A Ph.D. for me? Really? 

If you are a CPA with recent practical experience and a love for the profession, the academic accounting community is ready to embrace your talents. 
by Steve Matzke 

A Ph.D. for me? Really?Still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up? Based on the number of emails and phone calls I receive, you are not alone. Sure, you landed your first accounting job (or maybe your second or third), and your career opportunities look limitless, but the little voice in the back of your mind is telling you that there is something more out there. You may even be contemplating returning to school to pursue a career as an accounting faculty member. That idea isn’t crazy—in fact, it’s an excellent career move.

There’s a serious shortage of accounting faculty right now. Faculty retirements are on the uptick (the average age of a tenured accounting faculty member in the United States is 60), enrollment in accounting programs is increasing, and demand for accounting graduates is at an all-time high. Initiatives such as the Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program have been created to address the shortage, but the problem persists.

The reality is that if you are a CPA with recent practical experience and a love for the profession, the academic accounting community is eager to embrace your talents. These qualifications are the beginnings of a solid application to a doctoral program. With a few more additions (e.g., a strong GMAT score, meaningful recommendations, etc.), you could be golden. Now may be as good a time as ever to take a step back, rethink your future, and seize this opportunity.

Here are some things to consider in assessing whether to go back to school to earn a doctorate:

  • A Ph.D. is a research degree. If teaching is the only side of the faculty equation that interests you, you may want to pursue a different avenue to the classroom. For instance, many universities seek lecturers and adjunct faculty to meet classroom demand. Seek an opportunity to meet with college and university accounting program administrators to investigate potential teaching opportunities.
  • What disciplinary area of accounting interests you? Tax? Audit? Managerial accounting? Accounting information systems? Financial accounting? Since different programs have different areas of expertise, making this decision early will help you determine which programs to apply to.
  • Doctoral programs usually take four to five years to complete. Can you commit this time?
  • You won’t necessarily have to live on ramen noodles again. Many universities offer fellowships and assistantships to help offset the costs of a doctoral education.

Now is a great time to consider pursuing a Ph.D. in accounting. A career in academia may be right around the corner for you. Before you commit, take the time to explore this option to ensure it is the right path for you.

Still unsure? The toe almost in the water? Why not explore? Attend Steve Matzke’s session on all things Ph.D., including how to apply and what kinds of salaries accounting professors receive, on Aug. 7 at the AICPA E.D.G.E. Conference in San Antonio.

Steve Matzke is the director–Faculty & University Initiatives at the AICPA.

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