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Strathclyde Business School

Demystifying the DBA

By Steve Paton - Posted on 27 February 2020

While the PhD is the most common and probably most widely understood of doctoral qualifications, the DBA is a more recent incarnation of the doctoral qualification within the social sciences – here, Dr Steve Paton explains its benefits.

The most common question I am asked by prospective students is: ‘I want to do a doctorate and I have an idea for a piece of research but I’m not sure which degree is right for me - a PhD or a DBA?’

If you are in this position, the easy way to make sense of things is to ask yourself two questions: first, what body of theory am I contributing to? Second, what problem that my company/industry is facing am I trying to solve?  If you cannot answer the first question but you can answer the second then you are more likely to be a prospective DBA student.

So what might this industry problem be? To be blunt there is no ideal or standard research problem that makes a ‘good’ DBA. Obviously there is a range of industry types, and each industry contains activities too numerous to mention here. Each will have challenges and issues that at first glance might seem entrenched, complex and intractable.

A ‘good’ problem is specific enough to be investigated in a logical and straightforward way but is impactful enough for the solution that is found to be of interest to more than just the researcher or those in the researcher’s immediate peer group or organisational context.

The growth in the body of knowledge relating to project management is a good example here. This body of knowledge has emerged as practitioners and academics came up with solutions to the problems that arose while managing projects. Some of these solutions, such as the tools used to manage time, cost and scope were found to be applicable not only to a particular project but more generally across all projects. These solutions were then codified and over time became standard practice. This body of knowledge is still emerging. This is true for many areas within managerial practice.

A DBA then is primarily about making a contribution to practice by applying rigorous methodology to a particular problem of practice. By doing this you will not only gain knowledge of the problem but also knowledge of the management system that you are researching. You will do this while being part of a research community that will provide access to others, both academics and practitioners, who are researching similar problems.

DBA programmes are designed for employed practitioners and so by their nature are very flexible, therefore a full-time DBA student would be the exception rather than the norm. As DBA students tend to be employed in roles that require a lot of commitment, a good DBA programme provides a framework that ensures the student remains on track but contains the flexibility to ensure the student can adapt their programme of study to maintain a good work-life balance.

So in summary, DBA programmes are designed for practitioners of management who (often) already hold a management qualification such as an MBA and are looking for a new intellectual challenge.

Potential DBA students are interested in management research and they may have a research question in mind based on a general issue of practice that they are keen to resolve. For DBA students the biggest issue is often in conceptualising the problem, as an issue may exist in an individual’s mind or in the collective consciousness of a company or industry only as a vague notion.

The first stage of the the journey is in making sense of this issue so before committing to the DBA it may be worthwhile taking the time to talk to us about an idea just to see what emerges.

Anyone interested in discussing the DBA, and how it could benefit them, is invited to email Steve Paton: steve.paton@strath.ac.uk - find out more about the programme here.

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University of Strathclyde
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