Earning an Online Doctorate in Supply Chain Management

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for postsecondary business teachers, including supply chain management instructors, will increase by 18% through 2026, more than double the rate of growth projected for the rest of the economy. In addition, college and university business professors earned a median salary of nearly $84,000 in 2018, or roughly $50,000 more than the median pay for all other occupations.

To qualify for these roles, however, you typically must possess a doctorate in your area of expertise. This page provides an overview of earning an online doctorate in supply chain management, including information on admission requirements, common courses, ways to pay for your degree, and possible career paths after graduation.

Why Get a Doctorate in Supply Chain Management?

Pursuing Specialization

Pursuing a Ph.D. in supply chain management online may help qualify you for more senior or specialized roles. In addition to most colleges and universities, think tanks and other research organizations may also prefer to hire candidates with a doctoral degree. When filling leadership positions in supply chain or operations management, large firms may also seek out applicants with a Ph.D., particularly if these individuals must oversee the complex logistics of a multinational corporation.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Earning an online doctorate in supply chain management may also allow you to take the next step in your career. Nearly every tenured professor holds a doctorate in their field, and most top business executives possess advanced degrees. According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, operations and logistics professionals with just a bachelor's degree earn a median salary of approximately $71,000. Supply chain managers with a graduate degree, however, earn a median salary of $97,000 per year.

Online Learning Technology

Finally, each student who earns a Ph.D. in supply chain management online can become acquainted with tools and techniques that may benefit them throughout their career. For example, an individual in charge of coordinating the efforts of logistics teams around the world may rely on the same kind of distance collaboration technologies used in online classrooms. In addition, doctoral candidates who hope to take on careers in academia may draw on their personal experiences with distance education when shaping instructional strategies for their students.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a DBA in Supply Chain Management?

Generally, a Ph.D. in supply chain management prepares students for jobs in teaching and research, while a doctorate of business administration (DBA) in supply chain management trains enrollees for executive positions in the industry.

Both degrees emphasize the central role of research in logistics and operations management, but some DBA programs may not specifically require students to write dissertations. Instead, a student in a more practice-oriented program may complete a doctoral project, applying existing research to solve a real-world challenge at a partner company or nonprofit organization. Ph.D. programs, conversely, often require students to conduct original research and contribute new knowledge to their field to earn a terminal degree.

DBA programs may also allow students to graduate faster. Enrollees can often earn a DBA in just 3-4 years, while Ph.D. candidates may need anywhere from 4-7 years to meet their program's graduation requirements.

Prerequisites for Online Doctorate in Supply Chain Management Programs

    • Work Experience: Some online doctoral programs in supply chain management may require applicants to possess at least three years of relevant professional experience, while others admit students with just master's-level degrees in business. Regardless of your program's exact requirements, prior work experience can strengthen your application and improve your chances of earning admission.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Business schools that require prospective students to hold a master's degree typically do not also mandate entrance exam scores. Programs that do not require applicants to have master's degrees may ask to see scores from the GMAT.
    • Coursework: Nearly all programs require each applicant to possess a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration or a closely related field. Some programs may admit students who majored in another discipline on the condition that they complete introductory classes in areas such as economics and finance before beginning the core of their doctoral coursework.
    • Recommendations: Plan to submit up to three letters of recommendation as part of your application package. Schools often ask to see at least one letter from a former professor or academic advisor and one letter from a professional supervisor. Try to give your recommenders at least two months to write letters on your behalf.
    • Essays: Writing plays a critical role in all supply chain management doctoral programs, so most schools require prospective students to share some kind of writing sample. Applicants may sometimes submit a research paper or thesis from their undergraduate or graduate studies, while other programs may ask to see a statement of purpose outlining your qualifications and goals.
    • Interviews: The majority of doctoral programs, even those offered online, require finalists to participate in an interview. The interview process allows you to highlight your strengths and provide additional context to any weaknesses in your application. It also gives admissions officers and faculty a better sense of your potential fit in a program.
    • International Students: International students must meet all of the same admission requirements as applicants who attended school in the United States. They may also need to demonstrate their proficiency with the English language, usually by taking an exam like the TOEFL.

How Much Can I Make with a Doctorate in Supply Chain Management?

According to the BLS, postsecondary business teachers earned a median salary of $83,960 in 2018, while the top 10% of college and university professors commanded salaries exceeding $175,000.

Executive roles often pay even more. For example, the BLS projects that general and operations managers working in manufacturing earned a median salary of $116,650 that same year, while top executives in manufacturing earned a median of more than $208,000 annually. Senior leadership roles in the for-profit sector usually require substantial experience and significant education.

Traditional Careers

Career Stats Description

Postsecondary Business Teacher

Median Pay: $83,960

Job Growth: 18%

Postsecondary business teachers instruct students and conduct research at colleges and universities. They also typically advise graduate students, serve on admissions committees, and support the hiring of new faculty. While you may qualify to teach at a community college with just a master's degree, most of these roles require a doctorate.

Top Executive

Median Pay: $104,980

Job Growth: 8%

Top executives set strategy for their organizations and oversee the operations of various departments. Many executives possess advanced degrees. An individual with a Ph.D. in supply chain management, for example, may take on senior leadership roles like chief operations officer or vice president of manufacturing.

Industrial Production Manager

Median Pay: $103,380

Job Growth: -1%

Industrial production managers plan and direct the operational activities of manufacturing plants and other industrial organizations. For example, a manager may oversee the construction of a new fleet of passenger aircraft or a new model of computer processors. Larger plants with more complex supply chains may prefer to hire a candidate with a graduate degree in logistics or a related field.

Operations Research Analyst

Median Pay: $83,390

Job Growth: 27%

Operations research analysts use their expertise in logistics to help organizations solve challenges and improve efficiency. While an operations research analyst in an institutional role typically only needs a master's degree, a freelance or consulting analyst may attract more clients and larger projects with a Ph.D. in supply chain management.

Logistics Director

Median Pay: $98,716

Job Growth: 7%

Logisticians analyze, plan, and coordinate an organization's supply chain. Entry-level and middle management roles typically only require bachelor's degrees in fields like business, operations management, or systems engineering, but candidates with advanced degrees may enjoy a competitive edge when applying for senior leadership positions such as logistics director.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale

Nontraditional Careers for Supply Chain Managers

Earning an online doctorate in supply chain management equips students with skills that they can apply across a variety of industries. For example, graduates may use their expertise in transportation logistics to coordinate the delivery of pharmaceutical products to a network of hospitals and health centers. Supply chain professionals may also work as consultants or in public service.

Career Stats Description

Medical or Health Services Manager

Median Pay: $99,730

Job Growth: 20%

Medical and health services managers, also known as healthcare administrators or executives, lead hospitals, health centers, and private practices. Advanced degrees are an increasingly common requirement for these roles, and candidates may benefit from taking graduate-level coursework in areas like health device manufacturing processes or prescription medication supply chain management.

Skills overlapped: Procurement and problem-solving skills

Management Analyst

Median Pay: $83,610

Job Growth: 14%

Management analysts, or management consultants, help organizations reduce costs, increase profits, and solve specific workplace issues. Roughly 17% of management analysts work independently, consulting on discrete projects for a variety of clients. Despite strong employment growth, the BLS projects that analysts with a graduate degree should have the best job prospects.

Skills overlapped: Interpersonal and time management skills

Economist

Median Pay: $104,340

Job Growth: 6%

Economists study the production of goods and services, advise senior business leaders on matters such as consumer demand and pricing, and propose solutions to more systemic economic issues. Economists typically must have a master's or doctorate, and an understanding of supply chain processes may benefit economists working in manufacturing or industrial contexts.

Skills overlapped: Writing and critical thinking skills

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for a Doctorate in Supply Chain Management Online

After deciding to earn your doctorate in supply chain management online, you can start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines your eligibility for grants, work-study opportunities, and low-interest student loans.

Once admitted to a program, you should also contact your school to learn about institutional fellowships, graduate assistantships, and other funding opportunities. Finally, many private organizations provide scholarships and financial aid to students pursuing degrees in supply chain management and business administration more generally.

Scholarships for Online Supply Chain Management Students

Most scholarships for aspiring supply chain management professionals serve students from specific geographic areas. Contact your local branch of the Institute for Supply Management for more information on possible financial aid opportunities in your community.

Below, you can read about five national scholarships and fellowship opportunities for supply chain management students and doctoral candidates more generally.

What to Expect from an Online Supply Chain Management Program

What to expect when pursuing an online Ph.D. in logistics and supply chain management depends on the program you choose. Some programs may require students to complete field-based doctoral projects, while others ask students to write and defend research-based dissertations. In addition, programs that feature self-paced learning may allow students to graduate faster than they would with a cohort of classmates. Make sure to choose a program that fits your learning style and aligns with your professional goals.

Major Milestones

  1. Enrollment

    During the enrollment process, meet with your faculty advisor to design a course of study and begin discussing a research question that will guide your dissertation work. You should also connect with your school's financial aid office to learn about fellowships and grants.

  2. Completing Foundational Coursework

    In the first and second years of your program, you will need to complete foundational coursework in areas such as logistics modeling, supply chain management theory, and management information systems.

  3. Passing Comprehensive Examination

    After completing foundational coursework, you typically must pass a comprehensive examination. This exam assesses your understanding of core competencies and signals your readiness to begin working on your dissertation.

  4. Conducting Dissertation Research

    The first step in the dissertation process is submitting a dissertation proposal with a clear research question. After receiving approval of your proposal, you may begin collecting original research or synthesizing and collectively analyzing existing data sets.

  5. Writing Dissertation

    After you finish collecting research, you must summarize your methods and findings in a written document. Most students write multiple drafts of their dissertations, incorporating feedback and suggestions from their faculty advisors.

  6. Defending Dissertation

    The dissertation process concludes with a public defense of your research and conclusions. Each doctoral candidate must satisfactorily defend their dissertation before a committee of faculty members to formally receive their degree.

Coursework

The coursework you complete while earning a Ph.D. in logistics online may vary, but you can read more about five common foundational classes below.

Designing a Global Operations and Supply Chain Network

In this class, students explore the essential theories and best practices of designing and maintaining supply chains for multinational corporations. Learners examine quality assurance and control, demand planning, and inventory management.

Supply Chain Transformation Through Innovation

New tools and technologies allow companies to enhance efficiency and competitiveness. This course equips students with a framework for encouraging innovation in practice and assessing new supply chain approaches.

Supplier Relationship Management

Students in this course learn how to manage relationships with a variety of internal and external constituencies, including suppliers, collaborators, and customers. The course emphasizes the cultural, legal, and political differences that may complicate global relationship management.

Financial Decision-Making

All executives and senior leaders must have an intimate understanding of financial theory and techniques to make sound decisions. This class helps students understand how to use financial data effectively and ethically.

Fundamentals of Quantitative and Qualitative Research

As preparation for dissertation work, doctoral students may take a series of courses on research and data analysis. This course provides a general overview of working with both numerical information, such as purchase histories, and non-numerical information, such as customer interviews.

Degree Timelines

The time required to earn your online doctorate depends on the size of your course load. The three most common timelines are detailed below.

Part-time

Time to Complete: 7-10 years

A part-time student may take up to five years to complete all of the coursework required for their doctoral degree and up to an additional five years to research, write, and defend their dissertation. Most schools require doctoral candidates to earn their degrees in ten years or less.

Full-time

Time to Complete: 4-7 years

Full-time students often complete their coursework in just three years, usually by taking at least three classes each semester. Once they finish their coursework and pass comprehensive examinations, full-time students may need anywhere from 1-3 years to complete the dissertation process.

Accelerated

Time to Complete: 3-4 years

Accelerated programs allow each student to advance through their coursework as soon as they demonstrate an understanding of core competencies, usually through an exam or portfolio of work. In conjunction with their faculty advisor, a student may also create an accelerated timetable for submitting a research proposal, receiving feedback, and defending their dissertation.

Licenses and Certifications

Supply chain professionals do not need a license to practice, but a Ph.D. in supply chain management represents the pinnacle of preparation for both academics and practitioners.

Some individuals working in logistics and operations choose to seek out optional professional certifications, whether to qualify for jobs that require these credentials or to signal expertise in more specialized areas such as inventory management. Four common certifications for supply chain managers are detailed below.

    • Certified Supply Chain Professional: Administered by APICS, this credential allows supply chain professionals to demonstrate general knowledge and skills in the development of more streamlined operations. Each candidate must pass an exam covering subjects such as supply chain improvement best practices. The exam costs $795.
    • Certified in Production and Inventory Management: This certification, also offered by APICS, caters to professionals who specialize in the ordering, storing, and utilization of their organization's inventory. Those who earn this credential self-report an average income increase of 27%. Certification requires passing two exams, each costing $690.
    • Certified Professional in Supply Management®: Supply chain professionals working in manufacturing may seek out this credential from the Institute of Supply Management. Candidates for certification must possess at least three years of relevant professional experience and a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. The exam, which covers topics such as negotiation and corporate social responsibility, costs $379.
    • SCPro™ Certification: The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals offers three levels of certification. Levels one and two require passing an exam, which cost $975 and $1,500 respectively. Level three certification requires completing a real-world supply chain "transformation" project and at least nine years of managerial experience.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations provide a wealth of helpful resources for their members. For example, many supply chain management associations host local and national networking events, giving you the chance to meet new colleagues and share best practices. These groups may also provide online and in-person continuing education opportunities, helping logistics and operations professionals stay abreast of the latest developments in their field. Some organizations even provide student scholarships and mentorship programs for recent graduates.

  • Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals: Founded in 1963, CSCMP works to provide networking, career development, and educational opportunities to the supply chain management community. The council also convenes an annual research symposium and offers a variety of professional certifications.
  • APICS: APICS serves supply chain, operations, and logistics management professionals. In addition to credential programs and continuing education opportunities, APICS publishes a monthly magazine, provides scholarships to undergraduate students, and hosts a job board.
  • Institute for Supply Management: ISM represents more than 50,000 operations and supply professionals across roughly 100 countries. The institute organizes a national conference and hosts training webinars for its members. Local chapters also plan events and provide scholarships to area students.
  • Warehousing Education and Research Council: WERC focuses exclusively on logistics management and its role in the supply chain. Members can access online learning resources, review job listings, and collaborate with other logistics professionals through affinity groups for women and veterans.
  • International Warehouse Logistics Association: Rather than serving individual professionals, IWLA represents warehousing companies and their employees. The association maintains an online resource library, advocates on behalf of its members, and provides regular news updates through its blog.
  • Federal Student Aid: The U.S. Department of Education provides work-study opportunities and low-interest student loans to doctoral candidates with financial need. The webpage also offers advice on identifying private grants and fellowships.
  • The Ph.D. Project: The Ph.D. Project aims to increase racial diversity among business school faculty. The webpage compiles resources on doctoral funding, profiles graduate schools of business, and advertises job opportunities for graduates.
  • Harvard Business School Working Knowledge: Working Knowledge serves as an online repository of faculty and advanced doctoral student research at HBS. Topics covered include disruptive supply chain methods, service operations, risk management, and transportation networks.
  • Supply Chain Dive: Supply Chain Dive publishes news and opinion related to logistics, operations, and procurement. The resource can help professionals stay updated on new developments or serve as a starting point for student research.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: Supply chain professionals and students must know how to write well to succeed. Purdue OWL features guidance on citing academic sources, structuring written arguments, and creating effective cover letters.