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A bid to boost ranks of minorities with PhDs

In its 14 years, The PhD Project has helped to triple minority presence on business school faculties.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 5, 2008

SOURCE: "Survey of Deans," July 2006, The PhD Project/Rich Clabaugh–STAFF

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After Frank Igwe picked up his doctoral diploma at Penn State in May, he promptly handed it to his parents. He wants them to see it at home "and know that their son made a mark in this world, bringing honor to the family name."

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There's one more "family" for Mr. Igwe to thank for supporting him through the crucible of graduate school: The PhD Project, a mentoring network for African-Americans, Hispanics, and native Americans on the path to becoming business professors.

Since its formation in 1994, The PhD Project has helped triple representation of these groups among the faculty of American business schools – from 294 to 903. Another 400 are working toward their doctorates.

That signals "tremendous growth," says Thomas Kochan, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management in Cambridge. "Too often, underrepresented minorities don't have access to those networks [in academia], so this provides more of a leveling effect."

Universities still have a long way to go to bring a wide range of backgrounds to business teaching and research, experts say. The three minority groups represent less than 4 percent of the roughly 26,000 business professors with PhDs.

With so few role models, many minorities don't even consider a PhD, preferring instead the more popular MBA – until they're drawn in by the project's recruitment web. Each year, the nonprofit invites potential career-changers to an introductory, all-expenses-paid conference where professors, deans, and current minority doctoral students demystify the PhD pursuit.

"We uncovered four myths that would have been preventing people from thinking further about it," says Bernard Milano, president of both The PhD Project in Montvale, N.J., and the KPMG Foundation, a business-education backer and the project's principal funder.

First, people think they have to earn an MBA before a PhD. Not true, he says. Second, they expect a PhD to be costly. In reality, most doctoral programs waive tuition and give a stipend. Third, people well into a career often assume they're too old to switch, but business schools look for PhD candidates with work experience. Finally, there's the perception that scholars take a vow of poverty. With a shortage of business professors projected to intensify in coming years, Mr. Milano says, it's not uncommon to start out with a six-figure salary.

"I wasn't sure what to expect, but when I went to the conference, I was sold," says Jennifer Cordero. She started a PhD program the next year at the University of California, Irvine. A former banker, she wanted to combine her interest in international marketing and her academic curiosity.

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