Editor's note: This is the continuation of a series of profiles of students and alumni of the Pamplin College of Business Executive Ph.D. in Business.

Industry professionals are utilizing the advanced research skills and problem-solving abilities acquired through the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Executive Ph.D. program to transform business and higher education landscapes.

The Executive Ph.D. program, also known as the Ph.D. concentration in Executive Business Research, was launched in 2016 to serve experienced executives who seek the advanced knowledge and skills needed to conduct high-quality research on critical emerging issues facing the business community and the world at large. The hallmark of the Executive Ph.D. program is its part-time format — a unique opportunity that attracts students with a variety of career goals.

One of those students was Sarah Tuskey, who joined the first cohort of the Executive Ph.D. program in fall 2016.

On the lookout for an executive doctoral program in business that emphasized research, she had been regularly monitoring the membership list of the Executive Doctorate in Business Education Council (EDBAC) to see what new programs were underway or about to launch. 

“When I noticed Virginia Tech had joined the EDBAC, I reached out to learn more,” Tuskey said. “A few weeks later, I was on a call with the program’s director, Dr. [Dipankar] Chakravarti, who shared the vision for the program with me. What he described was everything I was looking for in a doctoral program grounded in research, including the opportunity to collaborate and attend classes with full-time Ph.D. students and to be mentored by tenured faculty in my research field. I knew right away I had to be a part of what was being built at Pamplin.”

Tuskey, who graduated from the program in summer 2021, currently serves as dean of faculty for the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus. Before taking on this role in early 2020, she served as associate dean of faculty and department chair of business at the Kendall Campus; and department chair of business, technology, and engineering at the Homestead Campus. 

“As a manager, I have always been curious about the perception of self and how that influences behavior in the workplace,” Tuskey said, whose concentration in the Executive Ph.D. program was management.

Her research interests in identity at work, employee well-being, and technology implications for employee attitudes and behavior drove her dissertation, “Identity at Work: Balancing Demographic-related Identity in the Workplace and the Impact on Extra-role Behaviors and Turnover.”

She has presented her work at the Academy of Management; Southern Management Association; and Industry Studies Association conferences; and has been published in the Academy of Management Proceedings; Journal of Management; and Human Resource Management.

“Being a student in the Executive Ph.D. program changed the way I think, the way I approach problems, and even the questions I ask,” said Tuskey. “To anyone considering it, I would say this: the program will challenge you in ways you never even considered, and it will not be easy. But you will become a better researcher, a better scholar, and leave the program knowing that you have the capability to contribute and advance new knowledge.”

The academic rigor of the Executive Ph.D. program can seem daunting at first. However, according to Tuskey, overcoming this hurdle is one of the skills that can be gained through the program.

“No matter how many rejections you receive, no matter how impossible or insurmountable or daunting something may seem, just keep trying,” she said.

This was the lesson learned by another one of the program’s students, Gelila Sebhatu.

“It was not that the work was ten times harder than anything I had ever done before but having to adjust my whole way of thinking and problem solving from a practitioner point of view — what is the problem and how can I best solve it — to a more academic, theoretical approach — what does existing research say and how can I build upon it?” Sebhatu said. “I had to totally clear my brain.”

There have been bumps in navigating the road between the corporate world and academic culture but, refusing to give up, Sebhatu is now on the home stretch of writing her dissertation and is projected to graduate in spring 2023.

Last year, she presented research from her dissertation in progress, entitled “Early-stage Investor Decision Making: The Role of Narcissism and Gender,” at the 2021 Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference (BCERC).

Attending this and other conferences while a Ph.D. student has allowed her to meet experts in her research field, she said, some with whom she remains in contact and one who has even become a mentor and friend.

“Being able to make these kinds of connections is invaluable and really helps you feel part of the academic community,” she said.

Sebhatu had thought about pursuing a Ph.D. in business for a while. “There are not many universities that offer such a program,” she said, “and Virginia Tech was at the top of my list because of such a positive experience in the Executive MBA program.”

Pamplin’s cohort model is one of the things she liked best about both programs. “Students in the cohort offer each other so much emotional support,” she said. “We are really there for one another.”

While she has been able to adapt to a more academic culture and has reached the final stage of the Executive Ph.D. program, Sebhatu is still trying to decide whether a traditional academic career of teaching and conducting research is in her future.

But, one thing she knows for sure.

“The program made me realize how much I really love research and I want to continue to research and publish in journals so even if I wind up back in a corporate environment, I am determined to find a way to do that,” she said.

To request information on the Executive Ph.D. program, click here.

- Written by Barbara Micale and Jeremy Norman

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