PhD by Portfolio

Dr Beth Pickard completed her PhD by Portfolio

What is a PhD by Portfolio?

If you're a working professional with your eyes on a doctorate, a PhD by Portfolio could be the route for you. 

There are many advantages to completing your doctorate in this way.

One of the biggest appeals is that it can be completed in 12 months part time. This not only makes it cost effective but also a viable option for busy professionals who may be musicians, authors, engineers or healthcare professionals, educators or in the police / armed forces.

How does it work?

Up to three projects/pieces of work make up a PhD by Portfolio, together with a 15,000-word philosophical underpinning that ties the work together. As with all PhDs, this is complemented with an oral viva examination.

The attraction of experienced professionals having a PhD will vary, with some wanting to get a job in academia, while some are more interested in receiving acceptance and recognition from the institution or profession they operate in for work they have already done.

Professional value of a PhD

 “There is a certain kudos and authority associated with having a PhD,” says Paul Carr, Professor of Popular Music Analysis.

“One of my students is a Hollywood film composer, based in America. His motivation for undertaking a doctorate, aside from the kudos of the ‘Dr’ title, is to facilitate his capacity to work within the university sector.”

For others, it is about contextualising their life’s work.

“A PhD by Portfolio is a fabulous way of putting your life’s work into some kind of context,” says Professor Paul Carr. “It allows very experienced and well-known practitioners in their field to cherry pick the best parts of the work to make up a portfolio.”

Age is also not a barrier when undertaking portfolio PhDs.

“A former student was a musician in his seventies,” said Professor Carr. “For him, it was more about getting credit for the work he had done over the years.”

Demonstrates expertise

The Portfolio PhD route is ideal for researching ‘professionals’ who may not wish to pursue an academic career but want to demonstrate their authority and subject expertise in their field.

"We see such an amazing variety of impactful projects which aren’t limited to traditional research based work," said Dr Gina Dolan, academic manager for postgraduate research in health, sport and professional practice.

"It’s a great opportunity for professionals to demonstrate how their work can make a difference to healthcare and related areas."

"Our candidates are often already experts in their field and are seeking recognition for their ongoing contribution to their profession. Our supervisors can provide advice and support for candidates to consolidate their existing work and gain a PhD.

"One of my recent students, an experienced mental health practitioner has used the portfolio to demonstrate her role as a change agent and enhanced her performance and leadership at a senior level."

Contact us to discuss a PhD by Portfolio

PhD by Portfolio alumni


Dr Kathy-Calzone, genetics, PhD by PortfolioDr Kathy Calzone is a Research Geneticist in the Center for Cancer Research, based in Washington

"I have seen first-hand how a PhD opens doors that might otherwise have been closed.  Not only did the doctorate open doors, but also led to my promotion and the ability to secure funding for the first and one of the largest genetic nursing implementation studies conducted.   

"Studying the PhD remotely was especially valuable as I had no plans on leaving my position in the USA. The Portfolio route also provided me with the ability to customise my doctoral study based on my expertise and existing and ongoing body of research, and learn from USW's experts in the genomics field."

 Beth Pickard_PhD-by-Portfolio.jpgDr Beth Pickard is a music therapist and lecturer

"Studying for a PhD by Portfolio means that meant I could collate a number of publications and artefacts that I had been working on in recent years. This was an exciting way to draw together the diverse elements of my practice and develop a framework around this way of working.

"It was also a constructive model for me as I was studying alongside my full-time teaching role. The portfolio format enabled me to manage my workload autonomously and ensure that the research was complementary to my job. It was rewarding to work on dedicated research for my PhD and see its immediate impact on my work."

Jackie-PhD-by-Portfolio.jpgDr Jackie Knight is programme leader in Brighton Sussex Medical School at Sussex University

"The PhD has provided professional standing and credibility, as well as a recent promotion and new networks for future projects.

"Achieving a PhD has been a huge ambition. In my profession, it has become important to demonstrate in-depth knowledge in a specific subject. 

"Doing the PhD by Portfolio at USW gave me the opportunity for a flexible student learning pathway. I was able to work full time and apply my professional experience to my studies.  I benefitted from a wide range of training opportunities and essential skills including research methods, publishing in peer-reviewed journals and conference presentations. "

Engineering and surveying

Ciaran.mcaleenan PhD by PortfolioDr Ciaran McAleenan is a lecturer in safety engineering 

"To undertake a PhD usually means embarking on a new piece of research, which can take up to six years.  However, USW's PhD by Portfolio route recognises high quality work, previously carried out and often already published in books or journals. This considerably reduces the time you need to complete your PhD, which is important if, like me, a PhD is part of a career development plan."

Dr Philip McAleenan, PhD by PortfolioDr Philip McAleenan is a self-employed consultant in workplace practice including health and safety

 "The PhD by Portfolio approach was uniquely interesting and valuable and one that met my professional requirements at that time. It allowed me to quantify and evaluate the work that I had been doing for the previous 20 years and to gain validation for the innovations that resulted from that work.   

"Stepping out of the commercial work of my business for that year just to evaluate what I had achieved and where it could go in the future was refreshing and gave me a tremendous inspirational boost. 

"There have been many benefits to having a PhD. While I continue in my business as a consultant, the evaluation of the organisational cultural maturity services I offer has been developed and expanded with an enhanced focus on ethics and ethics reasoning especially in the use of A/IS in construction.  I am also contributing to more journal papers and research projects than previously."

Creative Industries

Andy_Hill--Music_Supervisor - PhD by Portfolio Dr Andy Hill is a film music producer

 “Doing the PhD by Portfolio at USW allowed me, figuratively, to retire for a year to an island of study, and to affirm a number of things I’ve long held to be true of music for film and music in general, but never had the research material to back up.
“The PhD by Portfolio method was probably the only avenue open to me, given my age, continued involvement in the industry, and teaching duties. Money, needless to say, was also an issue, and it would not have been feasible for me to take two to three years in a typical doctoral programme. USW has, blessedly, made it possible for me to do this in a year.”

Rene Mamo, PhD by PortfolioDr Rene Mamo is a music producer 

"Achieving a doctorate has been the Holy Grail of my music career. The PhD by Portfolio was the perfect route that allowed me to study while continuing to work and live in Malta.

"My existing work formed the practical part of the PhD, and I did the written part by correspondence and attending some tutorials on campus when needed. The work was (and still is) the first doctorate on Maltese music production – I’m proud of such achievement.”

PhD by Portfolio: Key Facts

Frequently Asked Questions

The thesis route involves undertaking a supervised piece of original research and submitting a thesis of up to 100,000 words.

The PhD by Portfolio route provides the option of using existing or previous projects and associated outputs and writing a critical overview which draws these together into a coherent story. 

As with the thesis route, the portfolio is expected to demonstrate an independent and original contribution to knowledge.

A maximum of three projects with associated outputs.

Yes, projects may be related to professional practice, and / or derived from empirical or conceptual investigation.

  • Project / programme reports
  • Project / programme materials
  • Feedback from project sponsors
  • Published books / chapters / journal papers
  • Conference proceedings
  • Patents
  • Surveys
  • Exhibitions / productions / artefacts
  • CD / DVD / video / film presentations
  • Software programmes
  • Multimedia packages
  • Design materials
  • Maps

The majority of projects and associated outputs will need to be complete at the time of applying for the PhD by Portfolio.