Mark is from Germany and works as a Managing Counsultant for imbus AG, a software testing firm. We interviewed him and his wife, Dr Marion Menzel, when he travelled to Liverpool in December 2015 to graduate with a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree.
What does your typical day look like?
My main responsibility at imbus AG is managing test consultants. I work in and with teams to support our customers. Usually each day is different, but in general when I arrive in the office, we have short stand-up meeting of about fifteen minutes to follow-up on progress. Usually my tasks are event-driven, triggered by customer requirements.
Why did you choose to study online for this doctorate from the University of Liverpool?
The syllabus caught my interest: as a management professional, I wanted to gain more rigorous experience, strengthening my practitioner work with scientific underpinnings. I knew how good the University of Liverpool’s online programmes were because I completed my Master of Information Technology online with the University of Liverpool in 2005.
How did you fit online study into your life?
The first half the doctorate involves module work and the schedule is crystal clear: you have to follow a strict plan each week and you have to complete deliverables every week. This is hard work, but I managed. In the second half, you focus on your doctoral thesis and since there is no longer any class work (or weekly deadlines) you have to motivate yourself. I used a technique called Kanban: you plan the thesis tasks in the form of deliverables of 4-week iterations. My main study effort was 2-3 hours every day, six days a week during the doctoral thesis. One day was reserved for family.
Marion: Observing Mark’s studies reminded me of my own PhD studies – although I completed them in a very different subject (physics) and completely different from (full-time, on campus). During his thesis, I found myself taking on the role of his discussion partner in the evenings after the kids were finally in bed. Sometimes he needed to formulate thoughts verbally to come to a solution. It was difficult for me, as business administration is really not my subject, but very interesting. I learned a lot as well.
What did you enjoy most about studying online with the University of Liverpool?
I really liked the flexibility of the programme and how I could coordinate my studies with my work and private commitments. I also liked the fact that the work-based problems I studied helped me to reflect on issues in my workplace.
What was your experience of interacting with other international professionals?
It is amazing how fruitful it can be to work with an international group of highly skilled and experienced management executives, especially during the module work. During the action learning discussions, it was really educative to be challenged by these management experts – it was a real eye-opener. If no one challenges you, you trap yourself and stick to your usual thinking schemes. When you are challenged to think out of the box, new knowledge and thinking is generated.
What did you research for your doctoral degree?
My doctoral thesis is about transformational and shared leadership in self-organising teams. I have developed and validated a shared leadership research instrument via qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys. The instrument consisted of the shared leadership attributes, "Decision Making", "Vision", "Coordination", "Communication" and "Teamwork". The instrument was applied on six self-organising teams in an industrial setting grounded in the well-known transformational leadership survey. The evaluation was performed via a social network analysis, to make shared leadership in these self-organising teams visible. It could be shown that self-organising teams seem to have a reluctance to take decisions, but the visionary, communication and coordination capabilities seem highly developed. Moreover, for transformational leadership "individual consideration" and "intellectual stimulation" seem to be the most important leadership attributes.
Did you choose the residency option? What was that like?
Yes, I took part in two residencies during my DBA studies. Both were organized in the form of a scientific conference, where each student had to develop a research paper. I found the residency very valuable. I used the material and the scientific investigations developed during the residencies as base for my final doctoral thesis work. Meeting fellow students was an excellent experience, and I was happy to have met some of them again at the graduation.
How was your experience of the ‘viva voce’ oral examination?
The viva voce was performed with a very powerful video-conferencing tool called "Starleaf Breeze". It took place in a rented office in Munich and lasted about 90 minutes. The viva was conducted by two examiners, one from the University of Liverpool and one from the University of Lancaster, who were experts in the field but who were not involved in my doctoral thesis work. My thesis supervisor was not allowed to take part. I think it was good that the viva was undertaken by two independent academic researchers because the thesis and the knowledge were evaluated rigorously, which guarantees quality. As a preparation for the viva, my doctoral supervisor undertook a "mock viva" to help me to prepare for the real viva. The viva itself was an excellent discussion about my doctoral thesis and the research I had undertaken. I really enjoyed the discussion, even though there were some difficult questions.
Has your online doctoral programme changed you or helped you move ahead?
My critical reflection skills have improved through the different work-based problems I investigated throughout my studies. I learned to look at problems from different angles. Moreover, undertaking a research project related to an organisational problem, and tackling it in a scientific manner, enabled me to respond to future organisational issues in a similar same manner.
Marion: It is amazing how much the scientific underpinning of Mark’s DBA studies now reflects into how he works and even how I work. Sometimes, if I am encountering an organisational issue in my work as a researcher, his advice and the discussion we have directs me to take a different point of view – I perceive this as very insightful.
What does it mean to you to finally graduate here in Liverpool?
After five years of hard work, coping with the difficulties of arranging work, study and family, it is really rewarding and moving to finally graduate. I am very proud and happy to celebrate with all the other graduates. It feels great to be part of the University of Liverpool community.
What three phrases sum up your experience with the University of Liverpool?
Self-motivation. Not enough sleep. Excellent thesis supervision.
I would recommend the University of Liverpool because…
…of its flexible and innovative method for conveying new knowledge.