The same can be said of a business school thesis. In order to analyze business principles on paper, you first have to see them in action.
But is there a case to be made for scrapping the MBA thesis altogether?
This is being put to the test at Bath School of Management, where, instead of writing about just one aspect of business in an extended essay, students experience multiple elements through a series of hands-on business projects.
For some of them, this experiential element of the MBA course is a big reason why they chose to study at Bath in the first place. Could the MBA thesis be a thing of the past?
“I don’t think these are opportunities you would get on a research-based program”
“When I was researching MBAs, I was looking for a one-year program without a thesis component because I felt that, while a thesis would develop me in research, it would deal with theoretical problems that wouldn’t bring me into a practical space,” says Thomas George, a current Bath MBA.
“I didn’t apply to any schools where I had to do a thesis.”
Thomas originally hails from Canada and had worked in a wide array of roles before his MBA, from consulting for a large financial firm to working for the federal government.
However, he knew that none of his roles were what he wanted to be doing 30 years from now, and he was looking for a program to develop his skillset.
In the suite of projects available at Bath, he saw a promising avenue—“I’d not seen that particular model in the schools I’d researched,” he says.
This ‘multi-project suite’ encompasses five different topic areas: entrepreneurship, consulting, change management, leadership, and finally a corporate group project that sees students band together to solve a business challenge for a real-world client.
So far, Thomas has completed the consultancy project: two weeks of working with local companies to solve a business problem in a mock-consulting capacity.
“It’s only supposed to quickly expose you to the world of consulting, but we learned a lot about dealing with each other as well as with the clients,” he says.
The next challenge the students will take on is the entrepreneurship project, with students working together on ideas that their classmates have pitched. Thomas is embarking on an idea he pitched in the education sector that he suggested, and he’s passionate about seeing where this leads.
“I’m thankful for that opportunity, to figure out what I want to do afterward in almost precisely the role and sector I want to work in,” he enthuses.
“I don’t think these are the kinds of opportunities you would get in a research-based program.”
“It’s more realistic to what you’ll get in the workplace”
Jamie McBrien, one of Thomas’s colleagues on the Bath MBA, agrees.
Like Thomas, he chose the course because of its attention to project-based learning. Coming from an engineering background, he’d found himself moving more and more into the managerial aspect of business and wanted to diversify his skillset to accommodate these changes.
He believes that working on a series of projects like these will be more applicable to the career he is trying to build.
“The opportunity to work with real companies on actual problems they’re trying to solve [is great],” he says.
“It’s a lot more realistic to what you’ll get in the workplace. [Unlike] a traditional dissertation, a group project gets you working with other team members who all have different opinions and priorities—you’re getting used to collaborating to solve a problem.”
For businesspeople looking to amplify their existing skills and bring some new ones into the mix, Jamie thinks that the Bath MBA offers a great option.
“There’s the academic theory that you need with any MBA, but [it’s balanced] for people looking to get away from the ‘traditional’ MBA that’s just big lecture rooms and one-dimensional teaching," he says.
So, is the MBA thesis on the way out? It remains to be seen, but students on the MBA at Bath are reaping the benefits of a more practical program.
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