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A doctoral degree isn’t only for aspiring academics!

Dr Stephen McLaughlin

Faculty Blog

Why choose to dedicate 3 to 5 years of your life to pursuing a doctoral degree? The effort in terms of commitment, funding and gaining access to organisations willing to support your research are not insignificant. So, if you’re not planning to move into academia, what’s the point? Certainly many potential doctoral students come to us, at EBS, to fulfil a deep personal ambition, and the level of satisfaction on completion justifies the effort expended. But isn’t there something more to it than achieving ‘self-actualisation’? Surely there has to be some level of transferable skill that can be brought to bear within the operational reality of the modern organisation?

Well, the answer is yes, there is, and the value of doctoral training can have a significant positive impact on organisations. You’ll note I refer to ‘doctoral training’ and not ‘a doctoral qualification’. The distinction is important, and one that many doctoral students underestimate when starting their programme of research. At EBS, we receive applications from many potential candidates who have lived with a business or management problem for years and over time have decided on a course of action to resolve it. What they want is to write the problem and solution up into a doctoral thesis, defend their position and gain a doctoral qualification. To follow this approach is to wholly miss the point of doctoral research, and to fail to develop the key skills the training will provide.

Organisations have plenty of experienced people who can apply complex methods, tools and frameworks to problems, and these people play an important role in driving performance. However, what many organisations lack is people who can objectively break complex problems down into understandable components, analyse the situation in a non-judgemental manner, and define a way forward that is based on logic and a sound understanding of potential implications. 

It is this deep, analytical level of working that drives real value for organisations, and it is this very capability that doctoral training develops. Many candidates, when they start, are focused on the end of the process: the writing and submission of a thesis. This is understandable; it is a symbol of the culmination of the doctoral process. 

However, the real value, and challenge, lies in the journey candidates take to reach that endpoint. 

Along the way candidates will learn to think critically, to leave their emotions and preconceived ideas out of their research, and to effectively evaluate data and information from multiple sources. They’ll also learn to become more effective verbal and written communicators and more confident in their ability to communicate complex ideas to multiple, and disparate, stakeholder groups. 

The development of these skills can require the candidate to develop new ways of thinking about problems. Because of this, these skills take time to develop and hone, but they are absolutely critical to organisations striving to remain competitive in a dynamic global market. So, to that end, the attainment of a doctoral qualification marks the individual as someone who can provide real value to businesses and organisations looking to better understand, and operate within, their competitive environment.