Back to school: Life as a procurement PhD.

BlogTalent and Leadership

Late last year, I started a new adventure: I started a part-time PhD at the Queen Mary’s University of London.


It certainly has been a busy time in juggling multiple tasks and requirements into an already demanding schedule.


However, despite the pressures, I have rediscovered my love for ideas and thought. The quantity of required reading, as with most things, can be measured in football pitches, but each consumed article generates my own thoughts and a sense of excitement to drive me forward.


My subject being the somewhat ticklish subject of corruption in the supply chain, many of the academics and practitioners agreed that, although interesting, this particular area of inquiry might suffer from ‘data weaknesses’.


As with many things in life, the whole endeavour is a constant balancing of pros and cons. So, I have been asked to explain a little bit about the process and pass on some advice for those seeking further education, for not just academic research but for executive education as well. Here are a few tips:


  1. Talk to current and past students. I spent a lot of time trying to track down people that have undergone a similar qualification in the field. It was invaluable to understand the realities of a new life and also share some ideas of juggling the new demands. Although, it can be rather down heartening at time, one (recently graduated) student advised me not to do it: “I simply didn’t have the time. It’s far too much work.” In some instances, it perhaps is best to be thick-headed enough to ignore advice.


  1. Spend time finding the right supervisors and talk to those that run the course. The role of the supervisor in a PhD is central, and in similar post-graduate courses, such as MBA, the directors and teachers are equally important. It’s again worth spending some time to know some candidates for this position, understanding their methods and where they may lead you in the future. Fortunately, I have two excellent supervisors (in the form of Stephan Henneberg and Sebastian Forkmann at Queen Mary’s) who constantly push me forward. For example, in only my second month of study, I found myself presenting my research so far to a panel of academics at a journal.


  1. Find a topic that interests you. PhDs can be a slog. The time allocated for past-time courses can stretch to seven years. It is important, therefore, to find an area which is of genuine interest to you, as you are going to spend a lot of time reading through similar material. If it bores you, the work will not be worth the effort.


  1. Budget time wisely. One of the more demanding aspects of further study is the impact it makes on time. A former student described to me of finding his ‘magic hours’ in between dropping the kids off at school and after mid-night, when they have settled down to bed. He found that he was negotiating with his wife just as much as his work to find in the hours. For myself, I try to get about 20-hours a week of studying, alongside the day-job. To achieve this, every spare moment has to be squeezed for potential. Business travel, for instance, can be a god-send when you are stretching for a deadline.


  1. Keep a clear vision of the end-goal. As executive education is becoming more common, its marginal value declines in impact. MBAs no longer catapult graduates to the top spots, but are increasingly the expected price of entry into even middle management positions. Given this, some are disappointed at where their (sometimes very significant) investments have or have not taken them. As such, a realistic idea of where the qualification can take them


There you have it. I’ll be happy to ‘pay it forward’ and answer any of your questions on future study. Or indeed, if you are interested in talking about corruption in the supply chain (anonymously). So please feel free to contact me:

Jonathan Webb
Posted by Jonathan Webb

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