As a continuation for my essay about A Candid Look at Surviving the DBA Program, Part 1, we continue to explore how my journey through graduate school may be able to help you graduate.

How can Delays Affect Students?

Delays in the DBA program are a given, something which we are constantly reminded of by our professors and university staff. This is the reason why we were encouraged to study continuously and avoid any leaves of absence.

On a side note, I cannot help but look back at my days in grade school, high school, and even college, as I loved it when school was cancelled. Whether it was a typhoon, rally, transport strike, or even sickness, it meant that I could spend time away from the rigors of school. And since our academic calendars back then took class suspensions into consideration, we rarely had to attend make up classes. It also helped that graduation dates never moved.

[My attitude changed upon entering graduate school.]

For the MBA and DBA programs, the official graduation date listed on your diploma will be the day you pass your final defense. The problem is this date is a moving target.

There are all sorts of things that contribute to delays. Finding the right journal article to use as a reference isn’t always easy and takes time. After finding it, integrating the information into one’s paper takes more time as the flow needs to be continually adjusted. When doing online research, one’s internet connection can get cut, sometimes for days on end. And when looking for a book in the library, another student may have checked it out before you even had the chance to see the table of contents.

After creating a new draft, a cancellation of class means that your adviser won’t be able to examine it and provide comments. For this, you’ll need to wait for the next available school day. This can be a problem if the cancellation is towards the end of the trimester because it may mean that the comments will come next term. So, with that one cancelled day, graduation may end up being delayed by one whole trimester, which is approximately three months long.

[For schools using semesters, the delay can be as much as five months long.]

Another problem involves getting all five panel members in one room to hear your two defenses – once for the proposal defense and another for the final defense. It is already difficult to get four members from the same school to agree on a defense date because of the demands the university places on them, but when the fifth member is mandated by the Commission on Higher Education, or CHED, to come from a different school, things can get dicey.

[If I had not taken a prolonged leave of absence, I would only have had to contend with a panel of three in-house experts instead of five.]

These examples are what I had to face when I was writing my own dissertation. And while my adviser and panel did their best, the aggregated delays pushed me past my academic deadline.

[Graduate students are given a limited number of terms to finish writing and defending their papers; the academic deadline is the last term in that number.]

So, my advice is to work as fast as possible and minimize any academic leaves to avoid exposing yourself to another point of stress.

What DBA School Should I Attend?

As early as now, you may have already started shopping around for a school to spend the next several years in. The good news is that many of the institutions in the Philippines that offer MBAs also offer DBAs or the equivalent doctorate degrees in business administration. You can’t go wrong by sticking with the top schools as they provide excellent education, especially since they draw on Eastern and Western knowledge, instead of just the latter. Furthermore, these same schools will also be recognized for the quality of their education internationally.

Selecting schools that aren’t top-ranked are also fine, so long are they are certified by the CHED so your degree, and by extension your title of Doctor, will be valid. It may surprise some to learn that students purposely enroll in these organizations because they offer highly specialized courses that top-tier schools do not have. Since these niche courses are conducted under the watchful eye of the CHED, the school can be expected to have met the quality standards set by the commission.

[Just because a school claims to be CHED certified doesn’t mean it is, so please check the CHED website before you enroll.]

While I was choosing between De La Salle University and the Asian Institute of Management for my MBA, it was always going to be the former for the DBA. The first reason is that I was so impressed with my professors in the MBA program that I wanted to be under their tutelage again for the next level. Another reason is that DLSU is on its way to becoming the first private research university in the country, something I would benefit greatly from. And third is that I had so much fun in the MBA and hoped to continue the experience for the DBA.

Is School Culture Important?

Based on my own experience, I would say that choosing a school with the best cultural fit can have a great deal of bearing on one’s success.

Having said this, there are some schools that guide their students in order to reach their full potential then there are others which leave them alone to their own devices. Both cultures are effective, as they are represented in the list of top universities in the Philippines, so it is just a matter of picking what will work for you.

It is not only the teachers and staff that are important here because certain types of students are attracted to a particular school culture. Being around such students can be a great help, especially when it comes to encouraging each other to finish.

[Cultural mismatch can exert a strong pull on students to drop out even if they like a particular program, so choose wisely.]

In the case of DLSU, it provides a nurturing environment for all its colleges. If you are the type of person who will benefit from just the right amount of guidance in order to reach your full potential, then it is the place to consider. Everyone, from the teachers to the staff, work in unison to foster such a culture.

I must caution potential students that that guidance in DLSU should not to be equated with spoon feeding because students are expected to meet the university’s requirements through their own hard work. Make no mistake, the requirements of this institution are quite challenging. However, the university does provide the direction, environment, and tools one needs to meet those challenges.

Having said this, if a student wants an easy way to get a degree then DLSU is not the place for that. This institution’s halls are filled with decades’ worth of stories about students getting kicked out because they either underestimated the university’s requirements or overestimated their own abilities.

What Tools do I Need?

Thanks to the convenience of technology, writing a dissertation isn’t as tedious as it once was. Apart from making research less cumbersome by not having to physically travel to different locations, it also made formatting and implementing continuous updates much easier.

The hardware

While it goes without saying that you will need a computer to write your dissertation, what isn’t obvious is what kind of computer to use. I preferred a desktop because it had the firepower and a large enough screen to run multiple views of a word processor, spreadsheet, and statistical software all at the same time.

An internet connection is also needed not only for e-mail from the school, professors, and classmates, it will be required for the online databases that is available to DLSU students. It is also needed for online enrollment, saving students the burden of having to run from room to another in order enroll a subject.

[Just like the MBA program, students are given a free e-mail account while enrolled in DBA studies.]

Speaking of the online databases, I was extremely happy with the online research facility of DLSU because it is quite comprehensive. And since it is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, I was able to access it anytime I needed it.

[If such a facility was available to me in my younger days, I would have started on my graduate studies sooner.]

For mobility, I opted to use a mobile phone paired with a smallish Bluetooth keyboard instead of a laptop. Other than being much lighter, the considerably smaller size made it convenient to use side-by-side with computers in the library, given the limited space between units.

A printer and scanner would also be helpful. The former will be used quite heavily when creating drafts of hard copies for your adviser to go over, while a scanner may be used for figures you cannot draw in your computer.

The software

I love open source software and actually started using several brands to write my dissertation. Unfortunately, their limitations at handling the APA Style of writing, specifically in the way they manage references, tables, and figures, forced me to switch to Microsoft Word.

Using open source software was fine when I was just writing a term paper or something considerably shorter. But when you have a paper with over a two hundred references combined with a good number of tables and figures, the last thing I wanted was to spend precious time fiddling with the nuances of the software instead of writing my dissertation.

The second reason that forced me to switch is that DLSU has standardized on Microsoft products. This made it difficult to use other brands because the format of my paper would not be carried over when my adviser viewed it through school computers.

The third reason is that Microsoft provides a free version of Office for Android. This enabled me to conduct research in the school library, type it into my phone while still in school, transfer the latest version to my desktop when I got home, then do the integration and final edits on the same desktop.

You’ll also need statistical software to process the data collected from your survey. SPSS is the preferred software but is quite expensive. One alternative is to use free software such a R, Epi Info, or PSPP. Another option is to use the statistical software installed in the computers of your school. These may reside in selected units of the library, teachers, or even the Statistics Department of your university.

Some of you may be wondering if Excel has statistical capabilities, whether as a standalone program or with plug-ins. Yes it does, but the program is not widely used by the various journal publications. To avoid any questions on reliability from you adviser or panel, I suggest sticking to the aforementioned programs for your statistical modelling.

What is the Protocol of Using the Title?

The phrase “It ain’t over till it’s over” applies to all research doctorate programs. Unlike in the master’s program where one’s title of Mr., Mrs., or Ms. is retained, the honorific Dr. replaces all these in the DBA program. However, the replacement cannot be made prior to graduation.

The time between having submitted one’s final approved paper and graduation is a state of limbo. During this in-between period the designation one carries is that of graduand. It is only after being called “Doctor” during the commencement exercises can a person officially use the title or add those three letters after his or her last name.

[If you didn’t attend the commencement exercises, your inclusion in the list of graduates is the sign allowing you to use the title.]

Incidentally, the graduation dates on your diploma and commencement exercises will be different. To illustrate, you may have passed your final defense on September 20, 2019 but only attended your school’s commencement exercises on January 10. 2020. Under this scenario, the graduation date printed in your diploma will be will be September 20, 2019 and becomes official on January 10, 2020.

[Also note that you will only be able to receive your diploma after January 10, 2020.]

It is this act of backdating one’s graduation date that tends to be a stress point for many DBA candidates. The stress is primarily due to the inevitable delays that are bound to take place. Miss the deadline of submitting one’s approved final dissertation by just one day and you might have to attend next term’s commencement exercises, which is at least three months away in a trimestral system.

[It will be more if the next one is after the summer or Christmas breaks.]

While the debates on the protocol of the master’s degree have been fierce, discussions on the doctorate appear to be a slightly less intense. However, this has not altered my decision to continue deferring to my professors when it comes to DBA protocol. The good news is that unlike the MBA, there is a quite bit more flexibility with the DBA.

Some of my professors use “Dr.” at the beginning of their names while others append “, DBA” after their last names in business cards, and e-mail signatures. I have noticed that my mentors have not added “Dr.” or “, DBA” to their LinkedIn and Facebook accounts, preferring to mention this accomplishment in the educational section.

[However, this may change if the popular social media sites begin allowing the use of titles or educational suffixes in the future.]

What else Should I Keep in Mind?

We’re almost at the end of my essay but before I begin wrapping things up, I would like to mention a few more things to keep in mind at surviving the DBA program below.

Keep moving

Taking another page from my address for the De La Salle University Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business Graduate Studies Recognition Rites entitled My Educational Journey Part 1 and Part 2, one of the reasons that students drop out of the DBA program is due to the loss of momentum. A solution to this problem is to keep going because if you stop, it will become tougher to build up momentum again.

That doesn’t mean that you should avoid resting because you will need to do this every now and then to recharge. Just don’t spend too long a time away from school because it can dull one’s abilities and can make it difficult to resume reading several journals articles a day.

[It’s not impossible, just more difficult.]

Adopt a mantra

One of the strategies I adopted in order to graduate was to use a mantra. I would recite, “I will graduate next term” every day, more so when I felt totally frustrated. And while it may have taken me more than a couple of terms to graduate, it kept me going.

I suggest picking a mantra that is personal and effective for you. Recite it every day in order to drive it deep into your subconscious. When things get tough, which they will, do it more often so you don’t forget your ultimate goal – to graduate.

[The only downside of an effective mantra was trying to forget it after graduation because it was so ingrained in my mind!]

Be nice to everyone

Just like my advice in my essay entitled A Candid Look at Surviving the MBA Program, you need to be nice to everyone in school. Teachers, staff, and even the experts you consult with while writing your dissertation.

Apart from being a great help to you while in the DBA program, many of these people will end up being your colleagues after you graduate. Co-workers, co-writers, subject matter experts, staff reporting to you, are just but a few things these people will end up being after you are done.

So, if they remember you as an unkind or unpleasant person during your studies, life after the DBA might be less pleasant as well.

Don't fight with your panel

The rules of paper defense politics at the MBA level apply here as well. Unfortunately, some students still tend to take the comments of the panel personally, despite having undergone the same exercise for their MBAs.

This situation is probably due to the large amount of time and effort students have poured into their papers. With so much of themselves having been invested, the boundaries of writer and paper may have blurred at some point in time.

Relax. The panel is on your side. They are there to make sure you come up with the best dissertation possible because your paper will be admitted into the body of knowledge. This means that your name will be immortalized because what gets added isn’t removed. To help you visualize this, consider that the results for the title, topic, and author of your dissertation may now appear after an internal library or external online search. And when that happens, consider yourself immortal.

[At least digitally.]

So, listen to what they have to say and plan how you will implement it in your dissertation because the sooner you make those changes, the sooner you get to graduate.

Final Thoughts

The last thought I have on surviving the DBA program is if you are not fully committed to finishing, think very carefully before starting. One consequence of dropping out of the doctorate program is that some people develop feelings of depression, inadequacy, and shame. Life’s already difficult as it is, so jumping into something like this half-heartedly might result in having to carry an additional burden one doesn’t need.

Talk to your family, friends, teachers, mentors, priests, and other people whose opinions you value. Research on the school of your choice. Talk to professors and students currently in the program. Discuss the matter with graduates of the program. Listen to what your gut is telling you. And when you have all the information you need, decide.

If you do take the plunge and dive all the way to the bottom, you will come back to the surface with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. I enjoyed the experience so much that if I were to do it all over again, the only things I would do differently would be to start my studies earlier and to never take a leave of absence!


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