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“That enforced slow pace is perhaps frustrating, but it’s also the good thing about the DBA programme.”

“That enforced slow pace is perhaps frustrating, but it’s also the good thing about the DBA programme.”

Posted by Bieke Dewulf
on Jun 18, 2019
in DBA

The challenge facing participants in the Doctorate in Business Administration is not for the fainthearted: working for four years on a doctoral thesis alongside their normal professional activities.  But there is an award waiting at the end of the road: a doctoral diploma and research experience that is hard to match, says DBA Manager Eva Cools.  

Jointly putting knowledge into action, and action into knowledge

“That is our creed within Vlerick Business School. So what does it entail? Firstly, we want to provide people with knowledge they can use and develop in practice. That is something we are highly proficient in at Vlerick, for instance within our MBA programme. But with this DBA programme we consciously want to focus on the second part of our creed: converting practical experience into knowledge. That is quite a new approach.”

“We set a requirement of minimum ten years of work experience to start the doctorate programme. Our participants have therefore already progressed far in their careers. Activities going on at the work floor trigger their interest to translate a particular problem into academic knowledge. The DBA programme gives them pillars for that quest. The key questions are: how can you do research in a meaningful and rigorous way? How can you have an impact with your research and ensure you reach broader society but also your organisation and the academic world?”   

A unique partnership

“We had been toying with the idea for some time of adding such a programme to our portfolio. The fact is, in Belgium, universities are the only body permitted to issue doctoral degrees. Vlerick is an autonomous business school, focused on MBA and master’s degrees and management programmes for companies. When our parent universities (Ghent University and KU Leuven) asked us if we were interested to work with them for the DBA programme, we didn’t hesitate for a second. For them it was an opportunity to get closer to practice and for us, to strengthen our academic culture. That’s a win-win for everyone.”

“There are very strict criteria attached to being able to award a doctoral title. We therefore had numerous consultations to align the regulations, but the result is unique. Studying with us, students attain not only a DBA diploma but also an official PhD degree awarded by our parent universities KU Leuven and Ghent University.”

The “highlight of my year” according to lecturers

“If I am to believe the professors teaching in the DBA programme, they describe it as combining the best of both worlds. Not only can professors pass on their passion for research, they also stay up-to-date with developments in business. Furthermore they are impressed with the people who take part in the programme. The motivation and interest in doing research is high. The groups are small, so the interaction is optimal.”  

“The professors in the programme come from different domains, which gives the lessons an added dimension. You approach research in psychology differently to marketing research for example. Each lecturer brings their own insights. Participants come into contact with a wide variety of visions and they develop their own point of view. The emphasis during the courses is on methodology and research design, rather than on a field-specific approach, as this latter part is covered by the supervisors.”

One step back to move forward 

“I still feel some resistance from participants when they start. They have their research question in mind and want the answers as quickly as possible. That urge to get to an almost instant solution comes from practice. While the key to research is precisely: taking the time to understand things in depth and developing step by step.”

“In the programme, we notice that participants literally have to learn to read again. They are used to rapidly screening information, but they are now encountering literature that forces them to understand each sentence and dig deeper. That enforced slow pace is perhaps frustrating, but it’s also the good thing about the programme. Research demands an open mind. You have to create that yourself.”

A quality label, but above all a calling  

“During the five weeks people follow lessons here we try to provide the greatest possible added value through the intensity and interactivity of the programme. There is only a short amount of time, so we expect a considerable amount of self-study. That enables us to make the best use of the teaching period at the campus. We have also made the programme as flexible as we can. Our doctoral students can follow the programme in the order that suits them best. Students can start the programme at two points during the year.”

“It goes without saying that a doctorate is a quality label and can mean a great new step in someone’s career. We notice our participants choose this programme initially based on personal drive, rather than it being imposed by their company.  The latter doesn’t appear sensible to me anyway. Because you need a bit of a calling to start with this. That’s what binds the students, and they are very eager to dig into the world of academic research.”  

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