A short journey to my DBA

When I started my journey to my Doctorate of Business Administration diploma, I could not imagine that my career and life would change so dramatically. In November 2011, I boarded a plane for Grenoble to attend the first workshop. Although it was freezing, I was excited to meet my new colleagues and, most importantly, my supervisor.

Some people say that the journey can cost you “a kidney and a lung”; some others are still struggling; and the rest have found it difficult to continue. However, in my experience, I enjoyed every moment: I found it short and fulfilling, and I embraced new friends and colleagues with whom to pursue my research journey. With my experience in mind, I’d like to share my two best tips for making it through the DBA in a time-efficient way:

  1. Get organized

Take control of your research and come up with ideas while intelligently reading papers and articles. Don’t read all the paper’s content; instead, focus on the abstract and the conclusion. Organize yourself to write all these ideas in one document while keeping track of the references. Use Mendeley or other software that organizes papers.

I organized my work using a phase-by-phase project management methodology used for projects with interdependent activities that included real-time communication with my supervisor and rapid adjustments throughout a project.  It contains a list of activities and uses a work break-down structure (WBS); a timeline to complete; and dependencies, milestones, and deliverables. My methodology consisted of phasing each step. For example, I had the reading phase, writing ideas phase, organizing papers phase, contents table phase, analyzing phase, etc.  Each phase had its own deliverables with its own timeline to complete knowing that some phases can be prepared in parallel. There were some major deliverables to send to my supervisor, like the table of contents, literature review, hypothesis development, analysis, and conclusion.

  1. Don’t overload your supervisor

Don’t overly rely on your supervisor: make sure you know what to do when he is unavailable for a month or longer. I have tried to take the lead many times and have co-organized work with my supervisor. Monthly meetings during the first year with my supervision were the best pattern to keep up with work, and deliverables were provided at least every three to four months, and sometimes six months.

If you have the choice, choose a supervisor who is active in one area of your doctorate and also in your main field of research. My supervisor has lengthy experience in customer/consumer education, and my field of interest is ICT. He has shared his different experience and expertise and given me insight into his field. In establishing a relationship with a supervisor, the most important things to consider are trust and the opportunity for intelligent communication. Invest time with your supervisor because it will repay you and not betray you. Because my supervisor and I have created this important trust relationship between us, he knew I could deliver on my work, and we are still collaborating by writing and publishing many papers and articles.

The key issues in my successful journey were confidence, trust, communication, reading (a lot), writing (a lot), and, most essentially, proper planning. I have survived my journey, and I have found it really short. I have invested this short time in learning, listening, reaching for others, and, most importantly, enjoying every moment.

Good luck!

Rania Fakhoury; Grenoble Ecole de Management, Doctorate of Business Administration, Alumnus 2014

The DBA – A life experience that sharpens your analytical thinking

“My Doctorate of Business Administration journey was a life enriching experience.” This is what I would say if I were to be asked to pin a slogan to describe this event in my life.

The first steps

In December 2011, I started this journey with a weeklong trip to Grenoble Ecole de Management. During my visit, I met a very impressive group of educators and extremely helpful administrators, and I beheld a beautiful scene at the foot of snowcapped mountains. Initially, I was excited to be re-energizing my academic background, and I started planning to be a student again after more than 20 years since my last classroom appearance. At the end of the first week, I had made new friends, acquired new knowledge, and set out to start my thesis work. Weeks passed, and my research direction started to take shape. But, wait…it was not without daily efforts going down different streams of research to find the one that fit the objective of my intended study. My supervisor was very helpful in discussing the subject of my thesis, pointed out gaps in my efforts, and redirected my thesis using some best practice tips.

From research tools to analytical thinking

It was not easy; I had chosen a subject that required conducting a small survey to anchor the study, followed by a thorough literature review to ground a theoretical framework, then I had to carry out an empirical activity of five to six months to complete an iterative data collection. From there on, the analysis, the discussion, and the closure of the thesis were completed. Looking back at the roadmap taken, I can identify two inflection points that accelerated my progress: (1) the completion of a thorough literature review and (2) the definition of a clear research map with my supervisor. Reading and understanding more than 4,500 pieces of literature was bound to leave a mark on my skills. As a byproduct of the thesis activity, I have successfully improved my vocabulary, increased the flow of my thought process, and sharpened my analytical thinking.

My feedback and advice 

In the form of advice to fellow DBA students, I would highly recommend choosing a subject you like to work with, extending your research to include learning about different methodologies, not giving up, staying focused, and regularly working on successive thesis drafts. In addition to the reward of a degree at the end of the journey, you will be rewarded with a passion for writing, a wealth of knowledge, and a positive impact on your career.

Finally, I would not have been able to get to the finish line if it were not for the support of my family and friends. I wish you the best in your own DBA journey!

Dr. Nabil Georges Badr; Grenoble Ecole de Management, Doctorate of Business Administration Alumnus 2014


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


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. Continue reading “The DBA journey: The art of designing your own flight plan”


The DBA: The missing link?

Gaël Fouillard, Director of Executive Education

In this post, Grenoble Ecole de Management Director of Executive Education Gaël FOUILLARD discusses the benefits of collaboration between researchers and corporate partners and points out the advantages of efficiently connecting both parties in order to bring relevant research, knowledge, and added value to the partners and customers.

The DBA community is an essential valuable resource that can be tapped by employing a more systematic approach and cultivating better communication between the DBA community and Executive Education, and this could help identify future strategic opportunities.
Continue reading “The DBA: The missing link?”