Musings on Accounting Research by Steve
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PhD teaching as a calling

After a 50 year effort we are finally getting close to a market equilibrium in the supply and demand for doctoral graduates of accounting programs. However, there can be quite the diversity in the PhD experience that supervisors provide. There are several types of supervisors and as long as they are matched to the right type of student good things can happen.

1. Efficient economic man approach to supervision. Take the student as they are, give them the option to develop underlying theories and tools. Leave the student to determine extent of contributions they will make as long as it meets the minimal threshold of contribution to knowledge.

Comment: is great for a highly self motivated self aware student who has a good grasp of the demands of the research and teaching world and can set their own level of aspiration.

2. The mentor challenger approach to supervision. Assumes if the student is interested in obtaining a PhD that they want to do the best they can given their abilities. Realizes that most accounting doctoral students are unaware of the career trade offs between research and teaching. Recognizes that real understanding of that difference is unlikely to occur before two or three years into the program. Hence, challenges students to be the best researcher they can be while acquiring the basic competency in teaching/course design.

Comment: is great for the student that enters a PhD with a relatively unformed sense of their research capability and is attracted mainly by the profession or the teaching dimension of being a professor.

3. The get what I can get out of the student approach to supervision. The focus of this supervisor is to get as much Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant work from the student and if the students learns about research and teaching from doing so, all the better. Efficient economic man supervisor putting their own short term interests first.

Comment: can work for a student that is willing to make deals, learn by watching and observing the successes and failures of the supervisor, and can cope with the self interested learning environment where their needs always come second. Students with a strong sense of self determination can make this environment work especially if the supervisor is a successful researcher/teacher.

Highlighting the editors!

In the last 25 years or so journals in accounting have undergone a huge shift in how they are edited. In 1993, the Editor was just that, THE Editor. He or she may have had a couple of Associate Editors but on the whole it was THE Editor’s show.

While there was some early movements at TAR, JAR, JAE and AOS, it was Mike Gibbins who in 1993 decided to appoint Associate Editors at CAR with FULL decision rights. It was quite revolutionary. The Associate Editor chose reviewers, made accept/reject/revise decisions, and made the defacto final acceptance/rejection decisions. At first no one really believed THE Editor was becoming the Editor. Today such decentralized decision making is more the norm!

This occurred for both academic and practical reasons. The academic reasons were the increasingly specialized nature of the accounting field where even the most dedicated Editor could not grasp, even at a very high level, the substantive differences in paper quality across accounting areas. The practical reason is volume of scholarly production. Major journals are moving well into the 500 papers and beyond being submitted annually. Top niche journals are now experiencing volumes of papers that a decade ago would be experienced at the top journals.

So the role of THE Editor has changed. Now the Editor (Senior, in-chief) manages a team, sets a tone, promotes the journal and, in some cases, reads carefully final page proofs! What a difference 25 years make!

Learning to admit you are wrong

Last post shared research from Julian Barling on how to apologize effectively.

Just as there are steps to make an apology meaningful there are things to avoid doing if you want you apology to succeed. As Julian discovered the following are things to avoid if you want to give an effective apology.

A. Do not ramble. Be specific.

B. Do not put conditions on it. “If I offended anyone .. ” is not the start of a sincere apology,

C. Do not attempt to make explain or make excuses for why the bad behaviour occurred in the first place.

D. Do not ask for forgiveness, that is up to the person you are apologizing to offer. Asking makes it all about you, not them!

E. Do not apologize if you do not mean it and intend to keep the commitment you made as part of the apology.

While senior academics suffer from this problem as well, especially those that achieved much success early and relatively easily in their careers, it seems to be harder for junior faculty and doctoral students to admit they are wrong or that they hurt someone by their actions or inaction.

Learning to admit you are wrong

Due to my nature I have a lot of experience with saying “I am sorry, I was wrong.”

This is a skill that junior faculty and doctoral students need to develop if they are ever to become senior faculty.

My colleague at Queen’s, Julian Barling ( one of the leading OB researchers in the world) spent a lot of time a few years ago studying meaningful and effective apologies. Some of the things he learned that made an apology effective were:

1. Be specific about what exactly you are apologizing for. say you are sorry and mean it.

2. Take personal responsibility for your actions.

3. Admit that people were hurt by your actions including the person you are apologizing to.

4. Explain the steps you have taken to ensure you will not make the same mistake again.

5. Be clear as to what you are going to do to restore things to the fullest extent you can and then do them!

Next post, things that you do not due when attempting to make an apology.

The ignorance of the value of management accounting.

I was there when it all began! Michigan started the ball rolling by taking management accounting from being a 13 week course in the MBA program to a seven week course! Over time this lead to more and more programs at the MBA level reducing the number of contact hours in MA.

Without MA in the core of the MBA program at a full course level, quickly management control systems courses begin to die out, and soon the only accounting elective left was financial statement analysis and maybe some hybrid intermediate accounting course.

Who picked up this missing accounting? Marketing, Human Resources, strategy, and finance all have tried to do so! But try to get an MBA to do a break even analysis or a budget! These were considered obvious skills a generation ago and with the entrepreneurial and gig economics of today one would think they would be core skills in any MBA!

As for designing control systems, incentive compensation plans, and other key tools of modern management, at the MBA level accountants are notable by their absence. But these are all areas that we excel in with great research that has practical importance.

Look what we did to ourselves! We only have ourselves to blame.

Financial Accounting and Auditing in different contexts

There is so much more to Accounting than just the reactions of investors to public disclosures in audited financial statements.

Yet to read the field’s major journals you would think that is the main focus of accounting number creation.

Many entities create, rely on and use accounting numbers or attempt to give other numbers the rigorous properties associated with accounting numbers. Many other disciplines attempt to replicate the rigor of financial statement auditing (albeit without the fatal flaw of the preparer paying the user!) to provide assurance to third parties.

Do we have such a finance envy that the only way we see accounting and auditing as important is if it can be measured correlatively with stock market data?

There is tons of accounting and auditing done by governments at all levels and not for profit organizations. Indeed, the numbers produced by those organizations account for nearly 50% of the GDP of many developed countries. Yet rarely are those numbers the focus of our major journals.

Government and not for profit accounting and auditing are often hived off into specialist courses as not being of “general interest” to accounting students. Are we focusing on the wrong markets?

Getting old and reading reviews

I do not know if it is just me, but in my younger days I looked forward to engaging with the ” thrust and parry” of the review process! I could not wait to read the reviews and get back to work at convincing the reviewers and the editors that I had something worthy to say.

i still enjoy workshopping papers! The tougher the questioning the more I enjoy being the main course at a cannibals feast!

But reading reviews, the fun has gone out of it for me. I am tired of reviewers who give opinions without support (my favourite was a JAR reviewer who said of one of my negotiation papers that it was obvious I was clueless about the process of actual negotiation).

Writing a good review is a craft and it is not a navel gazing exercise that is a licensee to spew out whatever comes to mind. It should never begin with I do not agree with the conclusions of this paper unless you are prepared to put forward solid evidence that backs up your claim.

As an Editor and as an author your unsupported review opinions should not be seen as evidence. Unfortunately, for a lot of younger editors these unsupported opinions are seen as evidence. One of the key things I ask myself as an editor is ” where is the support for the reviewers opinion?” Often, I agree with the recommendation of the reviewer but find it hard to write the decision letter if I base in only on what the reviewers have written. Then I face the challenge, how much do I put of my analysis, with supporting evidence, in the decision letter?

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