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Living The Dream | Sacrifice… or Investment?

To MBA or Not to MBA, II?

Dr. Brett Gilbert, PhD Indiana University

Once Dr. Brett Gilbert decided to pursue an advanced degree in business, she cut right to the chase. She bypassed earning an MBA, focusing sharply on her ultimate goal. She enrolled directly in a Ph.D. program.

And, like many others who had reached similar decisions before her, she soared. “Having an MBA does not necessarily help you in a doctoral program. You do need a good understanding of business, and an MBA makes sense if you don’t have that foundation,” she explains. “But I had already gained that understanding from my undergraduate degree and work experiences. At no point in my doctoral program did I feel that my peers with MBAs had any advantage over me.”

The decision to skip an MBA came easily to Dr. Gilbert as she analyzed her reasons for seeking an advanced degree— she wanted to do research. Originally, she had planned to earn the master’s degree so she could refocus her career on market research. It was while contemplating a return to school that she received a postcard from The PhD Project. Attending the program’s annual conference, she learned for the first time that research was central to a professor’s life.

“When you do research for a company, you have to do it on topics that it is interested in. When I learned that as a professor I could research topics that were of interest to me, combine that with teaching, and get paid for doing it—I thought, ‘Wow, this is it!’”

Examining her interests, she concluded that, “This was what God was calling me to do.” She re-took the GMAT and applied mostly to schools in areas where costs of living were manageable. Although Indiana University preferred applicants to have an MBA degree, it wisely took a chance with Dr. Gilbert’s application.

She went on to become the first entrepreneurship Ph.D. graduate from the school, and her dissertation on  the implications of geographic clusters—places such as the Raleigh- Durham area, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood—on new firm performance, was a finalist for an Academy of Management award.

As an associate instructor at Indiana, Dr.  Gilbert received top-level teaching evaluations. She continues to do well in her teaching and research efforts.  “I can honestly say I love my life,” she says. “As a professor you have so much flexibility and autonomy. You can really do the things you want to do. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

The dream continues…

Now an Associate Professor with tenure at American University, Dr. Gilbert continues to do research that is of great personal interest. Her interests led to an appointment by Texas Governor Rick Perry to serve on the Texas Emerging Technology Fund Advisory Committee while she was on Faculty at Texas A&M University. And in 2009, she received a $50,000 Kauffman Junior Faculty Fellowship, which so far has only been given to 10 emerging scholars in entrepreneurship. She has six published articles to her credit. She has taught in a special program at Texas A&M that helps disabled veterans learn how to start their own businesses. “It is truly a great feeling to have a direct and immediate influence in helping someone’s dream come true,” Dr. Gilbert says.

Dr.   Headshot

Dr. Brett Gilbert

American University

PhD Indiana University