Paul Jarley's Blog: TweetBack Thursday: Evaluating Ph.D. Programs

Paul Jarley’s Blog: TweetBack Thursday: Evaluating Ph.D. Programs

Alex Wilstrup (@AlexWilstrup1) asked me to discuss the most important factors to consider when evaluating Ph.D. Programs in Business Administration.

Obtaining your Ph.D. involves an apprenticeship. Unlike your undergraduate or other graduate level experiences where you took courses from numerous professors, your Ph.D. education is largely in the hands of three to five faculty members. These professors will be heavily involved in shaping you, supervising your work, and evaluating your performance along the way. One faculty member, your major professor, will chair your dissertation committee, guide your research on that project and will use his or her professional network to help you land your first job. You will forever be viewed as “his or her student.” It is a label that sticks throughout a career.

So prudence requires that you choose this group wisely. Begin by identifying people you want to learn from: people whose work you admire and want to extend. Next visit the campus and meet with these people. You need to assess how interested these professors are in taking you under their wing. Some faculty are more willing to work with students than others. The bigger the name, the greater the competition to work with the faculty member. Few professors are willing to take on more than a few students at once: it is very time-consuming work. Due diligence also requires that you talk to the doctoral students in the program. They are in the best position to tell you how accessible specific faculty are, your chances of working with them, and what they expect from their apprentices.

While on these visits it is also important that you ask for data on where graduates from the program get hired. Every program keeps this data. Ask to see the last five years’ worth. Get this by program, not by college or school. Programs within schools can have very different placements because the Ph.D apprenticeship process is so dependent on the major professor and a small group of other people. Most programs also admit small numbers so less than ten people may have graduated over five years. The key question is whether you like what you see: is the program consistently placing students at the types of institutions you would like to be at after graduation?

The bottom line is that this search process is all about fit. You want to be at a place with three to five professors who are doing work that interests you. People who are willing to help shape you, allow you to work as their research assistant, serve on your dissertation committee and have a track record of helping their students get jobs at the types of places you aspire to work. Don’t be afraid to check out several schools before deciding where to apply: once admitted you are going to be spending almost every waking moment there for three or four years—it is a deep dive, be prepared.

Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. This post appeared on October 25, 2012. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley.