16 PhD Program Basics: 16 Things You Should Know Before You Do A Doctorate

Earning a PhD can be hard.

Looking back on my own experiences while earning my terminal degree, there a few tips that I wish someone would have given me before beginning.

Here, I have created a list of advice that may make starting the PhD process a little easier.

Below are some basic things about getting your doctorate (at a Business School) that many people should think about. This blog post is especially for those that are interested in doing a doctorate in Business Administration, or a PhD in Business Administration, such as a PhD in Accounting, PhD in Finance, PhD in Strategy, PhD in Marketing, or PhD in Information Systems. Why? That is what Dave Maslach knows as he is an Associate Professor at a Business School.

This post was written by a recent doctorate graduate (it is anonymous to keep the discussion frank) on behalf of Dave Maslach. This is part of the R3ciprocity project (Check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback website). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world. For more on this topic and to see what Dave has to say about these PhD Tips, watch this video:

Things To Know About Doing Your PhD.

Tip #1- Most faculty in Business Schools want people to succeed.

When starting your program, try to build positive relationships with your professors and advisors. These individuals can be extremely helpful in providing advice and insight. They can also introduce you to job connections and help you network. However, don’t wait until you need a favor to reach out to them. Keep in frequent communication, make sure you understand their expectations, and be open to feedback. You really need to read this post about how PhD students are evaluated (It’s helpful!).

Tip #2- You should know that not all professors you’ll learn from in Business School are as business-minded as you’d expect.

Some view business through the lens of their environmental impact and some as organizational models tackling climate change without worrying about making lots of money. While in business school, you’ll have the opportunity to sharpen skills in many different areas such as accounting, finance, organizational behavior and informational technology. To read more about why Professors often don’t have management experience, read this post.

Tip #3- Greed is discouraged in Business Schools, and inherently discouraged in PhD research.

Self-interest is also looked down upon if one is viewing business as a zero-sum game and only looking out for themselves. Don’t forget that a successful business if most frequently run by multiple stakeholders. Business schools encourage students to think about the organization as a whole and understand that creating value for someone else can benefit the larger picture.

Tip #4- Most of the stuff you will learn in business school is pulled from other disciplines.

We are not original people. 🙂 We borrow from other disciplines, like work on organizations, accounting, innovation, marketing, and fundamental sciences to create ideas that work together. Because of this, you should make it a point to try to follow what is happening in multiple different fields. Having knowledge outside of a specialized area can help you make informed decisions when making career choices and future research plans.

Tip #5- A Business PhD is a research degree and a Doctorate in Business (DBA) tends to be an applied doctorate degree.

If you are wanting to start or manage a business, this isn’t the degree for you. If this is your dream, then you are better of getting an MBA. However, if a career involving reading and writing papers and analyzing data sounds like something you may be interested in, then this may be the perfect fit. If you want to gain even more insight into the profession, attend a few conferences focused on academia. If you want to learn more about applied doctoral degrees in business, read this post about the pros and cons of executive doctorates.

Tip #6- You may be pleased to find out that business schools tend to have more resources than other schools at the university level.

At many universities, the financial resources for Business Schools tend to come from private sources, donors, and sponsors, making it less necessary to write grants unless the funds are needed for supplemental reasons. Public sources also provide a large amount of financial support and resources to business schools in return for research.

Tip #7- Find strength in numbers.

Having a cohort of people to work with during your PhD is extremely important. During your time in your program you may be able to generate a large network of people that you can turn to for various reasons. However, just a handful of consistent people may be all you need to help you stay on track. Your cohort members can be there to listen to research ideas, help make edits, give advice or keep you motivated. These individuals can also help you maintain a healthy work–life balance to avoid burn out. Don’t forget to save time for hobbies and spending time with friends and family.

Tip #8- Learn how to work in a group and how to take criticism.

As a PhD student, you will most likely be a part of a small research group which means you’ll need to learn how to be a part of a team. You will also undoubtedly be receiving feedback on your research and papers, so be prepare for constructive criticisms. Remind yourself that this criticism is a part of the process to help improve your work and that it isn’t a personal attack.

Tip #9- There is a status and pecking order built into every part of a university system.

Everyone, even professors, are trying to achieve bigger and better things. People are trying to go up within the university system and be a part of the programs get the most funding and publicity. So, if you are just starting out in your PhD program, remember that you are likely starting at the bottom of the pecking order. Also, try not to compare yourself with others and do what works best for you and your research.

Watch this video to understand why there is a status ordering at universities.

Tip #10- Competition is at the heart of every doctoral program.

You will be competing for resources, research leads, job opportunities, etc. This competition can bring both positive and negative effects, as some people thrive in a competitive environment while others experience emotional downfalls. To get a better idea of what this competition is like, try talking to individuals who have been through the PhD process already, or are further along in the program, to hear about their personal experiences.

Tip #11- Don’t give up. Ever.

The biggest reason that most people quit a doctorate program isn’t because they are not smart enough, it is because life or motivation gets in the way. A doctorate program can take at least 4-5 years of your life and without proper motivation and long-term goals, you might find yourself drifting or become mentally/ emotionally exhausted. During this time span, life happens like marriages, babies, moves, etc. This stuff isn’t easy and without the ability to find balance and still have a life outside of your PhD degree, finishing a degree may not seem possible.

Tip #12- Don’t count on money.

Being a PhD student is hard but one benefit to look forward to isn’t copious amounts of money. A lot more money can be made working in a private industry. People don’t start a PhD program for a salary increase; they do it because they are motivated by something else. It may be the love of research, enjoyment of analyzing findings or having a passion to teach, but a personal motivation is the reason behind going after a PhD in business.

Watch this video about PhD salaries in Business Administration.

Tip #13- Don’t pick the university that you attend based on imagery and reputation.

Pick a PhD program that interests you and has you working with people that intrigue you. People are attracted to places that are well-known or popular and hold a higher status but that doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for you. I would highly recommend that you search broadly when you look for a PhD program and not get fixated on a specific program or field of study.

Tip #14- Acknowledge that research and graduate school is hard.

You may have to be a little insane to put yourself through the PhD process and all it entails but also really motivated. While it may be possible that you breezed through your undergrad degree, this will definitely be a different and more challenging experience. To make things slightly less difficult, try to stay organized and focus on time management. Keep a timeline of assignments and keep track of when assignments are due.

Tip #15- Those that work at business schools are people too.

Look at their bios and their published work. Get to know them and their personalities and try to build relationships. Some are nice and some are not so nice. Try to find time to stop by their office and ask them about their research and their interests. Getting to know faculty members better can also help you choose a supervisor for your own research when that time comes.

Tip #16- You will learn more about yourself during the PhD process than you will learn about the subject matter.

Try to embrace the changes that occur during your time in your program and try not to get bogged down with the little things that come along the way. Resilience is key. Celebrate your successes and try to enjoy the ride.

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