Tips To Write A PhD Statement Of Purpose That Actually Work

Tips To Write A PhD Statement Of Purpose That Actually Work

Advice on how to write a statement of purpose for a PhD program is rather bountiful. There are many things to think about when you write a PhD statement of purpose, and you will find many good resources on the internet to craft a basic statement of purpose. However, sometimes I feel as if most of the people who have written these resources have not had to struggle with writing their statement of purpose. Personally, I really struggled at writing my statement of purpose. I am certainly not very bright, and I am not a good writer. However, I was able to able to write a statement of purpose that resonates with what I am about, and was able to get into graduate school at a pretty good university. Looking back at my statement of purpose when I applied and got into my doctoral program, I am not proud of it. While it was good enough, I I think it could have been much better. What I failed to do is think about how the statement of purpose signaled about who I was and what I was about. But, coming to this realization was a journey. Before you go further you probably are wondering about me. I am David Maslach, an Assistant Professor in Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Strategy, and I was able to get my PhD a few years ago. I did not come from an academic family and grew up in a small Northern Ontario (Canada) town, and had to learn all about this kind of stuff through vicarious learning. I also learnt a lot through making many mistakes myself. This is part of my project, where I am giving back to help other people that are interested in graduate school and research. I created a sharing economy proofreading platform (which I think is way cool but the community of users is far to small at this moment), so that you can get feedback on your writing, and creating a rather large library of YouTube videos. I hope with this resource, I will be able to speed up this journey for yourself. Here are some tips that you can do use to improve your chances with your statement of purpose to get into graduate school. Here is a summary of what you need in a Statement Of Purpose in case you don’t have time:
  1. Communicate that your read the potential graduate advisor’s research.
  2. Focus on ways that you can make faculty more productive.
  3. Focus on or build relationships.
Before you get too far into the doctorate journey, you should really watch a bunch of my YouTube videos (just Google r3ciprocity) and read these resources on either the pros and cons of an executive doctorate or the advantages / disadvantages of a PhD. I also wrote a great resource on the tips for applying for PhD programs. If you want to get a more in-depth take on how to write a Statement Of Purpose, I would highly recommend that you watch this YouTube video which goes into way more detail and tips.

Communicate That You Actually Read Your Potential Advisor’s Research.

When you craft your statement of purpose, I would be well aware of the research that is going on at the place you are applying to. You do not have to read all of the faculty’s research, but you should read some of their research. Perhaps, you just read their last few articles to see what they are about. You also don’t have to read everyone’s articles, just the researchers that seem to appeal to you. In the statement of purpose, you should cite or discuss these researcher articles. What is it that you found interesting with these research articles? Why does that research resonate with you. An astute doctoral student might even point out how they can build on these papers. Read some of the limitations in the research article, and see if you could design a potential study to alleviate this limitation that might extend their work. Why do you want to focus on the research of others in your statement of purpose? Three reasons:
  1. This is how science is done. Almost all science is telling a story about what others have done before you.
  2. You will quickly find out if their research is interesting, and if you like what they are doing.
  3. Talking about others is far more endearing than talking about yourself. Flattery does work.

Focus On The Skills and Capabilities That You Possess That Can Help Improve Their Research Productivity.

Your goal is to position yourself as an asset for the faculty members, and as someone that can work independently on their own. I would first focus on your skills and capabilities that you possess that will help improve the faculty’s research productivity. For example, if you are good at databases, then point out how you can assemble databases for them. If you are good at writing (i.e., an English major), that show how you excel at writing and crafting research literature reviews. You should take an inventory of your skills and craft them on the Statement of Purpose to show how you can help the researcher you are interested in working with as a potential PhD student. Another key thing that you need to highlight is that you will be able to work independently on your own in the future. Do you have original ideas? Are your original ideas sound science? If you can show that you will be the next research superstar, and that you have some moxy to do this, then you will appear attractive to the potential grad program. Research moxy is hard to describe, but you will know when someone has it, or can write about what they are capable of doing. If you need help with how to think about science, you should watch the following video: One more point – you should put emphasis on the things that you have done, and on the things you want to do. Anybody that relies on behavioral research is going to emphasize what you have been proven to do in the past. However, a statement of purpose really needs to communicate that you have an underlying mission, vision, and values.

Point Out Any Existing Relationships That You Have.

Applying to PhD positions, like jobs, is very relational. Everything during the PhD process is all about the relationships that you have formed or the ones you will form in the future. What do I mean by relational? Science is about the people you know, and the people that know you. Why is science so relational? People are just uncertain of others that they do not know, so they tend to prefer the ones they have an existing relationship with. They also like to work with people that they had positive experiences with in the past. How do you emphasize relationships on your Statement Of Purpose? On your Statement of Purpose, point out the people that you know at that institution. You need to point out these relationships within the first 3 lines on your Statement of Purpose. Why the first 3 lines? People that are looking at your Statement Of Purpose are resource-constrained, and will only pay a few minutes to each application. What if you do not have relationships with anyone at the school? If you do not have direct relationships at the school, then specify indirect relationships. Write that Professor So-And-So told you to apply to that institution (it should be true, but people will fact check this statement). Try to ask Professor So-And-So if they know anyone at your dream university, and if they do, simply ask if you can use their name on your Statement. What If you do not have any indirect relationships? This is where you have to do a Judo Chop. You need to establish an ongoing relationship with somebody at the university you want to attend. What?! Yes, you do. Virtually every person that I know who got into a top research university had some internal relationships with people at that university. And, the people that did not have a relationship had to be absolutely exceptional compared to those that had an established relationship, and surely that is not most of us. How do you do this Judo Chop? You have to work on these relationships for a year or two (If you are serious about the career, you should not be concerned with this length of time. I wrote a blog post detailing why and how long it takes to get a PhD, and it will surprise you). One way is to do another Undergrad or Masters at that PhD. This means that it will be easier for you to get into a PhD at the university where you did your Undergrad or Masters programs. But, this is not my favorite approach because it is costly. There are two sneaky ways that people end up doing their PhD at a stellar school.
  1. Get an administration or lab job at the university you are looking to attend. Many people who end up getting their PhD at prestigious universities actually worked at those universities in some minor role beforehand. It will also be much easier if you worked at the university in an administrative role prior to becoming a PhD student. Generally, it is far easier to also land an administrative role at those universities than a research-track roll. You can work in admissions, for the universities’ boosters, or become an administrative assistant just to get your foot in the door. You simply need to just be around the university, and then you will see opportunities open up when they become available.
  2. Try to find ways to freelance for the potential researcher in minor roles. I would love it if some potential PhD candidate offered to build a personal website for me for free. Or, maybe you offer to write blog posts for them about their research papers (a la Harvard Business Review style). Focus on activities that make others look better or make their life easier. Focus on being as helpful as you possibly can and try to remove your ego from the equation. Things like this are relatively minor, but they go along way to establish a relationship with a potential PhD supervisor, or an ally in the application process. Now, it does not guarantee that you will get admitted to a graduate program, but you can eventually use it as a possible connection that you have on your Statement of Purpose. Moreover, it also gives you information about what this person is like on a daily basis. What a better way to see if you want to work with someone than to work with someone on a low-stakes job.


Many people write Statement Of Purposes that rarely communicate much to anyone that is reading it. You need to show that you really care about your PhD, and you care about the people that you will work with during your PhD. This means that you actually have to read their work, or at least some of their work. You have to demonstrate that you have skills and capabilities to make the faculty look good. Your end goal is to make others look better, or to improve their performance as a researcher. Finally, you need to build relationships with people. Its tough, and takes a lot of work, but these relationships, and communicating these relationships on your Statement matter a lot.

Pro-Tip On Research Statements.

I wanted to give you one last pro-tip on your Statement Of Purpose. Don’t be afraid to be sincere. You can point out some of your weaknesses, and how you might actually either improve these weaknesses. Nobody is perfect, and being an academic is all about identifying your shortcomings and working on these shortcomings. For example, if you do not know about regression, will point that out, but then talk about what courses or actions you would take to get good at this technique. The goal is to show that you are both real, and that you know what it takes to improve your current skills that you possess.

Pros and Cons Of Executive PhD In Business & Executive DBA Programs

The Pros and Cons Of Executive PhD In Business & Executive DBA Programs

Most people that get doctorates in business end up pursuing a PhD in Business Administration. However, executive doctoral programs make a tremendous amount of sense to me. Strictly from a consumer choice and industry dynamics perspective, having additional variance in organizational forms has its pluses. It creates but heterogeneity of options for potential doctoral students and also, allows different programs to compete and learn from each other. Besides, not everyone wants to pursue an academic route with their doctorate. Most do, but not everyone. And, having executive doctorates allow people to specialize in the things they want to do.   From my perspective, I am also a big advocate of bringing some of the ideas that we research and learn in academia to the ‘real’ world. From a knowledge and technology transfer perspective, I can’t imagine a better way to have a direct impact on the business world. I have heard from some of the best academics in our field discuss that their students often say their best courses are the most theoretical courses. I have even heard a few mention that entire organizations where set up around the ideas they learnt in these theoretical courses. Why, then, would we restrict these student experiences to just 1-2 year MBA courses? Why not exploit the in-depth and rich opportunity of an applied doctoral program where executives get an extended 2-4 year walk into the world of academic ideas? Because I know you are busy, some pros and cons of an Executive PhD program in Business are:
  1. A reduced emphasis on publishing compared to PhDs programs training you for tenure-track professor positions.
  2. They allow you to better understand organizations and markets.
  3. They help you better understand research.
  4. You can interact with your professors.
  5. You can leverage the knowledge in your organizations.
  6. They are expensive.
  7. They probably won’t help has much as a PhD to become a tenure-track business professor.
  8. Executive PhDs are a lot of work.

Executive Doctorate Business Programs

I am going to discuss the advantageous and disadvantages of Executive Doctorate of Business programs. I hope this will help provide an unbiased guide for you when you make your decision. My only goal with this post is that you are informed and you make a wiser choice if you are thinking of pursuing a more practical-oriented Doctorate Degree in Business. Who Am I? I am David Maslach, and I received my PhD in Business Administration from the Ivey Business School several years ago. I am now working as an Assistant Professor of Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. Actually, I would consider myself a Professor of Strategy, but my research tends to cross a lot of boundaries, and I really don’t know how to frame my research in an easier manner. I am interested in how firms and their managers learn from failure. (You can learn how to get a PhD in Strategy and Innovation here.) Anyway, I began this platform as a way to give back to the people that have helped me get my doctorate and succeed in this career. I thought the best way to give back is to help others that are interested in this career, but are just a few years behind me and would like some advice about graduate education.

What Are Some Names Of Executive PhD In Business Programs?

I have seen Executive in Business programs called many things, and so you should look out for these types of doctorate programs.
  1. Executive PhD
  2. Executive PhD In Management or Executive PhD in Business
  3. Executive Doctorate
  4. Executive DBA or Executive Doctorate in Business Administration.
  5. PhD Executive Program
  6. Part-time DBA Program
  7. Some-times Schools of Education or Public Policy will have Executive Doctorate In Higher Education Programs.
  8. There may be more, but that’s all that I am aware of right now. 🙂

An Executive Doctorate In Business Is Not For Everyone

Obviously, I am overselling executive doctoral programs. We don’t have any at my institution, but there are many around the world that are pretty respectable (Here are some Executive DBA programs here and here (This is the AACSB list, however, I find the list not easily searchable). I also think that you should be very wise with your choice of institution – you can end up overpaying for degree that will not get you far if you are not careful. But, this problem happens in all academic degrees. There are good ones and bad ones, and it is up for you to choose. Doing an Executive Doctoral Program in Business is not for everyone, but I would say the same thing are higher education. Like higher education, many executive doctoral programs are generally quite expensive, and you should also pursue such a degree if you have the finances to do so. You should also know that if you want to become a traditional business school professor, you ought to think about a PhD in Business. It is just a more traditional route to become a tenure-track professor. Most of my business school professor friends and colleagues have PhDs or specifically Harvard’s DBA (Havard’s DBA is rather unique as it is more akin to a research degree than an Executive Doctorate). I also think the Executive Doctoral degree in Business is rather specialized. This specialization is a good thing if you already did an MBA or EMBA and looking to do a bit more. However, specialization does lock you out of other options. For example, if you wanted to switch careers and get a law degree, it would be rather challenging to pursue a doctorate and a law degree at the same time. Although, I am sure there are a few people that have done so. Want to learn some differences between DBA programs and PhD programs, you should really read this post as it details some of the fundamental and more subtle differences that few people tell you about. 

A Plus Of The Executive Doctorate Is A Reduced Emphasize On Publishing

One of the disadvantages of doing a PhD is that you are focused on doing research. Well, depending on who you are, it is can be quite exciting to do research. The disadvantage comes from having to publish in top tier journal outlets, and these just take a long time and a quite a bit of effort to get published in these outlets. The advantage of an Executive DBA-type degree is that you will be expected to do research, and understand research, but the requirement to get published in an ‘A’ journal will be reduced. Why is there less of an emphasis in publishing in top Business School journals? You will have a different career direction and a different outcome. Your executive doctoral degree will eventually lead you to become an executive leader in your organization, or to be an executive management consultant. Part of the reason why there is an emphasis to publish in top journals in PhD programs is because you are required to get a tenure-track professor job. Whereas, an MBA generally tends to be more practice orientated. A PhD in Business is very research-oriented. Executive PhD programs and Executive DBA programs fit in the middle – they are research-oriented but the focus is not publishing in the very best research journals. That is not to said that their are people that do really good research during their Executive DBA and people that focus on less research-oriented PhDs, but generally, these are the major differences between these two degrees. One key distinction that Executive Programs have that many Students in PhD Programs would beg to have are the real-world data and real-world cases. If you could partner up with people that are interested in publishing in top business journals (for instance, Administrative Science Quarterly), you might develop a winning team in which you have hard to find real-world data (and someone who knows how valuable good research is to their business) with someone that will carry the paper through the review process of one of these journals.

What Are Pros And Cons of Executive PhD and Doctorate In Business Administration Programs?

1. Executive PhD Programs Allow You To Get A New Understanding Of The World.

Hands down, having a new take on the world is the single greatest benefit of getting any doctorate. If you do not learn about new ideas and have many ‘mind-flips’ in which you completely view the world differently, you are in the wrong doctorate program. Not only should you learn about new theories that you never thought about, but you should have a much more rigorous perspective then you would get in a MBA program. In my view, these executive doctorate programs will add value to management of organizations, particularly, if you are interested in executive management positions.  This is especially true, given the general business environments focus on Business Analytics. Most of the ideas that you hear about in business analytics is just what you would learn in several research methods classes in a doctoral program. I wrote a really interesting post about whether you should get a PhD to become a business executive that you ought to read.

2. Executive DBA Programs Are Still Quite Research Intensive.

One of the coolest things with Executive DBA programs is that they focus on doing research. You’ll get a understanding of what it means to do research and why it is important for organizations. I am absolutely a big fan of the knowledge translation aspect of executive DBA programs. There is a grumble in many Business School Faculty discussions that they stuff we learn about in research is not the same stuff that we can teach about in the classroom. (Obviously, some MBA programs like U. of Chicago’s and Stanford’s GSB emphasize in-depth research, but this can vary from Professor-to-Professor). Yet, many many schools emphasize case-studies, which don’t get me wrong, are a very valuable way to teach about managing, but they may gloss over the science of management. However, with an Executive Doctorate, you will be learning the same theories and and research papers that we have to learn about as Business School Professors. And, we have learnt a lot about the science of management, organizations, and markets. We don’t know everything, but there is a tremendous amount of science that has been done over the past almost 100 years.

3. Executive PhD Programs Generally Have A Much Smaller Class Sizes.

Class sizes are generally much smaller in doctoral programs across the world. There are many reasons why class sizes in doctorate programs are small, but a positive aspect of these small class sizes is that it allows you to interact on a more 1-to-1 basis with your professors. Is that positive? I suppose it depends on who you ask. 🙂 However, I always found in my PhD program, that getting to know world-class faculty on a personal first-name basis, was a highlight. I still have quite fond memories of sitting around a conference table and discussing the weeks latest readings with very smart fellow PhD students and faculty. It really was a blessing to be able to do that. I spend a quite a bit of time explaining some important details and tips for meeting with your PhD supervisor in this post. I am sure you will benefit from reading the post. You should also read this explanation of PhD class sizes and what to expect with normal PhD classes, particularly in a Business School. I am sure it will help you think about what classes are like in graduate programs.

4. Executive Doctoral Programs Will Allow You To Apply Knowledge In Your Own Organization.

I am going to keep coming back to the idea that you can both learn new ideas and theories by reading the latest research articles, but also you can apply these ideas in your own organization. This is something that most PhDs that are going the tenure-track route cannot do. They simply will not have the access to a real organization that you will have as a manager. I am personally always been interested in the real-world knowledge that can be generated by applying theories to real contexts. This theoretical knowledge that can be applied is an advantage that neither MBAs or PhDs will possess.

The Cons of Executive Doctorate Programs.

Everything in life has pros and cons, and Executive Doctorate Programs have some downfalls. There are many things that I like about the concept of Executive Doctorate Programs, but I also tend to not like some aspects of them.

1. Executive PhD programs Tend To Be Expensive.

I truly see the value of the executive PhD, however, these programs tend to be very expensive. I am going to be upfront – Executive ‘anything’ (insert name here) Programs are going to be expensive. By the way, if you can find an inexpensive Business-class flight, please let me know. 🙂 Some of this expense is warranted as it makes sure that only people that are serious will attend the program. The expensiveness of the PhD program also makes sure that if you do attend one of these programs, that you will study and apply your knowledge. I also think the market for these higher-end degrees has opened up the possibility of degrees that don’t hold the same credibility in the marketplace as others. Don’t get me wrong, you get this variance in programs, program quality, and student quality in all types of degrees, from undergraduate to PhD degrees. It just means that you have be smart about your school choice. If I were you, I would pick institutions that have a good reputation, and that they have demonstrated return on investments. You should look at where the doctorate students came from, who they currently are, and where they were placed. If any of these gives you any doubt, you should likely find another program that will better fit your needs. One more note, if you are concerned about the expensive of the Executive Doctorate program, you might want to look at PhD programs. Most, if not all, reputable PhD programs provide stipends to do research at the institution. My own PhD degree was paid for (for 5 years) through grants and scholarships, however, don’t expect to get rich. You will have enough money of the PhD stipend to live the life of luxury, such as eating peanut butter sandwiches and spaghetti almost all the time. 🙂 (Just kidding, during grad school my wife and I had the occasional nice meal about once a month or so).

2. An Executive PhD Will Likely Not Help With Becoming a Tenure-Track Business School Professor.

If you are thinking of pursuing an Executive Doctorate program to become a tenure-track Business School Professor, I would advice you against this route. Virtually all of my friends and colleagues who are Business School Professors did not go this route, and I am unaware of anyone who received tenure with such a degree (excluding the folks at Harvard). Of course, I don’t know everyone, and this may vary a lot between schools and countries. Yet, most people who become Business School Professors received a PhD in Business Administration or a comparable degree (ie. PhD in Organizational Sociology, PhD in Financial Economics, etc.). I am not saying that it can’t be done, but it will be very difficult to get a tenure-track position in a university with such a PhD degree. You will have to be all the more promising in other areas. For example, if you were the former-CEO of a major corporation, I would imagine that many Business Schools would welcome you to teach, but again, it will likely not be a tenure-track position. If you want to become a Tenure-Track Business School Professor, I would highly recommend that you read this guide to become a Business School Professor. You can also read this post about how long a PhD will take so you can become a Business School Professor.

3. Executive DBA Programs Are A Lot Of Work.

If you think a doctorate program is about eating pizza, drinking beer, and having deep discussions, you are going to be quite mistaken. You should roughly expect to work the same amount that you would in an executive or professional career, like a member of a top management team, a management consultant, or a corporate lawyer. The hours they work are going to be very comparable to the hours you will have to put into a PhD program. The key advantage is you get to work whenever you want to work, just as long as you are putting in 50-80 hour weeks (it varies depending on the demands of the week). Any doctorate program will be a lot of work, and you have to weigh the sacrifice of getting that degree against your current life. You have to make sure that your partner or spouse is on board with this career. I have seen many personal relationships suffer when people make the investment in a doctorate program. Just make sure everyone is on board, and that you are all are aware of the sacrifice you are going to make. Whether this sacrifice is worth it is really up to you, and what you desire in life.

Additional Resources To Help You Think About Executives Doctorates In Business

You might want to watch these additional YouTube videos if you are thinking of doing Executive Doctorates In Business. The advice given in these videos are worth exactly what you paid for them, however, I do think they would resonate with many people that have had experience in the field. Here are some things you probably should know.

Should You Pursue A Weekend PhD in Business Program?

Most people would probably discourage you from thinking about a PhD program from a part-time basis. It is one of those things that you just have to jump into the program. However, I might would willing to say that the Executive Doctorate is the one exception for the right candidate. The problem is understanding if you are the right student that could handle doing a PhD part-time (most would probably not do well – I am not kidding). I would highly suggest that you think and have many discussions if this makes sense for you, and if you think you are the one exception.

Should You Become A Management Consultant By Obtaining An Executive DBA?

An executive DBA or executive PhD is aimed for people to go into industry, and possibly consult. The degree is set up for people to pursue to get a more in-depth understanding without having the requirement to go into academia. Thus, I would think that it would make sense for you to pursue an executive program to get into management consulting, or to accelerate your Management Consulting career. If you want to become a business professor, I would highly recommend that you do a PhD from a very good university, instead. A PhD is just more common. Feel free to watch the following video to find out more:

Do You Need Management Experience To Do An Executive PhD In Business Administration?

In the following video, I mention that you do not need a lot of management experience to pursue a PhD because it requires a different skill-set than an MBA. You can also find this excellent blog post about the requirement of management experience and doing a PhD in Business.  However, if you are thinking of pursuing an executive PhD, I would imagine that most programs will strongly emphasize your work and management experience. Why do programs emphasize management experience for an Executive PhD?  The big reason is that they are looking for excellent candidates to go and become the next industry superstar, which is not the same as becoming an academic superstar. They want their students to do well in industry, and thus management experience is a good predictor of how well they will do in the future once the degree is completed.

What Are Questions To Ask During Your Executive PhD In Business Interview?

The following video is focused on doing well in a PhD interview, but many of the same issues and comments will apply to the executive doctorate as well. The program is still going to be focused on research, so the people that will be evaluating you will still be keenly aware of your interest in doing research in the future. I would also think about possible ways to add how you can make your doctoral education applicable to your business organization, and to point out what data and resources you can bring to the Professors that are interviewing you. Professors are also excited about new data-sources. If you want more tips to get into doctorate programs in Business, you ought to read this great overview of tips to apply to Doctorate programs.

Should You Start A Doctorate / PhD In Business To Change Careers?

Should you think about doing an executive doctorate to change careers? I am going to reiterate what I say in this video, you should think about where you are going rather than what you are running from. If you are thinking of getting a Doctorate in Business as a 10 year plan to do something that you want to do, then yes, I would recommend doing the doctorate degree. However, if you are simply just tired of what you are currently doing right now, I would hope that you pass over this option because a PhD is far too difficult to take lightly. Anyway, hope you liked this post! I tried to make this post on executive doctorate programs as comprehensive as possible. And, as usual, this is part of my r3ciprocity project, which you can learn more about the software that I am trying to build to make the world better for graduate students. Take care!

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

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.

Tips For Meeting With A PhD Advisor / Graduate Supervisor That Actually Work

Tips For Meeting With A PhD Advisor / Graduate Supervisor That Actually Work

Having meetings with your graduate advisor is often scary. Thankfully, for me, I had some wonderful advisors that tried to make me feel at ease in their office. Don’t get me wrong, my own advisors were tough – but that is a good thing because it means they cared about me what and what happened to my success. That did not prevent me from feeling nervous every time that I would meet with them. I now realize that feeling nervous when you are about to meet your supervisors is also a positive thing, but this meant I was taking their advice seriously. I also think it is important to work on your graduate student – advisor relationship, and to try to make the relationship as positive as possible. Why? The more you invest in the relationship, the greater returns you will get from the relationship. It is like any long-term relationship, you get what you put into it. From a practical sense, you are going to need your advisor to ‘back’ you in the future through letters of recommendation, or other roles. Even more practical, having a good working relationship with your advisor is just a lot more fun. Given that some graduate student – advisor relationships are not so fun (or even problematic), I thought it is important to share this information to you. What I have learnt by completing my own PhD about meeting with graduate supervisors? I have a few tips that I think helped me, and will hopefully help you deal with your own advisor relationships. These are a few tips that I learnt over the years, and the tips are useful for people that are meeting with their graduate supervisors, whether if you are doing a PhD or a Masters degree. Perhaps, these will be important for your first meeting with graduate advisor, but I think these points are most important if you take this as a long-term relationship. If you are just thinking about going to graduate school, I have a recent post based on my experiences on whether a PhD or dual Masters gets you a job. To summarize, tips to have amazing graduate student – advisor meetings are:
  1. Always go your adviser’s office with some work done.
  2. Do not disappear.
  3. When stuck, go talk to your supervisor.
  4. Try to smile during meetings.
  5. You can talk about life problems.
  6. Always respect an adviser’s time.
  7. Remember that graduate relationships are long-term.
  8. Be explicit.
  9. Focus on graduate student development.
  10. Supervisors should manage their level of guidance.
  11. Advisers should set standards.
  12. In general, be decent human beings.
Would you rather watch the YouTube video about some of these tips for graduate meetings? Check out:

What Is The Difference Between PhD / Graduate Advisor / Graduate Adviser / Graduate Supervisor?

I am going to use the terminology advisor and supervisor interchangeably as I am not quite sure when one is more appropriate than the other.  Some posts on Quora make the distinction based on role, but in my experience, this is minutia that I have never heard anyone get their “knickers in a knot” about it. Of course, there is always a first. Apparently, you can also use adviser or advisor as well. Oh boy! How bananas is that? However, I believe it has to do with doing your graduate school in British systems than I heard more people use the term supervisor, and doing your graduate work in American systems and than you would hear people use the term “advisor” more. Doing my PhD in Canada, you get a smattering of both terminology, and so I am always a bit confused with some terms (ie. color vs. colour, cheque vs. check, neighbor vs neighbour). Like many things in academia, I think it is entirely cultural and changes from institution to institution.

What Happens In Graduate Student – Adviser Meetings?

The biggest thing that happens during these graduate student meetings is to sort out ideas on how to write a research paper. There is also a lot of debate about how to plan out the idea, and whether the idea is important. A portion of the meeting will also be spent talking about the graduate student’s career and their goals. A smaller portion will be focused on how to plan for the future, and increase their attractiveness in the marketplace. You should check out this cool guide on writing research papers for graduate students that I put together. The guide took me several weeks to do.

What Are Tips To Meet With Graduate Advisors?

Always go to their office with a least some work completed.

Some weeks you have good weeks where you write so much your hands are reading to fall off and some weeks you have bad weeks where you hardly complete anything. Your job is to have at least 1 sentence completed from the last PhD meeting. If you have only a few sentences written from the past meetings, you should clearly point out why you have only a few sentences written. One thing that I did learn is that if you are having a bad week, you should instantly go talk to your supervisor. A good supervisor will help you navigate why you are having a bad week. They are there to help you either deal with graduate life or to work through a tough problem. It truly helps to talk to them. Generally, when I get stuck, and I talked to my advisors, I was much more productive than when I did not talk to them. The other advantage with doing a bit of work every time you meet with your advisors is that it will make sure that you will complete your degree. A little work is better than no work.

Do not disappear.

Check in with your PhD advisors on a regular (every week or every other week) basis. Your advisors want to make sure that you are not getting into a funk, and that you are making progress on your PhD. PhD students have a tendency to disappear, and this is a sign of issues that need to be discussed. I think most often ‘disappearing’ is a symptoms of either PhD supervisor problems or that you are having ongoing issues with your PhD. Both need to be vetted as soon as possible. Now, PhD advisors vary in how much they care about your success, but most are going to care a lot and make sure that you are not getting side-tracked by other things in your life. Every person who has done a PhD knows that it can easily get sidetracked on other life projects. You have to dedicate your time to the degree to get it done, and checking in with your supervisors will make sure that things get done. Actually, I think it is easy for academics to disappear, and I think it is partially because of the distance between action and outcomes. I wrote a blog post about the software, and why I am trying to create an academic writing group to help PhD students with this problem.

When you are stuck on a problem, go talk to your PhD advisors.

This is so me! 🙂 I was not the disappearing kinda person, but I was the stuck-in-rut kinda person. I would toil at one problem too long, and forget that I can ask people for help. Some of the things I would focus on are programming problems, getting stuck on operational definitions, or writing too much without getting feedback (You really should log on to my software to see how I am trying to hopefully solve this feedback problem for the lot of us). I am getting better at asking for feedback, checking in to get help, and knowing when I am getting stuck, but you really need to check in with a senior researcher who can identify dead-ends. This is your supervisor’s job! Make sure that you leverage the experience they possess by having a conversation about your problem with them. Better yet, you will actually have a lot more fun when you are open and honest with your advisor. My supervisors would always give me a list to tackle over the next week (ie. do step 1, 2, 3). I loved these lists! They made my life so easy and manageable. If your advisor does not currently provide lists of what to tackle, you should ask for them until you get used to the ebb-and-flow of research.

You can talk to PhD advisors about occasional life problems.

Completing your PhD is a lot about life, and you have to deal with life issues openly. Here, you have to be careful not to disclose too many life problems or you will sound like a slobbery mess (aren’t we all as humans). However, talking about issues that you are dealing with at home is actually a very healthy thing to help our your PhD. Believe it or not, but your supervisors likely already had similar life experiences. Many of the experiences that you have are not new to academics. They are new to you, yes. The fact that these problems might not apply to a lot of other careers is precisely why should have a conversation with your advisors. Who else are you going to talk to? I actually found that my mentors and advisors have all been very wonderful with helping sort things out with my life. (By the way, thank you if you are one of them and you are reading this post).

Think in terms of status-position and time with your graduate supervisors.

This took me a long-time to understand, but you ought to think about status-positions of people in academia. My supervisors were never really concerned about status-positions, but some people are. However, the key is not whether someone does occur about status, but it is important to give someone who is of higher status, more respect. What do I mean by status? Here, I am talking about status-position in terms of deferment of people onto someone else depending on their social standing. You can usually observe status quite easily. For example, in a doctor’s office, a patient that waits longer for a specialist because the specialist has significant status relative to the patient. However, in academia, it is difficult to observe status. The only way you observe status is by small cues that you observe over time. Because of this difficulty in observing status-position, I would highly recommend giving all people respect in academia, and giving extra status to people depending on their academic rank. How do you give people extra respect? Generally, I always try to arrange my schedule to meet other people’s schedule. I also try to do most of heavy lifting on papers. I will try to also take notes during meetings, and generally just be the person to piece things together. I try to address people more formally until I get to know them, and even then, I might ask how they want to be addressed. It is important to give this respect as much as possible, not because other people care, but because people that are of higher status-position generally have a lot more commitments and are busier. They simply just will not have any flexibility in their schedule, whereas, PhD students generally have more flexibility. You simply will not be able to meet with anyone else you try to be flexible and show others extra respect.

Graduate / PhD advisors are people too.

This is based no my own experience as being a PhD advisor. Advisors have up days, and down days. For example, you might get a paper published, and all is well. More often than not, you will get a paper rejected, or you are up all night with young kids. If you are a graduate student, you meet your PhD advisor, and you realize that they are not at the top of their game that day, just cut them some slack. Personally, I feel bad for those off days, but I try to make up for these off days for as many positive, good days as I can. This obviously fluctuates, but just know that your PhD supervisors are trying to do their best to make your PhD experience a good experience.

Try to smile during your graduate meeting.

Many graduate meetings are tough. They ought to be because you are learning about something new, and there often corrections and changes with your work. This learning process is tough because you will realize that 2-3 weeks of work was going in the wrong direction. (Personally, I am getting more and more used to this process as I get more and more paper rejections). I don’t know of anyone that enjoys this process of getting your work critiqued. Thus, it is important to smile and have fun during these tough meetings. Why? Smiling and trying to have fun helps to emotionally deal with this negative feedback. I can’t stress the importance of making sure you have positive affect before, during, and at the end of each meeting. If a meeting was fun, than you feel like you want to get back to work right away. Graduate meetings that are less fun generally take a bit longer to recover from, and make it difficult to get back to work.

Graduate Student – Graduate Supervisor relationships are surprising long-term.

Most graduate advisor – student relationships are quite long-term, so keep that in mind when you start working on a project together. I continue to talk and work with my advisors well after both my Masters and PhD were complete. My advise is for you to take establishing a relationship with a potential advisor seriously. You will continue to work with this person a lot longer than you ever thought you would. I would suggest that you take your time with establishing this relationship, and for you to ask others for advice on both what your role will be in the relationship and what expectations will be in that relationship. You should also seek out advice on the relationship from a trusted advisor, perhaps a more senior PhD / graduate student who could help you but does not have a vested interest. Everything in academia takes a long time. You should check out this post where I go into detail about why and how long it actually takes to get your doctorate in business.

Be explicit. The creation of knowledge is filled with ambiguity.

I am always surprised on how ambiguous doing research is. Ask me any day if I know what the ‘right’ answer is to a problem, and I will never be able to tell you. Working with someone else, you will always run into moments of ambiguity, so you should be explicit as much as you can, short of writing up contracts. You should be asking for clarification in what the advisor expects you to do, and what your role is. It is important to do this fairly often because often no one knows for sure who’s knowledge is who’s when you are making ideas. If you are uncertain about what you should do, or if the advice you are getting is good, you should talk to your fellow PhD / graduate students about what their opinion is on the situation. If things get real ‘hairy,’ you should go chat senior professors to get their advice. I actually find most people are really helpful if you give them a chance. Much of this advice is from the perspective of the graduate student, so what about advice for the supervisor?

What do you need to do to be a good graduate student supervisor during these meetings?

From my perspective, being a good PhD supervisor is difficult. Your advising style also effects how your meetings go. You probably should get a license to be a graduate student supervisor. I wonder what the test would look like? 🙂 What does it take to be a good supervisor? It is a lot like being a good manager, and the characteristics that help you to be a good manager is likely going to help you be a good grad student supervisor. You should check out this video of me talking about these issues on YouTube:

Graduate meetings should focus on grad student development.

What you should try to do is nurture your graduate students, and try to focus on a growth mindset with the graduate student. For example, you should look for ways to help your graduate student grow as a scholar, such has learning the craft of thinking of a research question, or responding to reviewer comments. I know that this might seem counter-intuitive because from the advisor’s view, they are trying to maximize the productivity for their lab / group, and focusing on graduate student growth is rather wasteful. This is something that I teach in the classroom (from a business perspective), and a lot of people do not get the idea immediately. However, the way that you get your students to perform is by helping them, and removing any barriers. This will eventually grow your academic productivity because the better your grad students perform, the more papers you will eventually produce. From a probabilistic point of view, I say ‘eventually’ because it will take longer, and not every graduate student will become a high-performing scholar. In my googling for this following video, I found some interesting results that surprised me about graduate advisor relationships:

Advisors should think about adequate managed guidance.

Early on in a graduate education, you are likely to provide more supervision and guidance. You might have detailed rubrics and guides to help graduate students. However, as the graduate student grows as a scholar, you should think about ways for the graduate student to make their own mistakes, even when you do not want them too. I have learnt that a large part of being a PhD supervisor is letting go, and letting people make their own mistakes. This is tough, but like being a parent, you have to make measured judgments on how much you should teach and how much you should let the person learn. As a student, you learn more readily when it is your own mistake – trust me, I made many mistakes. The job of the graduate advisor during meetings than is not to always do everything for the PhD student. Rather, it is to decide how much guidance you should give. Luckily, my advisors were great, and they made this active choice routinely. They forced me to learn a lot on my own, but then were always there to help when I was stuck.

Supervisors should set a high but obtainable standard.

Again, deciding the standard you want from the graduate student is a judgment call, and an active decision. You should have a negotiation or a conversation with your student to decide what and where they want to go to. If they want to go to a top university, then the bar has to be set high. During each meeting, doctorate supervisors should remind their students of the standards they set. I found this extremely useful with my own education because it reminded me of why I was doing so much work. It set the tone and quality of the conversation.

Be supportive and a decent human being.

For both the perspective of the graduate student and the advisor, you need to be supportive. Each meeting is not going to go perfectly, and their will be mistakes made. However, graduate meetings are a negotiated process to push attendees to think in different ways. Thinking in different ways is challenging, and emotional, but the focus should be on tearing down and rebuilding ‘the idea’ until everyone is satisfied with the outcome. You are only leveraging each others’ abilities, so that each other will prosper from the work. Are you thinking about becoming a business school professor? You should really read this post where I go into detail about what it takes to become a b-school prof.

Is It Easier To Find A Job With Two Masters / MBA Than With A PhD?

Is it easier to get a job as a PhD / doctorate, or to get a Masters degree and an MBA? The short answer is ‘yes,’ it is easy to get a job with a Masters / MBA combination than with a PhD. How can that be? You have to think about the supply and demand of a PhD degree versus the supply and demand of two Masters degree. Before I answer any further, I want to give a few caveats to the answer.
  1. This is based on doing a technical PhD or a PhD in the social sciences, like doing a doctorate in business administration. How do I know? I have a Chemical Engineering undergraduate, a Masters in Management Science, and a PhD in Business Administration.
  2. This is based on personal experience, and based on observations with many other people around me that either did a similar degree (ie. my engineering friends that did an MBA) or my colleagues in academia.
  3. This is part of my r3ciprocity project, where I am trying to help others who are graduate students or are thinking about grad school. I created a sharing economy proofreading platform, but also want to help others with YouTube videos and these posts. There were many people that helped me get my PhD and become a business school professor, so I just want to help you in all the ways that I can. Whether it actually helps is another question. 🙂
  4. For reference, I am going to specify that the second Masters is an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) because it has relevance in the marketplace. Any degree in that is not in demand (i.e. underwater basket-weaving), no matter if it is a Masters degree or a doctorate is not going to benefit you from a utilitarian view because others do not see the value in the degree. It is not that you are not going to gain a tremendous amount education value from the degree. The problem is whether you are going to get a job with that degree.
Why is it easier to get a job with technical Masters (i.e. engineering degree, science degree, computer science degree) and an MBA, than with a PhD? The PhD has a lot more value from an educational sense, but few people understand what a PhD is or what somebody with a PhD does. If I were you, and you were just thinking about the utility of your degree to get a job, than by all means, you should pursue the Masters and MBA option. Want to watch the YouTube video instead?:

A PhD Is A Specialist Degree And An MBA Is A Generalist Degree

A PhD degree is a relatively specialized degree, and there are only limited number of spots where you can find a job that fits this skill set. The issue is not that you cannot perform those skills, but the issue is how others who are offering the job perceive how you fit within that position. Case in point: If you do a PhD in Business Administration, you will learn a great deal more than an MBA and you will be able to teach MBAs. However, if you seek an MBA position, you will be generally overlooked because few will understand this fact. Specialist degrees like PhDs have limited number of positions for PhDs around the world. For example, you will likely do research or teach at universities or research institutions, and there are only a few of these available around the world. Yes, there are many universities, but if you compare the number of universities to companies, you will quickly see that there are many more businesses than universities in the world. There are just fewer opportunities available for PhDs.

PhDs Are Just As Willing To Work As People With Masters Degrees

Many people believe that it is the PhD candidate that is unwilling to take lower positions, but I really do not think this is the case. While you do gain a lot of specialized knowledge from the PhD that far exceeds what you would gain in a masters degree, things like understanding research design and how to write a technical document, most people who have not had experience with a PhD do not understand what a PhD is. Why is that people do not understand what PhDs do? I believe it is because there are so few of them that non-PhD audiences are just unfamiliar to what you do during the PhD program. Because people do not understand what a PhD is,it reduces the number of industry opportunities for people with a PhD. It is less that the candidate does not want to work, but rather the audience cannot categorize or position what the candidate is about. The audience who is doing the hiring is screening out PhD candidates before the get the opportunities to show off their skills and abilities. For example, when I was looking for a position before I became a university professor (I was in between completing my PhD and finding an academic position), I had a family member that is a recruiter tell me that I would have better success with my resume if I removed the PhD from my resume. This person pointed out that people who are hiring are either intimidated by the PhD, or that they simply do not understand what it was about. That is crazy. But, there are many things in life like that – there is a whole academic literature on classification and the importance of classification (See Elizabeth Pontikes, Giacomo Negro, Michael Hannan, and Ezra Zuckerman‘s work). It is a matter of people fitting you into a ‘bin,’ and if you do not fit that ‘bin’ than they will quickly find another candidate to fit that classification. We, has human beings, typically find it difficult to make sense of things we are unfamiliar with. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, it is just that we are human. Want to read a cool paper that quantitatively shows this specialist discount? Check out this paper in our premier journal.

There Are Fewer Environments That Fully Utilize The Skill-set Of A PhD

I also think you that there are just fewer environments that match the job characteristics of someone with a PhD. Obtaining a MBA allows you to be quite well-rounded and apply your skills to many settings. For example, you get a smattering of courses in many different disciplines in a Business School. You will learn about finance, strategy, accounting, marketing, and operations. This means that you can apply your general knowledge to more areas within a business. Most of all the other knowledge can be acquired on the job. PhDs on the other hand will be an expert at one discipline, such as finance. They will know all of the ins and outs of asset pricing, for example. This means that if they take a generalist job, such as working as a manager within a manufacturing plant, that much of the knowledge they acquired about finance does not apply. This is, of course, is fine and happens across all degrees, but it might be more so with a PhD than another PhD. This is why it is very common for PhDs to move great distances to obtain jobs, or even take considerable pay-cuts to use their comparable skill-sets in the workplace. It also is common for MBAs at business schools to make more than their professors (This is called salary inversion). The reason is that people with PhDs might trade off being able to better apply their skill-set for a more relevant job.

Why Do People Choose To Do A PhD?

If it is easier to get a job with two Masters degrees than a PhD, why do people actually get a PhD? The obvious response is that many people get a PhD without realizing this fact. I think this is only part of the story. There is far much more to it. Actually, if you talk to people about why they choose to get a PhD, you will get a heterogeneous collection of answers. There are as many unique answers to pursue as a PhD as there are people that are pursuing them.
  1. A big reason is that people pursue studying something that they love. They are willing to take a pay cut for this luxury.
  2. Many people pursue a PhD because they like the challenge of it. I think I am more in this camp. To me, I find it quite challenging, but this challenge is enjoyable because it never stops.
  3. Another reason why people choose a PhD over doing another Masters degree is because academics run in the family. Just like most careers, people follow what their parents did. Why? You simply have more information about these choices, and thus, you are more likely to choose the academic life path.
  4. I think for a group a people, they see the reward is long into the future. They see the many great opportunities if you keep pursuing your dream. There are many opportunities that you do get by being a PhD. Probably less because you are any different, but that other people view you differently. For example, it is far easier to have a conversation with a senior level manager at a company if you say that you are Dr. So-and-So.
  5. If you are coming from a different country, you can increase your mobility dramatically by having a good PhD. For example, I was able to move to the US from Canada because of my degree.
This is just a small number of the reasons why people choose to get a PhD. Every person I talk you about why they want to get a PhD tells a different story and motivation.

What Do You Do With A PhD Versus Getting Another Masters Degree?

Many people think that most people will go into industry if they get a PhD, but this is definitely not the emphasis in most PhD programs. The training is largely academic, but there is nothing wrong with that. As once was told to me, there is nothing as practical as a good academic theory. Just think of all the applications that are derived from E=MC^2. Even when you get a PhD in Business, Innovation, or Entrepreneurship, perhaps even more so, the emphasis is on research and academic education. I can personally only think of a few people that when into industry to start a business, create new technologies, or work at a large company like Google (See Joel Podolny for a relatively famous case). A large portion of the people trained as PhDs, especially in a business school, will become (business school) professors. If you get these positions, this is a good career, although there are difficulties, like competitive demands and keeping up with the workload (Professors do not get the summers off, contrary to popular belief). Academia is generally very competitive, so you are constantly trying to think of the next project / paper that you have to write to be competitive in the labor market. The people that go to industry after usually have a degree like a DBA (Doctorate of Business Administration). These programs are more focused at providing a doctoral education for those people that are interested in industry or consulting. They are generally very good options for many people that do not want to do academics / research. What do you learn in a PhD program? Generally, you are making sense of the world in a very generic sense, like how do people think, and why do we believe that people are somehow different than other people? For example, if you do a PhD in Innovation, you might study how people develop innovations and what are the most successful strategies for innovating in a company. Much of these ideas will draw upon psychology, sociology, and economics. If you are interested in doing a PhD, I have a pretty good resource on tips for applying to PhD programs. If you want to learn more about what you can do with a PhD in Innovation, you can watch the following video:

What Do You Do With An Masters Degree Versus PhD Degree?

One of the key things that you can do with an Masters degree is to broaden your knowledge and skill-set. If I were to choose this path, I would think about how you can broad your skill-set so it makes sense for you. The obvious combination is a technical Masters (ie. in Chemistry, Math) and a practical professional Masters (MBA or Masters of Nursing). For example, in addition to understanding the technical issues of the problem, you will know about the business side, like thinking about business growth (I have a blog post on business growth you might like). However, you can get combinations that make sense in other ways. For example, let’s say you wanted to get into software development in a hardware company, than it would make sense if you did a Masters in computer science, and another in electrical engineering. What you want to do is think about combinations that make sense, and make you more competitive in the marketplace. For example, doing a Masters in fine arts and another one in computer science makes if you want to go into computer animation. The biggest reason to do a Masters degree is to just get a very in-depth understanding of some subject manner that you would not be able to adequately study in an undergraduate degree program. The main advantage with two Masters degrees is simply due to you wanting to go into industry. It makes sense because people / recruiters can understand what you are about. It is a bit more difficult to make a convincing case if the Masters degrees are much different, but if they are complementary and create a story about you as a person, than it is OK to pursue. You can want a video on dual degrees if you are bored:

How Do You Choose Between A PhD And Multiple Masters?

I would recommend that you create spreadsheet or a list where you write your options down on paper, and seriously think about the pros and cons of either option for you. Think about all of the criteria that personally matter to you and write these down. Then, try to rule out the option that does not fit these criteria. You will likely not be able to pick the best option – this is difficult to do and requires a fair bit of communication with significant others in your life. However, at the very least, this exercise will force you to think more critically about your future career. In summary, rather than think about how the market perceives you and thinking about your job prospects, I would suggest for you to think about what makes you valuable in the marketplace and what you will enjoy doing 15 years from now. Would you rather see yourself doing research or being a professor? (check out a simple beginners’ guide of writing research papers) Then, you should seriously think about doing a PhD. If you see yourself as a manager or having an important role in a company, than pursue the dual Masters. Both of these options (ie. the dual Masters or PhD) are good options if they make sense for you.

What Is The Size Of Grad School / PhD Classes?

Graduate school classes are not like undergraduate university classes. You often see and hear about massive 1000-2000 person undergraduate college classes. This is the complete opposite in grad school. Generally, most graduate-level classes are quite small. Most doctorate classes at most universities around the world are no bigger than 15 to 20 students, and many of them are 2 to 5 students. This includes both Masters level and Doctorate level courses, unless you include professional courses, like MBA, Masters of Nursing classes, and the like. These professional classes tend to be much larger. Masters-level courses tend to be a bit bigger, say around 20-30 students. As PhD students can and do take Masters-level courses, I kind of include them together as just graduate level courses. What to watch the YouTube video about the size of PhD classes?

Why Are Graduate Classes So Small?

Research-oriented Masters classes and PhD classes tend to be rather small because of the small supply of graduate students. You can think of course work in education systems as a funnel. In high school, there are many students. In university / college, there are fewer students. In graduate school, there are even fewer students. The terminal degree (i.e. a PhD) should have the fewest amount of students. Why? There are just fewer people that are both willing and capable of doing the courses. Not many people around the world are interested in doing a doctorate. If you think in terms of capability, if you take graduate level Chemical Engineering courses on reactor design (I am a chemical engineer), you need to have taken undergraduate courses in thermodynamics, organic chemistry, and process design. There are just not that many people around the world who have done that. (Want to learn about what it takes to become a business professor? Check out this post). Graduate-level courses are also very intensive. These courses require a lot of work for both the professor and the students to go through all of the material. Imagine an undergraduate course, and then multiply that course by about 2-3. This would give you a fair estimate of the workload during a graduate-level course. Each individual student has to work a lot more, and the professor has a lot more interaction with each student.

What Is The Smallest Class Size?

In graduate school, the smallest course that I took had a class size of one – me. This is what is called a ‘reading course’ or something along that line. Its going to have a different name at every school. I call it the DIY (do it yourself) course. ‘Reading’ courses are self-directed, as long as you have someone that is willing to help you create this self-directed course. I did one of this self-directed courses with my Masters supervisor (it was about international entrepreneurship), and it was a wonderful experience. I created a reading list of journal articles, and then he added a few more things for me to read during the course. You will then have to write a paper about this research (I created a guide for writing research papers here). I would highly recommend this style of course if you are ambitious, or you want to learn about a topic that very few people care to learn about at your institution.

How Are Graduate Classes Different Than Undergraduate Classes?

The type of graduate class you experience during your graduate education varies extensively depending on the discipline you are in. However, there are some similarities across most graduate classes that are distinct than undergraduate classes.
  1. Graduate classes tend to be discussion-based where are you as the graduate student actually talk about the research that you are studying. You will be expected to read the material before class, which are usually several (2-8) papers and/or books. Then, you will simply talk about the pros and cons of each paper, how the research was constructed, and what to do with the findings of the paper. Why do you talk about the research that you are studying? You tend to look at these research articles in a critical view, and what you’re trying to do is find out the assumptions that they made in the article. You are also trying to find ways that you can study that particular area, by being critical of that research.
  2. Graduate classes tend to be much longer. I remember some of the graduate classes that I had – we would talk anywhere up to 5 hours. As I am a bit of a wiggly person, it was pretty difficult for me to sit there that long. However, after, you look back and you realize that you did learn a lot during the class.
  3. You have personal interaction with the Professor. This person interaction was a lot of fun, and you actually got to know the professor as a person, not just the instructor. I look back quite fondly upon these professors, and all of the lessens that they taught me.
  4. You will be expected to write and think about ideas, and not just memorize ideas. One of the things that is quite fun is when you realize that you can actually build knowledge in graduate school. You actually are the ones that get to make the ideas up. It is a bit of a mind-trip when you realize that the ideas in the textbooks that you studied are not actually set in stone, but constantly changing.
  5. You will be expected to lead some of the class in graduate school. So, the leadership role that you take in graduate school classes does vary, but in many of the seminars that I have taken and received, students will be expected to lead either a class or a portion of the class. They will also be expected to give presentations in the class about what they expect to do their research on.
  6. You will get critiqued by your other students in the grad class. You might think that the instructor does all of the work. Actually, the most critical people in a graduate class are generally your peer students. They tend to be quite critical of your ideas, and push you to do better than the Professor would. Actually, I find that most Professors hold back because they know how difficult research is to perform, and thus, they will have a restrained assessment of your idea. Unless, of course, your ideas are truly bad. 🙂
I wrote a post about how long it takes to get a PhD, if you are interested.

How Many Graduate Classes Do You Take During Grad School?

Generally, most graduate programs would require you to take 3-5 courses a semester. When you do a Masters, you are likely to do 3-5 courses for 2 semesters, and then you will do about 1 year of independent research. When you do a PhD, you are likely to do 3-5 courses for 4-5 semesters, depending if you choose to take courses in the summer. You will then do 2-4 years of independent research. These are American and Canadian numbers. The British system, I believe is much shorter. A typical PhD is around 3 years today. I think this is similar in the German system. The Australian and New Zealand systems are similar to the British systems. Unfortunately, I am unaware of current requirements in China, but the Singaporean (NUS), Hong Kong (ie. HKUST), ,and Japanese schools tend to follow the American system. Of course, I have never attended these institutions, so please take this advice with a grain of salt. This is just want I have come to understand after getting to know Professors at these different places. Is it better to have a shorter graduate school program / PhD or a longer one? It really depends on your outcomes and goals you want to achieve. If you are interested in going to industry, then the best option is to go quicker through the program. However, if you want to go to academia and become a professor, the general trend is towards increasingly longer graduate programs. Why? The reason is that you will need publications before you get can academic positions, and the longer you stay in graduate school, the higher the chance you have to publishing a paper or two. Keep in mind that publishing requirements varies dramatically between disciplines, but the bottom-line is that larger time in graduate school helps you get academic jobs (as long as you are doing work in grad school). Want to learn about my biggest lesson from doing a PhD? Watch this video about lessons learnt from doing my own PhD:

What Is Your Graduate School / PhD Cohort?

One important thing that you should pay attention to is your PhD cohort. Each year there is a new group of students that enter a PhD program. Generally, this is called your PhD cohort. These students are the people that you should pay attention to benchmark your performance. If you are keeping pace with this PhD cohort in terms of publications, than you are likely on the right track. Your PhD cohort is also helpful because they help you through the first few years of your PhD program. They will be the ones that you will work closely with, and turn to to get help. Most people will maintain in contact with their PhD cohort, even when they go in different directions in the future. Believe me, everyone will go in different directions after the comprehensive exams. However, it is still nice to hear how everyone is doing in this PhD cohort. What you probably do not know is that your PhD cohort can sometimes be helpful to find jobs later in the future. Because these people will be at different institutions, you can sometimes call on them for career changes in the future.

I Hope You Find This Post On Graduate School Class Sizes Useful.

I wish I had this information when I first started my graduate school program. Few people have a frank and open discussion about what graduate school is actually like. Graduate school has its ups and downs, and people either talk about how terrible graduate school is, or how amazing it is (particularly, if you go on to the course websites). I really want to point out that being in grad school is a journey of personal discovery. If you don’t like a specific course or program, you should take it upon yourself to develop your own course of study. Or, if there is course that does not exist, then you can ask a professor to help you draft your own course. Being in graduate school and academia is very entrepreneurial, and it is up to you to make the most of your career. You have to be your own advocate. If there is a course that does not exist at your school, or the class size is too small, find another school that offers that course. I know of several people that drove several hours to attend a specific methods course. I wanted to get teaching experience, so I drop 2 hours every week (one way) to teach at a nearby university. It is up to you to create your own life. Last, one thing that I should point out is that everyone is different, and every school is different, and they all have different objectives. Your experience in graduate school is going to be much different than mine. And, if you take graduate level courses, expect them to be challenging, or at the very least much more work than you were used to in undergraduate courses. Grad courses are also much more different than undergraduate courses. Namely, they are smaller, and they involve a lot more interaction and involvement by you. Good luck with your course work! You will do wonderful. 🙂 You should know that many people have done these courses before you, and they survived. You will too. Are you applying to a PhD program? Awesome! You are going on a journey that is both difficult but can be quite fun. Check out this video or this more in depth blog post about tips for a PhD: By the way, I should mention that this post is part of my project – its a sharing economy proofreading platform that I am trying to build. The goal of the project is to make the world a better place by encouraging others to be nice to each other. I also really want to help out graduate students and potential graduate students, because, well, grad school was difficult for me, but lots of people helped me get through, so I want to pay the favor forward.

Why You Should (NOT) Get A Doctorate (PhD / DBA) In Business Administration

Why You Should (NOT) Get A Doctorate (PhD / DBA) In Business Administration

I was recently thinking about the advice that you get on PhD forums and university websites, and much of this advice is about why you SHOULD get a doctorate (i.e. PhD, DBA, etc). The problem with this perspective is that does not help you determine if doing a doctorate is right for you. I kind of think like an economist, and I always think that there are costs and benefits to every decision. Not every option is good for everyone, especially when thinking about pursuing a doctorate. There are a lot of costs that are associated with terminal degrees because they do take a long time, cost a fair bit of resources, and often have uncertain outcomes. Many people who start a PhD, do not complete it for many reasons that these websites about doing a PhD fail to mention. So, a couple of caveats about the ideas in this post:
  1. I want to work with the assumption that you do not need to get a doctorate to get many of the outcomes you want, but you want to think about whether getting a doctorate is for you. For example, if you want to become a management consultant, I would highly recommend that you just get an MBA. Or, if you want to teach in the business school, you often just need an MBA, and then you can teach as an Adjunct Professor.
  2. This is going to be rather focused on getting a doctorate in a Business School, like a PhD in Business Administration or a Doctorate of Business Administration. Why? This is what I know as I am an Assistant Professor of Innovation, Strategy, and Entrepreneurship.
  3. This is my own personal experience, and does not represent either my own institution’s position or other’s views. I am going to share my own experience to help others that were in a similar position as me. There were very few people in my family that went to university for a long time, nevertheless going into academia. I think I was the only one for a while, and I don’t know of any of my relatives that are university professors. Now, this is changing with a new generation. If you were like me, I really did not know many people who I can get honest advice from. I am sure that I am not the only one that is in that position.
  4. This is part of my project. I built a sharing economy proofreading software, in which people can help others or you can help on your written work. The goal of the project is to motivate people to help others, and as well to scratch my own itch. There was not really anything on the internet that was like this system, and I often need feedback on my own written work, so I thought I could be the one to build the proofreading software. Crazy idea, I know. After I built the software, I realized that I needed to market it some how. My wife and I were bootstrapping the software out of our own personal funds, so I did not have a lot of extra money to do a marketing campaign. So, I thought the best way to market this platform was to give even more with YouTube videos about PhD life, and this blog. Was this a stupid idea? Probably. Being immensely open about my thoughts and who I am has given me some personal grief, but, I also think that if I just help one person make a better decision, I will be happy.
At this point, I truly do not know if this project will ever work, but I have faith in the kindness of people. I can’t do this alone. I believe that most people are good, and that there are enough good people in this world, they will see value in this project. (As of lately, some people have been very helpful and many people have been indifferent to the project).

What Are The Most Obvious Reasons To Get A Doctorate (PhD / DBA)?

There are many obvious reasons to get a doctorate, particularly in business administration.
  1. You do get a mild increase in social status. Being a ‘Doctor’ has a cool ring to it. Admittedly, when I was 23, my PhD attraction was largely due to this social status. Maybe I was vain, or maybe it was something else. I just wish we could prescribe meds sometimes. The only thing I can prescribe is a bad joke. 😉
  2. A PhD salary is generally ‘pretty’ good. What pretty good means depends on the beholder. Most PhDs have a decent salary, although this widely varies between disciplines and sub-fields / concentrations. I have heard of some disciplines that make $30 k per year, and others that make well over six figures. If you do a PhD in Business, a rough estimate for most countries is somewhere around $80-120 k per year, but this varies depending on many factors, like country, your academic rank (ie. Assistant, Associate, Full Professor) or institution. Some PhD disciplines (finance) might make quite a bit more. The wages of a PhD really just depends.
    1. One thing I wanted to point out that is really strange with salaries. You only get paid for 9 months of the year. The other 3 months are the summer months, and most schools will not pay your salary during that time. However, many PhDs get grants for the summer months.
    2. Also, many PhDs in Business experience a thing called salary inversion. This is where the people you teach (MBAs) make more money than you do. Its an odd thing that happens.
  3. You get to do work that you love, or at least tolerate. 🙂 I mean you can pick the skills and subset of skills that you want to specialize in. You can be the world’s expert at X. Seriously. It really is not all that difficult to be an expert at something if you pick a small of niche.
  4. Most people around you are very smart, and you can have sharp conversations. Don’t underestimate this aspect of a PhD. Talking to smart people can be quite a joy!
You can watch my YouTube video about PhD in Business salaries: Again, please do not take any of this as complaints. I truly love my job, and I love the students and people that I interact with on a daily basis. There are a lot of benefits to getting a PhD. You can go to this page on the advantages of doing a PhD in Business, or watch the following video that I made about the benefits of getting a PhD in Business: Of course, there are many other factors to get a PhD, and you can go to a university website about that. It is a great career, but like everything you do, it is challenging. I want to be as honest as possible, as this is a large career choice for you, and you will never get a second chance at making this choice. I would rather that you have an honest thoughtful discussion with your family about whether to do a PhD in Business. You and your family should be well aware before you jump into this career. I think I would be not fair to not have the information to make a educated choice on something in which you will spend decades doing, so…

What Are The Reasons Not To Get A Doctorate?

1. The Returns On Your PhD Education Are Far Too Long In The Future.

I remember doing my own net present value calculation on my salaries and wages as a business school professor, compared to what my salary and wages would have been as ‘just’ an engineer with a masters degree. My break-even point was when I was around 55. After that point, it made financial sense to get a PhD. Even if my estimates are wildly off, a good estimate is that you will need at least a decade to recoup the cost of pursuing a doctorate. (Again, I feel absolutely privileged to get paid anything to do what I do at the place where I am). However, this does not account for many other factors that affect risk. If you drop out of the PhD program, die early, or have anything negative happen to you where you have to trade-off your career against life (ie. you have a sick child, you get divorced, etc.), the returns of getting a PhD are quite a bit worse.  For example, it is actually somewhat common for people to leave of PhD programs before they complete the program. Now, there are many reasons why people leave, but the returns are quite low for a doctorate if you never complete the degree. Again, I am not saying that you cannot be successful after you pursue a PhD, or not that there are many tacit or implicit rewards to having a PhD that cannot be financially measured. However, the financial odds are stacked against you, and you have to weigh the financial cost of getting a PhD versus its benefit. You should have a plan ‘b’ in the back of your mind, just in case the PhD does not work out for you. Yes, I am well aware that people might have say that if you have a plan ‘b’ that you are not taking the career seriously. Personally, I think it is quite the opposite. You should always compare against a counterfactual (or best alternative), and at any moment that you believe the counterfactual is much better, you should consider your options. This keeps you grounded, and helps you make an informed choice about ‘why’ you are doing what you are doing. For example, I am well aware that I can maybe make more outside of academia (as most professors can), but I truly believe that the professors do is so important that I am willing to happily do what I do.

2. You Have To “Work” Long Hours If You Get A PhD.

I really love those movies that show graduate students goofing off in some lab some where (ie. Big Hero 6). I think to myself – what planet are the writers on? Most people that are doing a PhD do not feel like they have time to do many activities beyond a few hobbies. For me, I spend most of my time with my family and kids (standard Dad stuff like going to swim practice, baseball, getting groceries, COSTCO Run!, walking the dog, etc.). Actually, it is funny because my most rewarding time is not reading or partying, but rather cleaning our house. My wife and I used to fight over who got to clean when our kids were small. 🙂 Other than that, most of my time is spent writing and analyzing data. Although, I am not sure if I would call this ‘work.’ Writing is hard for me, yes, but much of this part is quite enjoyable. The only time it is a pain is you are stuck on making your writing clear. For me, I spend a great deal of time thinking and fretting over a few words in my papers. But, just because writing is painful and I am unhappy in the ‘act’ of writing does not mean it is worth it. If I did everything that was fun and made me happy all the time, there is no way I would ever run, workout, eat healthy food, or devote anytime to selfless acts like care for my kids. Even opening the door for a strange is rather pointless if you take the view that you should do what makes you happy – it takes work to open that door and makes you tired at the end of the day. Doing what is fun and makes you happy is a poor way to understand work, or life in general. I personally get joy from doing hard and difficult things that cause me great frustration at the moment. What matters is whether you would do that work again if given a chance. And, personally, when it comes to research, I would. Just imagine that you will spend most of your time sitting (or like me, standing) at your desk writing. And, my point is that you should not consider a PhD as a way to actually slack off for the rest of your life. This myth of PhD life is far from the truth. A PhD is very difficult, and often very competitive. Just imagine that you have the brightest minds in the world all competing for the same space in academia. Of course, it is going to be challenging.

3. A PhD Will Likely Lead You To Cry Or Get Very Angry At Somebody Or Something Multiple Times.

One of the things that I have learned is that learning is very difficult to do. Inevitably, it is very frustrating, and the response that most people have when they learn is to get emotional. The emotional response is either positive or negative, but mostly for me, because of the cognition resources it takes to write, I experience negative emotions (anxiety, anger, etc) regularly. These negative emotions are part and parcel of doing research for me. It might not be for everyone. Because there is a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity in a PhD in Business Administration, you also rarely have a clear answer of how long things will take, or how difficult it will be. Research is highly uncertain – papers are done when they are done. (Watch my video on uncertainty during a PhD). Again, this will lead you to be emotional, and take out your fears on others. (I sincerely apologize to all those that I did.) Just expect that you will have many bad days and the occasional great day during your PhD. These experiences continue to persist for me, but you kind of get used to the emotional responses over time, and I have learnt to separate these emotions from the actual PhD work. I am pretty sure that I am not out of the ordinary. You just have to come to expect these emotional responses in academia.

4. You Will Spend Large Amounts Of Your Time Alone During Your PhD in Business Administration

My wife works in a medical practice (to protect her privacy, I won’t say where). In this practice, I am amazed by the hustle and bustle of the place. There is constant motion, and people are constantly talking and joking. Its loud. Its silly but professional. It is a fun practice, but I don’t think this is extraordinary for many workplaces. Contrast this experience with doing a PhD. Much of the time you spend alone with your thoughts. Yes, you do come out and say ‘hi’ to a colleague or a student in the halls, but 80-90% of your time is thinking about an idea. This is quite nice if you are an introvert, but I personally never gave this aspect of the job as much thought as I should have. I always liked thinking about ideas, but the solo nature of doing a PhD can lead to strange things. For example, it is not uncommon to experience various mental health problems during a PhD (See my video on my own experiences during my PhD), or develop chronic back pain from being hunched over all day (This happened to me and virtually every PhD student that I came across). I would imagine many of us experienced these issues. (I have switched to a standing desk, which has helped a lot on both aspects – in terms of my mental well-being and back issues). Just be sure that you are aware of that much of the career is a solo endeavor. You do collab and work with colleagues, but this type of work tends to be working together at a distance or intermittent. I have heard of some people who work together on papers in the same room (Tversky and Kahneman), but this is uncommon for many people.

5. While You Might Feel Successful In Your Current Job, Be Prepared To Feel Humbled During Your PhD

When you start your PhD, you have to start at the bottom rung of the career ladder. There is actually a pretty formal career progression in academia (PhD student, PhD candidate, Post-Doc, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Full Professor). When you start your PhD, you start at the very bottom, and you work your way up the ladder. This means that if you were a lawyer or a successful business-person before your PhD, nobody is going to care that much. You will have to build your academic career, and nobody will know who you are for a long time. Ultimately, this is what people are screening you for when you apply for a PhD program (If interested in programs, see my post about getting into a PhD program in strategy and innovation). Yes, acceptance rates for PhDs in Business are generally quite low (around 1-10% of applicants get into most programs). However, the admissions office and Professors are not making the acceptance rates low on purpose. They are screening to make sure that you will survive and do well in the program. Again, many people that start a PhD will find other things to do and quit the program. Most people in a PhD program are already some the brightest people you will meet, and it is more about figuring out if you are going to enjoy the program. My point is that you will have to get used to being humble and building your research career over decades (I have a post about starting your career in your 30s and why it takes a long time to build your research program). People are not going to care about who you are until you are quite senior in your career. However, many of us get a lot of joy out of the meritocracy of the academic life. It is one of the only careers that I know of where the more you put in, the more you get out.

6. Doing a PhD / Doctorate In Business Administration Effects Your Family-Life Choices.

You really need to have a serious discussion with your significant others before you start your doctorate in business. When I started my PhD degree in General Management (Ivey Business School), I don’t think neither my wife or I had any real idea of what was going to happen. Luckily, we got through the program (with a few scrapes and bruises), and I consider my outcome rather successful (we live in a beautiful town and I have amazing colleagues). However, you really need to sit down and have ‘dream meetings’ (Dave Ramsey – the personal finance guru talks about these meetings), and regularly discuss ‘why’ you are doing your doctorate. Not every one of these meetings are going to go well, if you are like me, but you need to constantly be communicating and be open with your partner. By the way, don’t expect your significant other to understand or be terribly interested in your research. What is more important is that the both of you are on the same boat with why you are taking years to get a job. You also have to be clear that the job prospects are quite uncertain from the get-go. Its highly likely that you will get a good job with a PhD, but you do not know or where that will occur. You also need to have some deep discussions about having children and elderly parents around during your doctorate. I would not change my life for a second (I have two wonderful kids), but you have to prioritize and work around your dependent’s schedule. Just be prepared that this decision seems easy and attractive, but it will be more difficult than you expect because you will feel like you want to prioritize study and research over everything else. I have an addictive personality, and I can feel addicted to research quite quickly.

Should You Get A Doctorate / PhD In Business?

Ultimately, the decision is quite personal, and you have to weigh the factors against doing a doctorate versus the factors for doing a doctorate. The question of whether you should pursue a PhD in any field depends a lot on what are you interested in, and why are you interested in that topic. There is no real reason to do a PhD if you not curious about the world. You have to want to study the thing in such a passionate way that you will do everything it takes to complete the PhD and succeed in the career. So, think to yourself, what topic did you find the most interesting to study when you did your undergraduate degree or MBA? Can you see yourself studying this topic for years? Picking this topic will also help you leverage your current competencies and knowledge. Based on this post, you might think that I have quite negative about the degree. This is not true – I love the fact that I did a PhD, and I truly did learn a lot about myself that I would not trade for anything. However, I want to be real and open as I possibly can. This is a big decision for you, and you need to have full information. Obtaining a terminal degree is not for everyone, so please take your decision seriously.

Are You Still Interested In Doing a PhD In Business?

If you are still interested in doing a PhD in Business, I would recommend you watch a few of the videos that I created about the basics of getting into programs around the world. You might also want to read my post about becoming a business school professor. This is all of the advice I wish I had when I applied and started my PhD way back in 2005. You are going to need to understand about the graduate school interview. I still remember mine – I am surprised that they accepted me into the program. I learnt a lot more since those days, and I hope this video will help you: You might also want to watch my video about picking the concentration for your PhD. Believe it or not, the concentration of your PhD does matter a lot for your desire and career prospects. You have to think about what PhD concentration works for you: Lastly, you might want to watch this video about what makes a great PhD student. I hope this helps: In sum, I hope you choose wisely with your career, or doing a doctorate in business. Make sure that you talk to people, and discuss with your family about this big decision. If you are not serious about the career, and I persuaded you look at other options, that is awesome. If, however, you are still in love with the idea of getting a doctorate in business, I wish you all of the best. I know that you will prosper in this career. I hope you liked this post. 🙂 I tried to be pretty thorough. Obviously, I am sure I missed many things about doing a PhD in Business, and if you want to learn more, please check out my r3ciprocity YouTube channel. I have a lot of helpful videos for graduate students.

Tips For Applying To PhD Programs (In Business Administration)

This post provides tips for applying to PhD programs, particularly in any of the disciplines in Business Administration (i.e. Strategy, Finance, Marketing, etc.). Applying to PhD Programs is always a stressful affair. I remember when I applied to mine, nearly 15 years ago. It took several months of preparation, from writing the GMAT (I did my PhD in Business Administration), to crafting the statement of purpose, to actually sending in the material. All I can say is, boy, did I get a lot of things wrong. Obviously, some things worked out for me, but looking back, I feel that I was pretty lost with the process. Why do you want to get a PhD? The biggest reason is that it allows you to get into research careers, like becoming a research associate, or becoming a professor (Read more about my ideas about how to become a business professor or advantages and disadvantages of getting your PhD in Business). Before I go further, I should share with you about why I am doing this project. The main reason is that I like to solve problems, but more specifically, I wanted to create a system that I can have a real world impact. I thought wouldn’t it be cool to solve a problem that I experience every day, but making this solution scaleable to a larger audience. Anyway, I created a sharing economy proofreading software that is based on reciprocity. After I created the software, I realized that I did not have an audience (a sort of chicken and egg problem – you need software to get an audience, but you need an audience to make the software work). Anyway, I choose to help PhD students and other academics, particularly those in the social sciences, because they could really use such a software. (I can’t be the only one that is terrible at writing.) I also thought that it would be cool that when this made money to give back with scholarships for grad students (Yes, it’s a pipe-dream, but a kid’s gotta dream, right). You can watch the following video of me talking about some of these tips for applying to PhD programs.

Tips For Applying To PhD Programs (in Business Administration)

Remember that this video does not just apply for those interested in Business Administration, but because it based on my own experiences, it is most relevant for Business PhDs, especially PhD programs in strategic management. (Want to learn more about how long it takes to get a PhD or a DBA? Check out my blog post). When you write a PhD application, you should think about the following:

1. PhDs Like To Talk About Their Love of Research.

Generally, most potential PhD supervisors and PhD acceptance committees do not career too much about what your industry accomplishments, unless it relates to research. Many (not all) academics find industry experiences rather tedious. They are more interested in ‘the idea.’ If you can share a curious finding that you observed during your time in industry, academics are going to be interested in that finding. For example, you observed that venture capitalists ‘herd’ in their investment decisions (see Isin Guler’s work) However, if you tell academics that you were so-and-so of so-and-so company, many academics will disregard this experience. Thus, if I were you, I would discuss and talk about your love of ideas and curious findings. There is nothing so exciting as a deep discussion about some strange thing in the world. You can, however, talk about some weird fact about yourself. For example, if you were an Olympian or wrestled bears, it sometimes helps your application. Why? Academics are humans, and we use heuristics to remember people. It is easier to remember the ‘space-girl’ or ‘bear-guy,’ than it is to remember Joe or Jane Maffraw.

2. Read At Least A Few Of The Faculty’s Papers.

Potential supervisors do not expect you to read everything that they have ever written, but you likely should read 1-2 of their articles before you talk to them. Do not be afraid that we are going to quiz you on all of the details of the article. Heck, I can’t even remember what I wrote yesterday, … seriously. But, you should have a general sense about the article to carry on a light conversation, like “that was a great article about the lightning industry you did. It was very insightful” or, “how did you think of the idea for your paper on the start-up businesses in the Canadian Rockies.” You are really just looking for a way to carry on the conversation with your own future research.

3. Demonstrate Your Ability To Do Research.

You should come up with some proof of your ability to do research. This is extremely important if you want to do research for the rest of your life. You have to some one or two analytical articles that you wrote during your undergrad or grad school. (This post helps with crafting a research paper for a PhD). The best possible thing is a paper that you wrote that is very ‘academicy.’ You should have a theoretical overview, hypotheses (if required), data collection, and some analysis of this data. It is also a good idea to show how talented you are with you analysis or crafting of an idea. If you can program, I would write a short piece of code for the school of choice. If you can analyze data, I would ask to analyze some data for a professor. Pretty much every business professor has some data that they need to get cleaned – this would be a good chore for you to do. Cleaning data is an important part of research that very few people like to do. You can impress a potential advisor by doing this work for them. For the first several years of your PhD program, you will likely do a lot of reading and ‘work.’ You could summarize a set of articles for a professor for a literature review. In general, there are many ways to demonstrate your ability to do research, but what you should focus on is trying to be of service to potential supervisors.

4. Work On Your GMAT / GRE Scores.

Ok, so many people will tell you that the GMAT / GRE scores do not matter for research. This is true – it is likely not a strong predictor of research abilities. Why is that? There are so many other things that go into doing research over the long run. For example, you need to be able to do something over the course of 5-10 years, so many times basic life things will get in the way of your research success. You know – those simple things, like divorce, marriage, babies, deaths, depression, big moves, and all that easy stuff. However, GMAT / GRE scores are generally used as a way to screen out potential applicants. Why? Its standardized across countries and regions. It also might be a mild predictor of either ‘grit’ or IQ (I think standardized tests confounds the two). It might also be a strong predictor of privilege as only those with sufficient resources will take courses or spend enough time to study on the test to do well. Even if it is arbitrary, these standardized scores are just an easy way to screen out candidates, right or wrong. You should invest some time, effort, and resources to do well on the GMAT / GRE. I have learnt that it will pay off considerable returns if you do well over the long-run.  You have to think about it as the returns you will get over the course of 30-40 years. Even if you make an extra $1000 / year because of a slightly higher GMAT score (ie. because you get into a better university for a PhD), investing the small amount in studying for the GMAT / GRE will be well worth it.

5. Look For PhD Programs Outside Of Your Field.

I would highly recommend that you search broadly when you look for a PhD program. We often get fixated on a specific program or field of study, but you should be aware that people get PhDs in many areas and study very similar things. You can also get considerably different returns by simply changing the course of study. For example, in my field, there are people that study geography and geographic methods (to look at things like firm or venture capital location), yet, they do not have a PhD in geography. If you want to investigate PhD programs, there are many institutions and programs around the world that do the same thing as a PhD in your area, but are called something different. For example, some engineering programs have a good management department (UCL, Waterloo, Stanford, UC Barbara, etc) in which you could get a PhD. The ‘feel’ of the department will be quite a bit different than a business school, but you can study and move around to business schools. The key thing is that you are doing good research, and that you find great mentors that will help you do good research.

6. Go To An Academic Conference To See What ‘Academia’ Is All About.

I think it is odd with many professions, including academics, that we train people to do something, but then we never really show them what it is like until they are in the profession. For example, many programs will teach people about a particular subject, but then when people actually ‘do’ that subject they either do not know ‘how’ to do that subject, or they discover that they dislike that subject. For this reason, I very much like apprentice-type programs or coop programs (my undergrad university ‘U. Waterloo’ has a great program). One way that you can observe what academia is like for little commitment is to attend several academic conferences. If you are thinking of a PhD in Strategic Management or Innovation, you should consider attending either the Strategic Management Society conference (more specialized and better food, but more expensive), the Academy of Management conference (giant and diverse, but reasonably priced and you can find free food), or the Informs conferences (very ‘academicy,’ but somewhat removed from strategy and leans toward social science). (Learn about how to get a PhD in Strategy). At these conference, you will learn about what academic presentations are, what it takes to write a paper, and the questions people ask in academia. You will be surprised how much you learn by watching people at these conferences. Academics, like any other career, has a lot of ceremony and protocol. You might meet a few people there that might be of interest, but do not expect too much as a junior potential PhD student. If you are outgoing, you are going to of course meet more people. When you attend your first conference, make sure you dress ‘business causal’ and just be a fly on the wall. Try not to make a scene, as this could potentially harm you in the future.

Want to learn more about academic conferences, watch this video:

7. Build Relationships With Faculty Members.

Last, I think an important thing that you might want to consider is to build strong relationships with faculty members. If you are currently an MBA or undergraduate business major, get to know your faculty. This is one of the advantages of starting your journey to a PhD at a younger again (Read my post about doing your PhD in your 30s). Ask them to do simple tasks for them. For example, when I was in undergrad (Chemical Engineering), I did several years of an undergraduate research assistantship. While I probably did not create much in terms of usable research and I might have slowed down my Professor, he was nice enough to work with me and I truly learnt a lot from the experience. From that I will always be grateful. What I did was build a small piece of simulation software, but there are many things that you could do, like do some data cleaning, collect some information, or interview different people. You want to reach out to faculty on a regular basis. Try to find time to stop by their office and ask them if they need a hand with something. I am sure there is something that they would be willing to let you do. Why do you want to work with faculty? You will greatly improve your chances of getting into a PhD program. Not only because you might get a letter of reference, but this demonstrates that you are interested in doing research long before you actually start your PhD.

Building A Research Story For A PhD

If you have not figured it out yet, getting into a PhD program in Business Administration (or any other program) is a lot about crafting a long-running story in what and who you are about. It is not just about getting the PhD (See my post about the difference between a PhD and a DBA), and that is the end of your story. No PhD program wants to bring you on board to realize that you do not like doing research. Doing research means that you like reading, writing, and arithmetic; and you are going to do this for a long-time. You have to demonstrate and provide a story that this is what you want to do. Doing a PhD, and then the subsequent career as a Professor or Research Associate after that is challenging. Going forward, try to build your program around this story and your desire to do research.

Doing A PhD In Your 30s, Or Should You Start Your PhD Before 30?

OK, so you are in your late 20s or 30s, and you are thinking of doing a PhD. I am sure you are thinking, is doing a PhD in your 30s crazy? The answer is an definite ‘no.’ While many people start their PhD before they turn 30, or immediately after their undergraduate education, it is absolutely normal to start a PhD in your 30s. It is OK to do a PhD in your 30s. What happens when you start your PhD in your 30s? In many fields, starting your PhD in your thirties is absolutely normal. The one that is nearest to me is pursuing a PhD in Business Administration. In my strategy program, I was a typical age to start a PhD in the sciences (25 years old), but I was the youngest by about 5 years. Pretty near the majority of the people I know that have done a PhD in Business Administration, has started their PhD in their late 20s and early 30s. If you want to watch the video for this post about doing your PhD in your 30s, check out:

Why do people pursue a PhD in their 30s in the business school?

Most of the time, the reason why people start their PhDs in Business administration in their 30s is because they tend to favor people that have an MBA or an equivalent degree. Most of these MBA programs require you to have at least a couple of years of work experience before you apply. Indeed, students are often discouraged if they want to apply right after their undergraduate degree to gain experience in the workforce. Another important factor is that many people do not know what they want to do when they grow up until they work for a while. You would be surprised the number of engineers, lawyers, and accountants that decide that they like studying and discovery a lot more than the day-to-day operations of running a business. The reason they were in those programs was because they liked the challenge, but when the get their real jobs, they realize that the real job was not nearly as challenging as the education to obtain the degree. Finally, life changes a lot for many people. What sounds like a sexy career in your early 20s fades quickly. Many people that go into business as a consultant or a manager work long-hours away from home, have to put up with the daily commute, and travel extensively. Many people are drawn to the academic career because you get a lot more flexibility. You still have to work many long hours, but you get to choose (at least some degree) the place that you do you work. Some people even do multiple PhDs as well! They change their academic career. While it is not common, you can read a lot more about the topic on this blog post. In sum, it is totally normal to start a PhD in Business Administration in your early and even late 30s. I used to think that management experience was important to becoming a Business Professor, but now, I don’t think everyone needs it for a number of reasons. You ought to check out this post about getting management experience for your PhD in Business Administration. By the way, if you do not know what to expect with grad school, and you are thinking of going to grad school. You might want to watch this video about the pros and cons of going to grad school. I hope it will be useful for you.

How about in other fields? How common is starting your PhD in your 30s or 40s, compared to your 20s?

Again, it is totally common to see people that start a PhD late in life. While the proportion of younger folks is much higher in many fields, you will still see a proportion of them that are in their 30s and 40s. One thing that you will realize with a PhD is that the reasons why people choose to pursue a PhD or a research career are surprisingly diverse. Doing a PhD is a pretty intimate affair because you have to be self-motivated to stick with the career. However, I am going out on the limb to point out that there are definite advantages and disadvantages to starting your academic career later in life. This career, of course, is like any other career, but the lag between when you put in your efforts and when you see rewards is quite long. Doing research is closer to drug discovery than working at a Walmart. It is closer to becoming a chess grandmaster or a world-class musician than being a lawyer. In the later examples, the returns are quick and relatively instant. You work, you get paid. In the former, it takes years of practice to reap any rewards. A good rough estimate is to say that it will take 25 years before you reap substantial rewards from doing a PhD (4-7 years for your PhD, 5-7 years for getting tenure, 10 years for becoming a full professor). It just takes a long time before you peak out in the career. By the way, if you are curious about the reasons why you should (not) consider a PhD, you really should read this blog post I wrote a little while ago. I also have a great post on the advantages and disadvantages of doing your doctorate.

A PhD Is Not Like A Masters / MBA In Your 30s.

You can recover your costs and have a good ROI with a MBA / Masters in your PhD. However, with a PhD, you have to forgo your wages for a very long time. I would highly recommend a Masters in your 30s, but for a PhD, you have to be committed to the program. You need to really want it.

What Does This Long Lag-time Mean If You Are Thinking Of Doing A PhD And Your Age?

I want to clarify upfront that I am not specifying that you need to be a certain age to do a PhD. I am also not discriminating based on age, either. Many people in academia have sky-rocketing careers late in life, after they were doing research in obscurity for years. Indeed, this is quite normal in academia, particularly if someone was working on a strange idea that did not get attention until other people take it seriously. You can also start your PhD late (say in your 50s), and become outstanding productive until your 80s. This is one of the joys of getting your PhD – you don’t have to stop at a specific time if you love the career. While you might have to formally retire (become an emeritus professor), many professors keep interacting in academia late in life. However, there are advantages and disadvantages of doing a PhD in your 30s and 40s. Consider the following:

Research Outcomes Take a Long Time.

If you choose to do a research intensive PhD in Business, you should know that the outcomes of doing research generally take a long time. To get tenure at almost all universities, it will take you about 10-15 years by the time you start your PhD to when you get tenure. For example, if you start your PhD in Strategy in your 40s, you might not get tenure at a Business School until you are 55. This could be even later if you experience any ‘life’ during this time, and experiencing ‘life’ is quite likely. I should also point out that not getting tenure is not all that bad – it just means you have to move to another institution or try another career. Depending on your view, this could be a good or bad thing for you. Often, this might mean that you get to go on an adventure to a new city or country, meet new people, and see how things work in a new location. I have learned a lot about how long doing a PhD takes, and I have detailed how long most PhDs now take in this blog post (most other websites are not accurate).

Young PhDs Have Less Credibility In The Classroom.

Young PhD’s are usually greatly discounted in the classroom. This is especially true if you are expecting to teach Executives or MBAs. It is not uncommon if you graduate with a PhD in Business Administration or a related degree (PhD in Managerial Economics or A Doctorate in Business Administration) when you are young to be teaching Executives that are 5-10 years older than you are. Being younger can create an awkward situation because you cannot teach based on wisdom or to simply say ‘do as I do.’ Rather, young PhDs have to teach based on novelty, intellect, and knowledge. This is not to say that older PhDs do not have the same struggles, however, they can rely a bit more on wisdom arguments. In general, being older is often an asset if you want to teach.

Extensive Work Experience Gives You An Edge With Administration Roles.

At the current moment, academia is facing a situation where many senior faculty are looking to retire in the near future. These are all of the baby-boomers. The problem is that because tenure requirements have generally increased over the years (particularly within competitive academic fields), few people are able to replace their administrative roles. Thus, if you do have related management experience in other fields or industries, and you are lucky enough to get tenure at a university, you are in a very fortunate position from an administrative position. People with administrative experience might actually have an advantage when they are thinking of roles like the Dean of a Business School, or some role like that. They are likely to have an easier time convincing others that they are suitable for the role.

Work-life Balance Is More Challenging If you Enter A PhD A Little Bit Older Than Others.

If you have a family or friends (ok – I might be the only one. 🙂 ), you will face many more demands as you get older. For example, you might have to run your little ones to school, take care of sick parents, or care for friends that need emotional support. Just because you are older and you have more experiences, you like have more connections with people, which may pull you in different directions with obligations. These obligations are important to deal with, but know that doing a PhD will put a lot more stress on these relationships, and many people might not understand what is expected of you during the PhD. Indeed, nobody knows what a PhD is, unless you actually have a PhD. Just be aware that you might have to learn how to balance these demands as you do you PhD. I guess for some people, it might be easier because you might have established yourself financially, which might give you a little more slack resources to take your time with your research. Or, you might be able to do things like rent or buy a more comfortable home in grad school, or have house-cleaners help with your weekly chores. Either way, there is not a good answer as people of all ages face resource constraints, but it is something to consider if you pursue your PhD in your 30s or 40s.

You Might Affect Your Student-Advisor Relationship.

One of the cool advantages of being a bit older in graduate school is that you might have more in common with your PhD advisor. In business school, it is extremely common to see PhD students that are just as old, or older, as their advisor. The benefit, then, is that you can connect more readily with the business professors. You might be less intimated from status divide between PhD and advisor, allowing you to have increased communication and trust.

Doing A PhD In Your 30s May Give You A Different Perspective.

For me, my 20s was a great learning experience. I am sure that I am not the only one that learnt a lot about life in my 20s. You go through a lot of transitions: Finishing undergraduate school, first job, first real relationships (I got married), first home, first heartbreaks (my Dad and Father-in-Law died), and many other things. I personally grew up. Of course, I would have said that about every year of my life, but your 20s seem more instrumental for some reason. My major breakthrough was when I realized that life was not about what I can get, but rather about what I can I do for others. It seems like a rather mundane change in perspective, but it had rather large impacts on my life, marriage, and academic relationships. It would be nice to know some of those ideas when I first entered the PhD, but then again, maybe I might not have pursued a PhD, but that is hard to know. What I do see though, and I have had many wonderful discussions with others, is that people that enter a PhD program in their 30s and 40s (whether it be a PhD in Business, or something else) have a different perspective. Maybe it is because people worked for many years in the business world, or they did want they wanted to do. Many people that enter later in life enter the PhD because they truly want to become an academic. When you enter really in your 20s, you kind of view getting a PhD as a stepping stone towards some larger career, which is good of course, but just is different. By the way, you might want to watch this video about getting a PhD in Business Administration to become a consultant:

Doing A PhD In Your 30s Is Not Crazy.

In summary, I think there are many things to consider if you are thinking of doing a PhD in your 30s. In many fields of study, you will be absolutely normal and fit in with the other students (ie. business administration). Many people do their PhD in their 30s and 40s. However, from my experience, life does get a bit more challenging as you age because you gain a few more obligations. If your total number of obligations has not changed much over the years, this probably won’t affect you, but if you are like me, it will. If you are truly passionate about research and thinking about ideas, I would highly recommend a PhD. You do learn some pretty cool ideas that you will not be able to learn in any other setting. The key thing to remember is that you will not get financially rich (relative to those that pursue industry careers), but you will be rich in insight and knowledge. And, yes, you can’t ‘eat’ knowledge, so you have to be somewhat practical with this choice, and weigh the pros and cons for pursuing a PhD for yourself.

The R3ciprocity Project

I should qualify who I am. I am David Maslach, an Assistant Professor in Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, and am doing an interesting project. As part of my research, and years of listening to Dave Ramsey – by the way, his advice is quite sound from a behavioral economics / strategy perspective (there are very few things that I would disagree with his approach) – I wanted to create a sharing economy proofreading platform where I could help out as many people as I could. I was thinking a lot about ways I could positively contribute to society (mid-life crisis anyone?) and reciprocity. Reciprocity is often discussed in the context of innovation where there are many people that do things online where they expect to get little back in return. Josh Lerner and Eric von Hippel had some interesting ideas that I wanted to explore further. There was also a creditability revolution that was occurring in science, which had a part in the project, but this was later on, and is a longer story. Anyway, long story short, I created the as a way to give back, but then I realized. Oh crap – nobody even knows this site exists. What do I do now? I did a bit of paid advertising, but then I thought, it might be better for me just to lean into this reciprocity idea, and try to give back even more. Thus, started my YouTube channel, and this blog where I try to give back even more than before. Right now, I try to give back to the people that I know the most – people that are interested in research, graduate school, business administration, strategy, and innovation.

How To Become A Business School Professor?

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 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.