Unvarnished advice for Ph.D students

"Ignore what the school tells you what you need to get tenure; do what the market says is valuable."

That's the advice accounting doctoral students received from Dr. Jennifer Joe, a professor at Georgia State University, during a recent career mobility panel at the 15th Annual Accounting Doctoral Students Association Conference - but it didn't stop there.

Participants of the conference - all minority students of African-American, Hispanic or Native American descent who are studying or about to study accounting in a Ph.D program - listened to three professors tell their stories of mobility.

"When you get that first job, if you take a semester off, or a half-year off, you're done," explained Dr. Tom Lopez, of the University of Alabama. "That's the honest truth and whether you want to leave that university or not, you probably will."

Lopez said that it was his experience moving from his previous university that led him to maintain a competitive salary. It's common knowledge, apparently, that those new to university departments are most likely to receive the best compensation.

"Job choices are like dating," said Dr. Ola Smith of Western Michigan University. "You don't have to marry them, just go out with them." Smith advised students that if they want to earn tenure at their first university, find a school that grants a high percentage of tenures to their faculty.

"When you get tenure, you can be as eccentric as you want to be," Lopez said.

Leah Muriel, a CPA and doctoral student starting her second year at the University of Tennessee, revealed that she left her job at Grant Thornton to pursue a career in education. "It's really an advantage to be able to come," she said of the conference, which is organized by the Accounting Doctoral Students Association and sponsored by The Ph.D Project. "Some schools are smaller than others and it's nice to talk to other people. It's just so different than being out in the working world. It's a different kind of mindset, such a jump from an undergraduate or master's. I don't think people recognize that until they get into the program."

Dr. Johnnie Clark, a retired professor and dean at Atlanta University who spoke to the nearly 50 students in attendance, told Accounting Today, "I have been on the line since the beginning. This program was designed to overcome the dearth of minority professors in accounting."

Clark, who received her Ph.D in 1973, said that she first wanted to get into public accounting but found out quickly there were no jobs available for women - much less an African-American woman. So she chose a more viable option - education.

"Accounting firms have retrenched," she said of work around diversity, pointing to past strides taken by the Big Eight. "When you look at the dispersion of blacks in major accounting firms, we still have the same issues. You don't see the same kind of effort."

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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