Pre-application doctoral communications: a missing dimension in research on doctoral admissions

James Burford*, Sophia Kier-Byfield, Dangeni Dangeni , Emily Henderson, Ahmad Akkad

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper makes a novel contribution to international doctoral education scholarship by offering a detailed examination of pre-application doctoral communications (PADC) between prospective applicants and various university staff members. While PADC is currently an under-considered phenomenon within extant research literature, the paper argues that it ought to be conceived of as an important subset of doctoral admissions practices. Given the possible gatekeeping effects of informal communication, PADC should be understood as a key avenue for addressing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) agendas in doctoral recruitment. The article is in two parts. First, we undertake a literature review to track the extent to which PADC features in the scholarly and grey literature to date and to characterise existing nomenclature and representations. Second, we draw on data from an empirical single-institution case study in a UK university with doctoral supervisors (19), doctoral programme officers (8) and directors of doctoral programmes (12), to understand how these actors engage in PADC as part of their respective roles. The paper sets out the forms PADC took, what role key stakeholders play, and prevalent topics of communication. Ultimately, the paper establishes definitional clarity around PADC and establishes its importance as a key stage of doctoral recruitment alongside formal admissions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2306950
Number of pages22
JournalEducational Review
Issue number00
Early online date9 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • admissions
  • doctoral education
  • doctoral recruitment
  • doctoral supervision
  • email
  • pre-application doctoral communication


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