Looking for a DBA or PhD in business and management? Find out which fields of business research present most opportunities, according to course leaders.
In the words of Dr Valérie Sabatier, deputy director of the Doctoral School at Grenoble Ecole de Management in France, “What we knew several years ago doesn’t work anymore. We need new research and new models.”
Globalization, technological change, environmental concerns, social and political upheaval, the financial crisis of the end of last decade, and rising business school enrolments are all driving demand for business PhDs and DBAs across a spectrum of diverse, though interconnected topics. Here, course leaders identify five of the most in-demand areas of business research.
1. Managing technology & innovation
“Management of innovation and technology is of particular importance right now,” says Sabatier. “Questions about R&D, strategy and business models, and innovation are very important both from a theoretical and managerial point of view.”
What’s driving demand? Rapid and continuing change. “The world has changed so much and is evolving so quickly with new questions emerging all the time,” Sabatier says. Gillian Symon, director of PhD programs at the School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, adds: “The continuing rapid developments in social technologies that have revolutionized marketing, communications and organizational relationships make these topics vital.”
2. Resources management & sustainable development
Energy management, water management, and sustainable development are all identified among “the great ‘macro’ themes of the century” by Alessandro Binachi, DBA program thesis and research coordinator at European University’s Business School in Spain.
What’s driving demand? Quite simply, as Binachi says, “without solving [these issues] in the short term, life on Earth may become seriously jeopardized, or at least unpredictably complex.”
3. Social entrepreneurship
Recent years have seen a growth in the number of MBAs in social entrepreneurship – and there are also opportunities in this field for PhD and DBA candidates. “Social entrepreneurship, business models for developing countries, but also frugal innovations are hot topics,” Sabatier says.
What’s driving demand? Social, economic and attitudinal change. Research in this field focuses on “how to create value for society, as well as value for profits and returns,” says Sabatier.
4. Corporate responsibility, ethics & accountability
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has similarly been a ‘hot’ topic for some time now, but the course leaders say it remains a key priority for research. Binachi identifies ethical issues among the most pressing topics for business research today, while Symon says ‘Sustainability, responsibility and ethics’ is one of the six areas of research excellence being prioritized at Royal Holloway.
What’s driving demand? The impact of the financial crisis of 2008 onwards is still very much being felt, Symon says, meaning corporate responsibility, accountability and “assessing fair value accounting” remain very much at the top of the research agenda.
5. Accounting & finance
Finally, accounting and finance remain high-demand areas. As well as highlighting the link between accounting and accountability, Symon also predicts growing demand for models of accounting for intangible assets.
What’s driving demand? In addition to the broader pressures of social and economic change, increased enrolments in higher level business school programs. “With the boom in professional education, there are not enough professors at PhD level to teach in business schools,” Sabatier says. As a result, academics in the fields of accounting and finance - particularly corporate finance and markets - are in high demand, for both research and teaching positions.
Of course these are by no means the only areas of opportunity. Symon also mentions war and global security and global labor standards as fields of business research likely to see growth, while Sabatier mentions healthcare in addition to the fields already covered.
Meanwhile Binachi emphasizes that beyond these overriding themes, each region and industry presents its own specific priorities and challenges. Finally, he points out that many of the concerns that kept business leaders awake a century or more ago remain just as pertinent and pressing today – including productivity, labor problems, cost containment and new products development.
Can a good undergraduate dissertation still make a difference? I'd like to think so.
Imagine you are a student. You go to a respectable university, it's not a world beater but it does the job. Your parents are definitely still proud of you, at least.
But one night, halfway through the summer between your second and final year, you wake up in a cold sweat, with the rather unnerving epiphany that you have a negligible amount of relevant work experience and the saddening realisation that you are not, unfortunately, an Oxbridge superstar with an army of industry contacts, who is a shoe in to the world of high-flying graduate employment.
How then, are you going to pull that all important acceptance email to a grad scheme out the bag (while keeping your mum proud)? How much can you really pack in to those last nine-ish months to turn your fortunes around? Especially in a climate where, if conventional wisdom is to be believed, most of us are up the proverbial. Well, over the course of this year, I intend to find out myself.
In fact, I refuse to bow my head to such scaremongering. If this sounds like you, console yourself with the fact that you are not the only one. In the eyes of academia, I'm considered average too! But fear not, we can dazzle those prospective employers yet with the stalwart of our degrees. The almighty spearhead of our academic arsenal, the dissertation. Honestly.
I am not belittling other extra-curricular methods of attaining that first step on the career ladder. Most of the research I have done personally points to a placement year or a summer internship being the stairways to graduate heaven. But as many of you may well know by now, such placements are like gold dust where similar processes are implemented for internship applications to actual grad scheme applications, and you sometimes need a degree just to fill one out.
It may be obvious, but I'd like to think, as I start to undertake my own dissertation, that in a few years time I can look back on it and think, yes, that counted for something.
When I asked a friend of mine, who had already secured a job as a trainee at one of the Big Four accountancy firms, what he thought of the value of a dissertation when it comes to employability, the answer was not what I hoped. He seemed to think that in cold light of the day it would make a minimal impact on my chances.
We agreed to disagree. Maybe a mediocre piece of half-baked research wasn't going to get any HR manager salivating. But the same cannot be said for a first class piece of innovative and clinical analysis, can it?
Prior to attending university I had no idea that it was not compulsory to undertake a dissertation and, although I personally have persevered to write one, many of my friends have opted not to do so. In my mind, I have always thought a dissertation was the pinnacle of any undergraduate degree, where you finally get to research a topic of sincere personal interest to you, hopefully, with the additional outcome of proving to be of some passable academic merit in the process.
Reassuringly, I have been led to believe, by my own dissertation supervisor, that a well-researched piece of "quantitative analysis" shows commitment, perseverance, self motivation, independent study, initiative and critical thinking; surely all the essential elements to establishing your competency as a viable candidate for any graduate position? Although, maybe he was just being nice.
Surely a well-written postgraduate thesis, with a topic relevant to a prospective employer, could be the deal-maker; potentially placing you ahead other candidates.
Similarly, it may not be as dense as a masters dissertation, but there can't be any harm in gearing your research topic towards the vocation you are interested in taking up in the future. Wouldn't this clearly demonstrate that you have shown a serious interest in a prospective sector prior to undertaking the graduate job search?
Let me know what you think, I'd like to get a wider perspective on the collective chances of this years graduate hopefuls.