Did you know that you could become a business economist?

When you conjure up the image of a doctor in your mind, you’re a lot more likely to see white coats than you are Wharton, or think pre-Stanford GSB scrubs.

But it is possible to qualify in the business world to the point where you can get a PhD in the subject. Not even the likes of Tim Cook, Sheryl Sandberg, or Shaquille O’Neal can claim academic distinction (although Shaq has an MBA and a PhD in education and has considered going to law school).

The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is certainly a lesser-known business school program compared to the ubiquitous MBA. Despite an estimated 13,000 business schools worldwide, there are only about 275 DBA programs worldwide. And given the relatively small class size of a DBA, typically with only a handful of participants, there are only a small number of graduates each year. The three to five years it typically takes to complete the program could be daunting – in that time, you can earn a Masters in Management, an MBA, and then an Executive MBA, at a fraction of the cost.

For Professor Nora Colton, Director of the UCL Global Business School for Health in London, which offers a DBA that focuses specifically on the healthcare sector, the DBA is lesser known, partly because of the confusion involved. “The DBA is often confused with a PhD, which many professionals don’t associate with themselves,” she explains. “Many people will do an MBA and then focus on executive education and short courses for lifelong learning, rather than returning for a degree like a DBA.”

The UCL DBA Health offers a professional PhD for individuals in health-related fields who want applied research skills to address the challenges of the health sector. “This DBA Health is needed now more than ever,” emphasizes Nora Colton, “as the healthcare sector is radically changing to meet the demand for healthcare services.”

Confusion about what the degree entails is also a problem, believes Professor Brecht Cardoen, Academic Director of the DBA at Vlerick Business School in Belgium. “The DTA can be very confusing,” says Professor Cardoen. “Some vary between three and five years and may not include a PhD. Such as the Vlerick DBA is a mixed doctoral program with a joint PhD degree from Ghent University and KU Leuven. But you will develop the skills and knowledge to conduct innovative, groundbreaking and impactful research and gain academic expertise in a topic relevant to your organization.”

The DBA certainly requires commitment. Professor Lloyd Harris, Director of the Alliance Manchester Business School DBA, believes that “some candidates are often intimidated by the very idea of ​​doing a PhD”. Professor Harris describes the program as one for candidates who need “the tenacity of a bulldog, the drive of a Formula 1 car and a healthy dose of self-reflection” – so it might be a question to question your skills and knowledge before you take on a DBA good thing.

Although most DBA programs have been introduced in the last decade, demand is growing. According to Professor Karena Yan, Director of the DBA at Durham University Business School, the program’s low enrollment is a key reason for its impact. “DBAs are not about cohort growth or income generation per se, but are excellent tools to work with small groups of leaders and provide a deep understanding of their research problems and teaching and supervision activities that address them.”

As a research degree, the Durham DBA provides skills and abilities to distinguish between managerial ‘wisdom’ and the results of rigorous and relevant research. “We educate our students to be engaged through both the research philosophy and ethics and the research methodology workshops,” explains Professor Yan.

The need for DBAs to remain as small cohorts, with an emphasis on knowledge generation and an impactful experience for participants, is echoed by Professor Cardoen of Vlerick Business School, who agrees that while demand is increasing, “we are not raising quality standards should loosen up and integrity of research. Of course, since doctoral research has such high criteria, there will be a smaller pool of candidates, but the DBA is not and should not be about volume,” he says.

Aside from the length of the program, how does the structure of the DBA actually differ from that of the MBA? In many ways, the DBA is the opposite of all other business school programs – rather than putting knowledge into action, the DBA seeks to generate that knowledge through in-depth research.

“The DBA was designed to meet the needs of senior professionals who wish to improve their critical thinking and research skills whilst pursuing their profession,” says Professor Harris, who explains that the Alliance Manchester DBA is focused on him Original thinking applied. He adds that the DBA requires not only originality in developing a research project that addresses new and important problems in business and management, but also rigorous thinking in its theoretical framework and the application of that thinking to current and future practice.

The background of DBA participants is very different from that of other business school programmes, points out Professor Colton of the UCL Global Business School for Health. “DBA candidates have at least seven years of professional experience, many more, and usually already have an MBA or MSc degree. Most of these people come from senior management, have leadership roles within an organization, or are entrepreneurs with business experience, possibly in the start-up space,” she says.

And their goals from the program are different, too, says Durham’s Professor Yan. “DBA participants are looking for a research education with a business orientation, and many either want to work in academic, consulting and research positions, or are entrepreneurs who want to develop themselves and their company through research. DBA participants may also want to become academic experts in very specific areas or topics.”

It was intellectual curiosity that prompted Sola Sonuga, a director at investment bank UBS, to take on the Durham-Emlyon Global DBA program. Sola was intrigued to learn more about how business-focused research turns technology into a “differentiator” rather than an “enabler” in companies and industries. “I wanted to learn how to develop the skills needed to contribute to the application of business theory and professional practice in ways that can transform organizations, business models and ecosystems.”

Sola had previously worked in blue chip companies such as Nissan, Vodafone and Anglo American for 25 years addressing and overcoming many business challenges. He believes the DBA has already impacted his career. “It’s still early days,” he says, “but my outlook and perspective on what previously seemed like ‘impossible business problems’ has changed. The knowledge learned, combined with business experience, now makes the so-called “impossible business problems” solvable!”

The same goes for Sari Haavisto, a teacher at the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, who earned a DBA from Finland’s Aalto University School of Business. Sari’s goal was to take the DBA to enrich her thinking and strengthen her own skills both as a leader and in academia. “My goal was to reinforce the skills I’ve developed throughout my career in various leadership roles over decades,” she says, “and now I’m very fortunate to be teaching young people and supporting their journey into the business world. “

Sari believes having highly qualified supervisors makes a difference to the DBA program and something that has opened many doors for her. “I was fortunate to have excellent supervisors who introduced me to others in academia. The strong DBA alumni group also has a wide range of professionals from different areas – this network is very valuable.”

The DBA is a rigorous program steeped in academic research and focused on turning knowledge into action. The DBA is not for those who simply want to climb the corporate ladder, increase their income or acquire general business knowledge. Rather, it’s for the curious among us, those who want to become experts in their specialty, and those who want to make and contribute to a real, positive impact on society — perhaps not so different from the doctors we see in ours hospitals.

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