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About this book

This book fundamentally challenges the way in which PhDs are currently pursued. It applies lean methodologies – which have been embraced by start-ups – to the doctoral research process. It explains how to apply techniques such as the minimal viable product (MVP) approach, rapid prototyping and pivoting to each stage, from choosing a topic to seeking feedback, in order to save time, make the process more efficient and demonstrate impact. Chapters are enriched with insights from PhD researchers, practical guidance on going lean and a wealth of empirical data which supports this new approach to postgraduate research.

This inspiring text is a must-read for prospective and current PhD students who wish to accelerate their careers in academia and beyond.

Table of Contents

1. The PhD as a Start-up

Abstract
There is no definition of the term ‘start-up’ that any two entrepreneurs or investors agree on. Most would likely concede, though, that start-ups are firms that are (relatively) young which attempt to set something in motion. Start-ups are increasingly popular among university graduates. Twenty-eight per cent of graduates from the Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme at the Stanford Graduate School of Business now seek jobs in start-ups, up from less than 20 per cent five years ago. Only traditional banks remain more popular, with 31 per cent of graduates choosing them for their further professional development. Meanwhile, in a recent piece for MarketWatch, journalist Catey Hill lists ‘academic’ among the ‘5 once-prestigious jobs that are now B-list as fewer and fewer top talents are drawn into this sector.
Julian Kirchherr

2. Launching the PhD

Abstract
A start-up entrepreneur faces countless questions when launching their endeavour. What market is best to target? How should the endeavour be framed? Who will be willing to fund it? The lean canvas is a framework that helps start-ups adhering to lean methodologies to comprehensively think through these questions.74 In Table 2.1 you will find the lean PhD canvas. It is inspired by the lean canvas, although it has been adapted significantly to suit the academic context. There are five areas to think through when launching your PhD endeavour. First, you need to decide on the academic market you aim to target. Second, you want to consider how to approach your research proposal.
Julian Kirchherr

3. Executing the PhD

Abstract
Lean methodologies are popular among many start-ups around the world, as outlined in Chapter 1. Yet with the success of the lean movement, critics emerged as well. One of the possibly most viable criticisms concerns the difficulty of collecting thorough feedback. One entrepreneur who raised this criticism is John Finneran. John tried to launch a software firm via the lean start-up approach. This firm aimed to simplify how non-profits plan and measure their social and environmental impacts. Yet the company failed; the main reason was, according to John, that the firm was unable to collect the needed feedback to improve its minimum viable product (MVP). ‘The [MVP] preached by [the lean start-up movement] has limited practical use. Our clients were […] too irritated [by our MVP] to “iterate” [it] with us.’ ‘Customers aren’t interested in funding your “learning”. They want reliable software [from Day 1] that delivers value consistently,’ John recounts on his blog.
Julian Kirchherr

4. Exiting the PhD

Abstract
While many start-up founders claim to be wanting to change the world with their enterprise,161 survey data on start-up founders suggests that this is not their main motivation when launching a start-up. Rather, the most commonly named motivation is ‘the desire to build wealth’. Seventy-five per cent of start-up founders list this as their key motivation in one recent survey.162 This aim is achieved via what in the start-up universe is called an ‘exit’. A popular exit option is the initial public offering (IPO) where the founder sells a part of their business to the public in the form of shares.163 An alternative to an IPO is an acquisition of the start-up by a larger firm. For instance, the start-up Cardioxyl Pharmaceuticals, a company founded in 2005 which works on therapies to treat heart diseases, was acquired for USD 2.1 billion by Bristol-Myers Squibb, a large American pharmaceutical company, in one of 2015’s largest start-up exits.164
Julian Kirchherr

5. Towards Lean Science

Abstract
The lean PhD approach is an attempt to re-envision the PhD as we currently pursue it.212 The PhD student in the lean PhD is a start-up. Just as with the start-up, the student starts as a one-person show. Both the PhD student and the start-up founder are tasked with creating something novel from scratch. Both must accomplish this task with only limited resources. The novelty of these endeavours implies permanent uncertainties regarding the road ahead – with the only certainty being that it will most likely prove thorny. Launching, executing and exiting a successful start-up is incredibly difficult – 60 per cent of start-up founders fail.38 Launching, executing and exiting a successful PhD start-up is also incredibly difficult – up to 50 per cent of PhD students who enrol into a PhD never complete it.39
Julian Kirchherr
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