Thoughts on business doctoral dissertations…

Over the past four years, I’ve had the opportunity to lead a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) Program at a university located in the United States. While the University is accredited, the College of Business is not programmatically-accredited with either of the three main business accrediting bodies (AACSB, ACBSP, IACBE). Through the years, I’ve had students reference, and in some cases replicate, the work of other doctoral students. As I reviewed the published dissertations, I noticed a wide disparity of quality. Some studies are quite good; some are quite bad.

As I’ve pointed out issues with studies, I’ve received a wide variety of comments (from both students and faculty). The most common question is Why did the faculty approve the study if there were issues? I don’t know. Thus, I try to provide students with perspective.

  • Perhaps the student never really understood their methodology and data analysis plan? This can happen when a student “mimics” another student without truly understanding.
  • Perhaps the faculty do not have sufficient knowledge of the domain/subdomain, research method and design, or data analysis plan? This can occur when a faculty hasn’t kept their skills up-to-date or they haven’t added “tools” to their virtual tool belt since they earned their degree. This can also occur when a university doesn’t have the infrastructure to support a doctoral program, such as a writing center or a research support center.
  • Perhaps the faculty didn’t have the time to perform an in-depth review of the study? Faculty mentoring doctoral students are often teaching courses in their domain and the mentorship role is treated as an additional duty. Faculty could also be under time constraints based on University guidelines (e.g., meet graduation goals).
  • Perhaps the university doesn’t have an effective quality control system over research? Besides providing support to students and faculty, a university should have implemented some form of quality control when a doctoral program was created. Was a problematic study a result of a systemic breakdown in the quality control process, just an aberration inherent in a peer-review process that relies on 2-4 people, or could it be related to pressure placed on faculty by university leadership to ‘get the student through’ and, as a result, quality suffers?

Who knows?