DM vs. PhD vs. DBA Overview | Weatherhead School at Case Western Reserve University

DM vs. PhD vs. DBA Overview

What is the difference between professional doctorate degrees such as the DM, DBA and PhD degree? Which one can you pursue for your desired career path? Can you still work while pursuing a degree and what kind of work can you seek after finishing a degree? We hear your questions, and we want to help to navigate the jungle of acronyms. Multiple doctoral degrees in business management are available.

Many programs intend to integrate relevance and rigor in their academic, research and teaching missions. Three such degrees are the Doctor of Management (DM) degree offered until 2020 by the Weatherhead School of Management, the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree offered by many business schools around the country and also by the Weatherhead School of Management since 2020, and the PhD in Management: Designing Sustainable Systems (PhD: DSS) offered by the Weatherhead School of Management. The DM Programs – the DM, DBA and the PhD in Management: DSS – are steadfast in the focus of recruiting and training well-accomplished practitioners to undertake thoughtful, rigorous research that has a high degree of relevance. Each degree is focused on applying evidence-based research to solving real world problems. The earlier DM and the current DBA focus more on practical outcomes and implications of research (practitioner-scholar) while the PhD: DSS focuses more on academic or scholarly outcomes (scholar-practitioner) and prepares many for academic careers.

One way to generally characterize these professional management doctorate degrees and how they differ from a "traditional" academic PhD degree is the following:

  • The DBA/DM practitioner-scholar looks to make a contribution by applying or developing focal theory for a practical problem; the traditional PhD scholar seeks to make a contribution with generalized theory within a discipline;
  • The DBA/DM practitioner-scholar is primarily a problem solver that uses evidence and research to solve practical problems; the traditional PhD scholar is a scholar with a focus on theory;
  • The DBA/DM practitioner-scholar asks how do I solve this problem hurdle? The traditional PhD scholar asks, how do I understand and explain this theory-informed phenomenon better?
  • The DBA/DM practitioner-scholar draws upon integrative, interdisciplinary education; the traditional PhD scholar draws upon highly specialized singular disciplinary education focused most of the time in a singular business function such as marketing or accounting.

These are naturally abstracted simplifications in that DBA/DM students also draw upon disciplinary theories to carry out their research, they seek to understand a focal phenomenon better. The difference is a matter of orientation and focus. Career options for the practitioner-focused degrees allow the graduate to consider opportunities for new and expanded responsibilities in their organizations which draw upon the graduate's research skills, or use their skill set as consultants, or for transitioning into academic settings to teach either full- or part-time while conducting practitioner focused research. Each of the three degrees have unique aspects to consider.

The DBA/DM Degree at Weatherhead

The Doctor of Management degree was established at Case Western Reserve University in the Weatherhead School of Management in 1995 as the first practitioner-scholar degree in management schools in North America that combined relevance of real world issues with the rigor of scholarly methods and theories to produce evidence-based explanations to problems of practice. To accomplish this goal the curriculum has from its inception balanced interdisciplinary and thematic content classes that cut across a wide range of social science research and include topics like leadership and change, ethics, innovation, sustainability, and global economic and political environments . In research, the program has placed an equal emphasis on mixing qualitative and quantitative research methods as a means to understand and explain real world problems. As a result, DM graduates have successfully anchored their careers in practice and / or teaching in all fields and disciplines of management that focus on advancing the use of research methods and theory in understanding and shaping practical business problems. About 70% of the DM graduates have some affiliation to academic institutions and research and teaching.

Beginning in 2020, the Weatherhead School of Management has changed the title of the degree to Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) with a similar research focus and teaching mission. Consequent to the name change, several pedagogical and content changes are underway and will be introduced later in 2021 and 2022, both in content and research method classes.

The DBA Degree (at other business schools)

A Doctor of Business Administration Degree (DBA) degree (sometimes also called Executive DBA) has been introduced as a comparable degree to a DBA/DM Degree. Most DBA curricula offered emphasize more on business applications and functional disciplines at the cost of general social science topics. They typically have less focus on teaching and using rigorous research methods and usually do not include a mixture of using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Both the DBA/DM and the DBAs in other schools are designed for experienced working professionals who have an aspiration to influence business management as leaders in organizations, consultants and professors, while continuing to work or go to school full time.

The primary outcome of reaching both of the DBA/DM and DBA degrees is practitioner-scholarship driven by identifying problems of practice. This calls for these skills to problematize recurring complex issues in organizations, and to produce through a systematic application of research methods evidence and generalized knowledge that contributes to solving these problems. The DBA/DM and DBA degrees are offered typically in three-year residency based programs requiring 10-15 years of business management experience. Information of many of these programs can be found at the Executive Doctor of Business Administration Council (EDBAC) website. Weatherhead's DBA/DM program was one of the founding members of the council. As shown by the website the number and length of the residencies and the level of on-line elements in the programs vary significantly as well as the size and the rigor expected from the research components of the program.

The PhD in Management: Designing Sustainable Systems

The DM programs at Weatherhead offer the PhD in Designing Sustainable Systems (DSS) as an option for highly qualified and motivated DBA/DM students. The option is geared toward applicants who want to increase the theoretical depth and impact of their research while still connecting their research to practical programs. This degree option has significant additional research requirements and it takes a minimum of one additional year to conduct the research necessary to obtain the PhD in Management: DSS degree.

The option is offered to DBA/DM students who have strong interest in advancing the quality of their academic research output in ways that prepares them for academic scholarship and related career alternatives. The PhD: DSS graduates are expected to make significant contributions toward academic scholarship in their chosen field or discipline in ways that have significant implications to practice. Due to the dual focus, the PhD in Management: Designing Sustainable Systems students are often referred to as scholar-practitioners. The PhD: DSS option typically prepares graduates for academic teaching and research careers and offers strong opportunities for research based management consulting.