The HBS Experience Doesn’t Have to End with an MBA

The Envy Test
The HBS Doctoral Programs welcomes Dolly Chugh, MBA ’94, back on campus for the PhD program in Organizational Behavior as one of the two students admitted this year. Dolly has a total of nine years of work experience, primarily in investment banking, marketing, and consulting, but is now looking forward to a career as a professor. She articulated the reasons for her return in her application’s statement of purpose: “The most obvious clue came at my fifth year HBS reunion. It was May of 1999. As I listened intently to my classmates’ recountings of IPOs and stock options, venture capital and seed capital, partnerships and advancements replica watches, I felt many things. Tremendous curiosity. Great admiration. Occasional surprise. But oddly, I felt no envy. Nothing inside me craved to trade places or to have another shot at the many similar opportunities I had forsaken in the past.

That is not to say that I did not feel any envy that weekend. I did, and it was reserved for the business school faculty. Within the business community, they were pursuing answers to important questions and translating their findings into relevant learnings in the classroom, in writing, and in dialogue with business leaders. I found their questions to be practical and their thinking to be rigorous. I felt a connection to my deepest interests and inclinations: my need for intellectual stimulation, my love of teaching, and my affinity for business. In fact, I found myself thinking in analytical terms about my classmates’ approach to making decisions about their careers, and wishing I could explore their decision-making processes in greater depth.”

To help make the transition from working professional to doctoral student, Dolly arrived at HBS two months before the program began to work with Professor Max Bazerman as a research associate. She reflects, “This experience has been infinitely useful in setting a context for the courses I am taking this fall. The act of actually participating in research-in this case, research about how people make decisions-helped demystify that process. And, now, I have points of reference when I am in class //, learning about statistical analysis, research design, or classic studies in psychology.” She recommends this opportunity to MBA students and alumni thinking of pursuing a doctoral degree.
Now two months into her doctoral experience, Dolly has noticed some differences between the MBA and doctoral programs: “The MBA program aims to develop general managers and leaders. By definition, then, the program aims to build breadth into the experience of the students. When graduates leave the school, they should be better able to lead others towards a particular goal. The case study method helps students take on the ambiguity that is a given in those situations.

In contrast, the doctoral programs seek to develop management scholars and faculty. Consequently, the program aims to build depth into the experience of students. When they graduate, they should be better equipped to understand why things happen as they do. The empirical and field-based research methods enable students to embrace the precision and rigor that is necessary to truly understand a situation.”
Dolly’s decision to return to school to pursue a career in academia has gotten the attention of sectionmates, friends, and family. “I think some people saw my decision as a really dramatic career u-turn, particularly given the fairly lucrative options sitting before me.”
But Dolly sees it differently, “Sometimes you start new chapters in life, and sometimes you start new books altogether. Personally, I don’t see this as a new book … I see it as a new chapter, one that weaves together my earlier chapters. And, I can’t wait for the chapter when I step into the role of professor!”
Get Your Feet Wet

Noam Wasserman knew what he wanted to do after graduation from the MBA program in 1999 and did it. He enrolled in the PhD program in Organizational Behavior that fall.

He had several career possibilities in mind, including venture capital, when he started the MBA program; none involved pursuing a doctoral degree in business. However, during Term 2, he began to reflect on what he enjoyed doing-developing people as managers-and realized that in the classroom the faculty were doing the same type of thing, but “times eighty.”

Noam talked with Professors Nitin Nohria and Paul Gompers about his interest in becoming a professor of management and learned that he needed to discover whether or not he would enjoy doing research and would be able to do it well. During Term 3 of his MBA, he did a faculty-sponsored research project with Professor Nohria and found the “intellectual hunt” to be energizing. He says, “In research, you take a real question and figure out how to formulate it, how to get your arms around it, how to test it. Initially, I was attracted to the teaching aspect of becoming a professor, but by the end of the semester, I found that I loved the research side.” His two most recent research projects focus on the dynamics of top management teams in entrepreneurial firms, such as start-ups and venture capital firms.

He offers this advice to MBA students considering pursuing a doctoral degree:
“If you think that you may be seriously interested in the doctoral route, find ways to do research while in the MBA program; maybe work with faculty with similar interests over the summer or do a faculty-sponsored research project or field study during the second year. It’s a small investment, and you get a lot out of it.

Before you make that four to five year commitment of your life, at least scratch the surface, make sure it’s something you want to do. Talk to current students in the doctoral programs. Ask professors who you know will be honest with you, be good devil’s advocates, to give you a realistic view of what their life is like.”

If you would like to start this process and learn more about the doctoral programs, the Doctoral Programs Office invites you to attend an information session on Tuesday, October 23, at 3 p.m. in Cumnock 220. We hope to see you there.