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In the eternal quest for competitive advantage, businesses are placing increasing emphasis on recruiting and developing talent. This trend has elevated human resources alongside operational efficiency and technology as a primary factor in corporate success. Graduate business schools have responded by developing new online and campus doctoral degrees focused specifically on human resources.

A PhD or DBA in business with a specialization in human resources signifies mastery of the discipline and an original contribution to human resources scholarship. Doctoral graduates may go on to academic careers as instructors and researchers, or forge a professional path as an organizational consultant or senior researcher.

A Guide to PhD and DBA Programs in Human Resources

The human resources doctorate is a relatively recent addition to the family of advanced business degrees. Human resources as an academic discipline emerged within the past twenty years alongside traditional stalwarts such as industrial and organizational psychology, industrial relations, and management studies. Human resources scholarship brings together the disciplines of business, psychology, and education. The degree retains some kinship with management and organizational behavior doctorates, but focuses specifically on the development of human potential in the workplace.

PhD or DBA in Human Resources?

Graduate business schools offer two forms of doctoral degree in human resources: the PhD and the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). The right degree for you depends on your career goals. The PhD in human resources is a traditional social sciences doctorate emphasizing academic scholarship and teaching. Graduates typically go on to academic careers as faculty instructors and researchers. By contrast, the Doctor of Business Administration in human resources is an applied professional practice degree designed to track graduates into private and public sector jobs. DBA dissertations tend to concentrate on the application of existing scholarship to real-world business problems rather than the development of novel approaches and theories. The applied nature of DBA research makes this doctoral degree an ideal stepping stone into business leadership or consulting roles.

PhD and DBA in Human Resources Specializations

Online and campus doctoral degree programs feature a diversity of specializations to suit every research interest. Deciding which specialization is right for you can help you focus your career goals--and direct you to the doctoral programs that can help you achieve those goals.

Common areas of specialization in human resources doctoral degrees include:

  • Human Resource Management. Focuses on "macro-level" performance management initiatives and other strategies to help organizations make the most of their human capital.
  • Human Resource Development (HRD). Focuses on "micro-level" corporate training and other strategies for developing an organization's employees.
  • Human Resources and Organizational Behavior. Focuses on the intersection of behavioral sciences and the management of organizations.
  • Organizational Change. Focuses on personnel management and strategies for affecting and responding to organizational change.
  • Gender and Diversity. Focuses on equity in the workplace and the management of a diverse workforce.
  • Global Human Resources. Focuses on human resources in an international context.
  • Industrial or Labor Relations. Focuses on the relationship between management and workers with respect to unions and collective bargaining, organizational policies, and labor market analysis.

Each school has its own take on these specializations, influenced in part by the course curriculum and by faculty research expertise. This list can serve as a general guide, but you'll need to investigate degree programs further before you settle on the program most closely aligned with your interests.

Career Track

A human resources doctorate can lead to a career in academia or professional practice.

Academic careers are the typical choice of PhD candidates, two-thirds of whom choose to become professors or academic researchers at a college or university. As a business professor, you'll have the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research, impacting how businesses manage and develop their human resources. You'll also pass on your knowledge and serve as a mentor to students aspiring to business leadership roles.

A shortage in qualified doctoral candidates has fueled demand for business school faculty. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the leading accrediting agency of business schools, forecasts growth of about five percent per year in business faculty positions. Combined with a rising vacancy rate for existing positions, the AACSB predicts that "the shortage of business faculty will reach 2,400 by 2012." Management PhDs generally represent about 5-7 percent of new faculty hires.

Professional careers are a common choice for graduates with a DBA in human resources, as well as some PhD degree holders. Human resource specializations can lead to business careers as:

  • Human resource director
  • Labor relations supervisor
  • Training and development specialist
  • Organizational consultant

Earnings in professional practice vary from company to company, but typically match or exceed academic salaries.

How to Apply for PhD and DBA Programs in Human Resources

A PhD or a DBA degree in human resources could be one of the biggest commitments you ever make. Programs typically last three to six years, and require an uncommon degree of focus and self-motivation. To set yourself on the path to success, it's important to research your options and plan your application carefully.

The following guide walks you through the process of choosing and applying to a graduate human resources program. Use this guide alongside the resources on WorldWideLearn.com to find a range of education resources and career planning advice.

How to Choose a Program

The AACSB, the main accreditation agency for business schools, counts 600 graduate business programs among its members. A growing number of these programs offer the PhD or DBA in human resources. To navigate the options and find the right school for you, follow these three steps.

Step One. The Fundamentals

The first step in researching schools is to build a comprehensive list of programs that meet your baseline requirements. Your personal non-negotiable factors will vary based on your specific career goals and life circumstances.

Must-Have Feature #1: Accreditation. The accreditation status of the school belongs on any doctoral applicant's list of non-negotiables. Accreditation attests a minimum standard of academic quality, and is an eligibility requirement of federal loans and some other financial aid programs. Use the following resources to find accredited graduate human resource programs:

  • The U.S. Department of Education lists authorized national and regional accreditation agencies.
  • AACSB International lists accredited institutions in an online database. Search by degree level, field of study, program format (online or campus), or location.

For more information about accreditation, see WorldWideLearn.com's guide to the accreditation process or AACSB's list of accreditation standards.

Must-Have Feature #2: Support for Your Chosen Career Track

PhD and DBA degrees in human resources typically favor either an academic or a professional practice career track. Choosing a program in line with your career ambitions will ensure that you're swimming with and not against the tide. Generally speaking, academic hopefuls will opt for a PhD in human resources; although the demand for business faculty has opened doors to DBA graduates, many schools still require faculty to hold a PhD. Professionals can choose a PhD or DBA, but will likely find more private-sector career support if they pursue the professional practice doctorate.

Must-Have Feature #3: Program Format and Location

Business schools have led the effort to make advanced degrees accessible to working adults through online delivery. A growing number of graduate programs offer online PhD or DBA degree in human resources to accommodate students with work schedules and family commitments. If you're balancing your education alongside other priorities, the doctoral program's flexibility will become a non-negotiable factor.

  • Online degrees offer the most flexibility, with self-paced programs mediated through Internet communications. For many working adults, a distance doctorate degree is the only option. Fortunately, many business doctorates lend themselves to the online "earn while you learn" format, since they emphasize independent project work applied in a real-world business context. If you have opted for a professional PhD or an applied DBA degree in human resources, the online format offers a means of bridging the gap between your theoretical education and professional practice.
  • Campus degrees offer unparalleled access to academic resources such as faculty mentors, libraries, research facilities, and teaching assistantships. This makes them a strong choice for candidates with academic career ambitions. Many PhD programs even require full-time campus residency. If you choose a campus degree, you might add "location" to your list of must-have features.
  • Hybrid degrees offer the best of both worlds: temporary campus residency and independent distance learning.

These preliminary qualifications should help you develop a list of schools that meet your baseline expectations.

Step 2: Investigate Programs

The second phase of your school research is an investigation of available programs. At this stage, you'll want to match your area of research interest and any specific career goals with the school's curriculum and resources.

Important factors in this investigation are:

  • Specializations
  • Curriculum
  • Faculty Research
  • Facilities
  • Resources

The following resources can help you identify and investigate programs that match your academic interests:

  • WorldWideLearn.com streamlines the school research process by allowing you to submit your information to schools that meet your specifications. Save time by filling out a form online indicating your preferences. Representatives of schools that meet your criteria will contact you by phone or email to answer your questions about the program.
  • Academic counselors can offer guidance about the school's curriculum, doctoral degree concentrations, and scholarly resources.
  • School Web sites often post detailed information such as faculty bios and CVs, curricula, and even course materials.
  • Research journals and conferences. Specialized human resource journals and conferences offer an inside look at the scholarship in your field of interest and can help you identify potential faculty mentors. The following journals focus on human resources scholarship:
Human Resource Development Quarterly
Administrative Science Quarterly
Academy of Management Journal
Journal of Applied Psychology and Personnel Psychology
Organization Studies
Journal of Management Studies
Journal of Organizational BehaviorPersonnel Review
Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology

    Step Three: Evaluate Quality

    Finally, narrow down your list of schools by evaluating their relative merits. Some of the factors to take into consideration include:

    • Reputation and Selectivity
    • Graduation Rate
    • Job Placement
    • Student/Alumni Support Resources
    • Student Body Profile (percentage of minorities, working professionals, etc.)

    These resources can help you gather information about the quality and characteristics of the PhD programs on your list.

    • Rankings. To get a sense of a school's reputation, consult rankings in the following publications:

    Financial Times
    The Wall Street Journal
    EIU Economist Intelligence Unit

    • Job Placement Data: Many doctoral programs supply job placement data of recent graduates. You can determine how many graduates too academic or non-academic jobs, how many received tenure, and even starting salary information.
    • Campus Visit: Visit the school and set up appointments with faculty and graduate students. Face-to-face interactions can help you get a sense of the doctoral experience and the availability of resources such as teaching and research assistantships.

    Preparing for a PhD Program in Human Resources

    Once you've settled on four or five PhD or DBA programs in human resources that match your career ambitions, it's time to set the application wheels in motion.

    1. Prerequisites

      Depending on your background and the program requirements, you may have to complete the following prerequisites:

      • Degrees. A bachelor's degree is the standard requirement, but some PhD and DBA programs require a master's degree or MBA.
      • Courses. Depending on your undergraduate major, you might have to take some basic business courses before beginning graduate work.
      • Work Experience. Some programs value work experience and take an applicant's resume into consideration.
      • Qualifying Exams.Most programs require the GMAT and/or GRE exams.

        Consult WorldWideLearn.com's Education Advisor for practical advice on applying to graduate programs.

        2. Application Materials

          Assemble the following materials to apply:

          • Faculty or professional recommendations
          • Undergraduate grades
          • Test scores
          • Resume
          • Personal Statement

            3. Financial Aid

              Like any major investment, doctoral degrees require careful financial planning.

              Many campus doctoral programs in human resources offer students a research or teaching assistantship, which provides tuition benefits and a stipend. Both campus and online students are eligible for grants, scholarships, and loans. For more information on funding your campus or online PhD in human resources, consult WorldWideLearn.com's graduate education funding resource.

              Getting a PhD or DBA in human resources could be the most important career move you ever make. As the ultimate achievement in the field, these doctoral degrees open doors to a range of elite careers in academia and industry. With careful planning, you can build a foundation for success--from your doctoral application to graduation and beyond.



              • AACSB International, 2008-2009 U.S. Salary Report
              • AACSB International, Becoming a Business Professor
              • AACSB International, Careers for Business Doctorates
              • AACSB International, Doctoral Education Resource Center
              • Capella University, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Organization and Management
              • Financial Times, Business Education, by Della Bradshaw
              • Paper presented at the Academy of Human Resource Development International Conference (AHRD) (Columbus, OH, Feb 22-26, 2006) p1247-1254, Towards Further Development of HRD as an Academic Discipline, by S. Arzu Watsi
              • UCLA Anderson School of Management, PhD Program in Human Resources & Organizational Behavior
              • University of Minnesota Rochester, PhD in Human Resource Development
              • U.S. Department of Education, Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs

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