Making the switch.
Ed O'Donnell, CPA, PhD, is an assistant professor of accounting information systems at Arizona State University, Tempe. He earned his doctorate from the University of North Texas in 1995. He was previously an auditor with Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. and a controller for a diversified food service company; he also had his own public accounting practice.
Stephanie M. Bryant, CPA, PhD, is an assistant professor of accounting, a director of the accounting information systems program and a Frank fellow at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. She earned her doctorate from Louisiana State University. She was previously a tax computer specialist with KPMG Peat Marwick and a supervisor of accounting at the nonprofit Louisiana Association of Educators.
The key factors in switching to academia.
O'DONNELL: Practicing accounting had become mundane, and I wanted to try something more creative. I thought that teaching would be more gratifying and hoped that working with students would make me feel I was giving something back.
BRYANT: I wanted the flexibility and autonomy that academia offers. No one looks over my shoulder, if I have a conference at my child's school, I don't have to ask anyone if I can go. Both public and private accounting are very confining and restrictive in that way.
The best part of the academic environment.
O'DONNELL: Opportunities to be creative through teaching and research and the intellectual stimulation that comes from enthusiastic, inquisitive young minds. It also provides flexibility for scheduling work and family activities.
BRYANT: It's a wonderful thing to see the light go on for a student who has been struggling, not to mention the pleasure of seeing students change their major to accounting because they enjoyed the principles of accounting class. I've been teaching long enough to see students from my principles class graduate and go out into the work world. It's gratifying to have even a small part in influencing so many people.
Obtaining the PhD.
O'DONNELL: I made the decision to become a full-time student if I got accepted into a doctoral program. I took the GMAT qualifying exam and applied to all Texas universities that offered a doctoral degree in accounting. After being accepted, I sold my practice and moved. We lived on my teaching stipend, my wife's earnings and a student loan, which I arranged through the financial aid office.
BRYANT: I really wanted to get my doctoral degree from LSU because I had gone there as an undergraduate. Fortunately, I was helped by a graduate assistantship.
Pitfalls during transition.
O'DONNELL: It's harder than you think: I considered keeping a few clients while pursuing the degree, but I'm glad I didn't. I wouldn't have had the time. You have to make a full-time commitment at subsistence-level compensation.
I discussed the demands and opportunities of an academic career in accounting with more than one accounting professor before making a decision. I was a practicing accountant and got some answers that I found surprising.
Choose your doctoral program carefully, and remember that most programs focus almost exclusively on research, not on accounting. You will most likely learn to teach by teaching and will receive little instruction in pedagogical technique. Job placement from PhD programs varies considerably. Find out in advance which universities may be interested in interviewing you when you complete your degree.
BRYANT: Fortunately, the transition wasn't very difficult for me. I have always loved school and was excited about being back in the academic environment. If I had one thing to do over, it would be that I would have not borrowed so much in student loans. It's easy to borrow, but it's going to take me a long time to repay!
Stress level: academia vs. the business world.
O'DONNELL: Income is predictable, employment is stable, and I can't complain about a job that gives me three months off in the summer. Still, the rigors of the classroom and dealing with other academics can produce a different kind of stress. Fielding questions from well-prepared students is challenging. Also, academics tend to be less pragmatic than practicing accountants and other business professionals, so getting something done on campus can be frustrating.
BRYANT: Although academia comes with its own set of pressures, it was easier than raising a family while I was immersed in corporate life. Ill academia I have much more control over my time. The main stress comes from trying to balance my teaching, research and service requirements.
O'DONNELL: My duties as an assistant professor have largely been restricted to teaching and research. I teach two classes a semester, meeting twice a week for two hours each. I probably spend another 8 to 12 hours grading and preparing for class. The rest of my time is devoted to research activities.
BRYANT: Because I teach accounting information systems (a blend of accounting and computers), one of my biggest challenges is staying current in my field. I have to invest significant time on my own in professional development. This summer I will spend several weeks teaching myself Visual Basic and Java Script, since those two skills are very valued in systems today. Research is the hardest thing to manage because you really have to carve out time for it. I could easily spend all my time preparing for class, teaching, grading and pursuing professional development.
I serve on a variety of committees, including national, college and department committees. I try when possible to choose committee service that is related to my teaching interests. For example, I've served on an interdisciplinary technology roundtable committee.
Emphasizing the practical when applying for a program.
O'DONNELL: My scores on the GMAT were marginal, so I referred to my experience as much as I could on my doctoral program application. I think the schools that expressed an interest in me did so because of my background; those that emphasized the GMAT rejected me. When interviewing for my first job, I tried to bring up my experience whenever possible.
BRYANT: Most doctoral programs today really encourage people to have some practical experience before entering the program. It is especially important in systems, which is almost impossible to teach unless you have practical experience--I had learned my first systems lessons on the job at KPMG. I advise future academics to take advantage of any on-the-job training programs available.
What future employers are looking for.
O'DONNELL: In general, I believe that schools have a well developed idea of the type of individual they want to hire, a profile of characteristics that are likely to fit with their culture. I think that Arizona State wanted someone with significant research potential who also had teaching experience that dovetailed with its accounting information systems course.
BRYANT: When I interviewed for teaching positions, most schools preferred people with practical experience. It was definitely a factor in my getting my position at James Madison, and it was one of the first things they asked me about. The ability to adapt to changing technology and the willingness to invest in my own professional development also were very important. James Madison is a very student-oriented school--the professors here take a personal interest in students and so that, too, was an important attribute the school was looking for.
O'DONNELL: The big challenge is making accounting relevant to the new business environment. For example, accounting curriculums have traditionally taught students to classify and aggregate transaction data before they are stored--that is, to classify transactions through journal entries then aggregate that data into an account balance. That skill is no longer in demand. The challenge for accounting academics is to identify and deliver the new skills that information management professionals need to function in today's technology-driven environment.
BRYANT: Staying current in my field is the biggest challenge. I teach a consulting class where students work on a real-life consulting problem for a client. That class is extremely demanding since I am integrally involved with each consulting project. Lining up the clients each semester is a challenge, since James Madison is in a fairly rural area.
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|Title Annotation:||CPAs career change to academia|
|Publication:||Journal of Accountancy|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2000|
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