Updated: Apr 19
It is common when academics do Master and Doctorate degrees to advance their careers in teaching or research. Also, many practitioners do MBAs to improve their business and management knowledge. However, it is pretty rare when a seasoned practitioner with a full-time job and many years in the industry decides to do a Doctorate degree. As an entrepreneur, a manager or a CEO looking for further career success, do you really need a Doctorate in your belt?
The answer is no. PhDs or DBAs are not essential for success in the business world. Most if not all world’s greatest CEOs, ruthless sales executives and transformational entrepreneurs do not have Doctorate degrees. However, a PhD or a DBA can be essential for “you” as it was for me. Unlike MBAs, a Doctorate degree is not a “one size fits all” sort of thing. If you are a practitioner considering to pursue a Doctorate degree, you must have your own motives that make it right for you. Think about your own personality, your way of doing business and your lifestyle.
When I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Architectural Engineering back in 1998, I never thought or intended to open a text book again. My commitment not to pursue further education lasted for 10 years after graduation. By that time, I had already changed my career and I was a manager in a marketing department having no academic knowledge of marketing. Like all good non-business educated practitioners, an MBA seemed like the logical choice then. I found that an MBA is a must-have, especially for non-business graduates, to understand basic business concepts, engage in discussions with different functions heads in management meetings, and manage people and projects. Also, it seemed like everyone else has or in the process of having an MBA, so why not me?
Once I completed my MBA in 2010, I decided to do a PhD. I had two main personal motives to take that decision:
First, I wanted to learn and advance my career in marketing by differentiating myself from peers and knowing more about the subject matter. I believed that a PhD would make me do better marketing, better management, and better-informed business decisions. Since my early childhood, I have been always a competitive learner. I enjoyed the learning process itself and enjoyed being at the top of my class and felt bad when I wasn’t. I continued to have this notion in my professional life as well. I always wanted to compete, take credit for good work and get promoted. So, a PhD made sense to “me” from competition, learning and career development perspectives.
And yes, having my PhD was rewarding to my career as early as enrolling in the program and continues to be till today. While almost all marketing management job announcements do not require a Doctorate degree, having a PhD in progress made my applications sexier to employers in implicit ways. It conveyed a perception of expertise and perseverance that I began to notice during job interviews. Also, I was able to do my job in faster and smarter ways than before. Spending long hours in reading and writing, critical thinking and case analysis began to pay off in terms of time-saving and quality improvement rewards in my daily activities. I started talking and presenting my new relevant knowledge to my peers, managers and CEOs who noticed progress. Having that said, my PhD did not make all my career dreams come true. I wasn’t that Owner or Co-Founder at that high-tech startup, that Vice President at that $15 million enterprises or that Regional Director at that global firm before the age of 40. My PhD did not hinder those dreams, but also, it did not help much to realize them.
If you are a competitive learner, you need to understand that having a Doctorate is a competitive advantage, but, it also can drain your time in a way that reduces that competitiveness. So be ready to satisfy the degree’s extensive time demands while staying focused on your job’s time demands. Satisfying both fronts is extremely challenging and will affect your competitiveness in all other aspects of your life such as social, health and wellbeing.
Second, I wanted to have more work-life balance during my late career through teaching and consulting. I have always liked the dynamic corporate life, competition, challenge and success. However, stress levels in today’s enterprises are extremely high, and strongly correlated with how senior you become. Budgets are limited, competition is fierce and uncertainty is high. Being passionate about what I do, I enjoyed meeting and overcoming these challenges. I enjoyed the rewarding feeling after a killer campaign, a new product launch or a successful presentation. I enjoyed working long hours and giving my job the biggest chunk of my time. However, I began to notice that this might not be the way I want my life to be forever, especially when I wasn’t running my own business or making $500,000 a year. It was just not worth it to continue like this for the next 25 years until I reach my retirement age.
I started thinking about what would be a career that I like doing, have lower stress levels and can maintain the same or even better pay. I found that a mix of academic teaching and independent consulting can be that career for me, and this is why I decided to do a PhD not a DBA. I have always enjoyed working with interns and younger colleagues. I have also enjoyed giving presentations and running workshops. But I never knew how much I enjoy academic teaching until I actually was with students in a classroom. I just loved it!
I also found that I already do more consultancy and advisory assignments among my full-time job duties in the last few years. Same assignments where external consultants are paid triple or quadruple my pay, and for less time. So by having a full time or a part-time teaching career that can sustain a minimum of decent living, I can still pick independent consulting projects that pay more for my hours.
So, I decided to do my PhD aiming to phase out my full-time professional job and phasing in my academic career and independent consulting after I reach the age of 45. I thought this would help me spend more time with my family, revive old hobbies, work out more and improve my overall wellbeing.
While it is too early to evaluate the rewards of this motive, I already see some results. Just for the sake of curiosity, I created an academic resume a few weeks before my graduation and started applying for Assistant Professor positions. Surprisingly, the interest shown by academic institutions was good! So good that made me think of pushing forward my “professional career phase-out / academic career phase-in” plan.
So yes, the last 5.5 years of my life I believe are well-spent and totally worth it. My two main motives proved to be met to a good extent. The feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment after completing this long journey is alone very rewarding.
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