How to Get a PhD or DBA in Operations Management

Operations management gets to the heart of business administration: the efficient production of goods and services. Ever since Henry Ford invented the factory assembly line, business leaders have been searching for ways to streamline production processes and optimize the use of resources.

A doctoral degree in business with a specialization in operations management prepares you to contribute to the advancement of business and manufacturing logistics, either as an academic thought leader or as a business scholar-practitioner. The online PhD in operations management represents the top academic qualifications in the field. Completing either of these doctoral degrees requires discipline and careful planning from the outset. This guide takes you through the application process step by step, from developing a career goal to finding the doctoral program that matches your ambitions. Use it alongside The Insider’s College Guide for Working Adults,’s general guide to college education for professionals.

A Guide to PhD and DBA Programs in Operations Management

The field of operations management brings together industrial engineering, system dynamics, statistics, and business administration. As a doctoral student you’ll have the opportunity to work with leading operations management innovators to optimize today’s production logistics.


A doctoral degree in operations management affords the opportunity to conduct original research in your particular field of interest. Each program features its own ecosystem of research specializations, influenced by the school’s traditions, industry alliances, and most importantly, its resident faculty experts. The online PhD and DBA in operations management offers the opportunity to specialize in areas such as:

  • Production and Operations Management (POM)
  • Operations Research (OR)
  • Management Science (MS)
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Inventory Management
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Decision Analysis
  • Industrial Risk Management
  • Quality Management

Collaborative research with faculty is an important feature of both the PhD and DBA in operations management. A sense of your academic interests can help you identify research mentors and programs in line with your intellectual and career ambitions.

PhD and DBA Degrees in Operations Management

Business schools offer two degrees at the doctoral level: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). The right degree for you depends largely on your career goals.

A campus or online PhD in operations management reflects the characteristics of a traditional social science doctorate. The degree emphasizes original scholarly research that advances operations management theory. The PhD is the right choice if you aspire to an academic career as a professor, scholarly expert, or business school faculty instructor.

An online DBA in operations management tracks the PhD program requirements but shifts the research focus from theoretical to applied research. The DBA is designed for professional practitioners who want to “execute research-based business strategies within an organization or business.” The program, which attracts working professionals, encourages students to develop research projects that address a real-world business problem.

Over time, the distinctions between the PhD and DBA have become blurry–some PhD programs have shifted toward applied research, while many DBA programs encourage students to participate in theoretical and academic discourse.

Career Tracks

Doctoral graduates may pursue either an academic or a professional practice career track. Academic PhD degrees generally produce academic professors and researchers. A BusinessWeek report estimates that two-thirds of PhD students pursue an academic career. The remaining third go on to high-level consulting or executive positions in the private sector. Online professional PhD and DBA graduates generally head into industry jobs. In fact, many online doctoral students are mid-career professionals looking to advance from a manager position into a leadership or business consultant role. Focusing your career goals will help you prepare for a successful PhD or DBA experience. To explore your operations management career options further, consult online resources such as the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.

How to Apply for PhD and DBA Programs in Operations Management

Developing a sense of your research interests and career goals offers a solid foundation for the next step in your journey toward a doctoral degree in operations management: applying to a school.

How to Choose a Program

With a clear vision to guide you, choosing a school becomes a matter of matching your preferences with available campus or online PhD and DBA programs. With hundreds of business schools to choose from, however, the process can be daunting. The Internet offers an array of resources to help you research your options, such as an overview of online PhD and DBA degrees.

This step-by-step guide walks you through the research process, with links to useful online resources.

Step One: Find Accredited PhD and DBA Programs in Operations Management

Begin the research process by compiling a list of accredited PhD and DBA programs in operations management. Accreditation is an essential qualification of any higher education institution. An independent agency conducts periodic evaluations of its member institutions as a means of validating its academic quality. Accreditation means you can trust the value of your degree–and qualify for important programs such as federal financial aid.

The U.S. Department of Education posts a comprehensive list of approved regional and international accreditation agencies.

Resources: represents a number of colleges and universities that meet its quality criteria. Browse a list of accredited education partners.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the premier international accreditation authority, represents nearly 600 member institutions worldwide. You can access an online database of the AACSB’s participating schools. This comprehensive list allows you to search based on campus or online delivery format, location, program of study, and degree level.

Step Two: Select a Campus or Online Program Format

Your current life circumstances and future career plans are likely to dictate which program format is best for you, narrowing your list of schools. Consider the following when evaluating whether to pursue a full-time campus degree, a self-paced online degree, or a hybrid program with both online and campus components.

Online programs are designed to accommodate working professionals. The flexible, self-paced format makes it a natural choice–in some cases, the only option–for adults balancing work and family obligations. But logistics are not the only benefit of the online PhD or DBA in operations management. Students currently working as operations managers can take advantage of the format to apply their research directly in the workplace. For DBA or professional PhD candidates, this synergy between academic theory and real-world business applications offers an ideal opportunity to take their careers to new heights.

Campus programs typically require full-time residency, but they offer an inside track to an academic career. Students aspiring to a career as an operations management professor or research scholar may be best served by investing in a campus program. Campus residency affords unparalleled access to faculty and university research facilities such as libraries and computer labs. Faculty mentorships and relationships within the academic community can be instrumental to securing a faculty position. And campus teaching and research assistantships serve as apprentice roles for academic careers.

Step Three: Explore Academic Program Options

Once you’ve compiled a list of accredited operations management doctorate programs that meet your basic qualifications, you’re ready to explore the unique characteristics of each school on your list and decide which ones reflect your academic interests.

The following factors should play into your decision:

  • Areas of concentration in operations management
  • Faculty research
  • Curriculum and course requirements
  • Special programs and resources

Resources: can facilitate the research process by matching you with programs that meet your specifications. List your preferences–campus or online, program type, location, etc.–and the system will match you to schools that fit your individual needs.

Informational interviews with counselors and faculty can be invaluable as you prospect for a program emphasis and faculty mentor that matches your interests. Contact admissions counselors or professors directly for more information.

School Web sites provide basic information about a program’s academic requirements and research emphases. You’ll find faculty bios and CVs, course reading lists, a list of required courses, and more.

Academic Journals offer an inside perspective on current faculty research. If you’re not sure what you’d like to study, you can use journals as a guide to the issues current in the operations management discipline today. If you do have a sense of your interests, you can use journals to find faculty and programs that specialize in your chosen field.

Some prominent academic journals in operations management include:

  • Journal of Operations Management
  • International Journal of Operations & Production Management
  • Production and Operations Management
  • Operations Research
  • Management Science
  • Mathematics of Operations Research
  • Mathematical Programming
  • Journal of the American Statistical Association
  • European Journal of Operations Research
  • Manufacturing and Service Operations Management (INFORMS journal)

Academic and Professional Associations

Cultivate your new network by joining the academic and industry associations. The most prominent include the Institute of Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) and the Association for Operations Management (APICS).

Step Four: Evaluate Program Quality

Last but not least, evaluate all the programs on your shortlist and rank them according to the quality and value of the degree. Doctoral programs vary widely in selectivity and currency in the academic or professional job market. Since this is one of the most important investments you’ll make in your life, it’s important to ensure that you get the maximum return.

Consider the following factors when evaluating PhD or DBA programs in operations management:

  • Reputation
  • Selectivity
  • Graduation Rate
  • Job Placement Statistics
  • Career Support Resources
  • Student Body Profile


Rankings offer a general sense of the relative value of particular campus and online PhD degrees in operations management. The major business publications perform regular evaluations and rank schools to a complex algorithm of factors. They include:

Financial Times
The Wall Street Journal
EIU Economist Intelligence Unit

Since each newspaper uses different criteria, results vary. Financial Times has sought to bridge the gap among rankings by publishing one master ranking that takes into account all five publications’ results.

Admissions data can help you gauge how you measure up to other applicants in terms of undergraduate grades and test scores. Selectivity information allows you to match your profile with an appropriate program. Plan to apply to at least one ‘dream’ school–almost out of your league–and one ‘safety’ school–a sure bet.

Student data offers insight into the value of the degree and the nature of the student experience. Find information about job placement, degree completion, and the student demographic.

Preparing for a PhD or DBA Program in Operations Management

The last phase in your journey into the academic world: preparing your application for your chosen schools. First, complete any required prerequisites. Common requirements include:

  • A bachelor’s degree in business, economics, or a related field. If your undergraduates degree is in another field, plan to take some basic prerequisite courses to get up to speed. The admissions department of your chosen programs can offer specific guidance.
  • Standardized tests such as the GRE, GMAT, or TOEFL (for international students)
  • Work experience

Next, compile materials to complete your application. Most PhD and DBA programs require the following:

  • Undergraduate transcript
  • Test scores
  • Faculty and professional letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement

Financial Aid

Both campus and online doctoral degrees are important investments. Prepare for a smooth transition by researching your financial aid options. Many PhD programs offer funding programs for graduate students in the form of stipends, tuition waivers, and research and teaching assistantships. Other options include:

  • Private scholarships
  • Research grants
  • Corporate sponsorship, including continuing education grants and loan forgiveness programs
  • Private and federal student loans

For more information, visit’s guide to graduate education funding.

Joining the Academic Community

By applying to a PhD or DBA in operations management, you’re taking the first step toward joining an elite community of academic and professional leaders. To further implant yourself into the field, consider one or more of the following options:

Academic journals. One way to reach out to others in your field is through academic journals. Many papers published by academics are intended to spark discussion on a certain topic. Join the debate. You may just open a dialogue with some of operations management’s leading minds.

Conferences. Often on a quarterly basis, top thinkers in the field of operations management gather to discuss research and other hot topics. Attend a conference and you could engage professors and other professionals in the industry face to face.

The doctoral degree represents the highest achievement in the operations management discipline, placing you at the cutting edge of academic and professional development. Put yourself on the path to an advanced degree, and you can look forward to a high-powered, intellectually fulfilling career as an operations management scholar or industry leader.


  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, 2009-2009 U.S. Salary Report
  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, AACSB Accredited Business Schools Database
  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Becoming a Business Professor
  • AACSB International–The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Prepare to Attend a Business Doctoral Program
  • The Association for Operations Management (APICS)
  • BusinessWeek, Business PhD Applications on the Rise, by Alison Damasat
  • Financial Times, Business Education, by Della Bradshaw
  • Georgia Institute of Technology, Top Journals in Operations Management, by Josephine Olson
  • The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS)
  • MIT Sloan School of Management, Operations Management PhD Program
  • U.S. Department of Education, Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
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