Home | Opinion | Rocky road ahead for business school PhD graduates

Rocky road ahead for business school PhD graduates

We recently undertook a comprehensive survey of business school PhD programs across Australia and New Zealand.

It revealed that many PhD candidates lack industry experience, there is limited industry funding for research, and doctoral programs are universally oriented to academia.

Our study, published in the Australian Journal of Management, shows that most business PhD graduates take up academic positions upon completion.

A lack of industry experience, input and relevance in doctoral research, and by extension, future business school research, is a major concern.

Another worrying issue for PhD graduates is the decline in international student numbers and associated funding for entry-level positions.

Reduced opportunities for academic employment means more graduates will need to find positions in industry and government.

While this may sound like a practical pathway, there are concerns around whether non-academic employers value doctoral graduates.

Will they find the opportunities and the associated rewards they expect with a PhD degree? Anecdotal feedback suggests this may not be the case.

Pathways into doctoral programs need to change substantially. Greater encouragement is necessary for those with industry experience to enter programs, which would help promote the industry relevance of research projects.

The ad-hoc nature of funding of PhD candidates also needs to be addressed, and more broadly, a financial model supporting students with industry experience is required.

Beyond the industry relevance of research and how to facilitate such linkages, we identified several other concerns.

While most PhD graduates typically have high teaching loads, there is little emphasis on formal development of teaching skills during PhD programs.

There is also a clear reluctance to adopt more formalised training in research methods, even though there seems to be an enthusiasm for progressive assessment and PhD program stages.

A large proportion of doctoral students see their future in qualitative research, despite the high percentage of top-tier business journals having a quantitative focus. And the emphasis on publishing in top-tier research journals versus industry relevance is an issue in itself.

Of course, it is not all bad, and the survey illustrated many positive aspects of business school doctoral programs in Australia and New Zealand.

The diverse nature of PhD programs in Australian and New Zealand business schools demonstrates that there has not been extensive academic drift to a single model.

Students also appear to receive support via supervisory panels rather than single supervisors and receive at least some support to develop their professional network.

With the recent decline in academic employment opportunities facing business and economics doctoral graduates, important questions need to be asked about the future of doctoral education.

Our survey represents a starting point in this process, but we conclude that much remains to be done in developing doctoral programs that equip researchers and teachers of the future.

UTS Distinguished Professor Stephen Taylor and Dr James Wakefield, UTS Business School.

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