Big Data promises to provide the answers to a lot of questions—if only we can figure out how to dig through the mountains of information to find the valuable bits. That’s what business analytics does: it devises ways to make sense of the data so that they can tell us what we’re doing and how we might do it better. We can even use it to predict the future, by mining past data to construct hypothetical scenarios.
If you want to go one step further—if you wish not just to solve today’s problems but also to devise the methods for solving tomorrow’s—you might want to pursue a PhD in Business Analytics. This terminal degree trains you for a career in academics and research.
It’s a big commitment: it’s not unusual for students to spend six years earning a PhD. Before you start, you’ll probably wonder how much you’ll earn with a PhD in Business Analytics. This article answers that question. In it, we cover:
The field of business analytics looks at massive data pools relating to business operations and figures out how to transform them into useful information. Business analytics uses statistical analysis, econometrics, probabilistic modeling, and operations research to forecast likely outcomes of different strategies. It can be applied to any business function that generates data, including:
If your goal is to become a corporate business analytics expert, you probably don’t need a higher degree than a master’s. A Master of Business Administration with a concentration in business analytics or a Master of Science in Business Analytics will qualify you for most analytics jobs in the business world. You will likely earn a lot of money; according to Glassdoor, the average business analytics professional earns over $108,000 per year in salary and incentives.
If, however, your goal is to be at the forefront of business analytics theory and research, you should consider pursuing a PhD in the field. While the master’s will teach you the intricacies of applying analytics tools, the PhD will dig deeper into the hows, whys, and what-ifs of business analytics. You will study and work closely with cutting-edge leaders in business analytics. Eventually, you will produce a massive piece of original research—a dissertation—that will define you as an expert in one sub-specialization of the field.
Colleges and universities are the top employers of business analytics PhDs. As the University of Pittsburgh‘s website explains, the core mission of the PhD program is to “produce professors who are placed in leading research universities and published in top-tier journals.”
The University of Iowa agrees: “Analytics expertise is in big demand at top universities… around the world. Recent grads have joined universities.” However, the school adds that “others have taken positions as analysts and data scientists at companies” that include:
A career in academics does not preclude work for private businesses. On the contrary, a professorship at a prestigious university can create consulting opportunities. Not only will you be a noted expert in business analytics, but you will also be teaching MBAs and MS students who will, in turn, enter the business world and who may, subsequently, seek your services. While no income figures on this type of work are publicly available, it is reasonably certain that the work is quite lucrative.
The job-posting website Salary.com projects annual salaries for business analytics PhDs between $130,300 and $138,500. PayScale (another job-posting site) does not disaggregate specifically for the business analytics PhD. However, it does report an average annual income for PhDs in business data analysis of $97,000, and a $99,000 salary for modeling and simulation PhDs.
Academics in this field can earn a very comfortable living. The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill‘s Kenan-Flagler School of Business lists eight big data and analytics faculty. According to the UNC system salary database, these professors earn between $200,000 (for an assistant professor) to $337,000 per year. Kenan-Flagler is a top-ten business school, so it pays better than many other institutions. Even so, these data provide some indication of what a successful business analytics professor can earn.
Applicants to PhD programs typically hold a master’s degree; for business analytics programs, that degree is usually either a Master of Business Administration or a Master of Science in Business Analytics.
There are PhD programs that admit students with only a bachelor’s degree and to pursue a master’s-doctoral track. However, the standard pathway to a business analytics PhD program is:
Most business analytics programs commence with two years of coursework. During this period, you’ll take such courses as:
Some programs offer specializations within business analytics. The University of Iowa, for example, allows PhD candidates to concentrate in:
The University of Oregon offers specializations in:
Most programs require candidates to complete a lengthy paper during the first two years, to be presented in some formal setting (e.g., a department seminar) toward the end of the second year. Comprehensive exams—written and oral—are also typically administered at this time. Some programs mark the end of this period with an interim degree (usually a Master of Philosophy (MPhil)), although many do not.
At that point, it’s dissertation time! A dissertation is a lengthy research project that defines your area of expertise. Writing a dissertation takes a while. Rarely can one be completed in less than two years, and four years is more the norm. What’s the upper limit? Well, some people never complete their dissertations. Most schools officially impose a six-year limit on PhD study, but most schools also unofficially ignore that limit.
You’ll write your dissertation under a faculty advisor’s oversight. When it’s done, you’ll submit it for review, a grueling process in which you defend your work before a panel of experts (called a dissertation committee). Afterward, the committee discusses your work in private before returning its verdict: pass, re-examination, or failure. ‘Pass’ is the golden ticket; ‘re-examination’ means you’ll have to revise your work and defend again when you’re done; and ‘failure’ is, well, failure. Most schools allow candidates to appeal an evaluation of ‘failure’ with hopes of being permitted to revise and re-defend.
In short, no one is just going to hand you the title of ‘doctor.’ You are going to have to earn it.
You can study business analytics at nearly any business school that offers a PhD. Business analytics is an essential and growing discipline within modern business academics, and no serious PhD program would ignore it, nor would one dissuade you from focusing your dissertation on the field. It is often covered as a sub-specialization within the school’s specialization in operations, information systems, or information management.
If, however, you want to earn a PhD with an explicit specialization in business analytics, your choices are currently limited to a relative handful of schools. Fortunately, many of them are among the best business schools in the country. They include:
Do you need a PhD in Business Analytics to excel at the highest level of business analytics academics and research? Not necessarily. If you have a related PhD from a top university—say, a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology‘s Sloan School of Management in Information Technology—and expertise in relevant analytics practices, you’ll be fine. A PhD with a business analytics designation is an excellent way to signal exceptional expertise and knowledge in the field, but it is not the only way. It is, however, a surefire way to indicate that you are a bona fide top-echelon expert in the field of business analytics, which is what colleges and universities are looking for.
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