The DBA challenge after my Doctorate in Dental Science

Why I decided to pursue a Doctorate of Business Administration

I earned my doctoral degree in Dental Science in 1999, from the University of Bern, Switzerland, but during the dental science doctoral process, I realized that the academic career path did not appeal to me. Later, in 2002, I earned my MBA because I wanted to learn how to manage dental clinics. Eventually, the everyday routine set in, and I felt the urge to move on to find new intellectual challenges.

By the time I applied to the Grenoble Ecole de Management DBA program, I had been in various administrative positions managing dental clinics for more than 15 years, and I gained vast experience in both practicing dentistry and managing the business side of dental clinics. But, when my husband Deniz introduced me to the Geneva cohort of GEM-DBA students, and my brother, Nicolai, entered the program, I discovered a whole new universe of dynamism, curiosity for new knowledge, and an aspiration to change one’s professional life. This time, the idea to enter academia, to go beyond my profession as a dental practitioner and manager, to conduct academic research, and to eventually join the faculty of a business school became enticing.

The road to teaching in a business school passes through the academically qualified (AQ) gate, which is a status that starts with either a PhD in business or a DBA. GEM offered a 1-year DBA AQ Bridge Program for candidates who had already had a PhD in a field other than business or management; the argument is that the candidate is already familiar with the academic research process and does not need to be exposed to the first year of the DBA process. I joined the AQ Bridge Program, but I soon discovered that I needed more time to submerge myself into the process, review the literature to find a gap, and develop my own conceptual model. Therefore, I switched to the DBA program.

How was it worth it?

I reached my objective! I earned my Doctorate of Business Administration and became AQ. Therefore, it was well worth it! In addition, I found the intellectual challenge I had been looking for.

Since the date of my defense, I have been teaching statistics both at the undergraduate and graduate levels with immense self-satisfaction. In addition, my student evaluations have been nothing short of great.

How different is it?

On the day I defended my DBA, 15 years had passed since my doctorate in dentistry. During this period, information technology had made huge progress, which facilitated online literature searching, creating a personalized digital library to keep track of cited articles, and collecting data through online surveys. This new information technology gave my DBA process a whole new dimension. Even though the research process in medicine is much like that in business, the DBA journey gave me quite a few “aha!” moments. Concepts fell into place quickly, most likely, because I went through the process for a second time.

A typical PhD student will enter a doctoral program straight after a master’s degree and have little or no work experience. Consequently, that student does not have a clear research topic choice, let alone the ability to formulate a research question. It is the faculty who guide the new student over several years before choosing a specific research area. Doctoral students who come in with many years of work experience in the field of their future research clearly have a comparative advantage. This was the case not only in my DBA studies but also during my earlier doctorate in dental sciences. I had 10 years of dental experience, so I could quickly identify a literature gap and elaborate my research question.

What did I learn from my Doctorate of Dental Science experience and did it help me through the DBA process?

Both doctorates were big milestones in my career and personal development and, consequently, in my life with my husband! Each doctorate, respectively, contributed to an enormous increase in personal growth and self-confidence.

I was fortunate that I could choose my own research question for my doctoral research in Dental Science. This helped me stay enthusiastic and motivated through the entire process. The program taught me that self-discipline, rigor, focus, and regular communication with my supervisor were primordial for success. I also learned that frustration was a part of the process and getting stuck was a part of the game: without frustration, there would be no progress. Consequently, when I embarked on my DBA journey, I already knew what to expect.

The tremendous support from my husband and family was also a very big factor. Thanks to them all!

Susanne Hansen Saral – DDSc – and Grenoble Ecole de Management DBA alumna 2014

 

 

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The DBA Journey from Admission to Stage 1: Resilience and Adaptation Skills as Key Words

Despite being designed for practioners, the Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) journey is often counter-intuitive for us and therefore full of booby-traps. For two years, the DBA student must attend seven workshops (and possibly optional classes and conferences) and pass several milestones, such as the Preliminary Research Paper (or the admissions exam), Extended Research Proposal (ERP), Literature Review (LR), and Stage 1.

The first steps in research

The pre-DBA student generally applies to the program with a professional eye and approaches a research question (RQ), and more generally, field of research, through a proven expertise and an issue encountered in the “real” world that, based on his intuitions and expertise, deserves some thorough examination. Without any academic resources, the Preliminary Research Paper is written from that perspective and takes a few months of work. The very first day of Workshop 1, the student is told that the paper is not very good and nowhere near any academic standards of quality, but this was, of course, expected by the professors.

Workshop 1 and the following five workshops will guide the student through the art of crafting a top-notch RQ by using the appropriate methodology and will familiarize the student with qualitative and quantitative methods. This 24-month process takes its toll of casualties for a variety of reasons, such as work, family, or sometimes mere logistics. Discouragement and lack of motivation or commitment are rarely reasons for quitting. However, these feelings are common along the way, and students must prove to be resilient and follow Nicolas Boileau’s piece of advice written four centuries ago in The Art of Poetry:

“Put your work twenty times upon the anvil;

Polish it incessantly and polish it again;

Add sometimes, and erase often.

Talent is only a skill that develops.” *

The art of critical thinking

Though academic prose is hardly comparable to poetry, this remains most accurate for anyone who intends to perform any intellectual work. A Doctorate of Business Administration thesis is a very iterative process, and your production must be amended, erased, and rewritten several times, following your readings, data collection, and the sharpening of your thoughts on your topic. Most important, remain open to constructive criticism at all times. The only way to succeed with a research is to share it with your peers and professors. Persisting to write in an autarkic manner is the surest way to fail. Bear in mind that if your RQ and topic generates criticism, it is extremely positive! Indeed, if it triggers one’s interest and curiosity, it must be a “hot topic” and worthy of a dissertation.

Workshops 2 (on LR and RQ), 3, and 4 (though the last two were not expressly focused on RQ) were rare and valuable times to discuss our work and confront criticism. It appeared that in many cases, early-stage students were not in an academic but still practioners’ mindsets. They were examining their topics and RQ from a consulting angle: here is the issue to solve and this is how I intend to do so. The reality of academic research is different from an assessment-recommendation process. Everything must come from the existing literature: the knowledge, doubts, questions, theoretical gaps, and, ultimately, methodologies.

Resilience through adaptation

From my experience, the ERP was not a positive milestone. But it was probably a decisive one because it emphasized a lack of reading and conceptual clarity from my work. I spent the following months working hard on my LR, reading as much as possible on the several literature streams that were related to my research. I read and read, complemented my chapters, discarded unnecessary paragraphs, clarified the concepts, and linked different bodies of knowledge. After some deep immersion in an ocean of literature, the theoretical gaps sprang up naturally almost in a shock, and I was surprised that I had had these in front of my eyes for so long, but I had been unable to see them.

At the ERP stage, the student is still 10 months away from Stage 1. Given further readings, conversations, and contingencies in the actual research process (data collection and analysis), the RQ will keep evolving without a doubt and for reasons that could not have possibly been foreseen. Do not stand your ground stubbornly; rather, adapt to the evolving context should it challenge you and some preconceptions that you have had. Resilience and adaptation!

As you were warned at the outset, this is a rough journey, but, in my opinion, so rewarding. The DBA is a complex intellectual (and sometimes organizational) challenge that will drive you from enthusiasm to frustration and the reverse. It often questions your motives and reveals a number of things about you that you ignored before embarking on the DBA. Ultimately, only one essential question remains, and only you can answer it, and you should do so in good faith: Why did you join this program? An honest answer is the best incentive to succeed.

* Vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage; 
Polissez-le sans cesse et le repolissez; 
Ajoutez quelquefois et souvent effacez. 
Le talent n’est qu’une aptitude qui se développe.

 

By Xavier Tanazacq, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Doctorate of Business Administration student

The balance of self-management & teamwork

I’d like to share with you my experiences not only as a Doctorate of Business Administration student but also as someone who needed to discover the space where you feel that you can be yourself!  A very important part of our careers is who we are and how can we maximize our potentials to their best. My advice to you all is not to choose a topic that is “in,” but rather choose what you like to do. Make your studies your passion so that it becomes your journey to discover your own self…your ideas and your strengths of exploring something that you have so much wanted all your life.

Supervision and topic orientation

It is absolutely normal to keep changing topics and, to some extent, your literature review, as well. However, your research question may be refined towards the beginning of the second year, and then the literature review will start to make sense. It is extremely important to talk very openly with your supervisor and take responsibility for your topic flow. Supervisors are not instructors; rather, they facilitate you what you like to do. They help you fine tune your topic and then help you organize around your topic. So, please have very straightforward conversations with them.

My next advice is to time manage your studies at home. You need to set a deadline for yourself because it is all about self-management at this stage.

The workshops are designed very interactively, and the faculty will be very receptive to you provided you ask questions and clarify to them whatever is causing confusion for you.

There is a lot to read and discover a world of words, tools, and techniques to help you develop your research ideas. So, be ready to unlearn what does not work for you, and be open to learn the new. This is not the end of the story…

Teamwork and time management

Your group needs to bond! Socialize, eat, share, talk, and laugh together. You can have a WhatsApp group where you can share. Don’t ever be hesitant to ask for help, and don’t ever stop listening to your group members when they need you.

Good time management, communication, and reading are essential to make your DBA work for you. Choose from Mendeley, Citavi, one note, or Zotero for organizing your literature review based on the one you are comfortable with, not on the one someone else is using.

Last, but not least, we have thoroughly enjoyed the restaurants, trams, and the beauty of Grenoble around us. I wish you success and lots of fun being a DBA student at GEM!

Nyla Aleem Ansari, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Doctorate of Business Administration student

 

 

Doctorate of Business Administration- Challenge and lifelong journey

Some of my friends and colleagues often told me they admire the initiative I took to add another challenge to my life—becoming a Doctorate of Business Administration candidate at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM)— given that I have a wonderful family and a full-time challenging job. They are right. It is a challenge. Finding the right equilibrium among family, work, and four years of an intensive, applicative research adventure is currently the challenge of my life. I came to some points during the last three years where I asked myself this simple question: what did I do? However, many times more, I also told myself how lucky I am to have this “window” to change the air in my life by trying to respond to a question I had raised 20 years ago—a question very related to a professional passion I have. 

 

The first step

Naturally, my work went in the same direction as my passion, but  my work was not able to help me fully respond to my question simply because I was not working for myself, and I needed to adhere to the objectives of the company for which I was working. Early 2012, I moved to France with a new mission in the company where I work, and in 2013, I decided it was the right time (or never) to dedicate part of the next four years of my life to answer my question. One point here that is crucial in my opinion for the work-research-family balance that every DBA candidate must seek: the DBA research must be related somehow to a passion and, at the same time, needs to also be related to the work the candidate is currently doing. A DBA is applicative, and after passing three years as a candidate, I can confirm this relationship between the work I am doing and my Doctorate of Business Administration was crucial.  So, I applied and went through the structured application process, and I was very fortunate to be accepted as a DBA candidate at GEM. This was the beginning of the challenge.

 

Defining the research question

Quickly afterwards, I was faced with the very first test: I found myself working with a great advisor, but, I discovered, not an expert in my research question, but in another even greater subject. The lesson I learned is that it is vital for the coming four years for me to take in hand the hard task of finding the right advisor for my DBA. I decided and worked on my research, and I found the best ever advisor who is an expert in the question I pursued.

Of course, I’ve said my “first test” because I thought my question was perfect, which it was not even close to being—it was not a proper scientific research question. Luckily, I am an agile, flexible, and easily adaptable person, which I must be to continue in this four-year challenge. So I changed, then modified, then re-changed my research question so that it became aligned with the rules of the art of scientific research that I had learned through the intensive workshops during the first two years and through consulting with the academic team and especially my advisor.

 

Balancing family, research and work 

What I’ve described might seem easy and simple, but it isn’t. However, it is surely manageable. All these events went on while my family sacrificed time (weekends and daily hours) spent with me. My solution was planning—planning vacations, small escapades to the park, or even dinners—ahead of time. Planning is key, as well as continuous daily work and thinking about the research topic. The Grenoble Ecole de Management team is wonderful in this aspect. They have helped me with the overall DBA plan based on their long and successful experience. For instance, the first recommendation coming from the program director was to devote two hours per day of continuous work on the research, and more important, from the beginning, the DBA team has provided clear objectives of deliverables with all the deadlines. Accordingly, I have planned my life at home and at work during these years doing the DBA. This is simply a wonderful recipe.  I am not describing the workshops, but these are excellent opportunities to learn and exchange the experiences as well as the tough moments with an academic team and the cohorts.

 

In sum, it is currently the challenge of my life, and I am not finished: I am still working on the quantitative part of my research after completing the qualitative part. What I can say is that it is a breeze of fresh air that I feel on my face every time I sit down to work on my question. I am happy to do it and confident I will make it with the extra effort I still have to put in to reach my objective of responding to my question.

 

Zaher ElTawil, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Doctorate of Business Administration student

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

 

Why I didn’t want to go to the EGOS Colloquium in Naples …but went anyway.

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Stephen Broadhurst (DBA 2014)

In this month’s post Stephen Broadhurst (DBA 2014) discusses not going, and then going, to the 2016 EGOS Colloquium in Naples, Italy following a passing remark made by his Grenoble DBA Program Director. He was initially encouraged to have a look at the 2016 EGOS Colloquium as specifically they were holding a themed workshop on his research subject of Spirituality… in fact on ‘Spirituality and Mindfulness’, a theme on which he returns to in his conclusion.

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Seven Lessons from a Novice on getting published

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Shailesh Rana, Doctoral Candidate DBA USA 2012

It seemed to me like a wishful thinking …or at least a really daunting task having your work recognized in a reputed journal and publish your FIRST article….yes, with your own name as an “author”! In this post Shailesh Rana (Doctoral Candidate DBA USA 2013) explains how he just happened to pass that hurdle last month, and shares some of his experiences, which may be useful to you as an ardent academician hovering over your thesis every day, dreaming it to be complete SOON!

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Ramadan: an exercise for the body, soul and… the Doctorate

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Amira Baha Aldeen (Grenoble DBA 2015)

In this month’s blog post Amira Baha Aldeen (Grenoble DBA 2015) discusses the challenges and the advantages of studying in the holy month of Ramadan. Between 6th June and 6th July Muslims around the world have been fasting, including active doctoral students. Followers of the faith are encouraged to abstain from eating food or drinking water starting from sunrise to sunset. The fast is meant to be both a spiritual and physical challenge. But what it is like to continue with doctoral studies during this period? Already a major challenge for many students!

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Ouch that hurts! Using the “force”of rejection.

imagesIt’s one of the tougher parts of academic life, those rejections we receive from journals. Let’s face it, it is a tough part of life in general … not making the team, not getting a place on that program, an invite to a party or getting dumped by ‘that’ girl/boy. What is it that really hurts? Somebody does not want us or our work. It comes to everyone in academic life – star professors, junior faculty, experienced researchers and doctoral students. Just like it comes to authors and actors . What differentiates us is how we deal with it and how we use the experience.

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So What Next After Graduation?

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Mark Smith, Director of the Doctoral School

Following graduation in March, this month Mark Smith reflects on the prospects for graduates leaving doctoral programmes. Last month we celebrated the success of our Grenoble PhD and DBA graduates, along with their research, in front of a large audience. As is often the case the doctoral students were the finale of the ceremony, marking their achievement at the pinnacle of academic qualifications. Across the world doctoral candidates are hard at work finalising their theses or responding to examiners’ questions and comments but they should not forget to look forward to what comes afterwards

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