The DBA journey: The art of designing your own flight plan

Starting the journey of the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) is a big step. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” To embark on the path of a DBA, prepare yourself.

The DBA is indeed a long journey, or in the metaphor of Abraham Lincoln, it’s more than one tree that you will be chopping. The ratio of preparation and chopping down the tree for Abraham Lincoln might be the same as for the DBA— the biggest part of the journey is preparation.

This preparation consists of many different aspects. Even though most students have a clear topic in front of them and are  committed to working hard on it, they will find out that the questions they’ve been raising might either already be asked or might be too simple to be attractive for the academic world.

Therefore, before you start your journey, define where you want to get to. Read a lot of (academic) literature, talk with many people in your field, and ask tons of questions. When you verified the objective of your research and you have a crisp research question, find out how much that question matters to others.

During the long expedition of a DBA, you won’t be traveling on your own; you will have a supervisor guiding you. And even though most supervisors are intrinsically self-driven, they still have to have an incentive to spend time on your work instead of their own. And the best thing to do is to get your supervisor impassioned about your research.

With an enthusiastic supervisor who is willing to guide you on your journey, you’ve already achieved a big step. Now that you know where you want to get to and you have engaged your navigator or copilot, be sure to check the way you want to travel. As in the metaphor of traveling, you can walk, drive, or travel by train or plane. It depends on your destination and your resources.

Managing literature

A key element of your itinerary is the literature you are reading, and be assured it will be a lot! Develop your way of archiving the literature well. There are a lot of tools that allow you to manage references; however, they are designed to manage references, and they do not automatically manage your library.

Therefore, make use of these databases well; use tags and keywords and archive in folders: you may want to find the one key article you are reading today four years from now. Additionally, find your personal reading style. Are you a digital native and are okay with reading tons of pages on the screen, or do you prefer to take a pen and annotate on paper?

The thesis

A crucial part of the journey is the thesis. Writing the thesis is a journey in itself, and the quality of the thesis will evolve and the document will grow. The beginning might be scary. Writing 50,000 words that all make sense is a challenge and a question of preparation. Advice can be given, but you must find your own way to write your thesis.

Starting small and making step-by-step adjustments might put you at risk of repeating yourself, and drafting the structure of your thesis and just filling it in might also put you at risk of derailing. This process of getting lost to a point is productive and allows you to see your research topic from different angles and explore new fields. Therefore, likely a mixed approach of writing between structured and getting lost might be the best.

The DBA is a multiple-year journey, and along that discovery, you will be distracted. Elements of your professional life and pieces of your private life might change and your workload will adjust. Be prepared to get it all under one hat. Find a way of making the DBA part of your life without making your life the DBA.

Thesis preparation and tools

Another big step of your thesis will be technical preparation, and this starts with formatting. Academic work follows strict rules, and so does your thesis. The APA format is something you should get used to early on, and follow it in the very first document you are drafting. If you adjust from the beginning to academic formatting, it will become a habit.

Without getting too commercial, there have been a few tools that helped me on my journey. Google Scholar helped me find the right documents, and using the settings, you can register Grenoble Ecole de Managment and it will link you to all the databases we have access to. Another tool that helped me a lot, but I unfortunately found fairly late, is Grammarly, which is more helpful to use to review your writing than Word’s autocorrect. Look into other tools that can help you put together your references, such as Mendeley, Crossref.org, or reciteworks.com.

Despite all the work writing your thesis and, at the same time, staying motivated and focused, you will very likely feel a sense of accomplishment with all the new knowledge you will gain.


Written by Bastian Becker – Doctorate in Business Administration Alumnus, Grenoble Ecole de Management

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