Should I get a Ph.D. in a subject area other than accounting?

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Although the purpose of this website is to help potential doctoral students to receive a Ph.D. in accounting, there are still viable reasons for choosing an area of specialty other than accounting. For many people, a Ph.D. in accounting may be too focused (i.e. their research interests may lie outside of the typical accounting research streams). Ultimately, the potential academic should weigh other options carefully to determine the path that will lead to both career and personal success. Most importantly, you should choose a research and teaching concentration that can sustain your intellectual drive and passion.


Should I get a PhD in Management (Organizational Behavior, Strategy, or Organizational Theory)?

This section provides information on PhD programs in Management, which includes the fields of Organizational Behavior, Strategy, and Organizational Theory. Business schools also offer doctoral programs in Finance, Operations Management, and Marketing--which are NOT discussed in this section. Consider this a very basic primer on the field of Management.

Organizational Behavior: If you are mostly interested in how individuals or teams are affected by or affect organizations, then you may consider getting a PhD in OB. Some important topics (among very many!) in this field include employee satisfaction, conflict between individuals and within teams, individual decision-making, organizational citizenship behavior, team effectiveness, etc. Much of the auditor decision-making research in Accounting is a sister-discipline of OB--that is, accounting scholars apply many of the same theories used in OB to the context of auditing. Both disciplines build upon theories from psychology and social psychology and apply it to individuals and groups within organizations.

Strategy: If you are mostly interested in firm performance, then a PhD in Strategy may be right for you. Scholars in strategy typically focus on actions/events that affect some type of performance (e.g. profitability, operational effectiveness, survival). Some of many important topics include competition, mergers & acquisitions, alliances, corporate governance, international expansion, executive leadership, etc. Strategy research draws from many basic disciplines--especially economics, sociology, and political science. Many scholars in strategy focus on special topics such as entrepreneurship, international business, or ethics.

Organizational Theory: If you are mostly interested in what organizations are and how they function, perhaps a PhD in OT is for you. Scholars interested in OT study topics such as organizational change, optimal organizational structure, decision-making in organizations, and much more. In most cases, Business School do not offer a specific program in OT. Instead, scholars apply theories and concepts from OT to OB or Strategy. Thus, it is common to talk about "micro OT"--which focuses on groups and individuals in organizations and is studied by people who do OB--and "macro OT"--which focuses on the organization as the unit of analysis and is studied by people who do Strategy and related work.

Some Business Schools house all three sub-disciplines in one department that focuses on Management & Organizations. Other schools have separate departments for 'Organizations' (including OT and OB) and 'Strategy'. What type of department to apply to depends on your research interests. The best thing you can do is talk to some kind of mentor/professor with whom you are working.

How do I know that I'm interested in one of the Management fields?

While in the PhD Prep Track, I quickly realized two things. First, I wanted to get a PhD because I liked teaching and research. Second, I did not like accounting research but was interested in Management. The harder question was, "how do I know if I want to study Strategy or OB"? Many times research in different areas of Management overlaps, and the field is much broader than Accounting, so it's easy to be confused about where you fit best.

The best advice I received to answer this question was the following. Go to the most recent editions of the major journals in each field of study and read the title and abstract of the articles. Make a list of the articles that seem most interesting to you, and then discuss that list with someone familiar with research in Management (a current PhD student or professor) and with someone in Accounting. That should give you a good idea of where your interests lie. Some of the major journals in the field of Management include:

Administrative Science Quarterly (OT, OB, Strategy) Strategic Management Journal (Strategy) Journal of Applied Psychology (OB) Academy of Management Journal (OT, OB, Strategy) Academy of Management Review (OT, OB, Strategy) Management Science (OT, OB, Strategy--also includes Operations Management research) Organization Science (OT, OB, Strategy) Journal of International Business Studies (Strategy, OT, and OB applied to international contexts)

Once you get a general idea of your field of interest, the best thing to do is to get a job as an RA with a professor doing research in your broad area of interest. This helps you make sure you want to pursue a PhD outside of Accounting and also serves as a great experience to demonstrate your true interest in your applications.

What do I lose by switching from Accounting to another field of study?

The most important factor in deciding your field of study should be your research and teaching interests. If you can't envision yourself teaching or doing accounting research, you should clearly NOT pursue a PhD in Accounting. However, assuming you are on the fence or have decided to pursue a different field, it helps to be aware of some of the costs of pursuing a different field of study.

  1. You give up some of the "halo" of coming out of the PhD Prep Track. The prep track is very well known in Accounting PhD programs and, all else equal, gives you a premium in the eyes of admissions committees. Other departments (e.g. Management) may know less about the quality of BYU's accounting program and the PhD prep track. You can partially compensate for this by describing your unique training in the PhD Prep Track in your statement of purpose of by having someone familiar with the track write you a letter of recommendation.
  2. The accounting network that you join as part of the Ph.D. track will provide limited benefits to your career in another discipline.
  3. Salaries in other fields may be lower and finding a job can be harder. Accounting professor salaries are amongst the highest in Business Schools, perhaps only topped by Finance salaries. Other fields tend to pay slightly less. However, all Business School professors make excellent salaries (typically in the 100,000's). Talk to existing professors about this. The market for other disciplines is different than accounting. Some disciplines such as Information Systems is very saturated while Finance may have greater demand than even accounting.
  4. You may have to become familiar with a new area of knowledge (minor concern). You get an outstanding Accounting education at BYU, which makes you familiar with the accounting profession and with the "language" of accounting in general. If, for example, you choose to get a PhD in marketing, you may need to learn a new "language". However, this generally should not be a basic concern if you are applying for a PhD in some business-related field. The general courses you took a the Marriott School provide enough of a primer so that you can learn quickly.

Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) or PhD?

Many doctoral business programs around the country offer a Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) rather than a specific PhD in accounting. Many research intensive programs award a DBA to their doctoral students who choose to specialize or concentrate in accounting. Because emphasis is put on learning the skills to research effectively, many seminars for doctoral students include students from all concentrations. You may share graduate courses with students who are specializing in economics, finance, organizational behavior, marketing, etc.

Although the academic community may not differentiate between those with DBAs and those with PhDs for hiring practices, some subtle differences may exist in program outlines. Institutions offering DBAs focus more on the practical applications of research, whereas PhD programs tend to focus more on theoretical applications. DBA programs focus on preparing students for solving real-world problems facing management. PhD programs focus on the economic and behavioral underpinnings in research. The skills learned in each program are similar, but graduates from DBA programs may be more inclined to enter the private sector and not stay in academia, than will graduates from PhD programs.

External Links

  • Wikipedia: DBA - This page provides basic information about DBAs.
  • Harvard Business School - Harvard Business School, which offers both a DBA and a PhD, addresses the DBA vs. PhD question. Harvard's doctoral accounting students are enrolled in its DBA program.
  • - This is an online forum that specifically addresses the differences between PhDs and DBAs in Accounting.

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