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Wharton’s Serguei Netessine on How the PhD Program Makes Talent Flow into Academia

It costs Wharton about $400,000 to educate one PhD student, because students don't pay tuition and they get generous stipends.
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   17-06-2019

Dr Serguei Netessine
Dr Serguei Netessine

It costs Wharton about $400,000 to educate one PhD student, because students don't pay tuition and they also get generous $40,000 stipends. The school is laser-focused on making sure their departments are placing their PhD graduates at top schools.

“Students receive very close supervision and guidance throughout the program on every aspect of a professor’s job: how to do research, how to teach, how to do service to the profession,” said Dr Serguei Netessine, who is the Vice Dean for Global Initiatives, and professor at the Operations, Information and Decisions Department at the Wharton School.

A star professor, who has won several teaching awards, Dr Netessine is also the Departmental PhD program coordinator. He believes the most important criteria to consider when deciding on a dissertation advisor are the research interests of the faculty members in your department.  

Students can earn a PhD at Wharton, typically in five years, in nine areas including accounting, applied economics, ethics and legal studies, finance, health care management and economics, management, marketing, operations, information and decisions and statistics.

Born in Russia, Dr Netessine’s own PhD degree in Operations Management is from the University of Rochester. His current research focuses are on business model innovation and operational excellence. He has worked on these topics with numerous government and Fortune 500 companies.

Dr Netessine has co-authored a book called “The Risk-Driven Business Model: Four Questions that will Define Your Company,” which won the Axiom Business Book Award. sat down with Dr Netessine to learn more about the enduring value of Wharton’s PhD program.

Wharton’s PhD program in Management is regarded as interdisciplinary, applying social science disciplines and research methods to management problems. Can you drill a little deeper into this doctoral program?

The goal of our PhD program at the Wharton school is to prepare graduates for a career in academia.  A vast majority of our graduates (probably around 85%) become professors at leading business schools around the world. This is a research degree which has little to no overlap with the MBA degree. We do not require applicants to have previous degree in business at all: most of them come with rigorous training from other disciplines: math, physics, psychology and economics, to name a few. Then they continue to take rigorous courses at Wharton for another two to three years according to their specialization, and finally they work on the dissertation.

Does the program attract a fair share of international students, especially from countries in South Asia and Asia?

Yes, almost half of our students are international, with big representation from India and China.

What is the profile of applicants? Are they mostly business professionals who become interested in a PhD in Management after years of professional experience added to the graduate degree they have acquired, usually an MBA?

Not at all, more often the opposite. Most applicants are young (25 years on average), with relatively little to no work experience. It is unusual to have an MBA degree, and having a lot of work experience is not as desirable as having strong academic credentials. This is a research degree with rigorous academic standards for people who want to advance academic research in management, not a “super-MBA” degree.

How long does a PhD take?

Between 4 and 7 years, 5.5 on average. To be clear, this is a full-time degree, and in fact, it is more than full time. 

How does the Wharton program get students ready for the job market?

We admit very few PhD students, unlike, say, engineering or economics departments where it is not unusual to have 10 students to a faculty. We have more professors than students. Thus, a vast majority of a PhD program is one-on-one mentoring and education in very small classes, often two-three students each. Therefore, students receive very close supervision and guidance throughout the program on every aspect of a professor’s job: how to do research, how to teach, how to do service to the profession.

Do most students who enter a Wharton doctoral program enter the academic or research field?

Absolutely: almost all of them enter research, and the vast majority become professors. The recent trend is to join Amazon research or Facebook research, but academic jobs are still the norm and our expectation.

Do applicants have to take either the GRE or GMAT as part of the program admission requirements?

Yes, GMAT or GRE are required, and so is TOEFL for international students.

Do all students admitted to your doctoral program receive a fellowship? If yes, what does a fellowship cover?

Yes, 100% of our admits receive a very generous funding package which typically includes free tuition and a very generous stipend of more than $40K per year. For Philadelphia, this provides a very comfortable lifestyle. In addition, we offer a generous research budget to cover conference travel. There are opportunities to earn more money through extra teaching and research assistantship.

What does your role as the Vice Dean for Global Initiatives at Wharton entail?

I coordinate a lot of activities that the Wharton School has abroad, activities that often cut across academic departments at Wharton. For instance, we run a number of Global Modular Courses, week-long focused courses in a specific geography, which attract undergraduates, MBAs and Executive MBA students. Moreover, Wharton has an extensive Global alumni network and I help working with it. There are also research funds that I distribute to fund global projects. 

In addition, I coordinate all our High School Programs which have a huge number of non-US students participating in various activities, be that summer classes at Wharton or Global Investment Competition. Another big task is communication with our partner organizations throughout the world.

As the Dhirubhai Ambani Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Wharton can you share a broad overview of the highly-sought course you teach?

I teach a course called “innovation” where MBA students launch businesses in class. They start by learning how to generate ideas for startups and then each of them generates dozens of ideas. We then learn how to evaluate and select ideas, how to pitch these ideas to their peers. Next, we put meat around these ideas: the business model. We proceed by testing this business model with real customers. It seems no matter how many sections of the course is offered, it is always at capacity.



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