Monday, 28 May 2012

Employability - where do MBAs end up ?

I thought it was about the right time to try to answer the question about MBA careers I am often asked in my admissions role.  Unfortunately over the years we have not tracked in detail where our MBA students end up after graduating.  Some come from family businesses and return home for this.  Others are keen to get a couple of years work experience in London & head off to do this.  Others have their company support them (at least in allowing time off - relatively few are paid by their employers) & they return to their old companies.  Others want to use the MBA as an opportunity to break the glass ceiling & move up a level in their industry.  Some again look to move from their old role and industry  into something entirely fresh.  We have had entrepreneurs, corporate jobs, charities - I've been impressed how MBA graduates approach with confidence and maturity  the whole job finding experience - they tend to know what they want and go about getting it - even if this isn't falling at their feet.  (Let's be honest...the job currently market is ok - but not great.)

About a year ago, Fiona Redding was appointed to a new role in the School of Management as Alumni Officer and she has been building up a powerful alumni network organisation that means we are beginning to have a much stronger line of sight of our MBA's once they leave us, and hopefully we are offering a useful service to enable enduring MBA networking to continue well beyond the campus experience. 

Chart showing RHUL Management Alumni Industry specialisation as at May 2012

I am not a big fan of the statistics used to measure post graduate employability - often it asks "are you in a job ?" - to which the answer is generally yes - but this has not dimension of "the right job" or "the job you were hoping for".  Other programmes use a crude measure of salary uplift before and after the MBA.  Again this seems to measure 'success' and 'life changing learning' in a very short-termist fashion.  Hopefully one of the learnings that comes out of an MBA programme is a deeper understanding of the self & the need to find an appropriate balance.  The benefits of studying an MBA come out not the day after graduation, symbolised by a swanky company car, fat travel and entertainment budget and a 'with bonus' salary package - but unfold slowly over a 2 to 3 year period as difficult situations (managing conflict, working with challenging colleagues, dealing with ambiguity, making big presentations, winning customer tenders, handling stressful situations) are handled in a more assured and confident manner, often ending in very positive outcomes - when in the past these kinds of situations had left mental and emotional scars and resulted in periods of extreme discomfort.

Quite a few of our current and alumni students have profiles on social networking sites e.g. LinkeD-In - I think it is possible to view these and glean quite a bit of information about what people have done.  The following link shows the profiles of some MBA alumni and also on the right hand side is the offer on how to link up with the alumni network in your country.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Press coverage: Financial Times

I was all geared up in March to spend a lunch time talking distance learning MBA and wandering around our fabulous campus with one of the bright lights of the Financial Times, Emmanuelle Smith. As it turns out, our meeting was cancelled (due to unforeseen circumstances)  and we conducted the interview over the telephone instead.

However, with the help from two very generous Distance Learning students (Albert Hetherington-Jones and Simarjit Chhabra) the piece was written and went to press on schedule.  My mum thought it was funny just how many times "Mr" O'Brien featured in the column.  Quintessentially Old School English.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Lovely Literature Review

The biggest challenge you face writing your first or second literature review is understanding what is already out there.  I often see students in a confused state, wondering how to approach the literature review.  My experience, based on supervising more than 100 students, suggests that you need to be comfortable here with some ambiguity (an essential business skill), effectively operating in the zone of shades of grey (i.e. no black or white).

Ambiguity ?  Yup.  You have an idea of what your question might be, a sense of the topic, but a sense that this may evolve as you learn more about the extant (existing) knowledge, become comfortable with the concepts and terminology, basically starting to get stuck into the detail (but recognise that you do not know that much).  Don't be worried if you are 

I encourage students to get lost in the topic - this can be a very disconcerting experience  - having perhaps "nailed" a title and been particularly pleased with a form of words that might become a dissertation question, you start reading academic journals that use terminology and a style that is really quite different to what you have seen before.  The papers are 5,000 words long or more, written by PhD+ level academics, many very specialist.  Your head begins to explode as you wobble between "I thought I had cracked this & knew what I was doing" and "I'm totally out of my depth".

TIP:  learn to scan documents - not read them head to tail.  Look for useful/interesting ideas, concepts, models.  Read the abstract - relevant - yes - read on...... if not move on to the next one.  Most academic journal papers offer a neat summary of the current literature on their subject (much like text books, but perhaps more current and specialist).  If you are freaked out (challenged) by the detailed methods and analysis, move on.  Look to pick up ideas, models, key authors, terminology.  Them move on quickly. 

You ideally should be picking up lots of small elements from a wide variety of sources, not looking to find one or two papers that are very close to your question. This is why we "read" for degrees in UK.  Lots of reading.  And more.

If papers are very close to your question - why are you undertaking the research ?  The requirement is for originality, not re-crafting a paper that has already been written.  Ensure you make very careful notes, with full referencing....there is nothing worse than flapping around just before the deadline looking to complete referencing. See this blog entry on Shell document creation. 

Use these ideas/notes to create a mind map. (I call these brain maps. my son corrects me on this...)
The do not have to look pretty, and may well evolve. just do it.  you will feel better.

Do not rush things.  Over a few days of research you will begin to have a feel for what the key areas of academic theory are that will be relevant for your question.  The literature review needs to include analytical frameworks, analysis tools, key theory, industry related data/facts, all the reference material you will use later in the dissertation.  Some want to add a 'background' section - don't  - this material should fit in the literature review.

I've often been told by early stage dissertation students "there is no literature on my subject". "I am looking for gender and cultural differences in snail consumption"  Full on - no irony.  This is usually the function of one of two errors: (1) student had done no/very little reading (when I ask 'which online academic journal search engine have you used ?' = stoney silence) or (2) The (misguided) expectation that there are two or three amazing papers written specifically on gender and cultural differences in snail consumption that will form 3 of the 5 references for the paper.

Using the funnel concept above - area 1 might be "consumption", area 2 might be "culture", area 3 might be "gender & gender differences in eating" area 4 might be "snail consumption" area 5 might be "cultural differences in snail consumption".  Note: not one of these topics fully addresses the set question - but you might be able to see how they link together (even loosely) and provide a platform to evaluate the question.

I love drawing this picture.  75% of the time it generates a BIG smile on my tutee's face. (my hand drawing is little better than my PowerPoint graphical skill..) "Yes ! I so get this...." is the feeling that is often created.  Remember the news at 10.  You get headlines (intro), you get detailed reports on the key news items (not everything - just the important stuff), then before they sign off they remind you of what has happened.  Indicate. Tell. Remind.   Each chapter should contain an introduction (sign posting or route planning in summary format what is coming, the journey, then a reminder of what the journey showed.  The whole dissertation has the same format in totality and within each chapter.
Additionally, as suggested by this fish skeleton image, there is a main spine that links the ideas of the content.  There might be 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 main topics.

In each the key arguments (drawn from a variety of expert/authoritative sources...n.b. Wikipedia, Google, are not usually recognised for their expert knowledge) is weighed carefully. Consider the pros and cons of a particular idea, consider the balance of views, the authoritativeness of views (sometimes the 'right' answer might be just a sole voice) - if you have understood the research being quoted (academic research often over relies on campus based research) you may be able to differentiate between strong, medium and weak sources.  Try not to take strong, personal opinion based positions.  Academic writing is objective and based on facts.  The conditional tense is very useful at suggesting the author or the researchers perspectives might suggest, indicates strong support for, consensus of expert opinion, may, should, could....

Being critical is also very important.  What is meant here is that the content does not just describe what others have written.  The 'knitting' of perspectives can challenge or undermine.  Identification of validity (sample size, recency, relevance, appropriateness) may also weaken arguments.  Being critical is not putting across strong, personal opinions.  As relatively inexperienced academic researcher your opinion carries little weight. (To be frank: I don't care what you say - you need to use the published words of others as the swords of your arguments, you control their cut and thrust, you build the strategy and shape the fight - but this is not about your opinions, you are not an expert (yet)) Consideration of the full range of opinions is important (requires detailed research - particularly hunting down contrary view points if they have not emerged in the initial search). 

How many references should I include ?  I tend to ask for the gold standard (there is no upper limit - you include what you have used....) but four pages of double spaced Harvard referencing would be an appropriate bibliography for a literature review. 

Please note:  Full and accurate Harvard referencing is required.  Look at the School materials for this.  Learn it.  Love it.  Dream it.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Five common dissertation 'mistakes'

(1) Spending too much time worrying about the perfect title. They evolve over time & really need lots of literature reading before they crystalise - many students flap and don't do the hard work of reading academic journals around their subject. (see this blogs post on finding a dissertation title)

(2) Taking it far too easy once the title has been decided & approved. This is the time to crack on with deep and wide literature research and developing/planning the methodology.

(3) Students trying to stretch 5 or 10 sources too thinly. Deep, deep research (including relevant texts and academic research journals) is necessary. The better the content, the easier it is to write - it's a beauty contest on what to exclude - you have such an embarrassment of riches. Saying little with nothing much requires literary genius few of us possess. The research is the most important phase, yet it takes the most time & yet generates the fewest words. (see this blogs post on using a shell document).  
Royal Holloway, University of London

(4) My computer crashed. Of course I always back up. Just not the dissertation


(5) Insufficient time polishing. Ironically the last sections to be written (intro, conclusion and abstract) are often rushed. These are your prime real estate - the first thing a marker looks at. If they are peppered with spellling errors, grammatical nonsense and is hard to follow - you start by creating a bad impression (sub 50%) and an amazing lit review and methods section will only see you play catch up. Make sure you BEST writing is show cased in the abstract, introduction and conclusion.

MBA Recommended Pre-reading List

As an aspiring MBA candidate you may be beginning to think about the upcoming new academic year and what preparation you might be able to do over the (northern hemisphere) summer period to stay one step ahead of the game.

MBA candidates are expected to read widely in each subject area using the library text books and online peer reviewed academic journals using search engines such as Business Source Completed (EBSCO), Emerald and Science Direct (accessed off campus via the ‘campus anywhere’ VPN application). 

In September registered students will be provided with a full, academic reading list for each module. 

No doubt though, you have been considering what you might be able to do in the coming months to help prepare yourself once you have fully satisfied all the various conditions. 

Some lecturers ask students to buy a course text or two because it will be used extensively for in class case studies and regular readings. These texts are usually described as ‘must buy’ or ‘required texts’. Others recommend (but do not require) one or several texts and expect you to read from them in the library or perhaps you may choose to buy them. 

The following list contains suggestions of books that you might want to buy or borrow now and start reading over the summer. They will also feature in the longer reading lists once the new academic year commences.


Baines, P., C. Fill and K. Page (2011), Marketing. 2nd edition, Oxford: OUP

Lee, K. and S. Carter (2012), Global Marketing Management. 3rd edition, Oxford: OUP

Philosophy of Management

Martin Hollis – Invitation to Philosophy (1997 edition)

Information Systems

Laudon, K.P. and Laudon, J.P. (2012), Management Information Systems: Managing the Digital Firm, 12th Global Edition, Pearson.


Carr, N. (2003), "IT doesn't matter", Harvard Business Review, May 2003, 41-49. Available at

Weill, P. and Aral, S. (2006), “Generating premium returns on your IT investments”, MIT Sloan Management Review, 47(2), pp 39-48, available at

Accounting and Finance
The ‘must buy’ is: D. Alexander and C. Nobes, Financial Accounting: An International Introduction, Prentice Hall, 5th edition, 2013.

Operations Management

“Operations Management: An international perspective”, by David Barnes, published by Thomson Learning, London (2008) (ISBN: 978-1-84480-534-1)

International Business Economics

Economics of Strategy. (2010, 5th Edition) Wiley (David Besanko, David Dranove, Mark Shanley and Scott Schaefer)

Human Resource Management

Harzing, A.-W. and Pinnington, A.H. (2011) International Human Resource Management, London: Sage Publications (3rd ed.)

Leadership & Behaviour in Organisations

Grint, Keith (2005) Leadership: Limits and Possibilities Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan


A Very Short, Fairly Interesting, and Reasonably Cheap Introduction to Studying Strategy. (2008) London: Sage. (Chris Carter, Stewart Clegg and Martin Kornberger).

I hope this helps you start preparing for the Royal Holloway MBA in September.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

What text book should I use ?

To write a cracking methodology I strongly recommend all my students to spend half a day or so in the library in the 'Research Methods' section.  This allows for an efficient and academic development of a justified narrative to support the particularly method(s) choice being made.  Dip into them like text books and seek to use definitions and explanations of strengths and weaknesses from 10-15 different sources, using 100% Harvard referencing along the way. 

Thus, unless you are following a research methods course, I would not necessarily recommend that you buy a research methods book, but use many from the library.  I can imagine you smile as you read this - finally a book I don't have to buy !

However, I would recommend that you read cover to cover (and this probably means buy) a book on writing a dissertation, particularly if this is your first. There are lots and lots of books of this sort out there, some of them are quite thin. I have been using "Writing Dissertations and Theses" by Murray and Beglar, which I've found to be neither thin nor intimidatingly wide, but includes a reasonable number of diagrams and seems to swiftly cover all the key topics, without over complicating things.

Pearson Education - Inside Track to Writing Dissertations and Theses

Planning the dissertation

In my experience there are two main types of dissertation student.  The organised, planned, and methodical being the first (& also my own preference - I cope with stress by trying to avoid it & that usually means putting in the hours of preparation nice and early) and the "I need the buzz and pressure of a looming deadline to get me to focus" being the second. 

I've seen both strategies work, although I tend of course to spend more time with those students who start early and are organised enough to book meetings and use several iterations of supervisor feedback.  I can't help feeling that this gives the 'organised' student a better chance of getting a stronger grade.

Guide, not enforcer role

I see my role of project supervisor far removed from controlling or chasing students.  I am a guide to help lead you on a journey up a challenging mountain pass.  To the right you can see a picture of me on top of a mountain in Wales (Brecon), so you will appreciate that helping people climb mountains is something I do both literally and metaphorically. 

You need a plan !

Whatever your style, you need to have a plan.  When out in the wilds of mountain country, where help can be a long way away, it is crucial to have a route, to have studied the map carefully and considered the terrain likely to be encountered (the bits where the wavy lines come close together are steep and take much longer to cover).  You need to work out a route map, detailing where you plan to be at what point.  For safety hill walkers (like myself) submit one of these to a base (police, pub, responsible body not involved in the hike) in case of emergencies. 

Mountain guides also use this as a tool to ensure the desired direction and rate of progress are being achieved.  Although you may be a novice at writing a dissertation you should none the less ensure that one of the first things you do is create a project plan.  It does not have to be fancy, you may want to put it on MS Project, or use multi-coloured highlighter pens, but a simple hand written page will do.  It must identifies the key milestones (outputs - not just completed chapters, be more detailed) and allocates a time span (start and end date) and possibly a word count.  Ticking of achievements (200 words written today TICK, ten items added to the bibliography today TICK) is very motivational, particularly in the early stages when the mountain looks high and far, far away.

Plan for little rewards

Just as mountain walkers will plan to have food, toilet and rest breaks, you should also include things to look forwards to along the way ("all work and no play makes Jac a dull person", after all).  I always look forwards to sharing a couple of beers (lager, not the flat, warm stuff) with my buddies at the end of a hike to review the trip (and laugh about getting stuck on the barbed wire fence, throwing my back pack in a stream and being chased, whilst ski-ing down a very steep bit, by a rabid looking sheep - all true !). 

Don't forget to allow for a bit of contingency - try to plan to finish a couple of weeks early - then if you start running a little bit behind - you have a few spare days to catch up, without having to pull 'all nighters'.  Your plan will need to be more detailed in terms of dates and outputs than my general emotional chart below, but this should give you a good starting point to create your own....


Five common dissertation 'mistakes'

(1) Spending too much time worrying about the perfect title.  They evolve over time & really need lots of literature reading before they crystallize - many students flap and don't do the hard work of reading academic journals around their subject.  (see this blogs post on finding a dissertation title)

(2) Taking it far too easy once the title has been decided & approved.  This is the time to crack on with deep and wide literature research and developing/planning the methodology.

(3) Students trying to stretch 5 or 10 sources too thinly.  Deep, deep research (including relevant texts and academic research journals) is necessary.  The better the content, the easier it is to write - it's a beauty contest on what to exclude - you have such an embarrassment of riches.  Saying little with nothing much requires literary genius few of us possess.  The research is the most important phase, yet it takes the most time & yet generates the fewest words.  (see this blogs post on using a shell document).

(4) My computer crashed.  Of course I always back up.  Just not the dissertation. 

(5) Insufficient time polishing.  Ironically the last sections to be written (intro, conclusion and abstract) are often rushed.  These are your prime real estate - the first thing a marker looks at.  If they are peppered with spelling errors, grammatical nonsense and is hard to follow - you start by creating a bad impression (sub 50%) and an amazing lit review and methods section will only see you play catch up.  Make sure you BEST writing is show cased in the abstract, introduction and conclusion.

Monday, 7 May 2012

How To Write An Effective Dissertation Title

 Find circa 50 student dissertation exemplars (Merit +) available on the "All PGT Common Page" on Moodle.




Subject Interest

Crucial to pick a topic you are genuinely interested in.
Any topic will do (management is everywhere)
Unsolved mystery ?  (Do women have a relationship with their hand bag ? Why don’t men use moisturiser ?)
Personal passion ? (Sports team)


Link to academic theory

Initially this might be a wide area e.g. “leadership” or “marketing”
Reading the abstracts/introductions of a number of academic journals is essential here
You should ideally look for a more detailed area e.g. cross-cultural leadership or perhaps sports marketing

Formulating a title

Area of research interest: Manchester City
Academic topic: Cross-cultural team building
Access to organisation ?: Very unlikely
Proxy for access:  Football experts (fans ?)
Source of experts: general population/average student – unlikely, online sports forums, sports clubs/teams, snowballing (personal referrals)
Expertise qualification: depth of football knowledge & length of interest (likely to be mature fans ?)

Matching research and question

 It is important to ensure the research sample are qualified to provide expert view/opinion on the question
How many students have bought a house ?
How many students have flown business class ? (often..?)
How many lecturers are up on the latest music/fashion trends ?

Use your connections

It is possible to email (better to call or visit) a company and ask for help on research…. however expect many rejections and to work hard
Personal connections and in person requests can often turn up the best links
However; working people are busy, need lots of notice (weeks) and may cancel your appointment at the last moment. 
Ensure you have a plan B
Anticipate cancellations – need 5 interviews – plan for 7 or 9.

All PGT common page (Moodle)
Is your question too big ?

 “Social Media as a branding platform: The case of Nike”

Shows academic theory (branding/social media), context (Nike) and research approach (case study) but geographic realm (global ? Too big ?) case study via secondary sources ?

“Determinates of Job Satisfaction and Organizational Commitment of Saudi Females in Vocational Institutions.”

Is more specific and has a clearer focus.

Question words that suggest the type of research that will be undertaken (ack Dr. Donna Brown)

Great titles answer 5W’s and H 

What ? area of academic theory
Which ? company/industry
Where ? geographic focus
Why ? Importance, gap in literature and personal motivation (described in introduction)
Who ? define the research subjects
How ? methodology – flagged via key words 

Different methods to choose from

Quantitative methods:   ANOVA, correlation, ranking, panel data, survey, questionnaire, randomised, experimental, causal, reliability, validity, cross-sectional, longitudinal, classification, dependency, time series analysis, regression analysis, factor analysis
Qualitative methods: observation methods, projection, ethnographic, narratives, anthropological, action research, interview, focus group, semi-structured interview, research diary
Mixed methods: – sometimes referred to as triangulation.   Allows the combination of strengths of different approaches, whilst also perhaps overcoming some of the weaknesses.