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PhD Programme

Overview and Requirements

The GSB PhD programme is an essential component of the GSB’s research strategy and PhD students are a vital part of our research community. PhD students should graduate from the GSB not only with an internationally recognised PhD qualification, demonstrating thought leadership in their area of specialisation, but also a broader understanding of and passion for research. In line with our research mission of “Engaged inquiry in a complex world,” we expect PhD candidates to make an original contribution to theory, while also addressing practical organisational or social challenges. While the primary guidance to PhD candidates is provided by the PhD supervisor, fellow PhD students and other faculty provide a rich network of support and interaction.

The typical duration of a PhD project is between three and four years, if the student is dedicating the bulk of her or his time to the project. A candidate must be registered for at least two consecutive years, although registration for a year at another university may be accepted as part of that period. Although no maximum period of time is prescribed for completing a thesis, the university stipulates a "reasonable time", which is generally taken to be five years. If a candidate is not making satisfactory progress, the Commerce Faculty's Higher Degrees Committee may issue a warning, and, if necessary, may refuse re-registration. Though we do allow part-time PhD students into the programme we recommend that students are able to dedicate at least 20 hours a week to the project. Experience shows that otherwise it is difficult to create and maintain the necessary momentum. Supervisors can at their discretion require students to commit to certain time commitments.

Students enrolled in the PhD programme are expected to:

  • Participate actively in the GSB Research Calendar, especially in their first year of registration;
  • Agree with the supervisor and regularly reconsider a set of commitments and a timeline, which is to be outlined in a signed Memorandum of Understanding;
  • In the first six months of registration, develop a formal research proposal, which will be presented to GSB faculty and students and then submitted to the Commerce Faculty’s Higher Degrees Committee;
  • Keep the supervisor updated about progress within suitable, agreed timeframes;
  • Take a proactive approach to identifying their learning needs and to implementing suitable responses; and
  • As appropriate, actively participate in the academic life of the GSB through lecturing, research seminars and / or co-supervision of MBA research reports.

Once the student is registered in the GSB’s PhD programme, she or he has about six months to develop a full research proposal. This proposal will need to be presented formally to a committee consisting of at least three members of faculty (including the supervisor). The key purpose of this presentation will be to a) assess that the student has been making adequate progress and b) provide some helpful feedback so that the student can improve her/his proposal prior to entering the field. 

This process consists of the following:

  1. Each PhD student commits to a particular slot in the dedicated “student presentations” PRC sessions in the GSB Research Calendar. If possible, each two-hour slot will include proposal presentations that are broadly in a related theme. There will be three presentations in each slot. This commitment to particular slots ought to happen as soon as possible.
  2. Each proposal is assigned to an appraisal committee including at least three faculty members: the supervisor, the GSB Research Director (or her/his nominee), plus at least one additional faculty member with a pertinent background. The committee will be agreed upon by the GSB Research Director and the supervisor.
  3. Each student submits to the appraisal committee (via the Research Director) a digital copy of the proposal at least one week prior to the presentation.
  4. Each student has 20 minutes to present her or his proposal, followed by 20 minutes discussion.

The appraisal committee will provide formal feedback to the student in writing. The final appraisal could be summarised in one of the three categories (akin to those provided for in PhD final assessments), i.e. a) good as is; b) requires some changes; c) wholly unsatisfactory. If the verdict is “a” the proposal and the committee’s recommendation are sent directly to the Higher Degrees Committee in the Commerce Faculty. If the result is “b” the student will need to make specific revisions to the satisfaction of the supervisor, after which it will be sent to the Higher Degrees Committee. Inadequate proposals that receive a “c” verdict will be considered on a case by case basis, but a possible outcome is that the student will not be allowed to re-register in the next year.

To assist in this process, first-year PhD students will be expected to participate actively in the GSB Research Calendar. This includes an intensive research design and methodology workshop, which is normally hosted in January and co-facilitated with international guest lecturers. It also includes five PhD and Research Colloquia (PRCs) – these are three-day workshops in which participants discuss key themes and readings on organisational theory and research design.

For more information, see the following resources provided via UCT’s website: