I am often asked for tips and tricks for finding a topic in the promotion or for a thesis. I have already written some guidelines for finding topics. However, some of my readers are also interested in my personal story. I would therefore like to explain them below. My topic, by the way, is: impact of digitisation on SMEs with knowledge-intensive services – results of empirical studies.

Reading tip: Find the topic for thethesis

In the first step, I thought: What do I actually want to do? Afterwards I read literature and in the third step interviewed practitioners. On the one hand, I wanted to make sure that there was enough literature and, on the other hand, that the subject also interested someone. I will then lose a few words on implementation.

Step 0: Preparation – “What do I want” and organization.

Before I could start my doctorate, I had to find a doctoral student and also an employer as well as a topic. I want to tell my story. I was very lucky that I was already 1 year with an employer who wanted to support my doctorate. Furthermore, I already knew my doctoral father very well and theoretically had no search process. However, if you want tips on this, then take a look at the end of the article.

In the first step, my doctoral father told me to commit to one direction. I should take a glass of wine and think in peace. After i had long agility as my main topic in my profession and studies, this was of course clear. Unfortunately, agility as a topic was already quite researched and I found that agility is almost re-explored in the context of digitization. So I had the rough vision that I wanted to explore the effects of digitalization and the first work topic in my mind: the influence of digitalization on the agility of companies.

My tip: Just take a wide theme for you to start with.

Step 1: Theory – Literature Analysis on Digitization

Now I have built a search string and summarized the entire literature on digitization into clear clusters. For this purpose, I looked at the titles, abstracts and keywords of more than 4000 publications in academic databases and evaluated them. I came across the 10 topics Industry 4.0, automation, work, leadership, agility, cloud computing, big data, innovation, business models and globalization. I then briefly described these topics and processed them on 10 PowerPoint slides.

My tip: Take a look around the literature and summarize it into clusters. This gives you an overview of where there is enough literature for research.

The study can be found at Springer or already in the blog at: Topics of Digitization.

Lindner, D., & Christian Leyh. (2019). Digitization of SMEs ‚Äď questions, recommendations for action as well as implications for IT organization and IT service management. HMD – Practice of Business Informatics, 4, 21.

Step 2: Practice – Roundtable on Digitization

Now I have searched for practical partners in my environment and asked them to prioritize and concretize these topics in a roundtable. I simply asked myself well-known managers of companies and wrote exciting profiles on Xing. I was also recommended to some other participants. In the end, 12 managers were gathered in a roundtable.

The first thing I did was make a list of participants and ask myself: Who actually came? In which drawer can this grouping be put? I quickly realized that 10 of the 12 participants were from IT service providers who classify themselves as SMEs. I was therefore able to quickly broaden my subject: the impact of digitalisation on SMEs with knowledge-intensive services. At the time, I took out knowledge-intensive services rather than IT service providers to retain flexibility. Otherwise, I should have excluded some practice partners from the roundtable.

In the Roundtable, I briefly presented all 10 thematic areas and asked which of these are exciting. My specific question was: What do I need to explore so that you want to work with me for the next 5 years? The result was that the participants wanted individual studies in the areas of work (separated by work IT and work models), leadership and agility. The first study was to research agility. Afterwards I wrote down the wishes of the participants in more detail and planned the next roundtable.

My tip: Ask in practice which topics from the literature are interesting. This ensures relevance and also secures the necessary practical partners.

Step 3: Implementation – on the shoulders of giants

Now I should find my academic niche, mentors and community. My doctoral father recommended that I look for 3-5 papers that do almost exactly what I want to do. Paper that inspires me and is academic. So started my search in the already identified 4000 papers and I stopped at 4 posts:

  • Bley and Leyh (2016): Digitalisation: Opportunity or Risk for German SMEs? – A study of selected companies
  • Werth and Greff (2016): Consulting 4.0 – the digitalization of management consulting
  • Urbach and Ahlemann (2016): The Knowledge Workplace of the Future: Trends, Challenges and Implications for Strategic IT Management
  • Ludwig et al. (2016): Working in SMEs 4.0 – SMEs in the area of digital change

In doing so, you stand on the shoulders of giants. Science theory states that “a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant can see further than the giant itself.” Source TUHH. In science, therefore, scientists build on other findings.

All four articles were from the HMD – Practice of Business Informatics. I have read these several times and built up four abstracts for follow-up studies, which I sent to the authors. All the authors were very nice and a total of 4 studies followed, which I conducted with one of the authors. All the authors were very nice and taught me a lot. The advantage was also that I had direct access to experienced mentors and also knew in which journal I would like to submit. I would like to thank all the co-authors for this once again. Thus, the structure of my doctorate was as follows:

  • Preliminary study on topic determination (literature analysis and roundtable)
  • Study 1 to 4 (work models, workplace IT, leadership and agility)
  • Final summary of the four studies (generalisation)

My tip: After you know pretty much what you want to do, look for similar studies that you like and work with the authors.

Step 4: Write and submit the work

Now you need to summarize all the results and studies of recent years and put them in a 150-400 page document. Calculate about 12 months, as you have to coordinate this work comprehensively with the doctoral father and change many times. It is important that the work looks like it is out of a cast. At this stage it is said: writing and perseverance! Remember: Now only your doctoral father counts! No one else can give you feedback because they end up evaluating the work.

My tip: Cancel Netflix ūüėČ

Tip: Download my step by step guide to finding topics.

Excursion: Finding a doctoral father and an employer

Finally, in this paragraph, I would like to give you tips on how to organize your promotion. First of all, I would like to say something about the doctoral doctor and then to the employer and the question: Should I answer a doctorate.

Finding a doctoral father

If you want to find a doctoral father, write an Expose (1-3 pages). Content is the rough topic as well as your motivation. This page answers all known W questions:

  • Who writes this promotion?
  • What do I want to edit?
  • When would I like to take what steps?
  • Where would I like to write this doctorate (research area)?
  • Why do I want this promotion?
  • How do I want to proceed?
  • Why would I like to explore the topic?

Now you can send this expose to different professors with a classic application (e.g. CV). You can decide whether you want to do your doctorate internally or externally. I myself was externally at the chair and can only give tips on this. A good article on the internal doctorate can be found in the Doctoral Forum. However, my tips for applying for an external promotion are as follows:

  • Look specifically for chairs that already have external doctoral students
  • The topic should please the professor and also fit the chair
  • You will meet the professor every 2-3 months. So it doesn’t matter if he lives 100KM away or not. Apply quietly throughout Germany.

Find employers with external promotion

With the employer, things are a little harder. There are often doctoral programs in corporations, which are actually quite OK. At least that’s how I hear it from colleagues. So you can also look for it.

Flexible working models are also often found in small and medium-sized enterprises. Just contact your board. In most cases, a good compromise can be found with a longer affiliation. Keep in mind, however, that you will then have another party on board.

Alternatively, I recommend that you first reduce your work to 32h and just start your doctorate. With a good salary in IT, it still lives well. With 2-3 days of effort per week (free day + Sunday) you are getting on well. Expect also a few short nights before Paperdeadlines etc.

Should I do a doctorate?

Now you’re wondering: Should I do a doctorate next to my job? The question is actually quite easy to answer. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I ready to give up career for 5 years?
  • Am I willing to forgo money for 5 years?
  • Do I want to edit a topic for 5 years?
  • Do I really want to learn scientific work?
  • Do I have the iron will to pull through the promotion?
  • Do I really not want the promotion just because of the title?
  • Am I ready to give up my hobbies and secondary activities?

A doctoral thesis often leads to a standstill of the career due to the lower performance in the job. It is almost impossible to give 300% in the job during the day and then work in the evening in the doctorate. So you have to switch back a little bit. You also need help from freelancers (editors or transcripts) to have time next to the job. You also have to pay the costs of the conferences yourself. The promotion will also take a lot of time. For example, I haven’t watched any series in the three years and didn’t have any direct hobbies except a little fitness. You have to be completely fixated on this work.

So are you ready to give up career and money for this additional training for 5 years so that you can then enjoy lifelong benefits? If you answer yes, start your application today!

Gibt es noch Fragen?

Falls es noch Fragen gibt, habe ich zwei Tipps. Ich habe meine Erfahrung aus 5 Jahren in der Betreuung von Abschlussarbeiten im Buch: "Empfehlungen f√ľr die Bachelor- und Masterarbeit" zusammengefasst. Dieses gibt es bei Springer und Amazon seit August 2020. Das Buch ist ein offzielles Fachbuch in kann damit zitiert werden. Weiterhin k√∂nnen Sie mich gerne mal anrufen. Hierzu einfach im Buchungssystem nach einen freien Termin schauen. Ich nehme mir jeden Monat einige Stunden Zeit um Studenten zu helfen.

Mein Tipp vor der Abgabe Ihrer Abschlussarbeit

Es lohnt sich immer eine Abschlussarbeit professionell Korrekturlesen oder auf Plagiat pr√ľfen zu lassen. Der Vorteil ist, dass Sie dabei auch Feedback erhalten und den akademischen Sprachstil verbessern. Anbieter wie bspw. Scribbr helfen mit guten Preisen bei der Abschlussarbeit.

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

Image source: Pixabay.com


I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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