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Reinvigorating the PhD

Simon Linacre

Simon Linacre is the Business Development Manager at global publisher, Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Based in West Yorkshire in the UK, Linacre has published on journal metrics and research impact in scholarly journals and has presented on these topics at international research conferences.

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PhDs are increasingly under scrutiny for being ‘irrelevant’ and ‘lacking impact’. But given the right tools, Simon Linacre at Emerald Group Publishing believes that they still have much to offer.

It may surprise some to know that the PhD, as it is today, only goes back to the 19th Century. As a result of education reforms in Germany it was established by Humboldt University, Berlin. Similarly, the vision of higher education offered by the undergraduate, master and PhD levels was only developed in the US in the late 1800s.This information was provided by Wikipedia and as such is not necessarily reviewed and corroborated for authenticity. It does however; provide an apt way to start a discussion on the status of the modern PhD. And more importantly, how it might develop in the digital age. Some think the PhD’s days are numbered, but I believe that there are one or two initiatives that may prove the doubters wrong.

Academy awards
One such initiative is the Outstanding Doctoral Research Awards, research jointly supported by the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and global publisher, Emerald Group Publishing. The awards – commonly known as the “ODRAs” – were conceived in the early 2000s as a way for EFMD and Emerald to recognise and promote emerging, high-quality PhD theses. Recent PhD graduates may submit a summary document of fewer than 2,000 words succinctly describing their PhD research. In order to bring out the more impactful elements of the research, submissions should highlight the following elements:

  • Significance/implications for theory and practice
  • Originality and innovation
  • Appropriateness and application of methodology
  • Data and findings

emerald logoThe submissions are judged by Emerald editors from its sponsoring journals in the business and management research portfolio. Winners in each category are awarded a cash prize of €1,500, along with a certificate and winner’s logo.

Winners are also encouraged to follow up their success by writing up their research and submitting it to the appropriate sponsoring journal subject to normal peer review protocols.

Celebrating success
In the early days of the awards, there was some variance in the interest they provoked in researchers, mainly depending on the category. However, in recent years they have enjoyed significant success. The most recent awards in 2013 attracted 525 submissions from 78 different countries – an increase of more than 100 on the total submissions the year before allied to a much greater international coverage.

This supports the hypothesis that not only is the reach of organisations such as EFMD growing but also that much of the vibrant new research that has demonstrable impact is happening outside the established bastions of management education in Europe and North America.

What is notable about the submissions over the years is what they have signified for the development of postgraduate researchers’ careers. Emerald is, of course, only able to access its own data and the figures across all publishers will probably be even more impressive. But of the 980 ODRA submissions in 2010-2012, their authors went on to publish 437 articles in Emerald’s journals, 70 book chapters and
62 case studies.


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