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DBA Testimonial: Dr. Yao Laurel Xiao

Published on
01 March 2021

On October 7, 2018, I completed my first full marathon in Chicago. Less than one year later, on September 3, 2019, I defended my thesis and obtained my Doctor of Business Administration in Grenoble. When I was asked by GEM DBA Academic Director Michelle Mielly to share my DBA and marathon experience, I could not help but wonder about the similarity.

After five years of teaching at a post-secondary institution, I knew a doctoral degree was what I needed to further my career. After extensive research, I discovered the DBA program at Grenoble Ecole de Management. The triple-crown recognition caught my attention, and I submitted my application without any hesitation.

The first trip to Grenoble was exciting: fantastic professors, awesome classmates, and amazing food. But challenges did not take long to show up. Finding the time to do research while working a full-time job was harder than I thought. Weekends, which I counted on to do research, passed by very quickly. From determining the topic, finding relevant literature, designing an experiment, to collecting data, nothing was either easy or smooth. I hit the wall almost every month. Looking back, I wish I had run the marathon earlier. Here is why.

First, a good plan is everything. I had never been an athlete, but luckily, I started with a good training plan. The plan was challenging but flexible, four to five runs per week according to my schedule. The plan was also specific and detailed the type and speed of run each time. Strictly following the plan ensured my body gradually adapted to long-distance running.

Applicants to the DBA program are asked to make a four-year plan starting with determining a research question to defending the thesis. I found it difficult to keep on track the first year, but my annual progress evaluation served as a reminder I had more goals to meet. Starting from year two, I made monthly plans with weekly to-do lists. Measurable goals were set; they were challenging, but achievable. The plans helped me keep a good pace and complete the program on time.

Second, choose a topic that interests you. Long-distance running is painful. I started training on a treadmill and watched entertaining dramas while I ran. I also chose parks famous for their natural beauty for my outdoor runs. When the experience is enjoyable, running becomes less difficult. When I started my DBA, I knew I needed a topic that I would like to spend four years on. I studied the impact of classroom colors on student satisfaction because of my passion for interior design and interest in field experiments. The literature review helped me develop knowledge about color. The experiment and data analysis on student satisfaction were also fun. Over the four years, I enjoyed my research and felt excited about any findings that came along.

Third, communicate your goals to friends and family. A DBA is a four-year marathon. Maintaining a work-study balance requires determination and support. Making the goals public does not just mean there is no way back; people around you will remind you of your goals when you lack the energy to continue. Chatting with my DBA colleagues about my research also helped me get valuable feedback.

During my study, I was promoted to head of my department. Life became even busier, but the three tips mentioned above helped me get through the challenges. Looking back, I am glad I did it. I am also grateful to my supervisor, the professors who taught us, my DBA colleagues, and my family and friends. They made this journey fulfilling.

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