My DBA experience- Keep calm and watch the next step!

The Doctorate of Business Administration will change your life, your way of thinking, and your beliefs. You will learn how to reason without judgment bias, how to build a rigorous and robust scientific argumentation, and how to make the effort needed because you have never done that before. Well, you will be finally proud of yourself; otherwise, bear in mind that your parents and family will be proud of you, anyway. What is the most important for you—that your parents are proud of you or that you are proud of what you’ve achieved? Both are positive, so never mind.


The research methods courses: warm-up

To become a Doctor of Business Administration, you must beforehand write a wonderful dissertation, i.e., doctoral thesis that will require you to know some research methods: qualitative methods, where you will have to count the number of occurrences of semantically similar words; and quantitative methods, where you will assess the quality level of your data collected through questionnaires that you will have to carefully write.

Keep calm: all of this methodology will make sense afterwards, but not yet. For the moment, you are expected to formulate your research idea into a totally new question never previously studied in research (knowledge) fields that you are likewise supposed to identify in advance. Keep calm: it is normal not to know what you are supposed to ignore. In fact, what you don’t know is called the Wall of Knowledge—the body of research knowledge encompassing millions and millions of scientific publications pages, and each page is an impenetrable first page for a less-than-3-month doctoral student. And your fabulous coming work of deciphering is merely called a Literature Review. (Remember, Grenoble was the city of Champollion who was known as the first decipherer of Egyptian hieroglyphs.)

The literature review: the wall of knowledge and its sparkling discovery

Building on key words, you will be collecting many scientific publications. It is so fun to collect. I think it is in human nature to collect and to own things. But googling is not reading. Your supervisor can additionally steer you toward a first cluster of relevant publications. At the beginning of your readings, not to understand anything is not abnormal. Believe me: you are normal. It takes a few months before starting to capture first meanings. You will feel that the authors write to other researchers, definitely not to you; they speak their own language using regular words but with distinct meanings. You may realize that four years of a DBA will seem to last centuries in such a situation. Then, what happened when you were a child and you learned to read happens.

The meaningless series of words will suddenly make sense. And progressively, you will be capturing the relation between the publications, with each one highlighting its contribution. Unsurprisingly, you will find a degree of relevance among the publications you read, but do expect to realize some of them you have read for nothing. Ok, be generous. Not the whole wall of knowledge is relevant for your research, just a part of it. Nonetheless, you have to comprehensively describe this part of the wall to provide a conceptual (or theoretical) framework for your research question. The answer to your research question will be considered as your brick to enrich the wall of knowledge; it will be your contribution. There is a permanent interaction between the research question formulation and the literature review. The research question evolves with your readings. So, keep calm if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for at the beginning of your DBA.

The experimental part of the quantitative thesis: SPSS, I love you

Your research question, not your mood of the moment, will drive the nature of your thesis: whether your thesis is more quantitative or qualitative. Roughly, your research work is qualitative when you are exploring the meaning of things and you endeavor to build new theories and new knowledge. Building on qualitative data (e.g., interviews), you describe the world to support your theory. A quantitative thesis is rather a scientific demonstration of a given research model (e.g., using statistical tools to show a particular behavior). You are obviously expected to be the author of the research model. If the literature review does not provide a sufficient rationale for the conceptual framework and for the research model, a thesis may sometimes mix qualitative and quantitative studies.

Quantitative studies (e.g., online questionnaire involving a few hundred participants) are very suitable for consumer behavior research. Combined with DBA methodology courses, the reading of many quantitative publications is necessary to understand the spirit, the design, and the choice of statistical tests to demonstrate the influence of manipulated variables. The online questionnaire is made through Qualtrics online software, and SPSS is the perfect (and loving) tool to conduct statistical tests. Grenoble Ecole de Management and your supervisor will provide you everything you need to successfully achieve the experimental part.

Discovering the research community: to infinity and beyond!

During the four-year process, your supervisor may ask you to present your work to the research community. At the end of my second year (just after Stage 1), my super supervisor (I know it may appear as a repetition, but it’s true!) asked me to submit a research paper for conferences. I had not even started any experiments (i.e., no data), and the deadline to submit the paper was less than three weeks away. But we did it. Like childbirth, you forget the painful aspects and you just remember the positive ones, especially as a father. What a pleasure it was to go and meet other researchers during a few days in Montpellier at the Congrès de l’Association Française du Marketing 2014. The year after, with the great help of my supervisors (yes, two supervisors), it was New Orleans, where I met great professors such as Sujan Mita. I was like a fan with rock stars. A great experience to infinity and beyond.

DBA viva la vida…

The DBA appears like a spiritual journey whose end, or beginning of a new life, is the oral defense of your thesis (viva voce). Before attaining this nirvana, your doctoral dissertation—the longest Word document you’ve ever written—must be accepted by a jury: one professor of GEM and another professor of another business school. It is your supervisor who will consider whether you are ready to defend your thesis. Don’t be in hurry to submit. Work hard. Be honest with yourself. Make your research even more robust. Anyway, the jury will ask you to modify your thesis if need be. Bear in mind that it is not a race. Converting your doctoral thesis into a good publication is your next main challenge.

Chamrong Cheam, Grenoble Ecole de Management, DBA Alumnus, 2016



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