The doctoral graduation – what happens next?

Be proud of yourself

You’ve got your Doctorate of Business Administration degree because you deserve it. You probably feel frustrated because, for sure, your thesis would have been much more complete if you had spent three more months working on it (welcome to the interesting but also frustrating world of scholars, in which your research is never over!).

However, if your thesis passed through all the assessments stages (i.e., greenlight from your supervisor and program director, the greenlight from the internal and the external reviewers, and a successful defense), it means that you have the required skills to be a doctor with an AMBA-accredited diploma. Be proud of yourself! You will also observe that people around you will be proud of you, too! Some of them perhaps forgot about you these last months, but now that you have made it, they will give more value to the 4,500 hours (at a minimum) you have spent on your doctoral research. So enjoy!


So what next then?

The day after or so, you probably will look for more professional recognition, either by asking for a promotion inside your organization, by looking for a more rewarding job position, or by switching from the business world to the academic world. But, it’s not time to party unless the promotion has been directly reached. Looking for a new job position is often stressful: competition is high; so, the best thing to do is to publish your doctoral research as much as you can and as high as you can in peer-reviewed journals (Remember the CNRS list?). So, start as soon as you can! Candidates having published during their doctoral journey increase their chances of being hired.

You may feel exhausted or, even more, empty or depressed. I did not find any study about this, but, as a program director of doctoral programs, I have observed cohorts of new doctors over the years and have listened to their complaints about this feeling. During these years, the main goal is clear: getting this grail−the doctoral degree; the agenda priority is straightforward: working on the doctoral research; and the mind is focused: writing the thesis. Achieving the doctoral degree is like delivering a baby−but after a four- to five-year-long pregnancy. It is usually quite painful! But there is no baby to pamper; just yourself to take care of.


What’s next after that?

After this post-partum period, you probably have a better working position, and you now struggle with publications, but you enjoy the academic life (e.g., working with smart people who are focused on topics like you, using your brain intensively, or traveling around the world to discuss your research). Or you are recognized as an expert in your professional world and get rewards from this (e.g., getting more contracts, writing books).

And you are a doctor for your whole life! One day, you may lose your job, lose your hair, or lose your cat…who knows? But something will remain certain in this uncertain, complex, constantly changing, and sometimes crazy world…YOU WILL REMAIN A DOCTOR FOREVER, and you will never regret this, believe me!

So, wherever you are in the doctoral journey, even having completed it, I send you my best wishes.

By Caroline Gauthier, DBA Program Director, Grenoble Ecole de Management



A scientific background in my DBA experience

When I started my Doctorate of Business Administration at Grenoble Ecole de Management four years ago, about 20 years had passed since I had earned my PhD in Chemistry. Since that milestone, I had been in several senior business management positions, and I had founded my own consulting company. So, even though I had gained much professional experience, I realized that I was not completely sure about what I would expect from a DBA. But, I was certain that it was going to be an intellectual challenge and that I was willing to embrace it.

My DBA motivations

Generally, professionals have various motivations when they decide to start a DBA: the desire to make a transition from industry to academia; the willingness to gain a different perspective or deeper understanding of business for their work as managers or consultants; or the wish to have access to very senior management positions.

Personally, I wanted to embrace the intellectual challenge of a DBA because I was interested in gaining the skills to look at business from new perspectives. After several years in industry, I realized that my knowledge of business based on managerial practices had some gaps. I reckoned that I needed to get new perspectives to answer questions like: “why do managers or entrepreneurs make certain decisions?”, “what should managers or entrepreneurs be aware of to cope with the unpredictability of the business?” or “why do entrepreneurs sometimes fail to bring to market very promising technologies?”

The knowledge that I had built as a practitioner allowed me to find answers, but that didn’t satisfy me enough. I wanted a deeper understanding of business situations I had encountered, and I thought that whatever I could learn from my work in the field wouldn’t provide me with the means to gain the knowledge I was looking for.

The art of observing reality from different angles

Maybe my openness to answering these sorts of questions was rooted in my background. As someone with a scientific education, I have always valued the importance of understanding the reasons why things happen and of identifying the mechanisms that explain and describe the complexity of reality. As a practitioner with a scientific mind-set, I consider this kind of knowledge not mere intellectual curiosity; rather, I realized it is essential for finding solutions to business issues and for adding value to the work in enterprises.

Often, cost constraints and the typical fast pace in companies oblige managers and consultants to adopt schemas and to follow conventionally accepted paths and practices. In sometimes doing so, little room is left to explore areas that would enable seeing a situation in its real complexity. My particular experience in high-tech companies made me aware that more often, entrepreneurs and managers are required to cope with highly unpredictable businesses based on fast-developing technologies. In these situations, the usual formats or standard, “ready-made” approaches are not enough. It is necessary to go beyond these and follow unconventional paths. It’s essential to have an open mind-set and observe the reality of business from different points of view and then apply a scientific mind-set to see the cause-and-effect relations in the events.

Lessons learned from my DBA experience

I realize now that when I started my DBA, I followed my scientific mind-set, my inclination to explore, investigate, and become aware of the way things actually work. I thought I could acquire the skills for in-depth understanding of business by identifying sometimes-neglected aspects, and by doing so, I could offer my clients a really valuable contribution by solving their business issues.

Now, I am writing my thesis and my DBA journey is almost at its end. I finally realize what to expect from a Doctorate of Business Administration: the means that allow me to dramatically sharpen my logical skills and to develop an open mind-set. The combination of these two elements enables me to understand the complexity of business by using creativity, with a scientific approach, and to avoid both oversimplification and over complication when addressing real business cases.

By Ritalba Lamendola, Grenoble Ecole de Management, DBA student

Watch our video “Doctoral research: the differences between a PhD and a DBA

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



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).

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

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