Interview with Alison Knight

Published: 10 June 2016 | by Thomas Graf

Alison Knight is General Director at the International School of Management (ISM) - a business school with study options in Paris, New York, Shanghai, New Delhi, São Paulo, and Cape Town.

In this interview, Alison speaks about quality in Doctorates of Business Administration (DBA) programs, the "typical" DBA student and the benefits that ISM graduates experience after the DBA.


In your opinion, what should a world-class DBA program look like? And how do such programs differ from programs with less quality?

Well, that depends on what high-level professionals are seeking to get from a DBA degree. Increasingly, we’re seeing a trend towards an emphasis on flexibility. These sorts of doctoral programs are leaving the traditional ones in the dust. The main reason for this is that the main value criterion for quality has seen a dramatic shift. In past decades, adding further study options (e.g. partner programs in other locations, e-learning modules, etc.) was viewed with skepticism by certain business schools. Programs that got in front of the demand shift towards a higher level of flexibility have been vindicated. Quality and flexibility are no longer seen as a trade-off. The two are more and more synonymous.

In addition, in a world-class DBA program, students receive individualized, one-on-one support from staff and faculty. The best DBA programs also set up candidates for success in their research by creating a structure which will allow them to do rigorous work. This sort of program cannot regard the dissertation as a mere afterthought or formality. The top DBA programs ensure that research interests are a criterion for admission. From the first interaction with the admissions department to the first day, these programs set the tone for the seriousness of the dissertation process that follows. Ultimately, this is where flexibility and structure complement each other well. The strongest DBA students seek challenging curricula that allow them to adapt interests along the way—and prepare them to publish.

From the student’s point of view, what should the ideal DBA student resemble?

Ideally, a DBA candidate has 5-10 years of senior management experience. More important than any specific amount of experience is demonstrating an upward trend in one’s professional responsibilities. Candidates come from diverse professional backgrounds, from successful entrepreneurs to CEOs, to diplomats, consultants and a variety of other professions. International organizations are also seeking more professionals who show a transnational profile. The strongest students seek transnational study, combining work in their home country with study abroad. What’s more, organizations need high-level business professionals who are comfortable working with other cultures to scale up global solutions.

DBA candidates ought to join a program to deepen their expertise, collaborate and network with their peers—as well as faculty members. They should really be seeking to prepare for the complex analyses and decision-making required of senior management. A DBA student at the commanding height is a passionate professionals with a desire to share and expand experiences and qualifications, stay current in today’s best business practices and, ultimately, reap the rewards of such an education.

Turning to your DBA degree, how close does it come to the definition of a world-class DBA—and why?

The criteria for the strongest DBA programs match well with those found in an ISM doctoral degree. ISM's fully-accredited DBA program offers flexible options: e-learning and seminars in Paris, New York, Shanghai, New Delhi, São Paulo, and Cape Town. It is a generalist, multi-disciplinary program designed for senior professionals who wish to advance their careers and deepen their knowledge of international business management. At the end of the program, the DBA degree allows one to apply relevant theoretical knowledge to contemporary business problems and critique contemporary organizational practice in the light of relevant theory. International professionals need this know-how.

Moreover, our flexible study options are reinforced by a rigorously structured dissertation process. DBA students must write a doctoral dissertation under the supervision of the Director of Doctoral Research and an assigned Dissertation Adviser. Doctoral candidates write a 10-15 page dissertation proposal which is reviewed by ISM faculty members to determine the feasibility of the dissertation's focus, direction, and the potential contributions to the academic and practitioner community. Once a proposal is accepted, doctoral candidates are assigned to an adviser who is selected based on his/her academic background, experience, and credentials; the Dissertation Adviser mentors the doctoral candidate through the dissertation process until completion. Doctoral dissertations are submitted to a review committee before final approval. As you can see, the process is designed to reinforce research.

How did your DBA graduates profit from your program afterwards?

Our DBA graduates will be able to explain the principles of—and apply a range of quantitative as well as qualitative research methods for—frequently used in-business research to resolve current crises.

They’re able to critically evaluate business research studies in order to assess their quality and applicability in improving the effective handling of business management problems. Moreover, they acquire and utilize knowledge of behavioral, policy and strategic issues to improve their organizations. Furthermore, they identify, analyze and evaluate internal and external environmental influences on organizations in order to develop strategic plans for the management of change and the development of their organizations. Demonstrating superior oral and written communication skills relevant to business is a critical tool for our DBA graduates. Every day for the foreseeable rest of their working lives, they’re able to link their educational experience directly to their own workplace experience.

Overall, the data provide strong evidence ISM fulfills its learning objectives in a consistent manner and ISM assesses its own performance—not only at the start or the end, but throughout the DBA program. This is demonstrated through the DBA Longitudinal Assessment Results, which are available online. Our most recent ISM Alumni Survey, which is also readily readable on our website, confirms these gains in the form of the immensely rewarding employment opportunities we present our alumni. Notably, the percent climb in salary reported between the start of our DBA and today is 78%. Ultimately, this program consistently demonstrates the high ROI our alumni experience.

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