The Robert H. Smith School of Business recently announced a $12 million PhD program initiative that will significantly enhance the school’s ability to retain and attract the world’s best and brightest students. The initiative—one of the most ambitious in the United States—increases annual doctoral stipends by 45 percent to $32,500 and provides research and travel support. Philanthropist and school namesake Robert H. Smith, a 1950 graduate, contributed $6 million toward the program, matched with funds from the University of Maryland and the business school.
This significant investment in the school’s PhD program bucks the current trend in business schools, many of which are downsizing their doctoral programs due to a lack of resources. Unlike MBA programs, which generate revenue for schools, a doctoral program costs money. And because rankings are generally based on the strength of a school’s MBA program rather than its PhD program, there is little reputational or financial incentive for a school to invest in its doctoral program.
So when a school is strapped for cash its doctoral program often feels the pinch. This has led to smaller doctoral programs across the board, which has in turn led to a nationwide shortage of academically qualified business school faculty. The problem is so severe that the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) Management Education Task Force, in its 2003 study “Management Education At Risk,” declared that “Unless decisive action is taken to reverse declines in business doctoral education, academic business schools, universities, and society will be faced with an inevitable erosion in the quality of business education and research.”
The Smith PhD Initiative includes a number of components designed to offer its doctoral students an unprecedented degree of compensation, resources and benefits. These include:
- Super-stipends: Incoming PhD candidates will benefit from a $32,500 annual stipend and subsequent $1,000 increases each succeeding year. Stipends for graduate students currently in the program will increase to average more than $25,000 per year. Additional stipends will be available for students who advance to candidacy and those who publish papers in “A” level research journals.
- Dissertation support office: A dedicated office with a professional editor and English-language training resources will assist the production of effective dissertations, teaching and communications training.
- Research support: Doctoral students will gain from year-round support to facilitate research and fifth-year fellowships for top students in order to increase research output and improve placement prospects.
- Increased travel budget: Students will be encouraged to more actively exchange knowledge and ideas with $1,500 per year available for travel and conferences.
- State-of-the-art facilities: PhD students will enjoy a dedicated suite and offices in a newly completed wing of the Smith School’s Van Munching Hall, opened January 2008. The PhD space was funded by William A. Longbrake, a 1976 doctoral alumnus now vice chair of Washington Mutual.
The Smith School’s PhD program, rated # 13 in the world and # 6 in the U.S. by theFinancial Times (2008), has grown in both numbers and reputation over the past 10 years. The doctoral program is global and attracts a very diverse group of PhD students. Right now there are 95 students who represent 17 countries; about 69 percent are international and about 46 percent are women.
“The Smith School attracts PhD students from around the world,” says Lawrence A. Gordon, director of the PhD program and Ernst & Young Alumni Professor of Managerial Accounting and Information Assurance. “One of the things that attracts these students to Smith is the access to some of the best faculty in their fields. We also put a strong emphasis on close working relationships among faculty and students.”
In the last three years, graduates from the doctoral program have been placed in such institutions as Georgetown University, Instituto de Empresa, McGill University, Nanyang Technological University, National Taiwan University, Notre Dame, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of California/Davis, University of California Los Angeles, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, and University of Southern California. Students regularly present papers at national as well as regional conferences and have papers accepted in major academic journals. Over the past five years, 99 percent of Smith’s PhD students have been successfully placed directly after they graduate—about 80 percent as tenure-track assistant professors at an accredited university, and the rest as researchers in either private or governmental organizations.
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