Being a Leader, Manager and Doing the Job: What Does it Mean to be a First Author on a Paper?

This September, just before beginning my third year of PhD studies, it happened. I opened my email and read that the article I had been working on for the past two years had been accepted for publication in the Long Range Planning journal. After a quick round of proofreading and final editing, the article has been published online and is in the process of being published in print. 

It is a good feeling to see your work in the layout of a journal that you regularly read and draw inspiration from. No more revisions necessary. The product is final. However, the year-long (which is actually pretty fast in academic terms) crafting, revising, and resubmitting process of the academic article was a journey full of ups and downs and unexpected turns left and right.

Lead your idea forward

My journey started with testing the waters. I had only discussed the general idea for the paper with my supervisor, Valérie Sabatier, and Corine Genet, a Grenoble Ecole de Management professor and second author on the paper. We had some preliminary interview data and an intuition that the emerging issue about experimentation in business modeling was quite interesting.

Two months after starting the PhD, the Business Models and Strategy (BMS) team at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) organized a conference called “Business Model Days,” and many renowned scholars were invited to attend. Unlike most conferences, this one focused on very early work, so you could present just a research idea and get feedback. Perfect! I presented our initial ideas and got useful and helpful advice, references, and materials to bring the work forward. After this conference, I was encouraged  to apply to several others, where I presented the more advanced version of the manuscript and discussed it with the community. We also had the opportunity to discuss the first results and intuitions with the participants of the Better Business Model ANR contract, where Corine presented our paper.

Paper management

The PhD program at GEM’s milestones require the writing of three papers. The rules and regulations of the program are that there is no problem submiting a co-authored paper, but the PhD candidate must be the first author and has to write the entire paper alone (co-authors can help in conceptualization, data collection, etc.). For my first-year paper, I decided to focus on Experimentation in Business Modeling. This was a big challenge, but it gave me the opportunity to really engage in writing because it was my responsibility.

The process was not too difficult because my co-authors were really nice and easy to work with. We collected a part of the data together (mostly interviews), and I would do the preliminary analysis and then would schedule a meeting to discuss and decide on the next steps. After writing a draft of the paper, my co-authors would read it carefully and comment on the paper, but it was on me to implement their suggestions and write a new draft. And a new one, and a new one, and a new one… Before the first submission to a conference, we already had 10 versions of the paper; there would be five more before the first submission to a journal.

The job of the first author is not only to write and be involved in data collection, analysis, and theorizing but also to lead and manage the entire process. You have to be persistent, especially considering that your co-authors are full-time professors who are working on many different projects. Management is the key. Engage your co-authors and show enthusiasm about the collaboration. Your name is the first one on the paper, so think of yourself as a team leader.  As any good manager, try to understand the strengths of your co-authors and get the best out of them. Understand their weaknesses, also, and try to work around those. Remember, you are not only managing the collaboration with your co-authors; most importantly, you are managing yourself. You need to do the biggest portion of the job. Find a way to get yourself motivated and to transfer this motivation to your co-authors. Dedicate time to work on the paper, but do not expect quick results.

Revise and resubmit

As the first author, I also managed the submission to the journal, which first meant writing a letter to the journal editor. In this letter, you have to be convincing and show that you are very familiar with the discussions in the journal and that your paper can make a contribution to it.

After the paper passes the initial stage and you are not desk rejected (around 60% of the papers are), you are in the game! But then the hard work really starts. The reviews we got were constructive but tough to address, and this meant writing the entire paper again. We had two major revisions, and we were quite uncertain if we would succeed. The journal to which we submitted has high standards, and the revision process required a lot of new readings, a new framing of the paper, and, most importantly, hours and hours of writing. Do not give up and do not despair. The reviewers want to help you. Remember they spent time reading your paper, engaging with it, and giving you feedback. Respect that and give it your best to improve your work. Take it as a learning opportunity to make your thinking and writing clearer.

In the end, it is all worth it when you open that email that reads, “We are pleased to inform you that your article has been accepted.” Celebrate success with your co-authors and be proud of yourself and of the team!

In numbers

The paper had 32 versions before the final submission, including three complete revisions.

Data analysis had three cycles.

The paper was presented at four conferences.

At least 15 scholars read the paper and commented on it.

The article, “Learning, signaling, and convincing: The role of experimentation in the business modeling process”, by Neva Bojovic, Corine Genet and Valerie Sabatier published in Long Range Planning journal is available online :


By Neva Bojovic, Grenoble Ecole de Management, PhD student

Neva Bojovic has received funding for her research from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program (Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Grant Agreement No. 676201) and CHESS (Connected Health Early Stage Researcher Support System).


Step in to Summer School

When I read about the Grenoble Ecole de Management Summer School, I wasn’t sure I could attend. Perhaps it was too early in my DBA journey given I was only half way through year two and had no written papers of my own to review or submit yet.  

My experience of the British Academy of Management conference

And, I confess, I had already taken a first step outside of my cohort world and signed up for a 1-day Doctorate of Busniess Administration symposium run by BAM in May, this time at Henley Management Centre in the UK. Surely, that would be enough. In fact, that symposium did turn out to be a very good first-step event for me—it reminded me there are others, not just our own GEM cohorts, who have embarked on DBA journeys! In that case, about 30 international students took part in round-table discussions and critiqued papers submitted by students from years three and four. There were also about 20 professors and program leaders who debated the opportunities and challenges of DBA research and the importance of retaining academic rigor whilst maintaining practical relevance. It was a very good day and a very useful opportunity to make new contacts and be inspired by other DBA students. I was happy to have taken this small step and spent time with others who are going through the DBA journey. And, importantly, I found I wanted more, and so I turned again to GEM.

The Grenoble Ecole de Management excellence Summer School

My application to attend the Grenoble Ecole de Management Summer School was helped, I think, by the fact I had my research question, early literature review, and pilot research approach already approved and had conducted the interviews for my pilot study and had transcripts available, and I was already playing with the by now infamous Atlas.ti (v8). Having done this gave me confidence that the timing of the Summer School presented a great opportunity for me not only to listen and learn but also to contribute.  And, hopefully, it gave the professors confidence I wasn’t just looking for relief from my self-employed freelance major program management, my other ‘habitus’;  though, it has to be said the sunny mountains, great food, and company I found in Grenoble are always an irresistible draw to any of the school’s modules and programs! In the case of the Grenoble Ecole de Management Summer School, at that time, the program was comprised of three components. First, a pre-read package of paper presentations submitted by the more advanced and ready students from several GEM cohorts and locations. Then came the main 3-day event in Grenoble: a packed agenda and whistle-stop tour of presentations and paper critiques, with an in depth exploration of Atlas-ti. Last but not least, interspersed across the program was social time outside of the classroom discussing and reflecting in a more informal and relaxed setting with faculty and fellow students. GEM’s confirmation of my acceptance to the Summer School was therefore a delight!

A key step in the DBA journey

The first day was exciting, but it was also somewhat daunting to hear about the effort that goes into preparing papers, some for conferences and others for journal submission. The professors’ feedback on the submitted papers was useful not only to each individual on their qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods papers (examples of each were reviewed) but also to those of us who hadn’t submitted. The professors gave further pointers on how to prepare and what to do/what not to do, and they reminded us about ethical considerations and also triggered fundamental methodological reflections, too. The subsequent days, which covered Atlas.ti, were excellent, too; we received not only the basics but also hints and tips on more advanced features. Practical exercises helped reinforce understanding, as did sharing the experience with fellow Summer School students. When else would we be able to meet students from different cohorts and locations, not to mention different nationalities and backgrounds, and all at slightly different stages with our DBAs?

Overall, the Summer School provided a great learning event and was a very useful step on the DBA journey. It helped nudge my own approach and provided an opportunity for vicarious learning, too. It emphasized the challenges of working towards publishing, but it also highlighted the benefits of attending conferences and symposia. The last so much so, I have signed up for another one (BAM’s DBA symposium at Warwick, UK, in September).

A nice time spent with other DBA candidates 

Talking of the DBA journey, while we were in Grenoble for the Summer School, there was a viva defense, and we were able to share in the relief, delight, and celebration of another one of GEM’s students, who was thankful and delighted to receive confirmation they had succeeded on their journey!

As usual, I left Grenoble—as I always have—proud to be with Grenoble Ecole de Management, happy to have spent quality time with fellow students and faculty, and increasingly confident, having taken another solid step on the Doctorate of Business Administration journey.

Thanks again to fellow students, professors, and faculty who have helped make the GEM Summer School a great success!

by Philip Benson, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Doctorate of Business Admnistration student


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



The ‘What’, the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’: The benefits of Connecting with Faculty Research teams.


Marc Baumgartner, DBA Candidate 2014

This month Marc Baumgartner (DBA Grenoble 2014) discusses the benefits of participating in an event hosted by the research team linked closest to his doctoral research topic. In late 2015 Marc came to Grenoble Ecole de Management and joined the in-house conference “The Business Model Days” at GEM. Continue reading “The ‘What’, the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’: The benefits of Connecting with Faculty Research teams.”

A Tribute to a Supervisor : Professor Bernard Gumb

Bernard Gumb
Our colleague and friend Bernard Gumb passed away on October 13th, 2015.

There are many parallels between life and a Doctorate in terms of the journey, the mystery, and the spirit. We say life is a mysterious journey with unpredictable outcomes, but we go through it with the spirit of overcoming its challenges and achieving our goals whatever they may be. Continue reading “A Tribute to a Supervisor : Professor Bernard Gumb”