I've greatly enjoyed reading the other posts from Career Conversations Week. I think these types of conversations can be incredibly helpful. I thought I would add my perspective as an academic that thinks of themselves as EA-adjacent.
Basic information: I am an Assistant Professor of Accounting at Mississippi State University. I think a good framework for thinking about accounting scholarship is as an area of applied economics - we use the same theories/methods as economists, we are just focused on the role of accounting information specifically (and accounting topics such as auditing and taxation). My research agenda is pretty niche within accounting research - I study nonprofit organizations, which is why I have learned about and started to become involved with EA. A lot of what I am working on focuses on the donor decision-making process and how to encourage more impactful giving.
- I have undergraduate degrees in accounting and economics, and my work experience was in federal consulting with a Big4 accounting firm, working on audit readiness for a DoD agency. Interesting work, but I felt at the time that the long-term career trajectory would not be personally satisfying.
- I then did a PhD in Accounting at the University of Alabama. I could write a whole separate post about the PhD experience, but I had a generally very good time. I was paid enough to live on, had a supportive spouse, had a great relationship with my advisor, and performed well-enough that after my first year, didn't doubt much that I could complete it. I also discovered a passion for research, which made this a very exciting time.
- The academic job market is a unique beast so I won't spend too much time on it. A research job at an R1 university is a difficult thing to achieve (and that difficulty depends a lot on the field you are in).
- A high-quality PhD program will maximize your odds of placing at the best universities, so following the lead of your fellow PhD students and advice of your advisor should steer you in the right direction. Where you choose to do your PhD is of extreme importance, so spend a lot of time deciding where to do your PhD.
- Accounting PhDs don't often place in industry, so I don't have any real advice on that unfortunately.
What the job is like:
- I'll start by saying being an academic is a very strange job - it is remarkably different from my previous experience in public accounting. It is very much a lifestyle - most end up being an academic for their entire career.
- I am responsible for 2 courses per semester (one undergrad course and one master's course). I have a TON of flexibility on the materials and how I teach the courses, which is both good and bad. The good is that I get to teach what I want. The bad is that as I am still creating/prepping my courses, I spend approximately 3 days a week during the semester on teaching and prep. Eventually, this should get down to 2 days a week.
- The rest of my time is devoted to research. I have an active research pipeline (around 9 projects, which is frankly too many), with projects at various stages. Currently, I spend around 3+ days a week on research, with an eye toward getting that to 4+ once my classes are a bit more developed.
- As a general point, one major advantage of academia is the level of autonomy. Outside of my 2 scheduled lectures, I have complete and total control of my schedule and that allows me to work when and how I want.
- One of the reasons I love research is that I have ownership over the end product, rather than being a cog in the machine of a major corporation. This, along with the publish or perish reality of academic jobs, means that I tie up a lot of my personal self-worth in my research AND my personal job security is tied up in it was well. This can be motivating - I estimate I work around 60 hours a week on average (and I am always working on holidays/breaks). But it can also be very unhealthy to wrap up your self-worth in your work, especially when things go wrong, such as a test not coming out as you hoped or getting rejected from a top journal.
- Research is incredibly difficult and taxing, and the pressure to publish is high, even at my university, which does not require any publications in our top journals for tenure. A lot of the work of research is collaborating effectively with others, learning new methods, reading a ton of papers, and writing long manuscripts over and over again until it is actually good. Having a passion for your research is essential to making it through your PhD and continuing to research enough to get tenure. Unfortunately, it is hard to know if you love research before you really start doing it.
Impact of the job:
- I've spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of my job from an EA perspective.
- Training future accountants: this is of some value, but someone else could easily fill this role. I do get personal satisfaction from teaching, but I don't see it as particularly high value.
- Research: If I did not do nonprofit accounting research, there probably isn't really anyone who will replace me, as a very small group of people do this research currently. The challenge is the value of the research, which is very hard to define. Honestly, I grapple with this all the time, as much of what is published in academic journals doesn't have any measurable impact. I spend a lot of my time thinking about ways my research could inform policy, organizations, and donors, and try to steer my research in directions that maximize impact.
- While most academics make fairly low salaries, US accounting academics are fortunate to be in a field with fairly low supply. Compensation ranges from $130k - $280k for new hires, with some researchers at top programs earning >$300k. So the impact of the work itself + earn-to-give can make this a fairly high-impact job.
- If anyone is interested in doing a PhD in accounting, I would love to offer you advice. I could offer a small amount of advice in regards to economics/finance as well, but you probably should find some in those fields.
- I am hoping that one of the ways I can have an impact is by advising/sitting on boards of nonprofit organizations. I have accounting/finance skills, a strong knowledge of the 990, research skills, and am really passionate about effective organizations. This has been pretty difficult to break into, but if anyone out there is interested in having a chat about ways I could help your organization, please feel free to reach out!