DBA vs. PhD - what’s the difference?

What is the difference between a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Management Science degree?

It’s a good question. Embarking on either of these doctorates will involve a major commitment of your energy, time and finances. You want to be sure to choose the right one.

First, the similarities. Both DBA and PhD programmes:

  • Involve several years of study and research
  • Culminate in a thesis, usually tested in an oral exam (‘viva voce’)
  • Are equal in status, standing and challenge*
  • Lead to a doctor’s title and can open up new horizons

So why would you choose one rather than the other?

It all depends on what your personal and professional goals are.

DBA v. PhD – professional v. academic goals

  • A DBA is the doctoral degree to choose if you are pursuing a professional rather than an academic career. Your primary goal is to carry out research that advances professional practice in your field.

For example, if you are a marketing executive who wants to know how digital marketing influences your customers’ purchasing behaviour, or a CEO who wants to explore effective change management strategies in a global pharmaceutical company, the DBA would be your choice.

  • A PhD in Management Science is the degree for you if you are on an academic career path. Your primary goal is to carry out scholarly research that advances theories and knowledge of management science.

The PhD would be a good choice if you want to become a management lecturer and conduct research that addresses existing gaps in management knowledge and theory, or a researcher who wants to become a trusted academic source for analysis of specific economic factors.

DBA v. PhD – taught modules v. research only

At UK universities, you will generally find that:

  • A DBA is a professional doctorate that involves both taught modules and research
  • A traditional PhD is a research-based doctoral programme with usually little or no taught element

DBA v PhD – practical v. scholarly research

Both types of doctorate culminate in a final research exercise.

  • For the DBA, this will be a doctoral study addressing a practical problem, usually in your workplace, acknowledged as significant by scholarly and professional stakeholders.
  • For the PhD, this will be a research dissertation addressing a gap in existing research, acknowledged as significant by the scholarly peer community.

What is the advantage of a DBA?

“I have gained an unparalleled amount of new knowledge, especially as it pertains to designing and conducting research studies related to real problems or opportunities in the workplace,” said DBA graduate Dr Lisa Crockett, senior director at a US health service provider.

Online DBA

The University of Liverpool’s AACSB-accredited Management School offers a Doctor of Business Administration that is fully accessible online and also has a face-to-face residency option. Read more about our online DBA

*Equivalence between the professional doctorate and a PhD is fully accepted within the UK through the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), and across the European Higher Education Area, through the Lisbon Recognition Convention as part of the Bologna Process.