PhD by Portfolio

The School of Law, Criminal Justice and Policing offers PhDs by Portfolio in four areas:

  • Criminal Justice/Criminology
  • Law
  • Policing
  • Forensic Investigation

The PhD by Portfolio is a professional doctorate developed principally to meet the needs of people working in a policing, criminological or forensic context. It allows specialists to draw and build upon professional experiences and operational matters and to embed these within the evidence presented towards completing the PhD.

Candidates will be required to submit a PhD portfolio consisting of several pieces of work. An illustration has been provided below.

Please note that the word count is indicative. There is some flexibility with the word count for each element of the portfolio.  This needs to be agreed in your learning plan with your lead supervisor.

The overall word count for the portfolio should be in the region of 80,000 words.

1. Individual Learning Plan

The individual learning plan will be collaboratively designed by the candidate and lead supervisor to advance the candidate’s academic and research development. In collaboration with their supervisor, areas in which the candidate wishes to advance their knowledge will be identified and they will be assisted to search for appropriate literature and a reading plan developed.

2. Critical Review of Literature

Candidates will be facilitated through the programme to acquire the following competencies:

  • Literature searching techniques.
  • Evaluating evidence.
  • Reviewing and synthesising evidence.
  • Writing a literature review.

This area will be assessed through Critical Review of Literature, with a word limit of approx. 10,000 words. The topic to be reviewed will reflect the candidate’s chosen specialist theme and area of study and approved within the individualised learning plan. 

3. Small Scale Research Project

The completion of one small scale research project designed to enhance professional practice associated with the organisation or delivery of services in the area of their specialism. It is expected that the area of specialism in which candidates are involved will provide opportunities for them to undertake such service development activities. 

Candidates will be facilitated through the programme and the completion of this project to develop the following competencies:

  • An advanced understanding of professional and service issues in the area of the candidate’s practice.
  • An advanced understanding of evidence-based practice in this area.
  • An advanced understanding of approaches to service development and evaluation and associated methodologies.
  • Project management skills, including planning, implementation and dissemination.

The service development research project is assessed by the submission of a report of approx. 10,000 words in the form of a small-scale Research Project Report.

4. Applied Research Project

A more substantial research project must be undertaken. This piece of research needs to be designed to be an original contribution to the advancement of knowledge in an area related to the thematic focus of the learning plan/Phd by Portfolio as a whole:

  • A rich knowledge of the existing research in relation to the area of enquiry.
  • A comprehensive understanding of research design and methodologies.
  • Data collection and analysis
  • A rich and practiced understanding of the research methodology applied in the project.
  • Research project management including proposal writing, ethical approval, and organisational access.

This research is submitted in the form of an Applied Research Report of approx. 20,000 words.  Candidates are required to submit a proposal and will be required to gain ethics approval for their research.

5. Report on Candidate’s Professional Role

The learning undertaken in relation to development of the candidate’s professional experience will be assessed by the submission of a report of 10,000 words concerning the candidate’s professional background related to the thematic focus of the programme of study. This piece of work needs to reflect the complex work practices of experienced practitioners and provides opportunity for their reflections about, and learning from, the work. The following competencies will be developed through the completion of this piece of work:

  • Integrate existing knowledge with practice.
  • Theoretical and practice links.
  • Change and develop practice.
  • Understanding best practice.
  • Applying the evidence to practice.
  • Applying an understanding of process in their practice.

6. Reflective Account

This piece of work offers the candidate an opportunity to provide a reflective account of their learning across the portfolio of pieces of work documenting their journey as well as pulling together the various pieces of work into a coherent thematic argument.  Their individual learning plan and meetings with supervisors to reflect on and further develop this will form the basis of this report. Opportunities for reflection on professional practice should enable them to develop their skills and knowledge and their critical and evaluative abilities in relation to their professional practice generally (10,000 words):

  • An advanced ability to synthesise and critique one’s own practice and research.
  • Advanced reflexivity skills.

7. Synthesis

A synthesising overarching commentary of between 10,000-30,000 words which:

  • Describes the contribution of the submitted outputs to new knowledge at the forefront of the discipline. This will require the inclusion of a literature review unless already included as a portfolio item.
  • Discusses the research methodology employed in the programme. This should demonstrate a detailed understanding of research techniques or indicate how this is evidenced within the portfolio.
  • Demonstrates that the portfolio items constitute a planned programme of work. The narrative should therefore a) describe the aims and overarching strategy of the research programme; b) provide dates and locations of research activity; c) present a synthesis of the works as a whole.

The portfolio must overall comprise a volume of research work commensurate with a doctoral level award and must demonstrate an original contribution to knowledge that is consistent with an award at level 8.

Total approximate word count: 80,000 

Application Process for the PhD by Portfolio

The proposal for the PhD by Portfolio differs from the PhD by Thesis. Applicants should contact the CCCU admissions team who will put them in touch with the PGR lead in their subject area for specific guidance or contact when of the named staff at the top of this page. Applicants should then complete the PhD by Portfolio Proposal Form. This differs from the traditional PhD by Thesis proposal as it requires the applicant to list their proposed outputs, identify how these meet the requirements for doctoral work and indicate how they will form a coherent body of work. Discussion with the academic team will help in presenting your ideas.


The candidate should hold a professional role which enables them to undertake research at an appropriate level.  This should be evidenced in the application. Evidence of the support of the professional practice employer or mentor is desirable.

Mode of attendance

The PhD by Portfolio may be undertaken on a full-time or part-time basis. However, it is anticipated that many students will be part-time as they will be working in professional, self-employed or volunteering roles whilst carrying out their research. Students will need to be supported to balance their working/volunteering roles with their studies. 

How to apply

Applicants are strongly advised to explore the research interests of available supervisors and to contact the appropriate staff member before making a formal application.

Further information on Doctoral Degrees

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Last edited: 23/02/2021 15:50:00