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Doing a DBA: is it worth the effort?

Dr Stephen McLaughlin

Faculty Blog

Deciding to embark on a doctoral research programme is not a decision to be taken lightly. Finding the time, in an otherwise busy life, is going to be difficult, and maintaining the momentum to drive the research over three to five years will take a significant amount of personal commitment and discipline.

So the question is, ‘Is it worth the effort?’

The answer really depends on why you want to do the DBA in the first place. If you’re doing it because you’ve observed certain phenomena in your working environment, think you have the answer and now want to convert your answer or opinion into a doctoral qualification, I would say the doctoral path may not be for you. If, however, you want to better understand your business environment and develop a more critical, analytical and objective way of defining phenomena, then a doctoral programme might just be right for you.

It is important to understand that the doctoral programme is not simply about writing a thesis. In a way the thesis is just a product of the research process. The real benefits of conducting this type of research are the many new skills you will develop through the process. Critical thinking, analytical skills, effective communication skills, research techniques and academic writing will emerge and mature through the course of the research.

Perhaps for me the most important and valuable skill the doctoral candidate develops is the ability to engage in ‘deep work’: the ability to apply thinking to complex problems while ignoring the distractions of everyday life. This valuable skill transcends even the topic of the research. To be able to apply one’s thinking, without being distracted, for long periods of time is a valuable skill not just for academics but also for organisations looking to truly understand the nature of their operating environments. The development of this skill requires practice and time, and this will be the biggest challenge for most doctoral candidates. In essence, success for the doctoral candidate is a triumph of perseverance over intellect.

So, in answer to the question, ‘Is it worth the effort?’ I firmly believe that if you develop an ability to engage in ‘deep work’ the quality of your thinking and contribution to your organisation will increase significantly. The value of this new ability will certainly outlast the actual research conducted for your doctorate, and the high quality of your analytical thinking and problem solving will define you among your professional peers. However, the development of this new skill will also require long hours spent reviewing papers, writing chapters, analysing data and just… thinking. The question for you, if you are considering a DBA, is not whether it is worth the effort but whether you are prepared – mentally, socially and professionally – to put in the time to do it. If the answer is ‘yes’ then you might be surprised at just how rewarding doctoral research can be.