The role of theory in the business/management PhD: how students may use theory to make an original contribution to knowledge
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This research investigates how PhD students learn about theory. The paper offers guidance on how theory may be selected and used by students, and the steps that students may take to achieve the goal of making an original contribution with their research. The data used in this study came from an online questionnaire survey completed by 62 individuals who teach and/or supervise/advise PhD students in business schools. The job titles of participants included Professor, Head of Department, and Director of PhD Programme. Our survey participants reported that high proportions of PhD students struggle to understand the role of theory in their research; how to create a theoretical framework/model; and how to make a theoretical contribution with their research. A majority of the survey participants agreed that students need more teaching on theory and that it is the responsibility of business schools to determine the structure, content and delivery of PhD programmes. Schools must also provide the necessary resources, including academic staff and learning materials. The paper concludes with sets of recommendations for PhD students, educators, and business schools.