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What to Know When Choosing a PhD Program

October 16th, 2019

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PhD students writing on a board

Choosing to pursue a PhD in business might be the best decision you make in your life, but there are a few things that might discourage you or impact your chances of being accepted at your program of choice.

This is part of the reason why the Fox School of Business recently hosted DocNet, an event where students who are interested in doctoral education in business can meet recruiters from top universities, ask questions and familiarize themselves with the application process. Undergraduate students from all over the Philadelphia region had access to some of the best researchers in their fields. 

Here are four suggestions for prospective PhD students offered by faculty and recently admitted students:

1. Pursue a PhD for the right reasons. Dr. Patrick McKay, Stanley and Fanny Wang Professor of Human Resource Management at the Fox School, emphasized how PhDs are not career enhancers or status symbols. 

PhD degrees are meant for individuals who combine the drive to conduct high-quality, cutting edge research with the desire to teach the next generation of scholars. “Pursuing a PhD for non-academic, professional motivations, like a promotion at work, is not a good idea as that objective is poorly aligned with the goals of traditional doctoral programs,” he told the crowd. 

“Potential applicants with such professional ambitions might pursue a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) instead.” 

2. Apply to programs with scholars who conduct research in your area(s) of interest. Research programs can be diverse, so finding the appropriate faculty-mentor should be among every applicant’s highest priorities. Universities often feature a wide range of professors covering all manner of topics, but be mindful that no one institution is at the cutting edge of every niche in every discipline.

Dr. Solon Moreira, assistant professor of strategic management, suggests that students choose a program “with a good number of active researchers that are committed to working closely with PhD students, transferring skills and guiding them through the early steps of their journey into academia.” In other words, prospective students should seek out scholars who are not only motivated researchers but also active mentors, a role that faculty at the Fox School take very seriously.

3. Reach out to faculty members and current students at the schools you are interested in attending. It can be intimidating to “cold email” faculty at top-tier universities with questions or to express your interest. However, Hailey Park, a current PhD student in the Fox School’s department of human resource management, advised that doing so could give you insider information. “If they’re not planning on accepting new students,” Park said, “you don’t need to bother paying $80 or more to apply.” 

4. Tailor your applications to each school. Schools share a common commitment to educating the populations they serve, but the ways in which they differ are just as important. Take the time to tailor every part of your application—your cover letter, writing samples, and even your recommendation letters—to each school, which has its own specializations and focus areas.

For example, Park suggests asking for at least four recommendation letters lined up so that you can tap different recommenders with different interests and backgrounds for different programs.

Although applying to PhD programs can feel overwhelming, one should always remember that the application process is manageable. “The admissions team is here to help you every step of the way,” said Dr. Sunil Wattal, managing director of the PhD programs at the Fox School. “Our mission is to transform high-performing students into trailblazing scholars.” 

Get started on your journey at fox.temple.edu/phd.

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