What Is An Executive PhD Program For Working Professionals?

If you are a seasoned professional, and think that you have more experience what an executive MBA can give you, you may be thinking about getting an Executive PhD.

In this post, we explore how this specialised doctoral program blends rigorous academic research with real-world business applications, offering a dynamic pathway for business leaders to elevate their expertise and impact.

Join us as we unravel the details of this prestigious program designed for the modern executive.

What Is An Executive PhD Program?

An Executive PhD Program is a unique beast, designed for seasoned professionals who are ready to elevate their impact.

Picture this: you’re a senior manager with extensive professional experience, but you crave something more, something that a traditional MBA program can’t offer.

Imagine diving into a program that marries the rigors of a doctoral program with the practicalities of the business world.

The Executive PhD in Business, often housed in a prestigious college of business or a business school, is tailored for those who don’t just want to learn about business administration but want to shape it.

The heart of the program lies in its approach to research. You won’t just be a doctoral student; you’ll be an applied researcher, delving into complex business problems. In executive PhD, you usually focus on areas with relevance to your professional work like: 

  • Strategic management,
  • Business analytics,
  • International business, and
  • Many more.

You’ll join a cohort of like-minded professionals, each bringing their own wealth of knowledge and leadership experience.

Executive PhD is designed to be completed while you continue working. This means you can apply your newfound knowledge in real-time, transforming your workplace even as you study.

The dissertation process in the Executive PhD is not just about producing new knowledge; it’s about employing rigorous research methods that blend theory and practice.

Faculty will support and guide you as you produce publishable research that employs varied qualitative and quantitative research methods.

How Does Executive PhD Program Work?

Embarking on an Executive PhD program is like stepping into a new realm where academic rigour meets real-world business acumen. 

Designed for working professionals, particularly those with substantial leadership experience, this program allows you to continue your career while pursuing an advanced degree. Think of it as a bridge linking the world of academia with the dynamic landscape of business leadership.

As you delve into the program, you’ll find it is meticulously structured to cater to the needs of seasoned business professionals.

Unlike traditional PhD programs, the Executive PhD is often part-time and may offer online classes, making it more accessible for those balancing a demanding career. 

You become part of a cohort, a group of like-minded individuals who not only share your professional interests but also contribute to a rich learning environment through their diverse experiences.

One of the program’s core elements is its focus on applied research. Here, you’re not just a doctoral student; you’re an applied researcher addressing complex business challenges.

The dissertation, a pivotal part of the doctoral journey, is not merely an academic exercise. Instead, it’s an opportunity to explore and contribute new knowledge to your field, using rigorous research methods that blend both qualitative and quantitative skills.

The Executive PhD in Business Administration, for instance, might offer concentrations in areas like:

  • Business analytics,
  • International business, or
  • Organisational behaviour.

This specialisation allows you to tailor your studies to your specific research interests and career goals. 

The business school faculty, often composed of esteemed professionals and academics, provide invaluable guidance, ensuring your research is both impactful and relevant.

Completing an Executive PhD gives you added credibility in the business community. It’s a testament to your ability to combine extensive professional experience with academic insights, elevating your status to that of a thought leader.

This degree goes beyond mere academic achievement; it’s about enhancing your capacity to influence and innovate in today’s complex business environment.

What Is The Difference Between Executive PhD and Traditional PhD?

When you compare an Executive PhD with a traditional PhD, you’re looking at two distinct paths converging at the same destination – a doctoral degree, but with different journeys.

The Executive PhD is a newer concept, designed with working professionals in mind, especially those who have already carved a niche in their field and are looking to deepen their expertise.

The traditional PhD, often found in academia, is a full-time, immersive program focusing on developing new knowledge and research skills. It’s ideal for those aiming for a career in academia or research-intensive roles.

The journey typically involves a deep dive into a specific area of study, with a significant emphasis on original research and contributing new insights to the field.

On the other hand, the Executive PhD, typically offered by business schools or colleges of business, is tailored for senior managers and business leaders with extensive professional experience.

This program blends the rigour of doctoral education with practical business applications. It’s a part-time, more flexible option, often including online classes, allowing you to maintain your professional commitments while pursuing your degree.

A key difference lies in the nature of the dissertation. In a traditional PhD, the focus is on theoretical research, contributing new academic knowledge.

In contrast, the Executive PhD dissertation often involves applied research, addressing real-world business challenges, and employing varied qualitative and quantitative research methods. It’s not just about theory; it’s about applying that theory to practice.

Additionally, the Executive PhD program offers concentrations in areas like:

  • Business analytics,
  • Strategic management, or
  • International business.

Aside from these, you are also free to align your studies with the specific interests and career goals of business professionals.

The cohort model of the Executive program also fosters a collaborative learning environment, where you learn not just from the curriculum but from the diverse experiences of your peers.

While both paths lead to a doctoral degree, the Executive PhD is designed for those ready to apply their expertise in new and fulfilling ways, blending their professional experience with academic rigour to become more impactful leaders in the business community.

Is Executive PhD Better Than Traditional PhD?

An executive PhD and a traditional PhD are like two highly specialised tools, each designed for a specific job. The question of which is ‘better’ depends largely on your professional goals and where you see yourself in the future.

An Executive PhD, offered by many a business school or college of business, caters to seasoned business professionals.

It’s a program designed for those who have already climbed the corporate ladder and are looking to further enhance their skills in executive leadership, strategic management, or business analytics.

The beauty of this program lies in its practicality.

You learn theories and then apply them directly to your current role, making the learning process immediately relevant and impactful. The cohorts are usually smaller, fostering a more intimate and collaborative learning environment.

On the other hand, a traditional PhD program is typically more research-focused and theoretical. It’s ideal if you’re aiming for a career in academia or a field that demands a high level of specialised research.

Here, you dive deep into a specific area, with the goal of producing new knowledge, often through extensive dissertation work.

Ultimately, the choice between an Executive PhD and a traditional PhD hinges on your career trajectory.

If you’re a business professional looking to elevate your existing expertise and apply it in new and fulfilling ways, an Executive PhD could be the perfect fit. If your aspirations lie in academia or in a research-intensive role, a traditional PhD might be the better route.

Each program offers a different set of benefits and caters to different needs, making them both valuable in their own right.

Wrapping Up: Both Traditional and Executive Ph.D Are Great

Executive PhD programs stands as a beacon for experienced professionals seeking to deepen their expertise while continuing their career.

It uniquely combines academic rigour with practical business insights, making it an ideal choice for those aspiring to reach new heights in leadership and innovation. 

Executive PhD programs not only enhances knowledge and skills but also opens doors to new opportunities, solidifying its graduates as influential leaders and thinkers in the ever-evolving landscape of the business world.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.