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Exploring the DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) program at Grenoble Ecole de Management [Show Summary]

Would you like to be the kind of business leader who wants to define problems and design solution based on rigorous research? Are you seeking a global, part-time program that goes beyond the masters? Do you like the idea of being a chef as opposed to a cook?

Dr. Michelle Mielly, Academic Director of the DBA U.S. for GEM, gives us the scoop on Grenoble Ecole de Management DBA, a program that helps it students define problems and design solutions based on rigorous research.

Interview with Dr. Michelle Mielly, Academic Director of DBA U.S. at GEM [Show Notes]

Our guest today, Dr. Michelle Mielly, does a lot of different things as Associate Professor at the Grenoble Ecole de Management, AKA GEM, where she’s been since 2010. I’m not going to list them all, but the most relevant role for us today is as Academic Director of the DBA U.S. for GEM. Originally from the U.S., Dr. Mielly earned her bachelors at Southwestern University in Texas, a masters from Penn State and Harvard, and her PhD, in Anthropology and Francophone Civilization, is also from Harvard. She has worked in France, the U.S., the Ivory Coast, and Central America.

Dr. Mielly, I want to start with two really basic questions, but I think they are ones that a segment of listeners may have: a. What’s the difference between a PhD and a DBA, or are they synonymous? [2:31]

They are very similar, and are both doctoral qualifications as well as terminal degrees. The DBA designates a traditionally part-time program that is in business administration as opposed to an academic qualification. DBA students are practitioners of management or do applied management, and are often linked to part-time and professional status. The DBA is a little less academic than a PhD. There are still a lot of PhD ingredients, but the level of contribution in terms of a thesis will be more practitioner-based than theoretical.

b. What can someone with a DBA do professionally outside of academia that someone with an MBA can’t do? [4:51]

When you get an MBA it’s very rigorous but you are often working on the case method learning how to establish and replicate good recipes. You have the ingredients and the recipes and you are cooking up great solutions. When you go for a doctorate you are writing the recipes. The MBA helps you become solutions-oriented. In the DBA you become the chef, creating recipes, testing them, and looking for different outcomes. There is a lot less certitude, and much of it is a period where you are exploring and changing your mindset.

In terms of careers, we have a lot of different outcomes. We have one graduate who worked to develop his own algorithm for a hedge fund for socially responsible investing, honing in on very specific skills. He is now applying that in New York. Often we have folks who were CMOs or CFOs and become attracted to consulting firms. They become managerial thought leaders because they can translate research to people who don’t do research, but also are the people in the room who know more about a particular subject.

What’s distinctive about the GEM DBA program? [10:16]

We have been around since 1993 and have learned how to work well with students who are part time and remotely located. We are very good at transitioning students to academia, and we encourage people to pick up a class and teach. We help consultants become better because our methods make them much more scientifically-oriented and research-based. We also have students on every continent, impacting students at schools or in the world of management everywhere imaginable. We have especially large constituencies in China and the Middle East.

In preparing for the call I noticed that there is an emphasis on integrating practical and theoretical, what Valérie Sabatier, Director of the GEM Doctoral School, calls “relevant research.” Can you delve into that a little deeper? [14:09]

By taking on people who are part-time we know it is a tough road, and they have to do something that matters because their organizations are expecting them to. At the end of the day, our students are not just having a conversation amongst people in an ivory tower. They are talking to industry watchdogs, trade journalists, everyday people in their organization who are figuring out trends, or economic cycles, so even if it’s a narrow subject there is something they can measure after having done it.

The DBA draws students from around the world to its part-time program, but it has four physical locations in Grenoble, France, Los Angeles, CA, New York City NY, and Istanbul, Turkey. Do the cohorts meet all together at specific points in time? Is it a lock-step program? Are there online components? [16:28]

People typically gather in their closest geographical locations, but some of these global managers travel so much they can go to other sites. Americans prefer to be able to take classes on American campuses. For our non-U.S. locations, we do one full week of coursework (5-6 days minimum) and they come back together every six months. In the U.S. we do it on a weekend, so every three months over a weekend they gather, after doing the initial first week in Grenoble. That works out quite well. The minimum a student can complete the program in is three years, with maximum of five years. We thought about a global DBA format but we found that people like to have a connection to a community going through it together. With a global format – a week in China, a week in Colombia, say, they didn’t like the idea of the irregularity of place and group.

How does the GEM DBA program compare in cost to similar U.S. programs? [23:05]

In Europe it is not socially acceptable to put people in debt so much like it is in the U.S. Our program cost for four years is $69,000. That compares to $150,000 for a three year program in the U.S. We just celebrated our 400th graduate, and people in the U.S. are looking at that. We are fully accredited, and European schools and those outside the U.S. really are responding to the issue of affordable education.

You’ve convinced me. I want to join the program. How do I get in? [29:06]

We do not require research experience. We do favor applicants who have done a masters thesis, however, writing experience is really helpful. We do require a research proposal with the application. We encourage applicants to talk to former professors to craft something original which is not easy – they often do not like to be put in the position of beginner. They are brilliant people who haven’t done research in this way, and have to put themselves in position to learn. We sometimes ask applicants to go back and do work on their research proposal that is a great sign right there if they are willing to do it. If we didn’t have the proposal we wouldn’t know about resiliency in the academic process. If they can bend themselves to be learners again they are the perfect candidates for us.

I saw that at least five years of work experience is required. What kind of work experience are you looking for? [34:55]

We encourage five years of managing people. The youngest students are 30 or so and we have no age limit. We’ve had people in their 70s defend their thesis. Those that come in at 30 do so because they are so right for this and have the full capacity to do a PhD but couldn’t quit their job. We can help push them in a more academic direction. Critical experience is managing people in some form or significant project management. It is an impressive group of people, and we want everyone to feel comfortable. Experience doesn’t have to specifically be from business – we have people in non-profits, government, military, anything to do with organizations and managing organizational questions.

GMAT or GRE? Academic background in business? Or specific other fields? [37:19]

The PhD program does require the GMAT or GRE, but we do not, as we are assuming people have already taken it prior to doing an advanced degree. The majority already have an MBA or masters in a discipline such as finance or marketing. We also have people with a masters in engineering or education. We even have had someone with an MFA or medical doctors or people with PhDs in other subjects who went into the business side.

What gets you excited (in a positive way) about an applicant? [38:57]

Where I see the potential to address questions that are complex and grand challenges. We all know we have problems with migration, and one student is working on the diaspora impacting a lot of countries and the need to find ways to pull people back. In other words, how can you motivate people to repatriate? We have people looking at sustainability, migrant identity, environmental impact problems, and social responsibility.

Do you have any advice for people considering the GEM DBA? What should they be thinking about? [42:00]

The application aspect is easy. What is more challenging is the research proposal – we look at academic qualifications, managerial experience, and most important is the research potential. If you can give yourself six months to formulate your idea that is great. You will need to think about what you want to do in a doctoral program that you don’t have time to do in your everyday life. You need to think about what is interesting to you, what you are drawn to read, and if you see a pattern. Engage with people who know about the subject you are interested in, and look at existing research. Really take your time to put together that proposal.

What would you have liked me to ask you? [46:21]

How we can involve more minorities or underrepresented groups in doctoral research. This is important for us to broaden the perspective diversity in the academy. Different people have different ways of looking at things. For example, we are very polarized on politics in the U.S., but people coming together in an academic setting allows people to engage in touchy discussions. We need more women, more people of color, more socio-economic backgrounds coming into programs like this. We need more richness and perspective to question assumptions.

Related Links:

Grenoble Ecole de Management DBA
How to Perform an Effective Scholarship Search
Fitting In & Standing Out: The Paradox at the Heart of Admissions, a free guide
Choosing the Best PhD Programs, a free guide
Accepted’s Admissions Consulting Services

Related Shows:

Exploring London Business School’s Master’s in Analytics and Management
An Inside Look at the World of Admissions with Linda Abraham
How to Get Into Grad School, and Get Jobs After Graduate School

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