Executive PhD

Adult students in a WPI classroom looking forward

Use Your Experience to Create Next-Level Impact

The Executive PhD is designed for seasoned business professionals who are ready to apply their expertise in new and fulfilling ways. Whether you’re looking to elevate what you can do in your current role or you want to branch out into consulting, teaching, or conducting research, the Executive PhD program will give you added credibility to become a more impactful thought leader. 

Value Proposition Description

Elevate your impact by combining your extensive professional experience with WPI’s Executive PhD program. In our flexible, course-based program, you’ll work closely with a cohort of fellow students whose interests and initiative match your own.

Additionally, you choose from one of three concentrations in the Executive PhD program: Entrepreneurship, Information Technology, and Operations Management. Faculty will support and guide you as you produce publishable research that employs varied qualitative and quantitative research methods with your work as the applied research context. You’ll master well-defined, research-based approaches that are grounded in academic methods to increase your influence in your industry or professional path.

Research methods for a business PhD requires a different, but equally rigorous, set of skills than other doctoral programs. As an Executive PhD candidate, you will learn and apply rigorous research methods, gaining experience in analyzing data and understanding human factors, and applying qualitative and quantitative skills for the most effective outcomes.

Ron Welter ’87, ’02 (MS), ’14 (MBA), Executive PhD Student
This is a degree for people who love learning ... It also allows you to get valuable input from people who may not otherwise talk to you ... You’re actually trying to help an industry, which in turn can help them.
  • Ron Welter ’87, ’02 (MS), ’14 (MBA), Executive PhD Student
Scorpio Rogers, Executive PhD Student
“This degree will enable me to do more advanced research … and become a recognized expert on entrepreneurship.
  • Scorpio Rogers, Executive PhD Student
Person standing smiling talking in front of a class full of people

Required Executive PhD Courses

BUS 631 Research Methods and the Research Process 

3 credits  

This course introduces PhD students to business problems and the nature, scope, and purpose of research and research methodologies to study those problems. Topics include research approaches and designs, data types and their collection, measurement approaches, testing procedures, and interpreting and presenting findings. The ethics of various methods and data collection procedures are covered, as is the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process. Students will investigate applications of research methods to specific problems within their interest area, using qualitative and quantitative designs.  They will also read example articles that use the research approaches covered. This is a three-credit course.   

  • Prerequisite: Admission to the Business School PhD program or to another WPI PhD program.   

BUS 632 Qualitative Research Methods

3 credits  

Capturing and analyzing rich sets of qualitative (descriptive, non-numerical) data is typically required to investigate complex business cases, from discovering opportunities for innovation to identifying root causes of business problems. While quantitative business data is increasingly available, qualitative data is often the source of the deeper understanding needed for exploring, explaining, and developing theories for complex socio-technical business environments that dominate our digital economy. This course focuses on methods for collecting and analyzing qualitative research data with the purpose of enabling students to make the novel discoveries that characterize PhD research in business. Students will become familiar with methods for collecting (e.g., interviews and focus groups) and analyzing (e.g., coding techniques and case study analysis methods), as well as the software packages that aid in qualitative data organization and analyses. They will understand which collection, coding, and analysis techniques to use in which situations, how to interpret results, and how data collection and analysis methods affect research results. These skills are critical for understanding how business can contribute to solving the large, societal problems within and across disciplines and industries. This is a three-credit course.   

  • Prerequisite: Admission to the Business School PhD program or to another WPI PhD program, BUS 631 or equivalent knowledge 

BUS 633 Quantitative Research Methods

3 credits  

Developing predictive behavioral models, which heavily rely on quantitative (numeric) data, are a major success factor in helping businesses develop competitive products and services. This course focuses on methods for collecting and analyzing quantitative research data with the purpose of enabling students to make the novel discoveries that characterize PhD research in business. Students will become familiar with one or more internationally utilized statistical software packages and with the array of statistical analysis techniques in them. They will understand which statistical analysis techniques to use in which situations, how to interpret the output from these packages, and how data collection and analysis methods affect research results. In our increasingly data intensive business environment, these skills are critical for understanding business data and using that understanding to design better processes and systems and to make better decisions within and across industries. This is a three-credit course.   

  • Prerequisite: Admission to the Business School PhD program or to another WPI PhD program, BUS 631 or equivalent knowledge 

BUS 651 Seminar on Designing and Conducting Research Studies 

3 credits  

This course is offered every semester for cohort students as they start their research studies. It bridges between students’ methods courses and the start of their 30 dissertation credits. It is conducted in seminar format with a focus on students presenting the progress on their research studies and discussion among the class about appropriate research designs and analyses. This course can be taken multiple times. This is a three-credit course. 

  • Prerequisite: Admission to the Business School PhD program or to another WPI PhD program, BUS 631 or equivalent knowledge, BUS 632 or BUS 633 or equivalent knowledge. 

Available Executive PhD Concentrations


Entrepreneurship encompasses opportunity seeking and identification, financing new enterprises, corporate venturing and other related topics. Research subjects address the conceptualization of new venture business models through to formulating exit strategies. Special areas of emphasis include technology entrepreneurship, intellectual property commercialization, international and cross-cultural studies, social entrepreneurship, and issues associated with trans-generational entrepreneurship in family business. For more information, please contact Professor Rosanna Garcia.

Information Technology

Students will learn to use qualitative and quantitative methods to develop and apply theories regarding design, implementation, and use of advanced information systems and technologies with the goal of developing and publishing new information technology knowledge.  Students will study information technology and how it affects individuals, organizations, and society. By working closely with WPI’s Information Technology scholars, students will learn to conduct theoretically sound information technology research that addresses real business problems, apply for research grants, and teach information technology courses. WPI’s Information Technology scholars will involve PhD candidates in their research activities in various organizations in the region, including those in the technology, healthcare, financial, and public sectors. For more information, please contact Associate Professor Soussan Djamasbi

Operations Management

Students will pursue research in the areas of management sciences, operations research, business analytics, health care management, supply chain management, and decision analysis. The operations area undertakes research on decision-making through quantitative modeling of operations functions in businesses. Research topics cover all levels of business decision-making, from operation systems design and technology choices to day-to-day scheduling and performance measurement. The program emphasizes research that focuses on real business problems and maintains a balance between theory and practice. This concentration is designed to train PhD students in fundamental and applied business modeling and analytical thinking. For more information, please contact Professor Joe Zhu

Meet our Faculty

Diane Strong
Diane Strong
Professor & Department Head, The Business School

WPI provides an environment that values both teaching and research, which is ideal for me. I enjoy teaching at WPI because students are interested in learning and willing to work hard. My teaching focuses on how business, healthcare, and nonprofit organizations can best use computing technologies, such as database systems, electronic health records systems, and mobile apps. Students in my classes learn to design computing applications that meet the needs of organizations.

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Soussan Djamasbi
Soussan Djamasbi

I specialize in user experience and decision-making research, focusing on uncovering the intricacies of human cognition to understand the factors that enhance or impede the effective use of information technologies.

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Rosanna Garcia
Rosanna Garcia
Beswick Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Business School

I love teaching entrepreneurship because of the amazing innovations that students ideate and then create businesses around. I like the quote attributed to both Homer (the philosopher, not the father of Bart) and Steve Jobs, "The journey is the reward." I'm honored to be able to guide the WPI students through their journeys of not only learning about business ownership, but also actually building something - whether it’s a prototype, a minimally viable product (MVP) or a company. Being in a university setting provides students with a safety net to fail fast and pivot thei

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Sharon Johnson
Sharon Johnson

I enjoy teaching at WPI because students bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to their learning; I am also inspired by their optimism. My teaching also reflects topics that motivate me:  detailed process design in our Industrial Engineering program, exploring the implications of operational excellence in our graduate programs, and advancing health care systems. 

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Joe Zhu
Joe Zhu

Joe Zhu is Professor of Operations Analytics in the Business School, Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He is an internationally recognized expert in methods of performance evaluation and benchmarking using Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA), and his research interests are in the areas of operations and business analytics, productivity modeling, and performance evaluation and benchmarking. He has published and co-edited several books focusing on performance evaluation and benchmarking using DEA and developed the DEAFrontier software.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Would I need to take the GRE or GMAT?
  • No, the GRE or GMAT are not required, but average score for admitted students is 630 if you plan on submitting.
What are the admission requirements?
  • Undergraduate and graduate transcripts (Executive PhD students are expected to have a relevant master’s degree) 
  • Two letters of recommendation 
  • Statement of Purpose (Why do you want a PhD and what research topics, based on your experience, are of interest to you?) 
  • Resume 
  • Application fee of $70 
  • Interview is not required 
What are the general curriculum requirements?
  • This is a research degree, thus much of the time, effort, and credits are research credits, rather than course credits.  The 60 credits are distributed as follows: 
  • Course credits (12 credits that include the following 4 research methods courses) 
  • 18 credits of other pre-dissertation work, which will be some mix of directed research credits and additional courses as worked out with your advisor 
  • 30 credits of dissertation research during which you are working on a substantial research project with guidance from your advisor 
What are the residency requirements?
  • There is no specific residency requirement but Executives are expected to be able to come to campus to work with their advisor at least several times per year.  
  • Thus, we are primarily recruiting Executives from the Northeast U.S. area.   
Are classes held in-person, via Zoom, or are the classes held on weekends?
  • This is not a fully online degree. 
  • Some classes are in-person, some online classes, and some hybrid, none at this point are on weekends. 
  • Note: The degree is research focused, so classes are, at most, half of the credit hours. 
Who is the Executive PhD designed for?
  • Senior executives with 15+ years’ work experience, who are interested in studying some large problem in their area of expertise.  Since this is a research degree, the Executives with a good fit to the program will have a strong motivation to work on an important and impactful problem related to their experience.  
How many credits is the program?  What is the cost per credit?
  • 60 credits beyond a master’s degree. Cost is $1610 per credit. 
How long will the program take to complete?
  • 4-5 years.  We expect the Executives in the program to continue working, and that the research problem they select likely overlaps with their work interests.
What types of research are required for this degree?
  • This is a PhD with the same standards for quality and depth of thinking and investigation as in our regular PhD program.  For executives, we are expecting broader, more practice-related topics drawn from their extensive industry experience.  
Are there any scholarships or fellowships for this degree?
  • Unfortunately funding is not available for this degree.
Is there flexibility in the schedule?
  • Yes, with more flexibility in the research process and less in the course work. 
How much homework, reading etc., should I expect on average per week?
  • WPI generally expects 10-12 hours of work during each week per course.  
Are there in person/on-campus requirements?
  • Some classes may be in person.  In general, we expect PhD Executives to be engaged in the program, and available to come to campus as needed (but not necessarily on a fixed, regular schedule).  
Is the work and research I do at WPI shareable with my employer?
  • Yes.  There is likely to be a synergistic relationship between your research and your job.  Note that you cannot share the work of other students with your employer.  
Do I need to identify an academic advisor, or will one be provided to me?
  • The Executive PhD starts with the four cohort classes.  Through these classes, you will start to meet the faculty and identify an advisor who you want to work with and who wants to work with you.  While you might identify an advisor early on, that is not required.