Friday, September 20, 2013

Is the Ph.D. or DBA more Aligned to Current Business Needs?

Are professional or traditional doctorates more significant in today’s economy? A paper by Banerjee and Morley reviewed the growing trend of professional doctorates and the possibility that they are more aligned to the executive needs of running modern companies. A professional doctorate is more focused on applied type research based within real world business scenarios. Traditional Ph.D.’s are primarily focused on theoretical underpinnings and are more concerned with a broader theoretical base.  Should one earn a DBA or a Ph.D. in business?

Some have argued that the professional doctorate is superior because it focuses more closely on workplace issues and uses theory in a practical and applicable manner.  The traditional Ph.D. is seen as an academic degree most applicable for teaching and academic research. Fundamentally, the two degrees are perceived as having two different purposes with the professional doctorate more in align with corporate needs. 

It is believed that universities face increasing pressure to provide knowledge management skills as offered in a doctorate program. It is believed that PhDs have a greater focus on theory to enhance business school prestige but are not focused on solving practical problems. Thus, an industry-academic divide has been created and the professional doctorate balances the need of turning theory into strategic practice. 

DBAs have the capacity to draw from a wide range of knowledge and use that knowledge to focus on the issues that are currently important in the marketplace. The professional doctorate pushes academia to be more relevant to modern business problems and in turn creates additional support for doctoral education. 

The key to any successful doctorate program is to the ability to use past knowledge and theoretical understandings to create a process whereby the information is blended with professional knowledge to solve practical problems. As graduates develop the research skills they can continue to use knowledge, theory, experience, and professional skills to develop problem solving frameworks. It is seen as a degree of empowered knowledge. 

Even though the paper doesn’t specifically state this concept there are fundamental differences between a Ph.D. and a DBA. The Ph.D. generates theoretical knowledge that creates a deeper underpinning to practical knowledge but is relatively removed from solving direct problems. The DBA is a reflective practitioner that generates knowledge that is more closely associated to a current problem at hand and can be implemented without major processing. It is the difference between asking “What if?” and “How to?”.  The Ph.D. creates the scholar and the DBA creates the scholar-manager.

The process of earning a DBA includes the research, writing, and defending of a dissertation that helps to enhance the analytic, rhetorical, and critical thinking abilities of the graduate. In addition, the training provides an opportunity to learn new writing styles and how to use analytical methods to further ones understanding of day-to-day business practices. Statistics and analytical analysis helps to ensure accuracy of the research in order to push for more relevant results.

One can conclude that a Ph.D. and DBA have two fundamentally different outcomes with one focused primarily on theory and the other on the practical application of that theory. Both share a level of similarity in education and methodology. Even though the report does not indicate this concept, it would seem that the increased need for the practicality of the DBA and the growth of online education show a similar trend. As the majority of online students work for a living, and may already be focused on maintaining their careers, the DBA would be most aligned with their needs as well as the needs of their employers.

Banerjee, S. & Morley, C. (2013). Professional doctorates in management: toward a practice-based approach to doctoral education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 12 (2).

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