A Ph.D. is not about being a Dr.

This morning, I was scrolling through LinkedIn and read a post signaling a serious attempt by an Edtech company to trivialize doctoral education. A ‘Doctor’ is sold as a prefix to the name(s) of prospective candidates for a DBA program. Clearly, that advertisement does not place doctoral education through the lenses of purpose and process but merely focuses on the degree(Dr. as a prefix). If one digs a little deeper, it is not difficult to dissect the anatomy of such a thought process. While a doctoral degree remains a required qualification to launch a career in academia, its value lies inherently in the processes that a doctoral student goes through during his doctoral research journey. Let’s take a look at some of the key processes:

1. Interaction with the faculty: During the coursework, students get the opportunity to learn from the faculty which, driven by students’ curiosity and ability, could transcend the course boundaries. This presents a great opportunity for students to dive deeper into the discipline of their interest and also learn from a diverse set of faculty. This is important because it allows students to appreciate different perspectives on research paradigms and understand them firsthand to shape their own research aptitude. Such connections, built on intellectual convergence or divergence, could further the student’s research agenda as they transition into the doctoral research phase.

2. Working with Thesis Advisor(s): Students make an informed choice on constituting the advisory committee mostly based on their expertise – methods as well as discipline and work closely for another few years to complete their research. This is an important learning process – to be able to critically analyze the state of knowledge in the chosen research topic and articulate a reasonable contribution to the research. Students’ ideas are challenged by the advisor(s) with the sole aim of making the student’s work more meaningful. This also shapes students’ understanding of ethics in research design, data collection, and reporting. Essentially, by the time a student is ready to defend his/her work in a public seminar, an independent researcher is born!

The ability to conduct research independently is the real test of a good doctoral education. However, this ability is not only about researching academic topics or ‘gaps’ in the extant literature. As new graduates join academia, doctoral education should help them in achieving some level of academia-industry convergence. I would like to highlight a few points that articulate the value of doctoral education.

1. Enriching teaching through research: How do we use our abilities to find answers to bring new knowledge into our classrooms? In my opinion and practice, I find this a sweet spot of value creation for business students. Explaining contexts and concepts using research papers is a great possibility – think of expectancy theory to explain motivation and its use in different industrial job settings. Or, Sales enablement as an organization-wide resource integration to enhance salesforce performance and the impediments at organizational and personal levels. In a sales management class, topics like these just not simply explain the phenomenon but answer a critical question – why does this happen? A Ph.D. is put to good use if the philosophy underlying the phenomenon is well explained and well appreciated by the students.

2. Research that solves problems: Academics learn during their doctoral education several skills – a critical one is taking a higher level view of a problem. Consider this – a performance issue in an organization could be viewed from the perspective of an incentive alignment, however, an academic might view this from a higher level; for example, an alignment issue between two functions that spiraled into poor alignment at different levels. Therefore, academic researchers make use of their abilities to not only take a higher-level view of a problem but also recommend solutions to such problems.

Universities offering doctoral education, therefore, have a huge responsibility in terms of ensuring that the right processes are set and followed by the students and that the real value of a Ph.D. is realized by all stakeholders. Doctoral students too, need to look beyond their doctoral research by asking – am I getting well prepared to make the contribution I am expected to make?


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