Do You Need Management Experience For A PhD/Doctorate In Business Administration?

Many people assume that business professors are good at ‘managing’ businesses and that you need extensive management experience to get a doctorate (i.e. PhD or DBA) in Business Administration. The answer to both of these assumptions is No, you do not need management experience to get into doctorate programs in Business Administration. You also do not need to be a ‘manager-type’ of person.

I have met many people with PhDs, including myself, where thank goodness they do not manage a multi-billion dollar company. My working memory is so poor and my management-skills are so bad that I probably would not even be able to manage a hot-dog stand. Many professors I know with PhDs are quite shy, and are not quick to make decisions.

In case you don’t know me, I am David Maslach – an Assistant Professor in Strategy who has a PhD in Business Administration. This is part of my r3ciprocity project – there where so many people that helped me get my doctorate, I wanted to pay the favor forward. I created this sharing economy proofreading software platform to help people get feedback on their writing. I have been working on this project for 3 years, have been documenting it on YouTube, and going in-depth about PhD life to help you as much as I can. You really should check it out by searching for r3ciprocity on YouTube – as of October 2018, the channel has over 500 subscribers.

By the way, if you are one of these r3ciprocity subscribers: “Thank you! I am so honored to help you. :-)”

This post is based on a YouTube video that I did, so you should definitely watch the video if you want greater depth and understanding on whether you need management experience to get a PhD in Business. 

Why Don’t You Need Management Experience To Get A Doctorate in Business Administration?

Being a manager of a company and getting a PhD are very different. You are being trained to do fundamentally different tasks. Many top managers are trained in the art and science of decision-making, communicating with people, and interacting within organizations. Doing a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) very much trains people on these skills, and then you might get additional executive training that is specific for your industry.

For many people with extensive management experience getting a PhD in Business will feel like you are regressing with your management skill-set. You will go back to being the ‘analyst’ in the organization, rather than the ‘manager’ leading people to do things. Getting and having a PhD is all about the analytical and writing skills. I think it feels like having a career that is somewhere in between a financial analyst where you are expected to make sense of data and a journalist where you are expected to continuously write on a daily basis. Even if you do qualitative research as a PhD student, you will be doing a large amount of data collection, analysis, and writing on your own.

I personally do believe that sometimes extensive management experience can actually be a negative for you if you pursue some form of a PhD in Business, like a PhD in Strategy or a PhD in Finance. Most of the time, PhD programs train you to do research, and you should think of yourself as a scientist and not a ‘manager.’ Thus, it could be on occasion that having too much management experience may create a ‘management rigidity’ where you refuse to do the work. Or, if you are used to performing managerial duties, such as doing extensive networking or rainmaking, you might not be able to spend a great deal of time dedicating your time to solitude and study.

The bottom-line is that Doctorate programs in Business Administration train you to become a researcher, or at least teach in a Business School. Thus, many of the top programs in the world prefer people with technical and more academically oriented degrees. They often prefer to recruit people with Masters degrees in Business, Economics, Engineering, Mathematics, English, etc., particularly if they have strong interest in doing research. They would also prefer that you are comfortable with doing long hours of research-oriented things, like performing literature reviews, developing theory, analyzing data, and designing your next study.

If you were like me and most people I know who started out in a PhD program, you did not know what a research article would look like. I created this helpful post that details some important steps to write a research paper for PhDs in Business, and you really ought to read it.

Some PhD Programs Do Value Management Experience.

Some programs do value good management experience, particularly, if it can be used to tell a good story about yourself. For example, if you management a Major League Baseball team, created a startup organization, or were able to negotiate an international merger and acquisition, then you should be about to weave these great stories about management into your application. The goal is to always try to aim for unique stories that distinguish you from other people in the applicant pool of PhDs.

What About Military Experience For A PhD in Business?

Each program and PhD admission committee is going to value military experience differently. However, what I can tell you is that, in my experience, having military experience is extremely helpful for your role as a Business School professor. I have met many people that served in various militaries around the world. I have met people that were in the army, navy, and air-force, and there is a general trend that they do well during their PhD applications, and do well in the profession. Some of the biggest stars in Business Schools served in the service in some form. Military experience definitely seems to help, but of course, it does vary a lot depending on who you are as a person.

What About Professional Sports Experience For A PhD in Business?

Having professional sports experience as a means to get your PhD in Business Administration is more rare, but there are many people that were either college, professional, or Olympic athletes as a Business School Professors. Several of my current colleagues either college or professional ball (American Football and Baseball), I did my PhD with an Olympic rower and a professional ball player, and know of semi-pro water-polo, or ultra-marathon runners. Ok, now, that makes me sound rather pathetic. I think I might be able to do well at professional couch-sleeping. 🙂

The point with professional sports experiences is that they are leveraged to tell a story about what you did. It is not only appealing on your PhD statement of purpose, but it can be helpful when you teach students. Students, just like other people, like to hear a story about your wins and losses. It is important to make yourself sound appealing and interesting. The professional sports experience may not translate very well to PhD experience, however, you will naturally sound more appealing if you can write about your exploits.

One other thing that many professional athletes have is grit. Grit is very important during your PhD, and after your PhD. There are many days that people want to give up with the career, and it is only those people that can persist will thrive as a PhD. This grit characteristic seems to correlate between the two domains.

Management Experience Is Generally Not Required But It Helps.

My general thought is that management experience, while not required to perform the task of PhD in Business, can be an asset if you possess the experience. Some people use it to tell their story about who they are in their PhD Statement Of Purpose or to motivate their students that they teach. Other people actually use these contexts to study for years to come. Some of these contexts are really quite interesting, and can very much detail many parallels to business management. You call also leverage some of the people skills that you learn to talk with your PhD advisors or other people during the PhD program. I wish I had these types of interpersonal skills when I started the PhD program. The people that excel with management experience during a PhD are just like everyone else. They are the ones that can buckle down and get work done, and listen to other people for suggestions and advise. Doing a PhD will be difficult. Yes, I would definitely use the management experience to tell your story, but no, I would not rely on the experience to sell your reputation. You have to build your creditably in academia over time and slowly by doing good research and trying hard to be the best you can be. In case you are thinking of doing a PhD in Business to change careers, you should really watch the following video. I detail some important things to think about if you are currently wondering about pursuing a second career as a Business Professor. I also have a really cool blog post that I put much time into about how to become a Business School Professor.

You may also like

How Are PhD Students Evaluated? (A Guide On Assessing The Performance Of Grad Students)
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David Maslach

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