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The brand-new PhD program at George Mason School of Business is off and running, as of the start of the 2021-22 academic year. The launch of the program marks a milestone in the school’s rapidly advancing global research commitment and achievement.
“We have instituted lower teaching loads for research-intensive faculty, summer stipends and a Dean’s Scholars program, as well as increased hiring of research faculty,” says Program Director and Professor of Management Kevin Rockmann. “The PhD program was the next logical thing to make the most competitive environment for talented research faculty possible.”
The program consists of four concentrations – organizational behavior, strategic management, information systems, and operations and supply chain management – each taught by a roster of leading research faculty from the relevant area. Structured to be competitive with Mason’s world-class peers, the curriculum supplies all the features top candidates have come to expect, including core seminars, research methods courses, comprehensive exams, etc. culminating in dissertation.
However, some non-standard choices reflect the desire to “train our students to conduct impactful research that will shape business for generations to come,” to quote the program’s official website. Inspired by the need to foster strong communicators, the steering committee for the PhD program decided to institute a required writing course, so that graduates would be able to translate their innovative ideas and solutions for any audience. Another somewhat unusual element of the curriculum is a credited course in field research. “Students need to go out and engage with an organization, or an organizational data-set, or other real-world problem,” Rockmann says.
To further foster links between academics and business practitioners, Rockmann hopes to recruit a diverse group of candidates with career paths both on and off the tenure track. Mid-career professionals looking toward a future as adjunct or affiliate business school faculty are just as welcome to apply as dyed-in-the-wool career academics. These two camps have much to offer one another, Rockmann says. Executives bring practical knowledge of organizational contexts and a deep pool of contacts; academics contribute vital research and analytical skills.
“The ideal in five years is to have a very strong mix of these students, who are progressing together, who are starting to graduate or at least at dissertation stage,” Rockmann says.
For now, though, the program has just one enrollee. Fanshu Li, based in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, has started remote coursework in the information systems concentration, and hopes to be present on the Fairfax campus by spring 2022. Rockmann explains that the Commonwealth of Virginia gave final approval for the program in January 2021, which left the school leadership with the question of whether to pause the program until the following year or move ahead despite the severely limited time available for recruitment. In the end, they opted to start sooner with fewer students. Rockmann expects the program to expand significantly in the next academic year.
Rockmann’s eagerness to get going no doubt has something to do with the PhD program’s long gestation period. The turning point may have come in 2016, when Mason first attained Carnegie R1 status as a top research institution in the U.S. Rockmann says robust support at both the university and school levels was crucial in helping clear the hurdles this time around.
“It’s been an entire-school effort to bring this to fruition, with the broad support of the faculty and several administrations. We’re excited to see where this can go,” he says.