Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Exactly is Justin Doing in Grad School (Part I)?

As the reader already knows from Jenny's description, we are in Central Illinois for the next five years while I complete my PhD in Accounting at the University of Illinois. As I have neglected my blogging duties thus far, I decided to write a brief primer about what I am doing in school.

Few people pursue a PhD in Accounting, and fewer finish. It's not surprising that most people do not realize that one can even earn a PhD in Accounting, because U.S Universities award fewer than 100 Accounting PhDs each year. Conversely, tens of thousands of doctorates are awarded annually in disciplines such as English, Engineering, and Computer Science.

In brief, accounting is the measurement, disclosure, and audit of business information used by managers to make decisions. My interest lies in how accounting information influences people's behavior, and running laboratory experiments on human participants to determine how personal, task, environmental, and information characteristics affect behavior in an accounting context. I will elaborate on my interests at a later time, but I hope that this sentence suffices as a 10-second description of what I'd like to research for the rest of my career.

The vast majority of Accounting PhDs work in universities, and teach, research, or both. I know that I want to research, and time will tell how much I enjoy teaching. It takes an average of 5 years to complete an Accounting PhD, regardless of whether you have a Master's Degree (I do not have a Master's).

Those five years comprise two phases: the coursework phase and the dissertation phase. The coursework phase enables students to conduct original research, by building quantitative skills and accounting knowledge. In my case, the department has decided that my accounting knowledge is sufficient, but I need to develop quantitative skills. Accordingly, my coursework involves heavy Calculus, Statistics, and Econometrics.

During the coursework phase, Illinois requires students to act as Teaching Assistants for two semesters, and then to teach a course during the student's first two summers. I am completing my 2nd semester of TAing, and will teach Accounting Control Systems this summer and next.

After 2 to 3 years of coursework, the department awards a Master's Degree and requires students to take a preliminary exam. The preliminary exam is a comprehensive test of how to study problems in accounting. It is an essay test, it takes a full day, and I have heard that it is not fun. If you pass the preliminary exam, then the department admits you to the "dissertation phase," in which students focus on identifying, studying, and writing a thesis about an original research idea.

There is a substantial shortage of accounting PhDs, and some estimate that there are two job openings for every PhD-holder available to fill positions. As a result, salaries for entry-level accounting faculty currently average $160-170,000 at top universities (Big Ten, Ivy League, and a few others), and $130-145,000 at second tier schools. Many schools pay an additional 2/9 of salary as "summer support" for the first three years of employment. Of course, one can earn much more than that in the private sector, but academia has intrinsic benefits that will likely be expressed in this blog over time.

The University of Illinois is one of the oldest, largest, and most well-regarded Accounting programs in the country. Additionally, it is one of the two or three best schools for the kind of research that I want to do (usually referred to as "behavioral accounting research").

Unfortunately, it's also located in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, which was never at the top my list of places to live (let alone Jenny's list). In addition to behavioral accounting, we can look forward to tornado warnings, corn pollen, and poor drainage for five years. Despite the negatives, though, I am quite happy with what I do.

(note: I am writing this from Kutztown, PA, and I miss Jenny)


Jenny said...

I miss you too. Hope you're enjoying Spring Break on the farm.

Also, as I'm writing this, Liza is giving me the stink eye for waking her up. I think she misses you too.

Maria said...

"Laboratory experiments on human participants" sounds interesting and gives me a funny mental image of you as a sort of mad scientist type.

Justin and Jenny said...

Unfortunately, universities clamp down on mad scientists ability to damage participants. Sweatin' me.