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Testimonial: DBA Research, a Journey into the Unknown Realm

Ge MU– 2019 DBA graduate
Published on
21 January 2020

Five years ago, I wouldn't have believed I'd have the opportunity to visit MIT as a postdoctoral researcher. In 2014, I was an education administrator at a university in Chengdu, China. Before that, I was a teacher at a vocational college. Working in a university increasingly requires more advanced degrees, but a full-time PhD program was not cost effective for me, so I chose the DBA program jointly managed by Grenoble Ecole de Management, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Italy, and Chongqing University in China.

When I enrolled in the DBA program, I had only a vague idea of my research topic: online education from a management perspective. Fortunately, my employer is very supportive of faculty and staff studying abroad, so I was sponsored to be a visiting scholar in France for half a year. During this period, GEM offered me every possible help. I was able to fully communicate with my supervisor and determine a research topic: MOOCs, an emerging online education model that might subvert traditional education. I attended the EIASM EDEN doctoral seminar and learned about the Social Network Analysis research method. I read a lot of relevant literature, which laid a solid foundation for my doctoral thesis. I participated in GEM seminars in Chongqing, China; Grenoble; Geneva, Switzerland; and Pisa, Italy, during which I not only learned normative quantitative and qualitative research skills but also made my research plan more reasonable and clearer by discussing it with professors and cohorts. After returning to China, I collected and analyzed the data needed for the research, and finally, I obtained a doctoral degree.

However, this journey was far from smooth. In fact, it was full of obstacles that cost time, energy, money, and even confidence. Like many inexperienced doctoral students, when reading literature, I spent the first two or three years on subjects that were too broad. When analyzing data, I was attracted by abundant materials and various possibilities: I learned and tried various unfamiliar research methods and became involved in too many different research questions. These works were exciting, and some seemed promising, but they lured me off focus and took far more time and effort than expected. And because of the uncertain nature of scientific research, these efforts often don't produce the results you'd expect. Besides, my life changed a lot: I became a father, and I also took on new duties at my work, which made my time and energy more limited. I hadn’t really realized the implications of the heavy workload and strict time frame of the GEM DBA program, although my supervisor had reminded me of it. By the end of my fourth year, I had neither a paper ready to publish nor a decent draft of the thesis. But, I had gotten some honest feedback: the research question is meaningless, the data has no unique value, the method is not sophisticated enough, and the research has no hope of being published in a good journal.

Like many doctoral students who struggle with their research, I repeatedly experienced frustration and self-doubt; I knew some who gave up, but fortunately, I persevered. When I realized my mistakes in time planning, I sorted out the research results I had obtained and wrote the first draft of my thesis. I'm very grateful to my supervisor, who gave me full recognition and encouragement, and his guidance enabled me to successfully obtain my doctorate in the fifth year.

Looking back on the past five years of DBA research, I see myself walking into a misty forest bare-handed, looking for unknown prey, while learning various hunting skills. I'm glad I survived and that my supervisors and the program administration had always been very supportive. This lesson will never be forgotten: it reminds me that I must plan better, but it also gives me unprecedented confidence and makes me fearless in the face of challenges. Entering this doctoral program was one of the best decisions of my life. It not only greatly enhanced my normative academic research ability and granted me a globally recognized degree, but it also led me into a global alumni network and inspired my ambition to pursue excellence. I'm eager to continue my research and contribute to the tremendous improvement of education in the new era. So, I reached out to the place with the best relevant data and skills, the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab and was generously accepted. I know it's an unknown realm for me, but now I'm well prepared.

Ge MU– 2019 DBA graduate

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