In 2018 four industrial PhD students began their research studies at the Stockholm School of Economics. This was the result of a long process which began with a meeting between Scania’s President and CEO, Henrik Henriksson and IMIT’s Director, Martin Sköld. They talked about industry’s increased need for management, control, organization and digitilisation. Several companies were contacted and Ericsson, together with Scania, decided that a research program focusing on “Management of digitalization” would provide the right conditions to create internal company experts whose knowledge would be necessary for the future.
Three research areas
”Management of digitalization” focuses on three specific research areas: (1) the challenges of new business models, (2) management and skills development for digital transformation, and (3) the management and organization of changing external relations with suppliers, customers, competitors and partners. The companies were involved in the recruitment of four Industrial PhD students, supervised by professors from Stockholm School of Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, and Linköping University, see fig. 1
Implementation in practice
The research program is designed to ensure mutual gains for academia and the participating companies, and to avoid pitfalls. The companies’ motivation for investment is having doctoral students who would become internal experts in the areas requiring knowledge and impact. This would be achieved through:
- Access to academic knowledge such as theories, models and tools which directly or indirectly can be applied to the student’s company
- Exposure to an academic environment to encouage different ways thinking and the development of new perspectives, in contrast to the business environment with a more practical focus
- PhD courses are part of their further education
- Close collaboration with leading professors, supervisors and experts
- Interaction with other researchers and PhD students to widen their network
PhD studies are full-time, but each PhD student retains their job at the respective company. It is therefore important the employer, in this case the PhD student’s direct line manager, understands and accepts the student is active in two environments simultaneously. A balance which can be maintained with the help of a few principles:
- Managers in the company need to fully understand, appreciate and value the arrangement.
- Clearly defined schedules, for example, 4 days per week at the university, and 1 day per week in the company.
- Regular meetings between representatives from the company and the university
- Clearly visible deliverables in terms of internal workshops to provide further education.
To formally follow a PhD program, each student must be enrolled at university, in this case the Stockholm School of Economics. Students will be required to take the School’s compulsory courses as well as two elective courses which combined equate to 1.5 years full-time studies. The elective courses are chosen carefully to match each student’s individual needs, methods and research question. In addition, research is carried out with an assistant supervisor, someone who has PhD and is an expert in their particular area, and who is available to offer guidance and discuss things with on a weekly basis. Finally, all PhD students have a Senior Supervisor who they can check in with, together with their assistant supervisor, on a monthly basis. In this way a strong triad is formed which ensures scientific quality and progress.
The research program has two doctoral students from each company. This means each student will have someone who not only understands the organizational context and issues they face, but also someone who can encourage and motivate them, as being a researcher can be a lonely and isolating experience. This structure therefore provides a “buddy” in the same situation for extra support. Furthermore, there are two other PhD Students in a similar situation in another company. The group meet regularly for joint coaching and to provide an important sense of belonging.
The intention for the future is to increase the scope of the research school by welcoming more companies with doctoral students. Please contact IMIT’s director Martin Sköld for more information.
The PhD students’ research areas
Photographer: Juliana Wiklund