What do we hope to achieve through doctoral midwiferyresearch education?

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At the recent launch of our English branch of the DoctoralMidwifery Research Society in partnership with the RCM,I shared some thoughts with the membership about thediscussions surrounding the future of doctoral researcheducation and made reference to the salutary thought ofprescribed research in a future where the world statistics ondoctorally prepared researchers begin to emerge. With thisglobal data comes a picture demonstrating huge variation inwhat actually constitutes a PhD or, in some settings, a taughtdoctorate. The take-home message for us is to be ready forchange and be ready for the challenge to state what we asmidwives consider doctoral education or doctoral trainingought to be: is doctoral training education that is enlightening,creative, develops a knowledgeable thinker and valuesintuitiveness or is it a narrow prescription of a person whois trained to conform and be competent in a pre-defined skillset in applying set rules and regulations from a position ofphilosophical detachment? It seems like doctoral educationhas evolved to become more of the doctoral research trainingand less of the knowledgeable and intuitive thinker. Movingour discussion beyond that of semantics, we must perceive thevalue and purpose of research education as that which hasimmense implications for the future of midwifery research.The very way that we talk about PhDs can distinguishbetween education that is ‘fit for purpose’ and education that isinherently good, challenging and of intrinsic value to the persondoing the research and society. ‘Fit for purpose’ is the commonphrase used by many to describe the expectation that modernresearch will yield valuable data for public health researchand many midwifery research leaders will steer students toundertake research that has been identified and targeted asimportant by policy-makers and strategists. The purpose is tofulfil a need and that may be institutional, societal and evenpersonal or a combination. However stated, the aim of thistype of education is to produce in the person a specified set ofskills like we see in our taught doctorate programmes where theachievement of specified goals are stated, and the accumulationof credits to reach the stated level is the goal of the student andthe institution. This approach will naturally lead to a cadre oftrained doctoral midwives who have a pre-specified skill setand who are fit for clinical or public research. Is this the aimof midwifery research at doctoral level... to train instead ofeducate? Can and should we be satisfied with training only?The natural continuation of training is indeed a comfortzone for many midwives whose experience has been theregimented and prescribed training, fit for a specific purposeand a journey, in which extrinsic needs of the organisation areparamount. In addition, if one undertakes doctoral ‘training’as opposed to doctoral ‘education’ and applies for a specificor advertised doctorate, the parameters are already in placeand the person is only challenged to follow the prescribedpath to completion. From this perspective, one could arguethat it is possible not to have any real philosophical skills inconceptualisation and the plain hard work of growing an ideafrom concept to reality.For those who take this path, the glory of the title ‘Dr’may become a burden, as the expectations about the abilitiesof the student to write proposals from scratch may be aninsurmountable obstacle. Another perspective worth thinkingabout is the collection of academic credits from completeddoctoral education modules in taught courses and theaccumulation of fragments of programmes pre-determined bythose in authority as being key to the award of the doctorate.These credit-bearing modules are often compulsory, leavinglittle time in the academic training programme for the actualact of researching and none for theory generation, explorationand testing. This is a common problem in taught doctoratesand has led to the rather cruel, but possibly true, iteration thatthe taught doctorate research experience is a ‘glorified masters’.We need to stop and really think about this as the future ofour midwifery research education requires some philosophicdiscussion on what the aim of doctoral research educationought to be. I would strongly argue that this discussionconsiders research from inception at undergraduate level topost-doctoral level and we decide on the best way to maximisethe research potential of our midwives for the future.Let us work together to consider this issue in more depth.If we believe the aim of our doctoral research education isprimarily the preparation of midwives to become contributorsto the public health research agenda, answering questionsthat are pre-determined by the good and great; is that notvery different to the intrinsic value of focusing on becomingexcellent researchers with minds that are free to think withoutthe fetters of forced application and outputs that are visibleand measurable? You may believe we need to do whateveris prescribed by government, as this is where the funding willcome from, but be wary of the ‘economy-centred’ path thatwill rob you of your research passion and make you fit a neatbox. Others may hold fast to the argument that research oughtto be both self-fulfilling and morally valuable to the society inwhich we live. As educators, should we not lead the philosophicarguments about the very purpose of education and researchand differentiate between the different models and theories ofboth? As a professional midwife and a researcher, I believewe ought to be able to lead midwifery researchers to becometheorists and philosophers and refute the plans to develop theuniversal doctorally prepared person who will take his or herplace in the global army of research conformists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75
JournalEvidence Based Midiwfery
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2012


  • Doctoral midwifery research
  • education
  • aim of doctoral research
  • training
  • philosophy
  • evidence-based midwifery


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