Doctoral coordinators at Wharton outline a few things students should know about a career in business academia and research.

Academia is a rigorous career path, but reaps many rewards. Getting your PhD is the first step towards becoming a professional in the academic field. Prof. Witold Henisz, the doctoral coordinator for the Management department, said with an academic career you have a “freedom over the long-term to dig deep into important questions and share your answers with peer academics, students and practitioners.”

There are various degrees you can receive at Penn, but how do you know if you’re suited for a life of academia? Doctoral coordinators at Wharton outlined a few things students should know about a career in business academia and research.

A Thirst for Knowledge

The major part of being an academic in business topics is conducting research. Having an interest in finding solutions to problems and new facts to share with the world is key to pursuing a career in academia.

“It’s been a good career choice for me because it enables me to satisfy my intellectual curiosity on a daily basis. I dig deep into subjects, really think and really learn while getting paid to do it,” said Prof. Matthew Bidwell, who previously served as doctoral coordinator for the Management department.

A passion for research and knowledge is a requirement for a career in academia. Joining a research team sometime before finishing your undergraduate degree can help you decide if you have a real interest in making a career out of it.

Independent Working Conditions

Research requires the ability to self-motivate and structure your own schedule. Nobody tells you when to do what. In fact, we could say that although you work independently, you are not alone. Most papers in business disciplines these days are co-authored and a significant amount of co-authoring happens between students and faculty.

Another part of academia is teaching. By disseminating knowledge to students in the classroom, you will help shape and support the next generation of thought leaders. Though there may be institutional and governmental constraints, lecturers are often able to choose what topics they teach and which teaching methods they use. There is flexibility in the work hours as well, something many jobs do not offer.

Passion for Teaching

Most academics teach in addition to conducting research. Having experience teaching, whether as a teaching assistant for a class or leading study groups, is a way to familiarize yourself with leading a class.

Prof. Bidwell said, “I enjoy being in the classroom. It’s fun when you have a bunch of students who are engaged and really interacting. It’s great when you’re presenting stuff and they are asking smart questions about what you’re doing and you’re really having a conversation. It’s very invigorating.”


Academia is a career of multitasking. You may be working on more than one project at once, while also balancing the teaching and administrative demands of a professor. Time management skills are key to success in this field. By the time you begin your journey to getting a PhD, it is vital that you are able to juggle multiple responsibilities.

As an academic, you need to make progress with your research, whether writing a book or an article, editing a journal, running a conference or organizing a particular interest group. Prof. Deborah Small, the doctoral coordinator for the Marketing department, said, “This career path demands a lot of perseverance, and it demands self discipline. It can be a tough career choice in some ways.”

Part of being an academic, specifically a professor, is working with the University. Prof. Fernando Ferreira, the doctoral coordinator for the Business Economics and Public Policy and Real Estate programs, said, “I have a lot of duties to the University. A lot of the administrative work is done here, and I have to participate. Most researchers don’t like that part, but if you care about the University, it’s nice to collaborate with the management of the School.”

Posted: August 4, 2017

Related Content

Read More Stories