Researchers often work on their doctorate at the same time. At universities of applied sciences (HAW), this was (still) a difficult undertaking until recently, because the universities did not have their own right to award doctorates (as of 2019-2022). This is to change soon. However, anyone who wanted to obtain a doctorate at the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences (HFT Stuttgart) needed to cooperate with a university.
An example of excellent cooperation can be seen in the academic journey of Valentin Kammerlohr, research assistant at HFT Stuttgart, towards a scientific doctorate.
Review: In 2019, Valentin Kammerlohr is looking for a new challenge outside of industry and wants to move into academia. At HFT Stuttgart, the DigiLab4U project will start at that time - a perfect opportunity for Kammerlohr to finally take the path to research.
The project combines teaching/learning research and the latest Industry 4.0 technologies with the goal of achieving a digital transformation of laboratory environments, for example, with the help of platform business models and technology-based trust. The project participants came from different disciplines such as didactics, technology and organizational development and consisted of five European universities and research institutes.
Scientific work was still new territory for him at the beginning and the daily routine with peer reviews, conferences, publications and self-directed research had to be relearned. This also included setbacks such as unpublished papers, but step by step new insights and experiences were gained and from then on the research work went smoothly.
How does a doctorate at a university of applied sciences work?
The next goal was now a doctorate and this was until 2022 not so easy at HAWs (link). You needed a university with which you can cooperate. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dieter Uckelmann, Professor of Information Logistics at the HFT Stuttgart, stood by Mr. Kammerlohr as his supervising professor and together they finally found what they were looking for at Auburn University in Alabama, USA. "Perhaps it's surprising that we went the U.S. route, says Prof. Uckelmann, but ultimately what counts is the match to the research project, and that's what we found at Auburn University."
Kammerlohr decided to enroll as a doctoral student in Business Information Systems. Through this cooperative doctorate with HFT Stuttgart, he enjoyed the benefits of online supervision of a Ph.D. program in the U.S. on the one hand, and was able to continue researching in the DigiLab4U project in Stuttgart on the other. The project work continued to count as his main activity and the doctorate as a parallel and complementary task. However, this was only possible because Auburn University opened up to the outside world and allowed virtual doctoral supervision for the first time(link).
Thanks to the support of Professor Dr. David Paradice from Auburn University, however, the balancing act between Stuttgart and the USA succeeded perfectly. By accepting Prof. Uckelmann as "Affiliate Faculty" in the "Department of Systems and Technology" at Auburn, Prof. Uckelmann could be included in the formal supervision procedures at Auburn University.
After statistical and interdisciplinary exams at the end of the first and second years, the third year focused on publications. "Once I mastered the exams, I focused on publications in conferences and journals, as well as my final research project, which was required for the third year and graduation. In my case, the Corona pandemic had the advantage of allowing me to focus entirely on my profession and my PhD. The courses in Auburn were offered exclusively virtually due to the pandemic and in the late afternoon or evening hours due to the time difference, so I was also able to attend them from Germany and in addition to my project work," Kammerlohr says in retrospect.
A virtual journey with an analog ending
At the end of the project, Kammerlohr managed to complete his dissertation on "Three Studies of Shared Digital Labs: The Role of Trust in Business and Maturity Model Development"(link). For the proposal defense, he picked up and presented the work he had done as a research assistant at HFT Stuttgart. After a completely virtual defense, the desire to visit Auburn University for the graduation ceremony quickly arose. For the first time after several years of collaboration, Kammerlohr and Prof. Uckelmann met the professors involved and visited the campus. He summed up the festivities in the stadium and basketball arena by saying, "In the U.S., you know how to work hard, but you know even more how to celebrate such success."
In summary, a collaborative doctorate from a research project with an HAW and a university as partners is possible and, for some, perhaps an incentive to pursue the path to academia. The prerequisite is supportive professors, which Kammerlohr could not have met better at the HFT Stuttgart with Prof. Uckelmann and at Auburn University with Prof. Paradice. The collaboration has shown that great synergies can be created by looking beyond one's own nose and that trust and collegial support play an important role in research.