BYU column

BYU graduates have outsized success completing doctoral programs in a host of areas, including chemical engineering, education research, mechanical engineering and psychology.

Now a successful fourth-year business Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, BYU alum Hilary Hendricks can remember earlier days when — having moved her family across the country to attend a top program — she felt herself unequal to the challenges of doctoral study. What kept her going were her mentors from her previous time as a BYU MBA student.

“I’d be walking across campus in Ann Arbor thinking, ‘There’s just no way I can do this.’ But then I’d think, ‘John Bingham thinks you can do this. Kristen DeTienne thinks you can do this, Brad Agle and Jeff Thompson think you can do this.’ I would recite to myself all of the professors at BYU who helped me to get where I was.”

The excellent preparation Hendricks received for graduate school is reflected in data from the National Science Foundation, which shows that BYU prepares more future Ph.D. students in both business management and foreign languages than any other university in the United States. The data also shows that BYU graduates have outsized success completing doctoral programs in a host of other areas, including chemical engineering, education research, mechanical engineering and psychology.

BYU has long been recognized as a top school for preparing future doctoral students, ranking sixth in the nation for the number of students who go on to earn doctoral degrees, according to the federally sponsored Survey of Earned Doctorates. From 2009 to 2018, 3,040 former BYU students completed a Ph.D., an average of about 300 per year.

When BYU Marriott School of Business professors recently broke that data down further, they found that BYU also took a top spot — in some cases the top spot — in preparing undergraduates for 16 disciplines across diverse categories.

BYU’s performance among business doctoral programs is especially impressive. Over the most recent 10-year period, 241 former BYU students completed a Ph.D. in business management and administration. The second-highest ranked university for future business doctorates — UPenn, home to the famous Wharton business school — produced only 95 Ph.D.’s and was outstripped about 250% by BYU.

Like Hendricks, other Ph.D. students who had previously studied at BYU Marriott attribute their success largely to BYU’s focus on mentored research.

“As a BYU student you actually help professors with research projects,” said Jacob Steffen, who graduated from BYU in information systems and is now pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Georgia.

While at BYU, Steffen helped write two papers on virtual reality products, which he presented at conferences in Hawaii and South Korea.

“You’re thinking through and designing experiments, doing literature reviews,” he recalled. “You get a taste for the kind of work you actually do in a Ph.D. program.”

“The professors I had in the junior core and my work as a research assistant gave me the confidence and encouragement I needed to pursue a Ph.D.,” added Daphne Armstrong, who completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting at BYU before beginning her accounting Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina last year. “There was no better place than BYU to help me get where I am today.”

BYU’s other No. 1 ranking for eventual doctoral degrees, in foreign languages and literature, partly reflects the school’s unusually bilingual student body (65% of BYU students speak a second language) and robust undergraduate language programs, which offer courses in 63 foreign languages. BYU currently ranks third in the nation for the most bachelor’s degrees in a foreign language.