I’m 31 and in my junior year of college, majoring in accounting. I started back to school part-time ten years after dropping out in my first semester to move across the country for Loooooove… a couple years into school I wound up divorcing and am finishing up on my own with a great deal of emotional support from far-flung friends and family.
I was raised to be a good Christian wife and make lots of babies. I’m not doing any of that now except maybe the “good” part, and when I realized that my current program of schooling would end in a master’s degree, I was astonished. I was homeschooled all the way through high school, and while my parents assured me that I was smart enough to be anything I wanted, I wasn’t steered towards higher education in any way, although they’re both college grads and my dad is an MD.
Last year, a professor in one of my classes asked me if I’d considered a PhD in accountancy. I didn’t even know there was such a thing then, and certainly hadn’t considered it for myself. Circumstances being different then, I decided I wasn’t interested at the time but might consider it at a future date.
Circumstances have changed, and I got an e-mail from the same professor this weekend (he’s now teaching overseas, his gain and my loss) asking if I’d thought more about it. I hadn’t, but now I am.
You’re in academia. I don’t know anything about what that’s like. Do you have any thoughts or advice for me? I can do the coursework. I’m smart, and I can work hard. I’m carrying a full-time courseload, working about 30 hours a week as a self-employed editor of court transcripts, and my GPA just dipped from a 4.0 last semester. I ran some numbers today (average CPA salary, average accounting professor salary for new entrants) and financially it would put me ahead to get the PhD and work as a professor. There’s high demand right now.
Things I don’t know: If I’m going to hate being a professor. If there’s so much bureaucratic bullshit I’m going to want to drink myself to sleep every night. If I can learn to be a good teacher. If I can learn to talk for hours without losing my voice or coughing to death. If I can come up with subjects to research. If I can survive a PhD thesis defense. If adding five more years of school is going to destroy my chance to meet someone awesome who wants to have a family with me, and get that started.
I realized today that some of my reasons for brushing this off earlier are bogus – like being afraid that being visibly very schooled/”smart” will scare guys off because it intimidates them (my ex got more insecure the more I learned, which he didn’t need to be insecure about that). So that’s challenged me to reconsider.
Accounting professors are going to have a different experience than many of our humanities readers. You are absolutely right that the demand for accounting PhDs outstrips the supply. You would also most likely be looking at a 6 figure salary or close to one straight out of school. But I’m sure you’ve looked at the numbers and have a more accurate picture than I do. (Disclaimer: I haven’t looked at the numbers in a few years, and I don’t remember them exactly, just that they were up there with Pharmacy PhDs.) You’ve also noted that the accounting PhD takes less time than most humanities or science PhDs (on average, 5 years). Another nice thing to note is that it is not uncommon for people to start accounting phds later than their early 20s, which you tend to see in some other disciplines. You would not be out of place (not that that should bother you if you were!).
The number one thing you need to know about going into academia is whether or not you will enjoy doing research. I have to confess that I don’t have any idea what kind of research it is that accounting professors do. This year or next, see if you can do a research assistantship with an accounting professor, or even better, a guided research project of your own. If it turns out you don’t like doing research, you can still teach accounting with a masters degree, and adjuncting accounting classes pays more than adjuncting humanities classes does.
When you look at accounting programs, an important thing to ask is what the pass rate is– how many people get kicked out of the program or drop out. Some of the accounting PhD programs are pretty brutal and arbitrary in that respect. Check to make sure they want you to succeed. Talk to current students.
>If I’m going to hate being a professor.
Probably not. Especially if you can manage your time well, not stress out too much about tenure (and with a PhD in accounting, you should be able to find a job if you leave), and not stress out too much about teaching evals. The only way to find this out might be to try grad school and try to get a handle on it; you could also try doing as many informational interviews as you can with professors and try to get their honest opinions about what it entails. The good news is, they should all have office hours you can drop in to.
>If there’s so much bureaucratic bullshit I’m going to want to drink myself to sleep every night.
One nice and not so nice thing about accounting: Most likely you’re going to be in the business school. On the one hand, you’ll have fewer crazy colleagues than you might in some other fields. On the other hand, you’ll have colleagues who are business professors. How much do you like economists, marketing profs, etc.? You will also most likely have to wear suits, or at least business casual. Business schools generally have more resources than the rest of campus, you’ll be less resource-constrained, the rest of the campus will resent that slightly. (And if not in the business school, then a subset of the economics department, though from what I understand accounting profs in econ dept are kind of second class citizens compared to accounting profs in business schools, but this may be because accounting profs in econ dept tend to be at SLAC and often do not have PhDs.) You’ll probably have the same bureaucratic BS more or less than you would have working at a mid-size to large company, depending on the kind of university you end up at. So non-trivial, but not more than you’d have in any big business.
>If I can learn to be a good teacher.
Yes. Another note: Business students are really obnoxious and entitled and whiny. However, I hear that accounting students are the least obnoxious group within business. And other students are obnoxious and entitled and whiny too, so it’s not like you can escape that. (But business students are especially bad.)
>If I can learn to talk for hours without losing my voice or coughing to death.
You won’t need to. Case studies! But if you *need* to talk for some time, there are techniques you can learn. (Relaxing your throat muscles! Drinking lots of water! Learning to project from the diaphragm!)
>If I can come up with subjects to research.
This is really important. Talk to professors about this starting now. Tell them you’re interested in research and ask for opportunities. Think about the big questions and the little questions in Accounting. Read papers. It may take a few years to figure out the answer to this question.
As much as you can, try to get research experience — sign up now for next semester. Work for a professor. Read articles and see if they get you excited. For most PhDs, you simply must love research in order to make it through. Try to find this out.
>If I can survive a PhD thesis defense.
>If adding five more years of school is going to destroy my chance to meet someone awesome who wants to have a family with me, and get that started.
Lean in. Also go someplace with a good engineering school. Engineers are sexy. If the person you meet isn’t down with you having an advanced degree, you don’t want them anyway. Plenty of my friends had babies in grad school, or got married, or got divorced, bought a house, got a puppy. You can make your life work. [If you get a puppy though, make sure you have an equal partner in house-training.]
>I realized today that some of my reasons for brushing this off earlier are bogus – like being afraid that being visibly very schooled/”smart” will scare guys off because it intimidates them (my ex got more insecure the more I learned, which he didn’t need to be insecure about that). So that’s challenged me to reconsider.
Like I said, engineers! They love smart women. Any guy worth having does (at least any guy worth having if you’re a smart woman!). We repeat: if a man doesn’t want to be with a woman who has a higher degree than him, DTMFA!
And that brings us to the last point. Even with an accounting degree, you get very little choice about where you move to after you’re done. We’re living in places we wouldn’t choose if it weren’t for the job. There’s a limited number of professor jobs in any discipline each year and you have to have a certain amount of flexibility. If you absolutely have to live in a specific city, it’s unlikely you’ll get a TT job there. It’s possible, but not likely. If you are location dependent, see what kind of jobs you can get with a PhD in accounting in industry and/or government (depending on the location).
Good luck with this decision!
Readers, anything we forgot?