How to become a Business School Professor?

You need a doctorate and/or extensive business experience. Adjunct and teaching faculty generally have extensive business experience, and tenure-track business professors have a doctorate. There are actually many steps that you have to take to become a professor in a business school, although the process is not very complicated. How you actually become a business school professor is quite difficult, but the steps to become one is fairly straightforward.  Who am I? I am David Maslach, and a few years ago, I began teaching as an Assistant Professor. Much of what I know may or may not be correct, but it is the things that I have learnt from experience. One of my role models, James March (A well known Professor of Organizations and many other things), has written that experience is a poor teacher. I happen to agree, and thus, the ideas that you learn on this blog post should be taken with a grain of salt.

Decide Whether You Want To Become a Business Professor. And, Why.

First of all, you should try to understand why you want to become a b-school professor?  What draws you to the career? If the reason why you want to be a b-school prof is to teach, then you likely should try a different direction than become a college business professor. Surprisingly, there’s many more lucrative opportunities that are less difficult to obtain than to be become a college business professor. There are many careers that you can do with a masters degree, or something like an MBA or a good undergraduate degree. Good managers, for example, are generally very good teachers. You have to teach other people how to do a particular task such that you never have to perform that task again. You can also get into software development, where you can build in many aspects of teaching in to the software. (By the way, give me a shout if you are interested in ever helping with the www.r3ciprocity.com project – its a sharing economy proofreading platform that is aim at helping others and to improve social science). Management consulting might be another great option that generally pays a lot better given the skill level than becoming a college business professor. If you went into management consulting with a decent MBA then you will liking make as much or if not more money as a business school professor. You could go into other things like trading or in heavy industries, but these roles may vary in the required skill-set of teaching. If you want to learn more about motivations for getting your PhD, you can check out this video:

What Are The Steps To Become A Business School Professor?

If you want to become a Business School Professor, than you will have to perform a large amount of research. Indeed, the most respected people in a business school, or any other part of a university generally are those that have produced the most amount of quality publications. In other words, there is a large amount of meritocracy in a university system. However, some people argue that there are politics and other factors, there generally is some pecking-order at a business school. What are the steps to become a business school professor, and what do you need to do if you want a career as a business prof?

1. You Need To Choose Your Focus As A Business School Professor.

If you are thinking of becoming more of teaching faculty, I would recommend that you just get an MBA and teach in community college. While the pay is not going to be as good as in a business school, it does have the most immediate return, and thus there is no opportunity cost of 3-7 years of doing a PhD. If you are thinking of becoming an administrator, such as a Dean, than you have get either a PhD in Business Administration, or a DBA, but a PhD is more mainstream. I have an in depth blog post about the differences between a DBA and a PhD in Business Administration here and the advantages and disadvantages of getting a doctorate in business here. Some people go into administrative rolls that don’t have doctorate, but this becoming less common, and the general requirement is to have some form of Doctorate. If you are thinking of doing research, which is the most common reason to become a business school professor, than you should think about getting a PhD in Business Administration in a top research school. (Read my blog post about how long it takes to get a PhD in Business Administration). How you define top research school really varies, but there should be an emphasis on research at the school you pick. These different foci are likely to change as you grow and develop as a business school professor. For example, it is common that people do research early on in their career, and then move to executive teaching and administrative roles later in their careers. 

2. If You Choose the Traditional Research Route, You Need To Choose Your Research Focus.

Once you decide your focus, then you need to pick a research focus. What is it that you are truly interested in? One of the cool things with the research route is that you can choose to study anything that you want. Many people, including me years ago, do not know what to study when they first enter their PhD. This is common, and you will be of good company. You need to understand what you are interested in, find a senior researcher that is working on this topic around the world. Then you should try to start working with a senior professor to advance this research stream. When you look for these senior researchers, you need to convince them and demonstrate that you are serious about research. It is highly unlikely that anybody will want to work with you if you communicate that you are interested in anything else other than research. There is good reason for this – working with PhD students takes a lot of effort by the senior researcher, and just by the odds, most people will fail if they attempt this career. When you find the people that you want to work with, you need to pursue a PhD in Business Administration at that university where the senior researcher (or many professors) work. During this PhD in Business Administration, it is your job to produce academic publications in journals. Journal articles differ in rigor, and at the best universities, the emphasis is on publishing articles in the best journals. You can look at two lists of the best journals for business schools here: (UT-Dallas Ranking and FT50 Ranking). You should note with this rankings and lists of ‘top’ journals, that there is tremendous debate about the value of these lists in academia. If you want to learn about some of the challenges of focusing on objective performance outcomes, you should refer to this article by March and Sutton on performance. If you want to see the best business professor rankings (mostly rated from the student perspective, and generally focused on MBA B-School Professors), you can look at the Poets and Quants listing of best business school professors. Its a listing of people that are just plain good people, but the important thing that you should pay attention to in this listing is what people are researching so you can have your own ideas for your research career. Don’t copy – but use their research project ideas to get inspired.

3. Once You Start Researching, You Need To Put In 3-15 Years Of Research To Get Top Research Publications.

You will need to put in 3-15 years of research to get top research publications. You will have to do about 4-8 years of work in your PhD (and a postdoc sometimes), then you will become an Assistant Professor. However, this does not guarantee that you will have a Business Professor job forever. You will have to get tenure, which is anywhere from 5-10 years of additional research to have a College Business Professor job. What you are trying to get is more journal articles. What does a typical research article look like, and what goes into creating a research article? I created an extensive guide to writing a research article here. To get a job in a business school as a professor, you will need to have a promising pipeline of journal articles (either revise and submits, and publications depending on subfields). The entry point and the currency in most business schools is research publications. You will have to have at least several on the go (revise and resubmit, or accepted) to become a business school professor. The number and type of publications varies depending on your subdomain. The reason why I call it currency is because you will need journal articles to move to other business schools. Generally, unless you have some unusual characteristic, the more publications you have, the better. Some people and fields take longer to get these publications, so make sure that you ask your senior level professor about what the requirements are in your chosen field. You should watch this video if you want to find out why publications are so important:

4. You Need To Apply To Many Business School Jobs.

Once you have your PhD in hand, or are nearly completing your PhD and have publications, you need to apply to many business schools for jobs. These business schools are likely all over the world, and it is very common for American and Canadians to get jobs in Europe and for people trained in the UK and Europe to get jobs in Canada and the US. Just be well aware that it is very difficult to get a job in a specific geographic area, unless you intimately know somebody or have an ‘in’ in a specific business school. Just like in industry, sometimes people get a job at a specific school because they know people at that school. I cannot stress this enough. Be aware that business school professor jobs are fairly rare, so you will have to travel to many parts of the world before you find a position that fits you. You will be surprised where you will get a job. You can also likely move after your first job, but expect to move to a location that you would not even think about initially. Moreover, each business school is looking for a specific business professor candidate and each business school has a unique culture.

5. Business School Professors Need To Be Persistent.

You need to be persistent. You will need to be persistent to complete your PhD. You will need to be persistent to get your publications. You will need to persist to get your first job. You will need to be persistent to get tenure. The best analogy of becoming a business school professor is mountain climbing. Just like mountain climbing, everything about the journey is difficult, but the difficult journey is part of the fun. It is immensely rewarding to look back on the things that you did during the career-each paper, each conference publication, each course-and say that you did that. One of my mentors during graduate school told be that the biggest predictor of this career is simple persistence and hard work. He is absolutely correct. There is no magic to the career, but the rewards come from completing a task. Again, it is fun to have a sense of accomplishment. There are a lot of accumulation dynamics in being a business school professor. Those that stick with this career the longest and put the most amount of work in this career are the ones that reap the largest reward. I know that this is not unusual from a lot of other careers, but the explicit reward system and the transparency of the career make the accumulation dynamics more explicit. It absolutely makes sense that Full Professors are in demand all over the world – it is very difficult to get to that position, and they command a fair bit of respect by others who try to get there. (By the way, Full Professors in Business School generally have 20-25 years of higher education and have to be internationally recognized.) By the way, if you want to learn about whether there is a business school professor shortage, you can watch this video:

6. Business School Professors Need To Know The Informal Organization

If you did not know, there is a ladder in academic. Indeed, academia made of a bunch of career ladders, from assistant, than associate, and than full professor. Each business school, and each university is ranked. Each professor’s publications are compared to every one else. While there is this transparency, there is also a lot of informal organization that is important to know about that is not directly observable. For example, you should know things like which academic conferences to go to, how to act during research presentations, and what questions to ask. You really need to ask and get help from other people. There are a lot of good mentors that you can seek to get information about these subtle, but important aspects of academic. Obtaining a good mentor to understand the informal organization of business schools should occur early in one’s career. There are lots of workshops at conferences (i.e. Academy of Management has some good ones), but you should also get mentorship at your school where you are. Having a mentor is very helpful and keeps you grounded when the academic life is getting to you.

Becoming A Business School Professor Is A “Choose Your Own Adventure.” 

The one thing I wanted to end with, is that career and how you become a become a business school professor, just depends on what you choose it to be. (If you want to learn about getting a PhD in Strategy and Innovation, read this blog post). There are some ways that are easier than others, but there is quite the diversity of roles that are required in a business school. I think the biggest thing that is required to become a business school professor, no matter the style that you choose, is just to persist at it for a long-time. If you work at it long enough, and realize that the career does not occur over night, can get the position you seek.

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David Maslach

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