doctoral candidates in social work and social care were slightly less satisfied than the general population of doctoral candidates responding to the PRES. The difference was small and statistically significant at the 0.05 level because the PRES had a large sample size of over 40,000, although this finding is nonetheless cause for concern and warrants further research. When challenges experienced were cross-tabulated against satisfaction, full-time doctoral candidates were more isolated than those registered part time. One possible explanation for this might be that, whereas part-time candidates who are also employed might garner support and company from their work colleagues, full-time candidates in some universities—perhaps those without a sizeable body of doctoral students—might lack a network and infrastructure to help sustain them. DTCs are intended to provide critical mass of social science doctoral candidates and networking opportunities, which should reduce isolation, so it would be interesting to inquire further into social work candidates’ experience of these centres. Conclusion The study set out to map the profile of UK doctoral candidates, explore the range of thesis topics and research approaches adopted by doctoral candidates, and explore the nature of challenges experienced by doctoral students in the pursuit if their studies and the nature and extent of support they receive. Some useful insights were gained, although the findings suggest the need for further research in future, including a more qualitative dimension that could drill down to capture more of the lived experience of the doctoral candidate. It would also be important in future studies of the doctoral student population to triangulate survey findings with other sources of data such as thesis abstracts. The fact that social work/social care doctoral candidates are significantly less satisfied overall with their doctoral experience than the general population of doctoral candidates is of course cause for concern. This finding could suggest the need for a better infrastructure (McRoy et al., 2012) and greater institutional support (Khinduka, 2002). It would also perhaps argue for Shardlow et al.’s (2013) position that there is a need for a national professional support network to more fully embrace doctoral candidates, so that they may feel more part of a valued, thriving academic community. The survey findings further emphasis the serious need in the UK for building capacity in quantitative social work research. Ethical approval Ethical approval for both surveys was obtained from the Cardiff University School of Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee. Funding The iPad2 incentive was funded by the Joint Universities Council Social Work Education Committee. The research was otherwise unfunded. Conflict of interest statement. None declared. References Barsky A. , Green D. , Ayayo M. ( 2014 ) ‘ Hiring priorities for BSW/MSW programs in the United States: Informing doctoral programs about current needs ’, Journal of Social Work , 14 ( 1 ), pp. 62 – 82 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Bennett P. , Turner G. ( 2013 ) PRES 2013: Results from the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey , York , Higher Education Academy , available online at https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/downloads/PRES_2013_UK_report.pdf (accessed 8 March 2018). Bourner T. , Bowden R. , Laing S. ( 2001 ) ‘ Professional doctorates in England ’, Studies in Higher Education , 26 ( 1 ), pp. 65 – 83 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) ( 2015 ) ‘Review of the ESRC Doctoral Training Centres Network’, available online at http://www.esrc.ac.uk/files/skills-and-careers/studentships/full-report-review-of-the-esrc-doctoral-training-centres-network/ (accessed 8 March 2018). Fong R. ( 2014 ) ‘ Framing doctoral education for a science of social work: Positioning students for the scientific career, promoting scholars for the academy, propagating Scientists of the profession, and preparing stewards of the discipline ’, Research on Social Work Practice , 24 ( 5 ), pp. 607 – 15 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Grove J. ( 2012 ) ‘Proportion of academics with PhDs 2012’, Times Higher Education Supplement, 1 November, available online at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/proportion-of-academics-with-phds-2012/421657.article (accessed 8 March 2018). Harrison D. , Thyer B. ( 1988 ) ‘ Doctoral research on social work practice: A proposed agenda ’, Journal of Social Work Education , 24 ( 5 ), pp. 607 – 14 . Horton G. , Hawkins M. ( 2010 ) ‘ A content analyisis if intervention research in social work doctoral dissertations ’, Journal of Evidence Based Practice , 7 ( 5 ), pp. 377 – 86 . Khinduka S. ( 2002 ) ‘ Musings on doctoral education in social work ’, Research on Social Work Practice , 12 ( 5 ), pp. 684 – 94 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kornbeck J. ( 2007 ) ‘ Social work academics as Humboldtian researcher-educators: Discussion of a survey of staff profiles from scholls in Denmark, England and Germany ’, Social Work Education , 26 ( 1 ), pp. 86 – 100 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Liechty J. M. , Liao M. , Schull C. P. ( 2009 ) ‘ Facilitating dissertation completion and success among doctoral students in social work ’, Journal of Social Work Education , 45 ( 3 ), pp. 481 – 97 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lyons K. ( 1999 ) Social Work in Higher Education , Aldershot , Ashgate . Lyons K. ( 2000 ) Mapping Social Work Education: British Element of IASSW Global Survey of Social Work Education , London , Report to IASSW, JUC SWEC and CCETSW . Lyons K. ( 2002 ) ‘ Researching social work: Doctoral work in the UK ’, Social Work Education , 21 ( 3 ), pp. 337 – 46 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lyons K. ( 2003 ) ‘ Doctoral studies in social work: Exploring European developments ’, Social Work Education , 22 ( 6 ), pp. 555 – 64 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Maynard B. R. , Vaughn M. G. , Sarteschi C. M. ( 2014 ) ‘ The empirical status of social work dissertation research: Characteristics, trends and implications for the field ’, British Journal of Social Work , 44 ( 2 ), pp. 267 – 89 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS McCambridge J. , Waissbein C. , Forrester D. , Strang J. ( 2007 ) ‘ What is the extent and nature of quantitative research in British social work? ’, International Social Work , 50 ( 2 ), pp. 265 – 71 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS McRoy R. G. , Flanzer J. P. , Zlotnik J. L. ( 2012 ) Building Research Culture and Infrastructure , New York, NY , Oxford University Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Mendenhall J. ( 2007 ) ‘ Switching hats: Transitioning from role of clinician to the role of researcher in social work doctoral education ’, Journal of Teaching Social Work , 27 ( 3–4 ), pp. 273 – 90 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Moriarty J. , Manthorpe J. , Stevens M. , Hussein S. ( 2015 ) ‘ Educators or researchers? Barriers and facilitators to undertaking research among UK social work academics ’, British Journal of Social Work , 45 ( 6 ), pp. 1659 – 77 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Orme J. , Powell J. ( 2008 ) ‘ Building research capacity in social work: Process and issues ’, British Journal of Social Work , 38 ( 5 ), pp. 988 – 1008 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Scourfield J. , Maxwell N. ( 2010 ) ‘ Social work doctoral students in the UK: A web-based survey and search of the Index to Theses ’, British Journal of Social Work , 40 , pp. 548 – 66 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Shardlow S. M. , Leigh J. , Morriss L. ( 2013 ) ‘An audit of doctoral students in social work across the UK: The need for a national network’, available online at https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/an_audit_of_doctoral_students_in_social_work_across_the_uk_shardlow_leigh_morriss_1.pdf (accessed 8 March 2018). Sharland E. ( 2009 ) Strategic Adviser for Social Work and Social Care Research Main Report to the Economic and Social Research Council Training and Development Board. Project Report , Swindon , Economic and Social Research Council . Shaw C. ( 2014 ) ‘Overworked and isolated: Work pressure fuels mental illness in academia’, The Guardian Higher Education Network, 8 May, available online at https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/may/08/work-pressure-fuels-academic-mental-illness-guardian-study-health (accessed 8 March 2018). Shaw I. , Norton M. ( 2007 ) ‘The Kinds and Quality of Social Work Research in UK Universities (SCIE Report 17)’, available online at http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/reports/report17.asp. Shaw I. , Ramatowski A. , Ruckdeschel R. ( 2013 ) ‘ Patterns, designs and developments in qualitative research in social work: A research note ’, Qualitative Social Work , 12 ( 6 ), pp. 732 – 49 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sheppard M. ( 2016 ) ‘ The nature and extent of quantitative research in social work: A ten-year study of publications in social work journals ’, British Journal of Social Work 46 ( 6 ), pp. 1520 – 36 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The British Journal of Social Work Oxford University Press

A Profile of UK Doctoral Candidates in Social Work and Social Care

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
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0045-3102
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1468-263X
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10.1093/bjsw/bcy008
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Abstract

Abstract One important indication of the strength of a discipline is the state of its doctoral research. An important milestone for the official recognition of social work in the UK has been its inclusion in Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) doctoral funding schemes. The current study assesses the longer-term impact of these schemes, via a 2013 survey, following up a previous one in 2008. A web-based survey of social work doctoral candidates in the UK (n = 216) was conducted, to profile student demographics, research topics, methods, challenges of and supports for doctoral work. Most doctoral candidates (70 per cent) were using a primarily qualitative research strategy and only 4 per cent were using a primarily quantitative approach. Social work doctoral candidates were slightly less satisfied with their research degree programme than the general population of doctoral students. Key areas of similarity with the 2008 survey included the demographical profile (gender, age, ethnicity) and the percentage who were qualified social workers; key differences included increased percentages of candidates who were registered full time, funded by the ESRC and doing a Ph.D., as opposed to a professional doctorate. The findings highlight a need for capacity building in quantitative research methods and improved support for this academic community. Social work research, research capacity, academic workforce, Ph.D.s, doctorates Introduction The future relevance and potential contribution of the academic discipline and profession of social work to the amelioration of social ills and the promotion of social justice depend upon the vibrancy of a number of key factors. One of these key factors is the strength of doctoral education. In a recent article, Fong’s (2014) arguments for the importance of doctoral education are encapsulated in the judicious title of her article, ‘Framing doctoral education for a science of social work: Positioning students for the scientific career, promoting scholars for the academy, propagating scientists of the profession, and preparing stewards of the discipline’. Without doctoral candidates who will become educators, discipline leaders and researchers that develop new knowledge and test rigorously practice developments, the future integrity of the discipline and profession will be compromised. Hence, the extent and quality of doctoral programmes provide one proxy for the health of a discipline. Differentially established around the globe, in some countries, social work doctoral education has been well embedded and, in others, it is barely established, if at all. Orme and Powell (2008, p. 995) commented that, in some countries, there is evidence of a strategic approach to the development of social work doctoral study (e.g. the USA) and, in others, there is a more ‘ad hoc’ approach (e.g. the UK). Lyons conducted the first known analysis of the UK social work doctoral population (Lyons, 2002). From a study of social work education (Lyons, 1999), analysis of the Index of Theses (2000) and a research-council-funded national seminar series (‘Theorising Social Work Research’), Lyons concluded that UK doctoral students had experienced both a lack of a cohesive identity as social work doctoral candidates and also a lack of recognition in the academy for social work as a domain of doctoral study. Together, these two factors—lack of identity and recognition—contributed to the perceived absence among doctoral candidates of belonging to a cohesive occupational group. This was not a promising outcome, if the vibrancy of the doctoral programme is taken as a proxy for discipline health. Lyons’s work opened a discussion about the nature of UK social work doctoral education and the extent of similarity to doctoral education elsewhere. In 2005, in response to lobbying from social work academics, the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) recognised a dedicated pathway for social work Ph.D. candidates. This recognition was both economically important because it released financial awards to fund social work doctoral students, via a national competition, and also symbolically important as official recognition of social work as a distinct discipline. These awards were only tenable in prior approved universities, which included both pre-1992 and post-1992 universities, the latter having emerged from former polytechnics with relatively little historical research base. In 2008, the ESRC introduced a system of Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs), based exclusively in pre-1992 universities. Although the projected number of social work studentships in the first phase of DTCs was slightly higher than the number of studentships previously awarded through the dedicated social work pathway, the independent evaluation of the DTC network (ESRC, 2015) concluded that social work, along with education and anthropology, was failing to meet target student numbers. The evaluation report concluded that these disciplines ‘do not attract enough applicants of sufficient quality, or are losing out in the processes of studentship allocations’ (ESRC, 2015, p. 25). This article reports on a cross-sectional 2013 study conducted of UK social work and social care doctoral candidates, which explored the strength of doctoral education. The aims of the study were to: map the demographic, educational and occupational profile of UK doctoral candidates; explore the range of thesis topics and research approaches adopted by doctoral candidates, to provide an indicator of the kinds of research favoured in social work departments; explore the nature of challenges experienced by doctoral students in the pursuit of their studies and the nature and extent of support they receive. The literature review, research findings and discussion have been structured around these three aims. This 2013 study replicated key elements of the research design from a 2008 UK study (Scourfield and Maxwell, 2010), which has allowed trend analysis. Specifically, it allowed comparison of UK doctoral education in social work and social care before and after the establishment of ESRC DTCs and for consideration of the longer-term impact of ESRC Ph.D. funding. Findings of the 2008 study are thematically presented in the next section. Literature review A brief summary review of key literature—structured by the three research aims—is presented, incorporating comparison between the UK and other countries, with most evidence coming from the USA. The demographic, educational and occupational profile of doctoral candidates Liechty et al. (2009) reported that there were 69 US doctoral programmes, enrolling 1,637 full-time candidates and 917 part-time students. Of these, 54 per cent were white, suggesting a diverse doctoral community, and three-quarters were women. Social work academics in the UK are less likely to hold a doctorate than their US counterparts (Moriarty et al., 2015); similarly, they are less likely to have a doctorate than those in Germany, though more likely than those in Denmark (Kornbeck, 2007). Drawing on some aspects of Lyons’s method (2003), Scourfield and Maxwell (2010) conducted a study in 2008 that comprised a web-based survey of doctoral candidates in the UK (n = 136) and search of the Index to Theses. This is the 2008 survey with which the current 2013 study is being compared. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents were women and 60 per cent were studying part time, while working full time. One-third were undertaking professional doctorates (PDs), as opposed to Ph.D.s. One-third of respondents were social work educators, suggesting recognition of the need to become research-active. Many UK social work doctoral candidates commence their studies later in life whilst working, often in academia, rather than the other way around (Moriarty et al., 2015). Social work academics would traditionally arrive with a relatively limited research background, as doctoral qualifications have not been required in their practice career (Orme and Powell, 2006). Although routine comparative analysis is lacking, commentators tend to agree that numbers of social work doctorate students in the UK have traditionally been low, relative to those in other academic fields. Lyons (2000) found that only one-fifth of social work academics had a doctorate in the mid-1990s. Orme and Powell (2006) note Bourner et al.’s (2001) research that found only a single social work PD programme out of 128 social science PDs in 1999. More recently, social work may have caught up with at least some other disciplines; Moriarty et al.’s survey found 43 per cent of social work academics had a doctorate in 2008—very close to the UK average of 45.7 per cent for all disciplines in 2010–11 HESA data (Grove, 2012). Topics and research approaches Horton and Hawkins (2010) found that few US social work dissertations (13.49 per cent) focused on social work intervention and these authors identified a schism between practice and research. Earlier, Harrison and Thyer (1988) had noted the need for US social work doctoral dissertations to have a practice application accompanied by an improvement agenda. Maynard et al.’s (2014) study of US doctoral dissertation abstracts found quantitative analysis present at twice the rate of qualitative analysis. Lyons’s (2003) study found that the majority of social work doctoral theses in the UK addressed adult social work. Scourfield and Maxwell (2010), in 2008, then found that doctoral topics about children and families were much more numerous than topics about social work with adults—an apparent reversal of the previous trend. Most respondents (57 per cent) felt that they were undertaking research that was evaluating practice or policy. Lyons (2003) noted that the choice of topic and approach was likely to be informed by previous practice experience. Primarily qualitative doctoral projects greatly outnumbered primarily quantitative ones in the UK in 2008 (Scourfield and Maxwell, 2010), indicating a need for capacity building, to develop quantitative research skills and create well-rounded scientists of the profession (Fong, 2014). Challenges and support Barsky et al. (2014), from a US perspective, note the need for social work academic staff to have extensive practice experience. The transition of role from established, expert practitioner to that of novice researcher can require high levels of support (Mendenhall, 2007). Liechty et al. (2009) found that up to 50 per cent of candidates in the USA fail to complete doctorates and these authors stress the importance of supporting students to reduce attrition. Khinduka’s (2002) study into completed US social work doctorates found that those schools that had a supportive institutional culture were more likely to achieve ‘excellence in doctoral education’ (p. 685). McRoy et al. (2012) have further noted the need in the USA for a strong infrastructure in order to build and support social work research capacity. Scourfield and Maxwell (2010) attribute the historic lack of UK doctoral candidates in part to the relatively weak research base in social work and they further contend that this dearth of research expertise has been as a result of the low priority given to research by social work employers. Thus, there has been little capacity for providing doctoral supervision and this has created something of a vicious circle. Scourfield and Maxwell (2010) identified that, because of the older age of doctoral candidates, there is only a limited window of opportunity for the dissemination of their work. There is also a strong need for succession planning for academic staff (Shardlow et al., 2013). The role of teaching often takes precedence over that of researcher for social work academic staff in England, particularly in comparison to those in Germany (Kornbeck, 2007). Moriarty et al. (2015) note the heavy administrative burden placed on UK social work academics, who are responsible for liaising with local authority partners, which further contributes to the stress of an already demanding academic role (Shaw, 2014), and to the pressures of completing their doctoral studies whilst in employment. The current study In 2013, Jonathan Scourfield was asked by the research sub-committee of the body representing academic social work in the UK, the Joint Universities Council Social Work Education Committee (JUC SWEC), to repeat the 2008 survey. As noted earlier, this request came in the context of ongoing concerns about social work research capacity in the UK and uncertainty about the impact on social work of recent developments in doctoral infrastructure training. Method A cross-sectional survey of UK doctoral candidates in social work and social care in 2013 replicated aspects of a previous study conducted in 2008, allowing discussion of trends over the five-year interval. The survey was billed as for completion by doctoral candidates in social work and/or social care. The term ‘social care’ was used in recognition that this term is increasingly widely referenced in the UK (although nowhere else in the world) to encompass the full range of care and support, and not just the work of qualified social workers. Sampling procedure An e-mail containing an embedded link to a web-based survey was sent to individuals who were likely to be leading or connected with UK social work doctoral programmes. The e-mail contained a request to forward the invitation to complete the survey to participants on those doctoral programmes. Seven e-mail lists were used: JUC SWEC (seventy-seven universities); the Higher Education Academy social work education list; the Association of Professors of Social Work; the School for Social Care Research; an e-mail list for academics running PDs; named contacts for each of the ESRC DTCs with a pathway including social work and/or social care; and named contacts for every UK social work or social care PD, identified through a Google search. The survey was open for five weeks, in July–August 2013. An incentive for completion of the questionnaire was inclusion in a prize draw for an iPad 2. Inclusion and exclusion An inclusive approach was taken to determining which topics could be classed as social work or social care. However, we took the view that the topic had to be connected either to social work/social care services or to people who are clearly social care service users. Therefore, eight studies were not included, as they concerned populations who may possibly use social work/social care services, but these studies were specifically about contact with public services other than social care, such as education or health care or police, and there was no way of knowing whether the population studied were social care users or not. An example of this category type was ‘children’s participation in the transformation of schools’. If, however, studies were about the lived experience of people with some kind of social need that would very likely result in social care services (e.g. seeking asylum, having a serious mental health problem), they were included in the sample. Any study of people who are necessarily social care service users, such as children in out-of-home care, was included in the final sample, even if the research topics did not directly relate to social care services. A small number of responses were from doctoral candidates whose topics were very clearly not related to social work (e.g. banking regulation, police leadership). Participant characteristics The intended sample was to obtain as many study participants as possible from the population of social work doctoral candidates (total number unknown) in the UK. This population included full- and part-time candidates for Ph.D. or PD. The number of UK universities that offered a social work Ph.D. and/or PD in social work (or of which social work forms a part) was not known. The sample was self-selected on the basis of doctoral candidates that chose to respond to a web-based questionnaire. It is not known what proportion of the population of doctoral candidates in the UK received the invitation to participate in the study. A total of 266 responses were received. Of these respondents, thirty-five partially completed the survey and were excluded from the sample. Therefore, the usable sample comprised 231 completed questionnaires. Of these, a further fifteen were excluded because doctoral topics were judged not to fall into the domain of social work or social care. This left a final sample of 216. Measures A survey instrument—a self-completion web-based questionnaire—was created using Qualtrics.com. The questionnaire employed for the 2013 survey was based on the instrument used 2008, in both cases non-standardised and designed specifically for the survey. In 2008 and 2013, there were questions about student demographics (including participants’ social work practice background), experience of doctoral study, participants’ research topics, research approaches and methods used. The 2008 questionnaire was amended somewhat for use in 2013. An additional question was included to gather information on whether doctoral candidates were categorised as ‘domestic’ or ‘overseas’. Four questions were modified for the 2013 questionnaire. First, a question about enrolment status was modified to include the option ‘staff candidate’ (not included in 2008). Second, the 2008 question about student satisfaction was altered to match the categories of response in the UK Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (Bennett and Turner, 2013), for the purposes of comparison. Third, one of the three categories of research approach offered to respondents to categorise their research (based on a reading of Shaw and Norton (2007)) was modified. In 2008, the first of these categories was worded ‘primarily a contribution to academic theorising about social work’, while, in 2013, ‘understanding’ was used instead of ‘theorising’. Fourth, an additional list of specified research methods was used in 2013, based on a scheme adapted from Shaw et al. (2013). Additionally, some minor changes were made to the wording of some questions to enhance clarity. Analysis Descriptive statistics were produced and chi-square and Fisher’s exact tests were used to indicate whether the 2013 distribution of responses differed significantly from that in 2008. The same tests were applied to cross-tabulations of some of the variables, to explore potential patterns in the 2013 data. A conventional probability level of 0.05 was used to signal a significant result. Results Doctoral candidate characteristics The sample comprised seventy-four men (34.3 per cent) and 142 women (65.7 per cent). Of the 231 respondents, 82.8 per cent self-defined as being of white ethic origin. The age group containing most doctoral candidates was forty to forty-nine and the under-thirties were a small minority, albeit this group made up a larger percentage of the sample in 2013 than in 2008. One in ten was an overseas student. Three-quarters (74.1 per cent) were based in pre-1992 universities. A higher percentage of doctoral candidates were studying at pre-92 universities in 2013. However, there were no significant differences in any of these demographics between 2008 and 2013. Full details are shown in Table 1. Table 1 Demographics of doctoral candidates and university type Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Gender (χ2 = 0.262, df = 1, p = 0.61) Male 43 74 31.6 34.3 Female 93 142 68.4 65.7 Total 136 216 100 100 Ethnicity (χ2 = 5.021, df = 3, p = 0.17) White 121 178 92.4 82.8 Mixed, Chinese and Other 9 15 6.9 7.0 Asian 5 8 3.8 3.7 Black 2 14 1.5 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Overseas studenta (χ2 = 2.534, df = 1, p = 0.11) UK 124 193 94.7 89.8 Overseas, of which: 7 22 5.3 10.2  EU – 8 – 3.7  Non-EU – 14 – 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Age (χ2 = 5.507, df = 4, p = 0.24) < 30 9 27 6.6 12.5 30–39 42 56 30.9 25.9 40–49 43 76 31.6 35.2 50–59 32 48 23.5 22.2 > 59 10 9 7.4 4.2 Total 136 216 100 100 University type (χ2 = 4.953, df = 2, p = 0.08) Pre-1992 81 160 62.8 74.1 Post-1992 43 51 33.3 23.6 Other/missing 5 5 3.9 2.3 Total 129 216 100 100 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Gender (χ2 = 0.262, df = 1, p = 0.61) Male 43 74 31.6 34.3 Female 93 142 68.4 65.7 Total 136 216 100 100 Ethnicity (χ2 = 5.021, df = 3, p = 0.17) White 121 178 92.4 82.8 Mixed, Chinese and Other 9 15 6.9 7.0 Asian 5 8 3.8 3.7 Black 2 14 1.5 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Overseas studenta (χ2 = 2.534, df = 1, p = 0.11) UK 124 193 94.7 89.8 Overseas, of which: 7 22 5.3 10.2  EU – 8 – 3.7  Non-EU – 14 – 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Age (χ2 = 5.507, df = 4, p = 0.24) < 30 9 27 6.6 12.5 30–39 42 56 30.9 25.9 40–49 43 76 31.6 35.2 50–59 32 48 23.5 22.2 > 59 10 9 7.4 4.2 Total 136 216 100 100 University type (χ2 = 4.953, df = 2, p = 0.08) Pre-1992 81 160 62.8 74.1 Post-1992 43 51 33.3 23.6 Other/missing 5 5 3.9 2.3 Total 129 216 100 100 a This question was not asked in 2008 but overseas student status was crudely inferred from doctoral topics. Chi-square relates to only UK and overseas (not EU/non-EU). Table 1 Demographics of doctoral candidates and university type Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Gender (χ2 = 0.262, df = 1, p = 0.61) Male 43 74 31.6 34.3 Female 93 142 68.4 65.7 Total 136 216 100 100 Ethnicity (χ2 = 5.021, df = 3, p = 0.17) White 121 178 92.4 82.8 Mixed, Chinese and Other 9 15 6.9 7.0 Asian 5 8 3.8 3.7 Black 2 14 1.5 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Overseas studenta (χ2 = 2.534, df = 1, p = 0.11) UK 124 193 94.7 89.8 Overseas, of which: 7 22 5.3 10.2  EU – 8 – 3.7  Non-EU – 14 – 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Age (χ2 = 5.507, df = 4, p = 0.24) < 30 9 27 6.6 12.5 30–39 42 56 30.9 25.9 40–49 43 76 31.6 35.2 50–59 32 48 23.5 22.2 > 59 10 9 7.4 4.2 Total 136 216 100 100 University type (χ2 = 4.953, df = 2, p = 0.08) Pre-1992 81 160 62.8 74.1 Post-1992 43 51 33.3 23.6 Other/missing 5 5 3.9 2.3 Total 129 216 100 100 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Gender (χ2 = 0.262, df = 1, p = 0.61) Male 43 74 31.6 34.3 Female 93 142 68.4 65.7 Total 136 216 100 100 Ethnicity (χ2 = 5.021, df = 3, p = 0.17) White 121 178 92.4 82.8 Mixed, Chinese and Other 9 15 6.9 7.0 Asian 5 8 3.8 3.7 Black 2 14 1.5 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Overseas studenta (χ2 = 2.534, df = 1, p = 0.11) UK 124 193 94.7 89.8 Overseas, of which: 7 22 5.3 10.2  EU – 8 – 3.7  Non-EU – 14 – 6.5 Total 131 215 100 100 Age (χ2 = 5.507, df = 4, p = 0.24) < 30 9 27 6.6 12.5 30–39 42 56 30.9 25.9 40–49 43 76 31.6 35.2 50–59 32 48 23.5 22.2 > 59 10 9 7.4 4.2 Total 136 216 100 100 University type (χ2 = 4.953, df = 2, p = 0.08) Pre-1992 81 160 62.8 74.1 Post-1992 43 51 33.3 23.6 Other/missing 5 5 3.9 2.3 Total 129 216 100 100 a This question was not asked in 2008 but overseas student status was crudely inferred from doctoral topics. Chi-square relates to only UK and overseas (not EU/non-EU). Table 2 presents results on type of registration, employment and social work qualification. There were increased percentages of people studying for Ph.D.s (as opposed to PDs), studying full time and funded by the ESRC. In addition to the results in Table 2, there was a significant association between funding source and type of doctorate (Fisher’s exact test p < 0.001), since ESRC doctoral funding is restricted to Ph.D.s. There was also a significant association (Fisher’s exact test p = 0.001) between category of university and type of doctorate; Ph.D.s by research were a larger percentage of all doctorates in pre-1992 universities (81 per cent) than in post-1992 (57 per cent). There was also an increased percentage of candidates whose highest previous qualification was a master’s degree in research methods. Table 2 Doctoral registration, employment and social work qualification Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Student statusa Full-time 37 85 27.0 39.4 Part-time 100 93 73.0 43.1 Staff candidate – 38 – 17.6 Total 137 216 100 100 Type of doctorateb,c (χ2 = 5.617, df = 1, p = 0.02) Ph.D. 82 159 61.2 73.6 Professional doctorate 49 54 36.6 25.0 Ph.D. by publication 3 3 2.2 1.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Source of fundingc (χ2 = 18.208, df = 4, p < 0.01) University (as employer) 27 44 20.1 20.4 Other employer 20 22 14.9 10.2 ESRC 11 44 8.2 20.4 Self 40 77 29.9 35.6 Another source 36 29 26.9 13.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Type of employment (χ2 = 8.068, df = 4, p = 0.09) Social work educator 44 77 33.1 35.6 Social work manager 14 20 10.5 9.3 Social work practitioner 11 26 8.3 12.0 Other 43 44 32.3 20.4 Not employed 21 49 15.8 22.7 Total 133 216 100 100 Stage of doctoral study (χ2 = 4.724, df = 7, p = 0.69) Master’s in research methods 3 8 2.3 3.7 Year 1 27 44 20.3 20.4 Year 2 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 3 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 4 17 19 12.8 8.8 Year 5 9 21 6.8 9.7 Year 6 or later 9 8 6.8 3.7 Doctorate award in last 2 years 18 26 13.5 12.0 Total 133 216 100 100 What is or was your student and employment statusc (χ2 = 8.285, df = 3, p = 0.04) FT work PT student 81 106 62.3 49.1% PT work FT student 12 36 9.2 16.7 PT work PT student 13 22 10.0 10.2 FT student not employed 21 52 16.2 24.1 Total 130 216 100 100 Qualified social worker (χ2 = 0.669, df = 1, p = 0.41) Yes 106 164 79.7 75.9 No 27 52 20.3 24.1 Total 133 216 Tenure as social worker (χ2 = 7.778, df = 4, p = 0.10) 0–5 years (inc. just qualified) 27 41 20.4 19.0 6–10 years 23 29 17.4 13.4 11–15 years 18 35 13.6 16.2 Over 15 years 41 58 31.1 26.9 N/A 23 68 17.4 31.5 Total 132 216 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Student statusa Full-time 37 85 27.0 39.4 Part-time 100 93 73.0 43.1 Staff candidate – 38 – 17.6 Total 137 216 100 100 Type of doctorateb,c (χ2 = 5.617, df = 1, p = 0.02) Ph.D. 82 159 61.2 73.6 Professional doctorate 49 54 36.6 25.0 Ph.D. by publication 3 3 2.2 1.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Source of fundingc (χ2 = 18.208, df = 4, p < 0.01) University (as employer) 27 44 20.1 20.4 Other employer 20 22 14.9 10.2 ESRC 11 44 8.2 20.4 Self 40 77 29.9 35.6 Another source 36 29 26.9 13.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Type of employment (χ2 = 8.068, df = 4, p = 0.09) Social work educator 44 77 33.1 35.6 Social work manager 14 20 10.5 9.3 Social work practitioner 11 26 8.3 12.0 Other 43 44 32.3 20.4 Not employed 21 49 15.8 22.7 Total 133 216 100 100 Stage of doctoral study (χ2 = 4.724, df = 7, p = 0.69) Master’s in research methods 3 8 2.3 3.7 Year 1 27 44 20.3 20.4 Year 2 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 3 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 4 17 19 12.8 8.8 Year 5 9 21 6.8 9.7 Year 6 or later 9 8 6.8 3.7 Doctorate award in last 2 years 18 26 13.5 12.0 Total 133 216 100 100 What is or was your student and employment statusc (χ2 = 8.285, df = 3, p = 0.04) FT work PT student 81 106 62.3 49.1% PT work FT student 12 36 9.2 16.7 PT work PT student 13 22 10.0 10.2 FT student not employed 21 52 16.2 24.1 Total 130 216 100 100 Qualified social worker (χ2 = 0.669, df = 1, p = 0.41) Yes 106 164 79.7 75.9 No 27 52 20.3 24.1 Total 133 216 Tenure as social worker (χ2 = 7.778, df = 4, p = 0.10) 0–5 years (inc. just qualified) 27 41 20.4 19.0 6–10 years 23 29 17.4 13.4 11–15 years 18 35 13.6 16.2 Over 15 years 41 58 31.1 26.9 N/A 23 68 17.4 31.5 Total 132 216 a Staff candidate response not offered in 2008; b chi-square test excluded ‘Ph.D. by publication’; c significant at the 0.05 level. FT, full-time; PT, part-time. Table 2 Doctoral registration, employment and social work qualification Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Student statusa Full-time 37 85 27.0 39.4 Part-time 100 93 73.0 43.1 Staff candidate – 38 – 17.6 Total 137 216 100 100 Type of doctorateb,c (χ2 = 5.617, df = 1, p = 0.02) Ph.D. 82 159 61.2 73.6 Professional doctorate 49 54 36.6 25.0 Ph.D. by publication 3 3 2.2 1.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Source of fundingc (χ2 = 18.208, df = 4, p < 0.01) University (as employer) 27 44 20.1 20.4 Other employer 20 22 14.9 10.2 ESRC 11 44 8.2 20.4 Self 40 77 29.9 35.6 Another source 36 29 26.9 13.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Type of employment (χ2 = 8.068, df = 4, p = 0.09) Social work educator 44 77 33.1 35.6 Social work manager 14 20 10.5 9.3 Social work practitioner 11 26 8.3 12.0 Other 43 44 32.3 20.4 Not employed 21 49 15.8 22.7 Total 133 216 100 100 Stage of doctoral study (χ2 = 4.724, df = 7, p = 0.69) Master’s in research methods 3 8 2.3 3.7 Year 1 27 44 20.3 20.4 Year 2 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 3 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 4 17 19 12.8 8.8 Year 5 9 21 6.8 9.7 Year 6 or later 9 8 6.8 3.7 Doctorate award in last 2 years 18 26 13.5 12.0 Total 133 216 100 100 What is or was your student and employment statusc (χ2 = 8.285, df = 3, p = 0.04) FT work PT student 81 106 62.3 49.1% PT work FT student 12 36 9.2 16.7 PT work PT student 13 22 10.0 10.2 FT student not employed 21 52 16.2 24.1 Total 130 216 100 100 Qualified social worker (χ2 = 0.669, df = 1, p = 0.41) Yes 106 164 79.7 75.9 No 27 52 20.3 24.1 Total 133 216 Tenure as social worker (χ2 = 7.778, df = 4, p = 0.10) 0–5 years (inc. just qualified) 27 41 20.4 19.0 6–10 years 23 29 17.4 13.4 11–15 years 18 35 13.6 16.2 Over 15 years 41 58 31.1 26.9 N/A 23 68 17.4 31.5 Total 132 216 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Student statusa Full-time 37 85 27.0 39.4 Part-time 100 93 73.0 43.1 Staff candidate – 38 – 17.6 Total 137 216 100 100 Type of doctorateb,c (χ2 = 5.617, df = 1, p = 0.02) Ph.D. 82 159 61.2 73.6 Professional doctorate 49 54 36.6 25.0 Ph.D. by publication 3 3 2.2 1.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Source of fundingc (χ2 = 18.208, df = 4, p < 0.01) University (as employer) 27 44 20.1 20.4 Other employer 20 22 14.9 10.2 ESRC 11 44 8.2 20.4 Self 40 77 29.9 35.6 Another source 36 29 26.9 13.4 Total 134 216 100 100 Type of employment (χ2 = 8.068, df = 4, p = 0.09) Social work educator 44 77 33.1 35.6 Social work manager 14 20 10.5 9.3 Social work practitioner 11 26 8.3 12.0 Other 43 44 32.3 20.4 Not employed 21 49 15.8 22.7 Total 133 216 100 100 Stage of doctoral study (χ2 = 4.724, df = 7, p = 0.69) Master’s in research methods 3 8 2.3 3.7 Year 1 27 44 20.3 20.4 Year 2 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 3 25 45 18.8 20.8 Year 4 17 19 12.8 8.8 Year 5 9 21 6.8 9.7 Year 6 or later 9 8 6.8 3.7 Doctorate award in last 2 years 18 26 13.5 12.0 Total 133 216 100 100 What is or was your student and employment statusc (χ2 = 8.285, df = 3, p = 0.04) FT work PT student 81 106 62.3 49.1% PT work FT student 12 36 9.2 16.7 PT work PT student 13 22 10.0 10.2 FT student not employed 21 52 16.2 24.1 Total 130 216 100 100 Qualified social worker (χ2 = 0.669, df = 1, p = 0.41) Yes 106 164 79.7 75.9 No 27 52 20.3 24.1 Total 133 216 Tenure as social worker (χ2 = 7.778, df = 4, p = 0.10) 0–5 years (inc. just qualified) 27 41 20.4 19.0 6–10 years 23 29 17.4 13.4 11–15 years 18 35 13.6 16.2 Over 15 years 41 58 31.1 26.9 N/A 23 68 17.4 31.5 Total 132 216 a Staff candidate response not offered in 2008; b chi-square test excluded ‘Ph.D. by publication’; c significant at the 0.05 level. FT, full-time; PT, part-time. The percentage of candidates who were qualified social workers was similar in 2013 to 2008. A cross-tabulation of funding source and social work qualification found that 61 per cent (twenty-seven out of forty-four) of ESRC-funded students are qualified social workers compared with over 70 per cent of those who are funded by any other source. Research topics and methodological approaches Table 3 presents findings on research approaches and topics. The most popular topic area was children, young people and families, as in 2008. However, overall, there was a significant difference between 2008 and 2013 surveys, with an increase in the percentage studying ‘knowledge, theories, skills and/or values’. Table 3 Research approaches and topics Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Methodologya (χ2 = 2.849, df = 2, p = 0.24) Primarily qualitative 76 151 58.5 69.9 Mixed 41 55 31.5 25.5 Primarily quantitative 7 9 5.4 4.2 Not empirical research 6 1 4.6 0.5 Total 130 216 100 100 Orientation towards social work practicec (χ2 = 9.788, df = 2, p < 0.01) Primarily a contribution to academic theorising/understanding 30 87 23.8 40.3 Evaluation of policy or practice 77 102 61.1 47.2 Action research 19 26 15.1 12.0 Total 126 216 100 100 Topicc (χ2 = 11.79, df = 5, p = 0.04) Children, young people, families 58 75 45.7 35.1 Knowledge, theories, skills and/or values 9 43 7.1 20.1 Adult service users 27 40 21.3 18.7 Organisation, management of personal social services 17 31 13.4 14.5 Methods or settings 9 16 7.1 7.5 Education, training and professional development 7 9 5.5 4.2 Total 127 214 100 100 Specific methods usedb One-to-one interviews, including telephone, couples interviews and co-interviews – 176 – 81.5 Narratives, life history, (auto-) biography, naturally occurring talk – 63 – 29.2 Focus groups and group interviews – 74 – 34.3 Observation/ethnography – 67 – 31.0 Action research and participatory cycles of research – 26 – 12.0 Visual data, photography, drawing, film – 23 – 10.6 Personal records and documents—diaries, journals, letters – 27 – 12.5 Historical archival research – 5 – 2.3 Records and organisational or administrative documents – 51 – 23.6 Internet research – 21 – 9.7 Case studies: of organisations, individuals, events, communities or social groups – 53 – 24.5 Cross-sectional survey – 15 – 6.9 Repeat and longitudinal surveys – 10 – 4.6 Experiment or quasi-experiment – 6 – 2.8 Measurement scales – 21 – 9.7 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Methodologya (χ2 = 2.849, df = 2, p = 0.24) Primarily qualitative 76 151 58.5 69.9 Mixed 41 55 31.5 25.5 Primarily quantitative 7 9 5.4 4.2 Not empirical research 6 1 4.6 0.5 Total 130 216 100 100 Orientation towards social work practicec (χ2 = 9.788, df = 2, p < 0.01) Primarily a contribution to academic theorising/understanding 30 87 23.8 40.3 Evaluation of policy or practice 77 102 61.1 47.2 Action research 19 26 15.1 12.0 Total 126 216 100 100 Topicc (χ2 = 11.79, df = 5, p = 0.04) Children, young people, families 58 75 45.7 35.1 Knowledge, theories, skills and/or values 9 43 7.1 20.1 Adult service users 27 40 21.3 18.7 Organisation, management of personal social services 17 31 13.4 14.5 Methods or settings 9 16 7.1 7.5 Education, training and professional development 7 9 5.5 4.2 Total 127 214 100 100 Specific methods usedb One-to-one interviews, including telephone, couples interviews and co-interviews – 176 – 81.5 Narratives, life history, (auto-) biography, naturally occurring talk – 63 – 29.2 Focus groups and group interviews – 74 – 34.3 Observation/ethnography – 67 – 31.0 Action research and participatory cycles of research – 26 – 12.0 Visual data, photography, drawing, film – 23 – 10.6 Personal records and documents—diaries, journals, letters – 27 – 12.5 Historical archival research – 5 – 2.3 Records and organisational or administrative documents – 51 – 23.6 Internet research – 21 – 9.7 Case studies: of organisations, individuals, events, communities or social groups – 53 – 24.5 Cross-sectional survey – 15 – 6.9 Repeat and longitudinal surveys – 10 – 4.6 Experiment or quasi-experiment – 6 – 2.8 Measurement scales – 21 – 9.7 a Chi-square excludes ‘non-empirical’; b not asked in 2008; c significant at the 0.05 level. Table 3 Research approaches and topics Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Methodologya (χ2 = 2.849, df = 2, p = 0.24) Primarily qualitative 76 151 58.5 69.9 Mixed 41 55 31.5 25.5 Primarily quantitative 7 9 5.4 4.2 Not empirical research 6 1 4.6 0.5 Total 130 216 100 100 Orientation towards social work practicec (χ2 = 9.788, df = 2, p < 0.01) Primarily a contribution to academic theorising/understanding 30 87 23.8 40.3 Evaluation of policy or practice 77 102 61.1 47.2 Action research 19 26 15.1 12.0 Total 126 216 100 100 Topicc (χ2 = 11.79, df = 5, p = 0.04) Children, young people, families 58 75 45.7 35.1 Knowledge, theories, skills and/or values 9 43 7.1 20.1 Adult service users 27 40 21.3 18.7 Organisation, management of personal social services 17 31 13.4 14.5 Methods or settings 9 16 7.1 7.5 Education, training and professional development 7 9 5.5 4.2 Total 127 214 100 100 Specific methods usedb One-to-one interviews, including telephone, couples interviews and co-interviews – 176 – 81.5 Narratives, life history, (auto-) biography, naturally occurring talk – 63 – 29.2 Focus groups and group interviews – 74 – 34.3 Observation/ethnography – 67 – 31.0 Action research and participatory cycles of research – 26 – 12.0 Visual data, photography, drawing, film – 23 – 10.6 Personal records and documents—diaries, journals, letters – 27 – 12.5 Historical archival research – 5 – 2.3 Records and organisational or administrative documents – 51 – 23.6 Internet research – 21 – 9.7 Case studies: of organisations, individuals, events, communities or social groups – 53 – 24.5 Cross-sectional survey – 15 – 6.9 Repeat and longitudinal surveys – 10 – 4.6 Experiment or quasi-experiment – 6 – 2.8 Measurement scales – 21 – 9.7 Category Response 2008 (n) 2013 (n) 2008 (%) 2013 (%) Methodologya (χ2 = 2.849, df = 2, p = 0.24) Primarily qualitative 76 151 58.5 69.9 Mixed 41 55 31.5 25.5 Primarily quantitative 7 9 5.4 4.2 Not empirical research 6 1 4.6 0.5 Total 130 216 100 100 Orientation towards social work practicec (χ2 = 9.788, df = 2, p < 0.01) Primarily a contribution to academic theorising/understanding 30 87 23.8 40.3 Evaluation of policy or practice 77 102 61.1 47.2 Action research 19 26 15.1 12.0 Total 126 216 100 100 Topicc (χ2 = 11.79, df = 5, p = 0.04) Children, young people, families 58 75 45.7 35.1 Knowledge, theories, skills and/or values 9 43 7.1 20.1 Adult service users 27 40 21.3 18.7 Organisation, management of personal social services 17 31 13.4 14.5 Methods or settings 9 16 7.1 7.5 Education, training and professional development 7 9 5.5 4.2 Total 127 214 100 100 Specific methods usedb One-to-one interviews, including telephone, couples interviews and co-interviews – 176 – 81.5 Narratives, life history, (auto-) biography, naturally occurring talk – 63 – 29.2 Focus groups and group interviews – 74 – 34.3 Observation/ethnography – 67 – 31.0 Action research and participatory cycles of research – 26 – 12.0 Visual data, photography, drawing, film – 23 – 10.6 Personal records and documents—diaries, journals, letters – 27 – 12.5 Historical archival research – 5 – 2.3 Records and organisational or administrative documents – 51 – 23.6 Internet research – 21 – 9.7 Case studies: of organisations, individuals, events, communities or social groups – 53 – 24.5 Cross-sectional survey – 15 – 6.9 Repeat and longitudinal surveys – 10 – 4.6 Experiment or quasi-experiment – 6 – 2.8 Measurement scales – 21 – 9.7 a Chi-square excludes ‘non-empirical’; b not asked in 2008; c significant at the 0.05 level. The dominance of qualitative research as the preferred methodological approach can again be seen in 2013, with only 4.2 per cent of respondents doing primarily quantitative research, compared with 69.9 per cent using primarily qualitative methods. The list of possible research methods is more revealing still. It was possible for respondents to select more than one method as appropriate. The methodological imbalance is revealed when we see that 81.5 per cent of doctorates include one-to-one interviews, whereas only 2.8 per cent are using experimental or quasi-experimental methods. In keeping with this finding, only seven respondents (3.2 per cent) used the word ‘outcome’ when describing their doctoral topic. Slightly more optimistically in terms of quantitative methods, 9.7 per cent of candidates were using measurement scales. Also, close to a quarter of respondents were using records or other administrative documents, which could include some quantification. Cross-tabulations were conducted of methodology against type of university and funding source. These bivariate analyses did not find any significant associations, however. Satisfaction with doctoral study As noted earlier, the satisfaction question changed in wording for 2013 so it would not be valid to compare with 2008. A more valid comparison, however, is with the UK-wide and cross-discipline Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) 2013 (Bennett and Turner, 2013). The statement ‘overall I am satisfied with the experience of my research degree programme’ was offered to respondents in both surveys, using a five-point Likert scale for response, which ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. In 2008, the social work survey responses were interpreted as being more positive about student satisfaction than the general doctoral student population in the 2007 PRES. (We note the proviso that this was only an interpretation in 2008, with the questionnaire wording being different from PRES.) However, unfortunately, the opposite is true in 2013—social work doctoral candidates appear to be less satisfied than the general PGR population. In 2013, 13.4 per cent (n = 29) of social work/social care doctoral candidates disagreed that they were satisfied overall, whereas, for the general population of doctoral candidates in PRES (n = 47,623), only 8.7 per cent disagreed. In PRES, 9.6 per cent were neutral about their doctoral study, compared with 7.4 per cent in the social work/social care survey. In PRES, 81.7 per cent agreed they were satisfied overall, compared with 79.2 per cent in the social work/social care survey. The percentage difference is very small, but statistically significant. Raw numbers were not published in the Bennett and Turner (2013) summary report on PRES 2013, but working these out from the percentages reported and overall sample size, we find the chi-square test result is 6.755 (2 df, p = 0.03). The figure on p. 19 of Bennett and Turner (2013) confirms the finding. When PRES respondents are grouped by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) panel, those coming under the social work and social policy panel were ranked thirty-first out of thirty-six REF disciplines for satisfaction. The challenges of doctoral study Respondents were asked an open question about which aspects of doctoral study were particularly challenging. Their responses were inductively coded into one of seven categories: time; academia (i.e. unease with the academic environment); isolation; methodology; money; ethics and access; and ‘other’ (various). These results were cross-tabulated against the responses on satisfaction. Not counting a diverse ‘other’ category, the highest levels of dissatisfaction were in those respondents whose main challenges were time, academia or money, all of these having around 15 per cent dissatisfaction. Further cross-tabulations were conducted with the satisfaction data. There was no significant association with age, type of university or full-time/part-time status, although it should be noted that the statistical power for this analysis was weak, as the table had a large number of cells. There was indication of a possible pattern in relation to full-time/part-time status that might be significant in a larger sample. This analysis showed that 85 per cent (twenty-two out of twenty-six) of those reporting isolation were full-time candidates, even though only 39 per cent of the whole sample were full-time. The challenge most often reported by part-time (n = 52) and staff candidates (n = 28) was time. Discussion Several important limitations of this research should be noted. First, the study did not triangulate with any other source of data, such as thesis abstracts, so relies on doctoral candidate self-report only. Second, standardised measures were not used, which limits the scope for comparison with other studies. Third, opinions may differ about the categorisation of research projects, such as according to orientation towards practice or methodology (see Table 3). Fourth, the study sample was self-selecting and differences between respondents and non-respondents are unknown, so selection bias is possible. Fifth, satisfaction surveys can be positively inflated because most people who commit time to any endeavour will wish to justify their efforts and gains. However, although the actual size of the doctoral candidate population is not known, it is worth nothing that the 216 valid responses constitute 72 per cent of the 301 students identified by Shardlow et al. (2013) in their audit, which is a reasonably high response rate. Shardlow and colleagues received responses from only 38 per cent of the universities they contacted, but it is reasonable to assume that most of the non-respondents did not have a doctoral programme in social work, since many of the universities that teach social work do not appear to have a research tradition or staff able to supervise doctoral research. The increased sample in 2013 of 216, compared with 136 in 2008, may have been mostly due to the lure of the iPad and the widening of the survey title to include social care as well as social work. However, the large increase in the absolute number of ESRC-funded doctoral candidates, making them a significantly larger proportion of the student body in 2008 than in 2013, may also go some way to explaining the increase in the number of responses. It is plausible that there would be an absolute increase in ESRC-funded social work doctorates between 2008 and 2013 because of the cumulative effect of recruitment to an ESRC pathway that was only first named as such in 2005 and did not by 2008 have a full quota of students across all three (or four) years of doctoral study. Such an increase is a good news story for social work, as more critical mass should strengthen the intellectual and human capital of the field. The DTC evaluation (ESRC, 2015) shows, however, that the picture is not in fact rosy for ESRC doctoral funding in social work compared with other disciplines. Failure to achieve recruitment targets to doctoral programmes may compromise future funding. Learned societies and interest groups need to keep a careful eye on how things proceed in the next phase of Doctoral Training Partnerships. As JUC SWEC noted in contributing to the DTC evaluation, ‘there is an ongoing need for the ESRC to insist on DTCs with social work pathways achieving their target proportions of social care students’ (ESRC, 2015, p. 26). Changes in the doctoral population There was no significant change between 2008 and 2013 in the demographics of the doctoral population. As in 2008, most candidates were women, although it is important to note that they constitute a much lower percentage of the doctoral population than they do of the social care workforce or social work student population. The apparent rise in the overseas student population is probably an artefact of survey design, since there was no specific question about overseas status in 2008. The percentage of doctoral candidates at pre-1992 universities was 11 per cent higher in 2013, perhaps reflecting the DTC policy. As in 2008, the student population is much older than the general PGR population in the UK. There was almost a doubling of the percentage of candidates under thirty years of age. This might suggest that younger people are commencing social work doctorates at a greater rate, though the raw numbers are very small. It is perhaps good news for those with a strong social work professional identity that the percentage of doctoral candidates who are qualified social workers has not significantly decreased, although there is a slight downward trend. A large majority of those studying social work and social care at doctoral level still seem to be qualified social workers, despite the concern expressed by some in the social work academic community that ESRC funding often attracts doctoral candidates without a practitioner background. There is a wealth of practice experience evident in the doctoral community; the majority of those who are qualified to this level have worked as social workers for more than ten years post qualification. More pessimistically, another possible conclusion to draw is that we are not yet succeeding in attracting a large amount of interest from outside social work to conduct doctoral research on social care, this being one of the strategies outlined in Sharland’s (2009) Strategic Advisor report for the ESRC. As in 2008, a high percentage of social work/social care doctoral candidates are registered part time. The percentage of doctoral candidates registered full time has risen from 25.4 per cent in 2008 to 41.1 per cent in 2013. There is significant change in type of doctorate—proportionally more Ph.D.s and fewer PDs—and source of funding, with the percentage of those with ESRC funding more than doubling. This would seem to be explained by the cumulative effect year on year of ESRC funding, which, although available for part-time study, more commonly supports full-time students. In keeping with the trend for a higher percentage of ESRC funding, there is an increase in the percentage of candidates with a master’s in research methods as their highest previous qualification (as historically required by the ESRC). Research topics and practice orientation The dominance of primarily qualitative research remains in 2013. This is in line with other evidence on the dearth of quantitative methods in UK social work research (e.g. McCambridge et al., 2007; Sheppard, 2015). The results on choice of methods largely reinforce this picture and provide more detail than was available in the 2008 survey. Whatever one’s view of the feasibility or desirability of randomised–controlled trials in social work, it is very surprising that only 2.8 per cent or less are using quasi-experimental methods, which are much easier to use than experimental methods, because randomisation is not required. The very small proportion of candidates apparently studying outcomes for service users is cause for concern. It should be noted that by far the most popular qualitative method was the one-to-one interview, which may suggest the field also has a rather limited repertoire of approaches to generating qualitative data. More respondents selected the option of ‘primarily a contribution to academic understanding’ in 2013 than selected ‘primarily a contribution to academic theorising’ in 2008, but the word ‘theorising’, with its more highbrow connotations than ‘understanding’, may well have put off some doctoral candidates who were nonetheless making a primarily academic contribution from selecting that option. The finding of apparent changes in the spread of topics—once again taken from the categories used by Lyons (2002)—may not be wholly accurate, as there was no consistency of coding personnel or detailed criteria from 2008 to 2013. It can be noted, however, that child and family topics are still more popular than adult social care topics. Satisfaction with study Doctoral candidates in social work and social care were slightly less satisfied than the general population of doctoral candidates responding to the PRES. The difference was small and statistically significant at the 0.05 level because the PRES had a large sample size of over 40,000, although this finding is nonetheless cause for concern and warrants further research. When challenges experienced were cross-tabulated against satisfaction, full-time doctoral candidates were more isolated than those registered part time. One possible explanation for this might be that, whereas part-time candidates who are also employed might garner support and company from their work colleagues, full-time candidates in some universities—perhaps those without a sizeable body of doctoral students—might lack a network and infrastructure to help sustain them. DTCs are intended to provide critical mass of social science doctoral candidates and networking opportunities, which should reduce isolation, so it would be interesting to inquire further into social work candidates’ experience of these centres. Conclusion The study set out to map the profile of UK doctoral candidates, explore the range of thesis topics and research approaches adopted by doctoral candidates, and explore the nature of challenges experienced by doctoral students in the pursuit if their studies and the nature and extent of support they receive. Some useful insights were gained, although the findings suggest the need for further research in future, including a more qualitative dimension that could drill down to capture more of the lived experience of the doctoral candidate. It would also be important in future studies of the doctoral student population to triangulate survey findings with other sources of data such as thesis abstracts. The fact that social work/social care doctoral candidates are significantly less satisfied overall with their doctoral experience than the general population of doctoral candidates is of course cause for concern. This finding could suggest the need for a better infrastructure (McRoy et al., 2012) and greater institutional support (Khinduka, 2002). It would also perhaps argue for Shardlow et al.’s (2013) position that there is a need for a national professional support network to more fully embrace doctoral candidates, so that they may feel more part of a valued, thriving academic community. The survey findings further emphasis the serious need in the UK for building capacity in quantitative social work research. Ethical approval Ethical approval for both surveys was obtained from the Cardiff University School of Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee. Funding The iPad2 incentive was funded by the Joint Universities Council Social Work Education Committee. 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Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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The British Journal of Social WorkOxford University Press

Published: Mar 19, 2018

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