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Thread: How to self-learn Phd-level strategic management knowledge?

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    Question How to self-learn Phd-level strategic management knowledge?

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    I am a high school student who is been admitted by two fairly renowned b-schools (hkust and bocconi), and I am seriously considering the possibility of becoming a b-school professor in strategic management, which requires a Phd. To better prepare myself, I started learning the basics of the subject several months ago, but I've really no idea as to whether my method is appropriate or not: this is why I would like to ask for your kind help! I would like to list my learning approaches, and I was wondering if I might have your opinion on them.

    My current approach is to read undergraduate-level textbooks and the works/papers by the most authoritative figures in the field. I also write my understanding/insights and then aggregate them into my OneNote notes. I've used this approach for several months now, but somehow I think that I am really not doing enough: by doing this, all I can gain is probably an undergraduate-level understanding of strategic management, which is really far from enough. So I have been thinking about adopting another approach.

    I have been browsing prestigious/good b-schools' websites to find out their Phd curriculums for almost a day, and luckily, it seems like that Bocconi and Wharton were generous enough to publish their Phd curriculums in detail, specifying their materials used and so on (Bocconi: PhD IN BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION AND MANAGEMENT - Bocconi University Milan ; Wharton: PhD Course Descriptions - Management Department). Of course, the essence of a Phd education is discussion and exchange of ideas, not just some study materials. But my study options are really somehow limited, and I think the following will be my study plan:

    1. Knowing the basics. I still need to learn the basics of the field, and I think I am going to do this by 1)reading some undergraduate-level textbooks and 2) following undergraduate/mba level curriculums published by Wharton.

    2. Delving into the field. This phrase somehow troubles me. I have been able to find several good textbooks (e.g., "TheBehavior Foundations of Strategic Management," EconomicFoundations of Strategy," and the like). And I intend to use them in conjunction with the curriculums published by the two above-mentioned b-schools and the most widely cited papers/works. But really, is this a good way? Without proper guidance, I fear about losing myself in the immense field of strategic management. Would you say that this is a proper way to study phd-level strategic management concepts? What would you do differently?

    3. Choosing a small topic on which to focus my study and hopefully produce some papers that are worth of being published by some journal. This is because I would like to apply for prestigious/good universities for my phd/masters study. Also, this is the ultimate purpose of all my study: to land a job as a professor at a good b-school, which necessitates publishing papers in well-regarded journals. However, I have really no idea whatsoever as to how to pick a small topic in the field. Some people on the Internet suggest that I should read the conferences documents released by the top management journals. Would you say that this is a good source? Might I know how do phd candidates and b-school professors find ideas/topics to write about?

    Thanks for your time and reading! Any advice will be highly appreciated!

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    Re: How to self-learn Phd-level strategic management knowledge?

    Well, you can learn some strategic management by yourself. But something that would really be considered PhD level? That's a huge challenge. Like, I have a bachelor's, an MBA, a Master's, and even with the support of my advisor and faculty in general it is extremely hard. The PhD is a very different kind of beast.

    So, I really suggest you to go slower. Books and courses are much more important for undergrad and master's, not PhD, but it's better to go that way first. Leave the PhD-level stuff for later.

    As you get more knowledge and experience, then probably some topics will start to grab your attention, potentially becoming your topic of research in the future. Don't worry too much about it now. If you start reading papers from top journals, it will really depend more on which papers you can understand something, not on what would be a good topic for you.

    Research is about things we still don't know. But first you need to learn what we already know (and that's already a major task). We build on existing knowledge.

    Different people in different fields have different ways to find topics to write about. Sometimes, the topic comes from knowing the existing literature, and seeing the gaps. Sometimes, the topic comes from the type of datasets that you have available. Sometimes, the topics comes from challenges faced by firms.

    In my case, the topic was a natural consequence of my professional career in industry. The problems the firms were not able to really solve in a good way, from my experience, became the topics of interest for my research.

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    Re: How to self-learn Phd-level strategic management knowledge?

    Thanks sir for your kind help!!

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    Re: How to self-learn Phd-level strategic management knowledge?

    I have experience with management (Strategy/OB) and Econ fields. I think that self-studying (or getting immersed in the management literature) is not too hard, but the opaque, balkanized nature of management academia makes it hard to find relevant resources...much harder than economics programs, which make all PhDs take the same first year core courses and essentially have the same syllabi.

    If you want to self-study Strategy, take a look at the topics mentioned in the second paragraph on this page, take a look at the editorial boards of SMJ, AMJ, and Organization Science to find the big-shots of the field, see what topics they study, find matches with your interests, and see if you can find syllabi from these faculties' PhD courses on their websites. You can also find a lot of high-level Strategy faculty and readings in the PDF file here. Read these papers, start thinking of related research questions, and you can effectively self-study the first two years of a Strategy PhD program. However, you should understand that your highest ROI activity is to RA for Strategy professors and make high-status connections with faculty that will be recognized across the field. This advice may sound opportunistic and a little unsavory, but it is realistically the most important advice you need to take at all stages of an academic career, especially when just starting off.

    Why is self-studying Strategy harder than self-studying economics? Compared to Strategy, microeconomics has a more unified theoretical core starting from preference axioms and building out to welfare theorems, etc. Much of this development was done through formal (mathematical) theory. While economists can relax these axioms and assumptions, everyone is essentially starting from the same beliefs and theories about how preferences are formed, how ideal markets operate, and how individuals should behave on average. In short, you can throw a bunch of microeconomists studying topics from health to development to education in one room, and they'll all be speaking "dialects" of the same language.

    From my experience, Strategy is more like a set of topical "tribes" that have organically grown distant from each other as professors train graduate students to specialize in answering questions that become narrower as time progresses. There's a networks tribe, an institutional economics tribe, etc. While this process of specialization happens in most fields, each of these Strategy tribes has its own theoretical starting points, which are different, non-overlapping blends of economics, sociology, social psychology, and management theory. In contrast to economics, these other disciplines do not use much mathematical theory; social psych has developed thousands of branching theories mostly through lab experimentation, while sociology has tended to develop dense verbal theory with frequent citations to the founders of their field. Management theory is separate from these disciplines, but it often draws ideas from them, is mostly verbal, and is more focused around workplace phenomena. The upshot is that these disciplines have very different ways of developing core knowledge, which leads to the creation of "different languages" among Strategy tribes based on your topical interests.

    In practice, this divergence in theoretical starting points has led to Strategy departments becoming balkanized into different topical tribes that makes it difficult to determine what the "core" of Strategy academia looks like to an outsider. Strategy scholars who give research presentations in other Strategy departments can often only be fully understood by those in their same tribe. For example, Stanford's group of management scholars was historically focused on Organization Theory (which is sociology + management), while UChicago was a strong Networks and Economic Sociology group (which blend sociology + economics + management). At a high level, most of these topical tribes classify themselves as either more management focused (e.g., Wharton, NYU) or discipline focused (e.g., Northwestern MEDS in econ). You can usually tell which program is which based on where the faculty got their PhDs; if you see a high degree of faculty with Econ/Soc PhDs, you're likely in a discipline focused school, and vice-versa.
    Last edited by recentgrad; 03-24-2020 at 05:41 PM.

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    Re: How to self-learn Phd-level strategic management knowledge?

    See if you can find a professor during your undergrad studies in the field to work with them and get a sense of the literature. you might end up doing something like literature search/review, which would be helpful for you to get a sense of the academic literature.

    As mentioned previously, the academic literature is quite dense, so it may take you a while to start to wrap your head around it and how to read it appropriately. This is what most students do the 1st year of their PhD programs.

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