Extract from “How to successfully complete your DBA” by Pr Michel KALIKA – Editions EMS

What makes a professional, who usually has a fulfilling working and family life, want to invest time and money in a demanding DBA preparation? We consider this question as critical and we invite DBA candidates to be clear about their motivations. Asking this question to applicants during selection interviews or reading their letter of motivations often leads DBA candidates to provide a stereotyped response, quoting the title of one of our books: “I want to create knowledge.” To go deeper in understanding additional and real motivations, we ask the applicant about the return on investment of the program. “You are a manager and will invest a lot of time and several tens of thousands of Euros over three years. But what is the return on such an investment? What is the R.O.I.?” Responses are then richer and based on nearly a hundred interviews, we may identify a series of motivations that we can classify into two main categories, those which pertain to the private sphere and those which are more related to professional life. However, we are alert to the distinction between the declared statements and reality, formal responses and what really motivates the respondents.


We shall begin with a presentation of private motivations because there is a major difference with MBA applicants’ motivations which are much more professional in nature.

In the private field, candidates who are at the end of their career and have nothing to prove in their area refer to the doctoral activity as a source of pleasure. It may come as a surprise but this motivation is very important in our eyes because if the activity of thinking, conceptualizing, reading, writing was not a source of pleasure for the manager-DBA student, s/he would be inclined to drop out owing to professional constraints (overwork) or family arguments (“you are never there and when you are there, you are thinking about your thesis!”).

In the private field too, some candidates express clearly how proud they would be to be a doctor, given their family context in which parents… or parents-in-law are academics or physicians.

Finally, the pursuit of satisfying a need for personal fulfillment, surpassing yourself and achievement should not be underestimated. These candidates wish to go beyond daily managerial practices to produce an outcome in which their willingness to create knowledge, to contribute and leave a mark is recognizable. We also include in this category the case of a candidate who wished to write a thesis on waste recycling and indicated that he wanted to make a difference for his country.


These private motivations do not exclude more professional considerations.


The willingness to have a competitive edge is clear for managers who find themselves in a competitive context in which the DBA has become the reference and holding it helps make a difference. This argument is frequently put forward by applicants who work in international companies or organizations and clearly wish to enhance their CV. This motivation may be close to the willingness to advance one’s career. Some managers clearly told us that the DBA was critical to climbing an international humanitarian organization career ladder. Others, in a German environment, explained to us that holding a DBA would be useful to enter the international Board of a German company. The willingness to advance one’s career may also be reflected in a retraining project in Education. In this case, it is important to make a distinction between the willingness to teach part-time in addition to another activity or teach full-time. If the manager wishes to develop his/her part-time employability within a Business School or an Engineering School, the DBA is an appropriate choice, in our view. Note however that, having observed many cases of DBA doctors and the diversity of institutional expectations, we need to be careful in terms of career paths that are far from being linear. Indeed, in the context of a conference in which it was explained that a person who wants to be a full-time faculty should consider a PhD rather than a DBA, a School Dean pointed out the contradiction and indicated that he was looking for DBA profiles having managerial experience to teach his students!

Others, finally, who wish to open a consulting firm, consider the DBA as a compulsory step. This last example refers to the search for legitimacy. How can we advise companies if we have not proved our ability to analyze, conceptualize and recommend? The completion of a DBA which may result in the publication of a managerial book or articles is hence a guarantee of professional legitimacy.

The following table sums up these motivations.

motivations summary.png

6. Verbatim are summaries of statements heard during interviews. Source: How to successfully complete your DBA p.27


In practice, these various motivations are not exclusive; they combine and can have a relatively different significance depending on the applicant


Communicated by Business Science Institute

Publié le 27 avril 2021