Graduation 2012 marked a milestone in the six-year-old Bentley doctoral program: eight PhD candidates received their hoods in either business or accountancy, the largest cohort so far. And remarkably for such a young program, all eight have secured faculty positions in higher-education institutes across the United States.
Top-quality research was a key factor in the candidates’ success. Accountancy PhD Christine Nolder, who is bound for Suffolk University, worked under noted accountancy researcher, Professor Jim Hunton. A longtime teacher and adjunct at Bentley, Nolder enrolled in the PhD program and “just fell in love with the research side,” she says. “I had no idea how analytical it was, and how you have to dig in and understand the mechanics of research articles. Is it a good argument? Is it logical and is there good evidence? Does the research design hold up?”
Nolder researched how psychological factors such as attitudes and emotions could compromise auditor judgments. “My findings suggest that much of auditors’ beliefs, feelings and actions toward audit evidence stem from the collective beliefs and ‘emotional cultures’ of the firms where they work. It highlights how firms must align their collective attitudes with auditing standards and nurture a culture of professional skepticism.”
Research rigor was a starting point for other candidates as well. “Bentley has a phenomenal reputation for research and making use of its scholarship to address global issues” says Business PhD Martin Dias, from his new tenure-track perch at Northeastern University.
“I was always interested in how public safety collaborations improve the security of citizens. Bentley faculty members were leading a research team examining related topics, so my work had relevance to the university. All my committee members worked on the project (providing for ready-made relationships) and my data collection efforts were all supported by funds from the project's research grant. I am certain that a major factor in my completing my dissertation in the time I did was due to my inclusion in a research project."
“I also appreciated the institutional culture at Bentley, where colleagues strive for excellence while maintaining a high degree of congeniality - a very tough balance to strike.”
Dias also praises the PhD advisers. “Thank God for Jane Fedorowicz,” he says. “When I felt like I was drowning she would throw me a lifeline. When I felt I had it ‘all together’ she would give me a reality check. When I was wandering, she came and found me. Having high-quality advisers will make or break a PhD program; the advisers at Bentley make the program.” Fedorowicz’s international reputation for important research into digital government and public safety process networks also boosted Dias’s efforts.
Dax Jacobson, who is headed for a tenure-track position at California State, Channel Islands, researched the role of governance to achieve “Successful IT-Intensive Inter-organizational Relationships” in the realm of public safety. Exploring the relationship between technology and organizational design, Jacobson’s three essays focused on a different piece of the technology-organizational design relationship, with different conceptualizations of “fit” between technology and organizational design and different methods. He found that “fit” was achieved, and organizational success realized, when the potential of IT and the design of an organization were aligned through careful governance. His adviser, Lynne Markus, also enjoys international recognition for leading research.
“In terms of research, we make sure that candidates focus on very specific topics, because you need that depth at the PhD level,” says Professor Susan Newell, director of the PhD program. “It contributes to their success of having good publications to their name even prior to graduation. But we also want them to have a much broader base than you might get in other PhD programs. We use the umbrella of ‘business, technology, and society’ to hold the program together with some signature courses that candidates from all disciplines would take.”
The umbrella courses include methods and methodologies – qualitative as well as quantitative - and philosophy of the social sciences to help candidates understand how knowledge is constructed and applied in society. A signature Bentley theme, ethics and social responsibility, is also required of every student.
In the end the students’ intensive research achievements not only contributed significant new knowledge to their fields; it also helped them launch their academic careers. “Bentley as an institution supported my career search,” says Dias. “That started with my adviser naturally, but extended to other parts of the university. Staff from Student Life assisted me in my job placement as well. It was definitely a team effort.” Newell adds, “When we take on doctoral students it is with the intention of ensuring they are placed at good institutions that fit with their skills and interests.”