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.