The Research Process and the Role of Theory in Business Research 2016

This doctoral seminar is for 'early' doctoral students in the field of business and social science. The course consists of two sections:

Section ONE is a basic seminar that aims to provide you with an overview of what is ultimately required to become an academic scholar and with a practical approach on how to reach your goal. It very much involves the students – about half the time is spent with students explaining their research question, method choice, philosophy of knowledge. It begins with a series of sessions on the classical philosophy of science followed by workshops on the practical consequences. Then students work through the practical stages of their own research such as setting out the theoretical background to the PhD, choice of research question and method.

Preparation for section ONE:

1. Classical Philosophy of Science. Each student is to submit an assignment (not longer than 1000 words) in which he/she works out the core ideas of one of the contemporary doctrines of philosophy of science (i.e. logical empiricism, critical rationalism, or Kuhn and the structure of scientific revolutions). The assignment should exceed the presentation in Caldwell and possibly refer to some original material. Please hand in the assignments on the first day of section ONE (Monday) in class. The distribution of the topics will take place after students have signed up for the seminar. This implies that a number of participants will work on the same topic in parallel. You might cooperate with your group (we even recommend you to do so), but you must hand in individual assignments (i.e. you must not hand in identical or similar assignments within your group). Please focus on the essential: work out the most important lines of argument and do not get lost in details: What are 'your' philosophers criticizing? How do they want to solve their problem? What remains relevant today? What can we learn from them for our research activities?

2. Student Presentations of Research. Each student is to submit (by email) a 1500-word (max.) description of his/her doctoral work to be received by Lisbeth Widahl by 12 September 2016. We will work with these documents throughout the course but especially on the second day during the student presentations that are based on these documents. The description should include (1) a description of the field of knowledge within which the project is located and the scientific conversation that it is contributing to; (2) a preliminary research question. This should be expressed as one sentence; (3) a suggested method appropriate to the research question and field; (4) key references. Students will be asked to present to the class a) their research question and why it matters; b) the relation of the question to theory; c) an argument for why their choice of method is appropriate.

Section TWO provides room for a focused discussion with regard to the concept and importance of theory in business research. Thus the course offers PhD students hands-on tools to build theory and insights into the instruments and concepts of validating theory. As such, we offer students guidance to link research questions to theory, for defining constructs, thinking through relationships and processes that link constructs, and deriving new theoretical models (or building on existing ones) based on those relationships. We seek to illustrate how to use analyses as well as grounded and emergent approaches to theory construction. Students are enabled to develop ideas from across theoretical and analytical levels as well as from neighbouring research fields. An explicit aim of the course is to provide students with a deeper appreciation of theory-building in order to support them in crafting effective research papers and grant applications.

Finally, as a secondary aim, section TWO of the course strives to create an 'esprit de corps' among the students and thus to highlight possible venues for research collaboration across the different research fields. Therefore, while students learn about different formats of research outputs, processes, and theory validations relative to the four specific research fields, they will also be exposed to the potential and advantages of cross-disciplinary research.

Learning objectives:

After the course, the PhD student will:

  • be able to understand the scientific foundation of research
  • know how to acquire scientific insights and assess them critically
  • have an idea of how to deal with scientific communities
  • be able to position his/her research in a research field
  • have reflected on and clarified his/her research question
  • know how to review literature
  • have reflected on the fit between research question and method
  • be able to get an idea of different writing styles
  • have a better idea of the data collection process
  • be able to identify and understand what constitutes a theory (including causality, assumptions etc.) and to distinguish theory from taxonomies, morphologies, colloquialisms etc.
  • be able to develop own conceptual frameworks and mid-range theories
  • be able to apply different theoretical lenses to an empirical problem in order to see how theory in the social sciences sometimes influences our conclusions


The course is based on a high level of student involvement. Students are expected to be thoroughly prepared and to take an active part in the presentation and discussion of the material. Given the high content-to-time ratio, teaching is based on lecturing, illustrations and discussions and its success is predicated on interactive student involvement. The assessment has the following parts:

  • Each student is to submit an assignment (not longer than 1000 words) in which he/she works out the core ideas of one of the contemporary doctrines of philosophy of science and to give a 45 minutes presentation in class
  • Each student is to submit (by email) a 1500-word (max.) description of his/her doctoral work
  • Participants are required to present their research attending especially to the theory foundation, the building and 'testing' of their PhD work (10 min. with a follow-up O&A session, 5 min.).

5 ECTS points.

Requirements (applicants from other departments/universities):

  • The participant must be enrolled as a PhD student
  • Students must have an MSc in Business Administration (or similar)

Time and place
19-21 September and 12-14 October 2016
. The course will take place at Aarhus University, Department of Management, Bartholins Allé 10, 8000 Aarhus C. Room: 1325-242.

Professor Andrea Carugati, Professor Lars Frederiksen, Professor Tino Bech-Larsen, Associate Professor John Howells, Associate Professor Peter Kesting, Department of Management, Aarhus BSS.

No later than 17 August 2016 to: Lisbeth Widahl, Department of Management, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University, Bartholins Allé 10, 8000 Aarhus C (preferably by email). An application form can be downloaded from the right-hand side of this web page. Please note that your application is binding. Applicants from the Department of Management will be given priority over applicants from other departments/universities.

Participants from other universities will be charged a fee that covers meals during the course (for more information, please contact Lisbeth Widahl). Participants are required to find their own accommodation.