In my role as a university fellow teacher, I’ve come across a very important discussion: whether you must have a Ph.D. to teach at the university.
First of all, some of the best teachers on the planet did not have a Ph.D. (Socrates, Aristotle, Platon) and they were part of a civilization that revolutionized the world at the time. Ancient Greeks taught philosophy, medicine, warfare strategy, history and geography to important figureheads such as King Alexander the Great of Hellas who built an empire from Greece all the way to the shores of India.
I’ve also had teachers with no Ph.D. but with extensive knowledge about a subject and they were really good at making the learning fun, understandable and engaging. It seemed to me that they had a flare of teaching. I’ve had teachers with PhDs and professor titles who were some of the most boring teachers on the planet, and most of what they said could be found in the literature. So, no, you definitely don’t need a PhD to be a good teacher! But how about teaching at the university?
A Ph.D. implies 3-5 years of additional heavy research following a masters’ degree, and Ph.D. students deepen their knowledge in a specific field. They become subject matter experts in a narrowed area and PhDs learn to apply ANOVA/SPSS modeling of numbers as part of testing interdependencies and correlations of variables that can help to solve business problems. PhDs earn the highest academic degree with the recognition of being able to research an advanced subject, and to structure, present and defend a thesis of some 50,000-100,000 words.
But are PhDs better teachers at the university because they have a Ph.D.?
In my view: No!
Yes, because PhDs acquire deeper insights in a subject and PhDs are encouraged to write articles, because universities earn recognition and funding through extensive research. Through deep research, PhDs are able to provide the depth and breadth of advanced subjects but so do MBAs and people with extensive industry expertise. A Ph.D. degree is useful when running deeper theoretical discussions in a certain area, and it brings much more advanced scientific analysis to the table.
No, because being a good teacher is a matter of motivating students to research a topic outside the classroom, and being a good teacher is about being able to mentor a students’ progress and to provide guidance and advice about how to learn, and how to conduct convincing and credible research. This can be done by PhDs as well as MBAs and teacher witch extensive industry expertise.
No, because being a reputable higher-level teacher is about giving students tools, skills and knowledge that are directly applicable in the industry after graduation which requires experience (+10 years) of working in the industry – the real business world. This is best done by people from the industry such as MBAs.
Being a good teacher is about planning and executing well-planned and useful classroom sessions for optimized learning that is fun and engaging at the same time. A good teacher makes complex topics easy to understand. This can be done by both PhDs and MBAs.
While PhDs are theoretical experts, universities also need teaching fellows from the real business world who can teach skills and knowledge that are directly applicable after graduation. In this case, MBAers make perfect university teachers and corporate trainers.
Another academic issue is that millions of graduates find it hard to get a suitable job after graduation due to a mismatch in provided courses at the university and what the industry demand and due to automatization, downsizing and outsourcing of production, the job landscape has changed in the west, and traditional courses at the university become outdated.
At the same time as it is hard to find a suitable job after graduation, executives say it is hard to find suitable candidates. 77% of chief executives report that a scarcity of people with key skills is the biggest threat to their businesses and nearly 50% of newly hired employees fail within 18 months costing on average 15,000 USD per employee (MIT Sloan 2020).
Accordingly, there is a mismatch in supply and demand and we therefore need to build a learning environment where PhDs and industry professionals with a talent to teach, come together to establish learning practices that help students become competitive in the 21st-century job market with skills and knowledge leading to a job.
MBA is a tough postgraduate education, with the requirement of having several years of industry experience before entering the MBA program. Selecting suitable MBA candidates is done through oral and written tests, and interviews of candidates with high academic scores and multiple references from the academy and the industry.
MBAs learn how to solve real case business problems and they learn how to translate a big chunk of advanced business data for better and faster decision making. MBAs learn how to research complex business needs and problems and how to present recommendations convincingly for C-level executives. This is exactly what students need in order to be able to succeed in business.
I therefore support a bi-solution where fulltime PhDs and MBAs are hired at the university to give students best possible learning environment; an environment that combines in-depth expertise with real-life business skills and 21st-century industry knowledge on top of advanced theoretical knowledge provided by PhDs.
A university lecturer with an MBA makes a perfect teacher concerning hands-on topics such as business English, public speaking, leadership, sales management, client management, business strategy, planning, marketing, project management and human resource management.
University deans must change their strategy today, and give students best possible learning environment by hiring teachers with different backgrounds, different knowledge and skills, different nationalities, and by offering teachers from all walks of life as long as there is a proven passion for knowledge, teaching and subject matter expertise.
When students decide to work for multinationals, they will sooner or later solve assignments in international teams with people from all walks of life, with different educational backgrounds and degrees.
Having passed a degree at a university with teachers of different backgrounds is therefore paramount for students seeking leapfrog advantage concerning how to work in global teams and how to solve and present complex business problems, efficiently and effectively (do the right thing right).
A competitive and truly successful university is therefore an environment where students get global knowledge by a diverse range of teachers who bring research and the business world into the classroom.
MIT Sloan (2020) MIT Sloan management review. Spring 2020. Vol 61 No 3.
Nearly Three in Four Employers Affected by a Bad Hire, According to a Recent CareerBuilder Survey: http://press.careerbuilder.com/2017-12-07-Nearly-Three-in-Four-Employers-Affected-by-a-Bad-Hire-According-to-a-Recent-CareerBuilder-Survey
Why doing a PhD is a waste of time: https://medium.economist.com/why-doing-a-phd-is-often-a-waste-of-time-349206f9addb
Odds are, your doctorate will not prepare you for a profession outside Academe https://chroniclevitae.com/news/2223-odds-are-your-doctorate-will-not-prepare-you-for-a-profession-outside-academe
Teaching fellow job description https://jobs.bcu.ac.uk/Upload/vacancies/files/725/Teaching%20Fellow.pdf
10 very good reasons to do an MBA degree https://www.mastersportal.com/articles/340/10-very-good-reasons-to-do-an-mba-degree.html
You’re buying into an incredible smart group of people: the enduring pull of the MBA https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/jan/28/youre-buying-into-an-incredibly-smart-group-of-people-the-enduring-pull-of-the-mba
First written 04 Feb 2020 by Antonios Papadimitriou and edited 30 March 2020 by:
Anthony Eric (Antonios Papadimitriou)
MBA International Business
University Lecturer, Corporate Trainer & Author