The PhD in business administration grounds students in disciplinary theories and methods, trains them to apply these theories and methods in academic research on important business problems. The goal of the program is to prepare students for a fulfilling career in academia at top business schools and research institutions around the world. The program has five areas of study: accounting and management, management, marketing, strategy, and technology and operations management.
Students in business administration are enrolled in and receive their degree from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and work with faculty from both the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Business School (HBS).
GSAS and HBS have jointly offered PhD programs since 1916. In addition to business administration, GSAS and HBS collaborate on programs in business economics, organizational behavior, and health policy (management track).
Areas of Study
Accounting and Management
Accounting scholars at Harvard University study how information affects capital allocation across firms, resource allocation within firms, and the behavior of key stakeholders such as shareholders, regulators, customers, and suppliers. Students in the program also study the process by which such information is produced and disclosed and the quality of that information. Academic work in accounting mainly utilizes statistical/econometric methods and theoretical economic modeling in examining these questions. It often draws from and extends frameworks developed in information economics and financial economics. Students who study accounting systems within firms often combine these statistical techniques with field research methods, which include conducting field interviews, collecting field data from companies, and designing and running field experiments.
Management scholars study organizational structures and human behavior in organizations to identify factors that affect a variety of outcomes ranging from business performance to employee satisfaction. Academic work in management informs management practices related to monetary and non-monetary incentives, the use of specific interventions to improve team performance, and structures to allow flatter organizational hierarchies to function effectively. Management researchers adopt a range of methods at individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis. Methods vary, as appropriate, to fit the nature of the problems they study. In relatively new domains of inquiry, researchers often follow a sociological grounded-theory approach, collecting qualitative data through interviews and observation to deepen understanding of phenomena and suggest new theory. Researchers analyze data systematically through coding processes characterized by organizing and sorting qualitative data to identify themes, illuminate processes, and suggest relationships between variables. Other researchers use quantitative data—either original data collected in the field by the researcher or archival data sets that are publically available or provided to the researcher by an organization. Such work employs statistical/econometric methods to test hypotheses proposed by researchers in advance. Additionally, some design and implement field experiments.
Marketing scholars explore the societal and managerial processes by which goods, services, and information are exchanged in a market to satisfy the needs and wants of individuals and organizations. Researchers study how firms, including not-for-profit entities, can facilitate these exchanges by discovering ways to better understand consumer behavior and by determining the kinds of activities that can be used to best educate potential customers about the availability and value of offerings relevant to them. In addition, marketing as a field is concerned with how different forms of communication, such as social media platforms, enable meaningful interactions between firms and consumers and between consumers and consumers. Academic work provides rich insights on how organizations can more effectively serve customers (for example, the collection and use of data to guide R&D investments) and has generated sophisticated approaches to gauge the impact of various efforts (for example, the effect of pricing schemes or salesforce incentive plans on demand generation). The findings and frameworks produced also serve public policy makers and advocacy groups who seek to monitor the actions of corporations in order to protect the rights of consumers.
Academic researchers in marketing use a host of methods to shed light on phenomena of interest. Empirical studies employ the most recent econometric and statistical techniques to examine the link between firm actions and consumer response to these actions. Increasingly, big data are analyzed using techniques such as machine learning and computational linguistics, with the objective of uncovering patterns in customer behavior and providing predictive insights. Experimental work in marketing, both lab and field-based, aims to understand the psychological and social motivations behind individuals’ response to various stimuli. Theoretical modeling borrows from microeconomics and game theory to offer normative guidelines for a firm’s marketing strategies.
Students in the marketing program select either the consumer behavior track or the quantitative marketing track.
Researchers in strategy seek to understand the mechanisms through which firms create value and sustain superior performance over time. In addressing these general concerns, strategy scholars address more specific challenges faced by firms including deciding which customers the firm will serve, which capabilities need to be developed to support those positioning choices, the dynamics of competition within markets, and the appropriate scope of the firm in terms of products or geographies. Many strategy scholars also focus on challenges faced by nonprofit and governmental organizations, which share common mechanisms with their for-profit counterparts but typically in the context of different objective functions and constraints.
Given the range of problems addressed by researchers in the strategy field, strategy scholarship uses a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods ranging from econometric analysis of large-sample data sets to field and laboratory experiments to ethnographic studies of a single organization. Students in the HBS Strategy doctoral program develop a disciplinary base in microeconomics with complementary training in econometrics. Typically, these students extend the base to another discipline (e.g., sociology) or business field (e.g., entrepreneurship), which is important for gaining further traction on their chosen problem or deepen their understanding of microeconomics by pursuing one or more economics field sequences such as industrial organization, contract theory, or development economics.
Technology and Operations Management
The doctoral program in Technology and Operations Management prepares students to examine how and why firms create and deploy innovative products and services, as well as how the diffusion of technological novelty generates economic growth and transforms society. They also study how and why organizations—both for-profit business and not-for-profit enterprise—translate organizational goals into productive action by harnessing people, processes, and capabilities. Frontier research questions in these areas encompass a wide and diverse set of topics, and arise in some of the most important sectors of the economy, including health care, information and communication technology, energy, and the environment. Students in this program conduct research that addresses managerially-relevant problems, integrating discipline-based theory with rigorous research methods. Students in the technology and operations management program select either the innovation track or the entrepreneurship track.
Successful candidates for admission have strong records of academic performance in rigorous programs and exemplary GRE general test or GMAT scores, especially in the quantitative area. Applicants with bachelors degrees in the social sciences, engineering, sciences, as well as, business are encouraged to apply.
Adequate command of spoken and written English is required for admission. Non-native English speakers must take the TOEFL, unless they have obtained the equivalent of a US bachelor degree from an institution at which English is the language of instruction. The committee prefers scores of at least 100 on the Internet-based test (IBT) of the TOEFL.
All PhD in Business Administration students receive a fellowship which includes tuition, health insurance fees, and a generous stipend for up to five years. Students must be making satisfactory progress in order to maintain eligibility for financial aid.