Making a distinction between an Executive PhD and a “traditional” PhD is tricky. In both cases, students go through the process of acquiring sound research skills, they undertake rigorous research, and at the end of the process they will make a unique contribution to knowledge. In the case of Antwerp Management School’s Executive PhD program, candidates acquire the same skills and methodologies as their colleagues following a traditional PhD track at the University of Antwerp. Moreover, they are supervised and surrounded by the faculty of both institutions: University of Antwerp and Antwerp Management School.
"One of the key distinctions between an Executive PhD and a traditional one is what we call 'the transfer of knowledge'. "
One of the key distinctions – if not the most significant one – between an Executive PhD and a traditional one is what we call “the transfer of knowledge.” Argote and Ingram (2000) describe the concept of knowledge transfer as “the process through which one unit (e.g., group, department, or division) is affected by the experience of another.” If we translate this to an Executive PhD program it means that the knowledge a PhD candidate gains through his or her research will benefit his or her organization in a very practical way. This clearly makes a distinction between theoretical knowledge and knowledge in use.
Traditional vs. Executive PhD
Most candidates who follow a traditional PhD track don’t have real experience in business or practice. They finish their masters’ studies with distinction and immediately embark on a PhD. Most of the time, these candidates make a rather theoretical contribution in their thesis. And that’s fine, as we undoubtedly need more insights into the theoretical frameworks that underpin our business models and practices.
"Executive PhD candidates have extensive experience as managers or leaders
at a senior level. The knowledge they gain through their research will
benefit their organization in a very practical way."
Executive PhD candidates, on the other hand, have extensive experience as managers or leaders at a senior level; this is one of the prerequisites for being accepted on the program. Because of their professional background, they usually want to research a practical problem they face in their organization. A few examples of topics of research that are currently tackled by our Executive PhD candidates will illustrate this: understanding the relationship between the determinants of innovation and innovation magnitude in the pharmaceutical industry; the impact of digitalization on the level of ambidexterity required of operational middle management in the chemical industry; how networked organizations can be optimized in an effective way…
Translating research-based knowledge into workplace practice
A 2015 study by Michael Fischer and his colleagues sheds new light on the notion of knowledge transfer. The study identifies how organizations can overcome the difficulties of translating research-based knowledge into workplace practice. The paper, published in the prestigious journal Human Relations, is based on a broader UK government-funded research partnership, led by Professor Sue Dopson of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, with researchers at the University of Melbourne, King’s College London and Warwick Business School. The study looked at 137 senior managers in six leading organizations in the UK health industry. They examined how managers use academic research in their decision-making to effect organizational innovation and change. The study identified the importance of “knowledge leaders,” who act as more than mere facilitators or translators of the research, but have a deep-seated personal investment in applying this knowledge to their own setting.
"These knowledge leaders have a deep-seated personal investment in applying this knowledge to their own setting."
This research was based on interviews with 45 mid- to senior-level managers, all of whom demonstrated interest in management research and had doctoral or other postgraduate degrees in management-related subjects. It seemed that those who were perceived as “knowledge leaders” in their organizations sped up the use of academic research in developing an evidence-based health sector. Instead of attempting to translate and shift the knowledge further down the chain, these managers find ways to act as the knowledge itself. They create emotional engagement by actively “becoming” the knowledge.
"Instead of attempting to translate and shift the knowledge further down the chain, these managers find ways to act as the knowledge itself."
Now let’s go back to my initial argument that one of the major distinctions between an Executive PhD and a traditional PhD is this transfer of knowledge. The aforementioned research by Fischer and his colleagues goes a step further, stating that knowledge transfer doesn’t just accelerate academic research in organizations, it can prompt a whole new way of leading organizations, in which staff start acting and engaging others by actively becoming the knowledge.
It’s promising and very rewarding to think that, with the Executive PhD program, we are actively helping a new generation of managers to develop as knowledge leaders.
- Argote, L. and Ingram, P. (2000). Knowledge transfer: A Basis for Competitive Advantage in Firms. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82(1): 150–169.
- Fischer, M.D., Dopson, S., Fitzgerald, L., Bennett, C., Ferlie, E., Ledger, J. (2015). Knowledge leadership: Mobilizing management research by becoming the knowledge object. Human Relations, downloaded on Dec. 20, 2015
- More background information on the published research of Fischer et al