How to Succeed in your DBA: Advice from a Recent Graduate

Welcome to the Doctorate of Business Administration program (DBA) at Grenoble Ecole de Management. I hope that your experience is deeply rewarding, and I hope that you enjoy tremendous success both during and after your DBA. I hope that you find the following advice helpful. It was certainly interesting for me to look back on my own experiences and reflect on what helped and hindered me in my studies.


Patience and humility first

Listen and accept with humility the feedback that you receive on your work. Your advisor and the other professors want you to succeed. Their comments are designed to make the work stronger. Consider each comment deeply before responding. This does not mean that you need to make every suggested change. You will receive conflicting feedback. At some point in the process, you will have sufficient knowledge and insight to disagree with input and defend your position. You should always consider each piece of feedback objectively; however, do not react emotionally to it.

This is a long journey. You will encounter a major obstacle at some point over the course of study. It might happen during the early days during the workshops. It might happen while gathering or analyzing data. It might happen while writing up, as it did for me. You must persevere. Completing a research doctorate has far more to do with persistence than intelligence. I was not the most intelligent person in my cohort. I had not graduated from the most prestigious institutions for my bachelor’s or master’s degrees, nor did I have the highest profile career. But I never gave up. I persisted, and that is why I completed the program while others did not.

Understanding the motivations

Consider your reasons for pursuing the DBA. I believe that the more deeply seated your reasons, the more likely you are to persist when encountering an obstacle and thus the more likely you are to succeed.  I pursued the DBA because I could not imagine not pursuing it. It was a fundamental need for me. I felt that my true calling was to teach at a university rather than continue working for a corporation, even though this work was lucrative and frequently quite enjoyable. Pursuing the DBA was the foundation for fulfilling a life goal. Therefore, I had to persist; there was no other option.

Pursuing a research doctorate is a fundamentally lonely journey. You will spend countless hours alone with your research, and although the process can be absolutely exhilarating, it can also be frustrating and exhausting. There were times when the work seemed to flow, but there were also many days when I struggled to write a single paragraph. It is a process not easily understood by those who have not pursued a research degree. Look for opportunities to discuss your work with others going through the same process because they will best understand what you are thinking and feeling.

Share your experience

Interacting with other doctoral students renews your energy and rebuilds your motivation. Build strong relationships with the others in your cohort. In my cohort, we ate and drank together as a group every night. We listened with enthusiasm when sharing the details of our early research. We commiserated when a presentation was poorly received. We emailed each other in between workshops. At conferences, I gravitated to other doctoral students, whose experiences closely mirrored my own. I brought this extra energy back to my office, and it helped push me through the next phase of work.

Each doctoral journey takes a different amount of time to complete. This is not a degree by coursework where there is a published end date. It is unlikely that you can determine in advance when you will complete your thesis. The path you will follow to answer your research question cannot be fully known at the beginning of the process, and unexpected obstacles will inevitably block your path for brief periods of time. Work at a steady pace, but do not rush. Reflection is needed for quality research. When I rushed, I stumbled, and this caused me to start the writing process over.

A new perspective

This is a transformative experience. You will view the world in a fundamentally different way after having completed a research doctorate. You will see complexity and nuances in issues that you never saw before. You will consider questions more carefully before answering. I remember the exasperation that my cohort and I felt when professors answered questions with “it depends.”  As business people, we wanted definitive answers to our questions—answers that would enable us to take immediate action. Now, however, I find myself answering questions with the same “it depends.”  I suspect that my students find this answer just as frustrating as I did, but perhaps I now see the world through the same lens as my former professors. This is not something that I anticipated, but perhaps this change in perspective is a more significant result of my studies than the specific results presented in my thesis.

Written by John F. DION  – Doctorate in Business Administration Alumnus 2013, Grenoble Ecole de Management


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