PhDs in Business & Management: Five Hot Research Topics

PhDs in Business & Management: Five Hot Research Topics main image

Looking for a DBA or PhD in business and management? Find out which fields of business research present most opportunities, according to course leaders.

In the words of Dr Valérie Sabatier, deputy director of the Doctoral School at Grenoble Ecole de Management in France, “What we knew several years ago doesn’t work anymore. We need new research and new models.”

Globalization, technological change, environmental concerns, social and political upheaval, the financial crisis of the end of last decade, and rising business school enrolments are all driving demand for business PhDs and DBAs across a spectrum of diverse, though interconnected topics. Here, course leaders identify five of the most in-demand areas of business research.

1. Managing technology & innovation

“Management of innovation and technology is of particular importance right now,” says Sabatier. “Questions about R&D, strategy and business models, and innovation are very important both from a theoretical and managerial point of view.”

What’s driving demand? Rapid and continuing change. “The world has changed so much and is evolving so quickly with new questions emerging all the time,” Sabatier says. Gillian Symon, director of PhD programs at the School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, adds: “The continuing rapid developments in social technologies that have revolutionized marketing, communications and organizational relationships make these topics vital.”

2. Resources management & sustainable development

Energy management, water management, and sustainable development are all identified among “the great ‘macro’ themes of the century” by Alessandro Binachi, DBA program thesis and research coordinator at European University’s Business School in Spain.

What’s driving demand? Quite simply, as Binachi says, “without solving [these issues] in the short term, life on Earth may become seriously jeopardized, or at least unpredictably complex.” 

3. Social entrepreneurship

Recent years have seen a growth in the number of MBAs in social entrepreneurship – and there are also opportunities in this field for PhD and DBA candidates. “Social entrepreneurship, business models for developing countries, but also frugal innovations are hot topics,” Sabatier says.

What’s driving demand? Social, economic and attitudinal change. Research in this field focuses on “how to create value for society, as well as value for profits and returns,” says Sabatier.

4. Corporate responsibility, ethics & accountability

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has similarly been a ‘hot’ topic for some time now, but the course leaders say it remains a key priority for research. Binachi identifies ethical issues among the most pressing topics for business research today, while Symon says ‘Sustainability, responsibility and ethics’ is one of the six areas of research excellence being prioritized at Royal Holloway.

What’s driving demand? The impact of the financial crisis of 2008 onwards is still very much being felt, Symon says, meaning corporate responsibility, accountability and “assessing fair value accounting” remain very much at the top of the research agenda.

5. Accounting & finance

Finally, accounting and finance remain high-demand areas. As well as highlighting the link between accounting and accountability, Symon also predicts growing demand for models of accounting for intangible assets.

What’s driving demand? In addition to the broader pressures of social and economic change, increased enrolments in higher level business school programs. “With the boom in professional education, there are not enough professors at PhD level to teach in business schools,” Sabatier says. As a result, academics in the fields of accounting and finance - particularly corporate finance and markets - are in high demand, for both research and teaching positions. 

Of course these are by no means the only areas of opportunity. Symon also mentions war and global security and global labor standards as fields of business research likely to see growth, while Sabatier mentions healthcare in addition to the fields already covered.

Meanwhile Binachi emphasizes that beyond these overriding themes, each region and industry presents its own specific priorities and challenges. Finally, he points out that many of the concerns that kept business leaders awake a century or more ago remain just as pertinent and pressing today – including productivity, labor problems, cost containment and new products development.

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