EMBA on top of a PhD: A powerful duo
Executive MBA / 23 September 2020
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Executive MBA Class of 2021
Julie is Team Lead R&D at Evonik Operations GmbH and works in product development for new precipitated silicas. She holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry (Molecular Spectroscopy) from the University of Alberta and is an alumni of the Executive MBA class of 2021.

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In high school, I fell in love with science and mathematics, fascinated by observations being explained by theory. I studied chemistry and loved research so much that I wanted more, first a Master’s and then a Ph.D. I always focused on learning the foundation in a subject and then going into more and more depth, one hypothesis after another. Each test in the lab yielding more data to confirm or contradict the initial assumption and this allowed me to take an analytical approach to solving problems. My doctoral project taught me resilience in the face of failed experiments, persistence under stressful conditions and time-pressure, critical evaluation of data, and clear communication of results. Research also requires quick-thinking and a solution-oriented approach.

Applying science in business

After switching to an industrial R&D position, I enjoyed the applied nature of the projects. Many of my skills from my studies were valuable in my success. I had a thirst for knowledge that allowed me to easily switch fields and deliver quickly on projects. Initially, the research resembled academia: collaborating on multiple projects with colleagues, problem solving after an experiment didn’t provide the expected results and communicating on progress. Quickly it became clear that the merits of the R&D projects in industry are evaluated on entirely scales compared to in academia. This business view of research and how each project fits into the company’s strategy was new to me. In my Ph.D., after more than 6 months of trying to push a project forward and having run out of new ideas, I was able to convince my supervisor to adapt my project and still achieve a scientifically interesting result. In industry, you might have a successful project which is stopped due to a change in the business case or the lack of a market need. My scientific heart wanted a deeper understanding, where I could critically evaluate the data, the projects, and the strategy. With the bigger picture also in mind, industrial research involves building a team and implementing a structure to have continued innovation success for decades. My degree was missing some courses to cover these topics and my thirst for knowledge brought me back to school. I wanted to translate the scientific projects into innovation strategies and business plans to create value for the company.

Next stop: EMBA

I decided to address these gaps via an Executive MBA from the Frankfurt School, where a structured approach to gain the knowledge and experience could push my career to the next level. I could create an innovative team where collaboration and cooperation bring more impact and deliver value to my company. My EMBA has so far provided me exactly what I had hoped for: the business relevant classwork which questions the status quo and provides impulses, the case study approach to see the frameworks applied in actual companies, and the chance to self-reflect and challenge one’s self to become better. Our cohort injects such diversity to the discussions from the various backgrounds and industries. Diversity of thought is paramount to innovative thinking and my new network expands well beyond what I could achieve within my chemistry degrees.

Benefits of both PhD and EMBA

The combination of both educations provides several advantages beyond the availability of an expanded network. During a Ph.D., one needs to critically evaluate data, and have it evaluated by others. This is even more vital to business where decisions affect long-term company success and can potentially impact employees’ livelihoods. My persistence and resilience which I learned in graduate school allows me to lead my team through difficult times and under severe pressure. During this crisis, skills from both educations have helped me to communicate clearly and with empathy, and hopefully providing a steadfast leader for my team.