Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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Monthly Archives: March 2018

The democratic cycle at the AAA

Many of us are members of the American Accounting Association and normally we also belong to one or two or three of its sections.  When I joined the AAA almost 30 years ago now, the sections were the only places where democratic elections took place.  Indeed, many of the sections prided themselves that unlike the AAA they featured regular accountability sessions and actual choices for members for filling the senior section offices.

Fast forward 30 years, now all the national AAA offices normally have elections associated with them, something that AAA officers in the 1990’s said was impossible to have occur.  But at the section level we are now in the period of the one office one candidate world, where elections are a rarity.  Indeed, many sections no longer have real business meetings but combine them with lunch or cocktails so that little or no direct accountability to members can take place.  The excuse given is that only a minority of members come to these accountability sessions, therefor why bother????  Well only a minority of members of elected assemblies around the world attend the vast majority of meetings of those bodies, but does that mean we get rid of elected bodies altogether????

Anyhow, that’s a bit of a rant that I have put off writing for a long time.

A rare reading recommendation

If you struggle to understand the narrowness of publications in the American Three journals, I suggest you read the articles in the journal Critical Perspectives on Accounting.  Yes, I know many of my readers are only remotely aware of CPA (the journal not the designation) but the March 2018 issue is one that we can learn from.

Where else would you see commentaries by Chris Chapman (former AOS EIC), Steve Kachelmier (former Senior Editor at TAR) and Steve Salterio (former CAR EIC) discussing one paper from their varied perspectives (also with others including Tim Fogarty, Dana Hermanson).   The focus of their comments is on an article by Endenich and Trapp entitled “Signaling effects of scholarly profiles – The editorial teams of North American accounting association journals”  in Volume 51 2018.  The article suggests that what senior editors or EIC’s do matters on the margins of publishing when it comes to attracting a more diverse methodological set of literature in accounting (but does not have any affect on substantive accounting topics or subareas).

The commentary makes for fascinating reading, and not just because I am one of the commentators.  A careful reading of the paper and the three comments by Chapman, and the two Steve’s will give you a lot of insight into what goes on in the accounting journal publishing world.  Congrats to Yves Gendron (one of the Co-EIC’s of CPA) for pulling such a diverse project together.

What do you do at a conference?

In another post targeting at junior scholars (PhD students and junior faculty) I would like to make some suggestions about do’s and don’ts when going to the appropriate conferences for you (see previous post on choosing conferences).

Do’s

  1. Stay for the entire conference.  Nothing makes you look less serious than turning up late or leaving early.  You can do that once you are established but it looks bad when you are the newbie on the circuit.
  2. Stay at the conference hotel.  You have already spent a lot of money to get to the conference, why make your networking harder by staying a an off-site hotel?  The little bit of money you save by staying offsite is more than lost in the time you lose going back and forth.
  3. Develop a list of people in advance that you want to network with. Potential co-authors, advisors, folks who can write letters for you in a few years (e.g. tenure letters), and people who are at the cutting edge in your area.  Going to a conference without a “hit” list results in you defaulting into one of the don’ts listed below.
  4. Figure out how you are going to locate the folks on your “hit” list.  Some you may be able to fix a meeting time in advance with (potential co-authors), others you may plan to attend their presentations and talk to afterward, others you attempt to locate at breaks (although this is the hardest) and some you locate through various receptions and smaller lunches (e.g. Section luncheons, university receptions etc).  The point is that you have a plan.

Don’ts

  1.  Do not stay exclusively in the circle of fellow or former PhD students or with faculty from the University you are currently at.  While it may seem “safe” to stay in the bubble of familiarity that cannot be the only outcome of your conference attendance.
  2. Do not hid in your room.  Yep it is tough to network especially as many of us are introverts but hiding in your room is not the solution.

As I think of more do’s and don’ts I will add to this list.  Add your own suggestions if you wish at the bottom!!!

Conference season approaches – advise for junior faculty and PHD students

Despite the geographical differences conference season appears to be nearly the same all over the world.  Europe (this year June but can be as early as April), Canada (June), USA (August), Australia-New Zealand (July), and others all hold their “national” conferences in the period May to August along with a large number of targeted conferences from those based on journals, to those based at universities, to broader functional area conferences like GMARS (Global Management Accounting Research Symposium) and ISAR (International Symposium on Audit Research).

So how to select conferences to attend and what should you do there as a junior scholar (the term I will use to denote junior faculty and PhD students).  I will outline some general considerations and follow up with specific points over the next couple of weeks.

  1. Smaller conferences generally allow you better exposure.  It sounds counter-intuitive but a conference of 120 to 300 people allows you to seek out and meet with both peers and senior faculty members much easier than the larger conferences like the AAA and EAA.  Now of course, going to a smaller conference means much greater preparation and investigation to ensure that people you want to meet will be there.
  2. Functional area conferences generally have higher quality papers and players involved than association conferences or minor journal conferences. I cannot totally explain it, but based on my observations at GMARS, ISAR, EARNet, Illinois Audit Symposium, Illinois Management Accounting Emerging Scholars, Kansas Audit Symposium,  etc these sorts of conferences seem to attract both senior people and emerging junior stars.  The exact types of people junior scholars want to meet with.  Further, the papers tend to be earlier in their development and hence closer to the cutting edge of research in the area.
  3. For PhD students, conferences with attached doctoral consortium are to be favored as long as you are able to attend the consortium.  This makes the EAA Conference much more valuable for those students who are able to be invited to the doctoral meeting.
  4.  “National” conferences are a great place to begin to understand the vagaries of the review process, have a chance to present and maybe, if lucky, get a little feedback on your work.  They tend to be more open to new scholars as they have many more slots available and the threshold for acceptance is generally top 50% of papers – so the screen is low.  But these conferences take even more preparation if you are going to benefit beyond the line item on your vita.
  5. Minor journal conferences are big gambles for junior scholars.  If you have a paper accepted there, fine – go and enjoy.  However, for junior scholars, unless you have a paper, it is not clear what you will get from the conference.  Often senior faculty present are only those that are associated with the journal and attend only if it is convenient for them.  The papers accepted have generally been rejected by multiple more senior journals so the value added from the conference depends critically on the insights of the discussant, not the paper presenter.  Unless these conferences are low cost to attend (both in time and money) a junior scholar needs to consider the cost benefit tradeoff carefully.

So now that I have insulted a bunch of people by giving my candid assessment of the overall picture for conference season – next to come is what does a junior scholar do to prepare for a conference?

Disclosure in our business

As BRIA Senior Editor I have been surprised at the number of submissions that I have been receiving that do not have the experimental instrument (or survey, questions used as probes in interviews, etc) attached to the paper submission.  I think it is pretty clear from the website that it is required and for the life of me I cannot understand the resistance to providing the same.  Indeed, my understanding is that almost all accounting journals that publish this sort of research require the submission of related research instruments.

The only time in my career as an editor where I waived this requirement lead to one of my most embarrassing moments as an Editor (in-chief).  I was the Editor in charge of one of Jim Hunton’s papers at CAR (one of only three he published there thank goodness).  The submission stated that the questions used in that paper were embedded in a proprietary survey done for the sponsor of the workshop where he collected the data.  Hence, he could not provide me with a copy of the complete survey instrument.  So to my shame, I accepted the submission. Further the paper was presented at the 25th Anniversary CAR Conference and published in the 25th Anniversary CAR issue, the only Conference issue in the life of the journal.  While I can offset that shame by stating I was the only person/editor who publicly referred the entire corpus of Hunton research to Bently University that lead to the investigations/retractions, nonetheless as far as I was concerned I failed as an editor in not insisting on full disclosure.

So imagine my surprise when being recently asked to review a paper and requesting that the journal get a copy of the survey instrument I was fired as a reviewer as the authors did not want to provide it!!!!  SHOCKING – have we not learned our lesson yet?????  I complained to the senior editors at the journal who expressed some surprise and dismay at this happening (or at least on me calling them out over it happening – one can never be certain but knowing the editors I think it was genuine dismay).  More anon.

On rejection

What I am about to say is meant with the greatest of kindness but at the same time can be seen as a slap in the face.  The well-known research on the millennial generation has shown that for many they have never been told “NO” or have been turned down for something that they sought.  Now let me say this is an “on average” statement that does not apply to every member of that generation and to say it does would be to repeat the same problem most capital markets researchers have! (have to get a dig in somewhere here).

But “rejection” is part of the business of research.  Not every “great” idea will work out leading to journals rejecting your research, especially if you try to put B level research into A level journals.  But what prompts this entry is the rise in the number of appeals that I hear senior journals are receiving.  In my years at CAR (six with Gord Richardson and three on my own) we rarely had appeals, maybe one or two during Gord’s six years and I cannot recall any in my three years.  Yet I hear that multiple appeals a year are being received at the top journals these days.  I think it has something to do with my observation above.

More direct evidence came my way recently with hearing from our PhD admissions folks a large spike in applicants asking about why they were rejected from admittance to our PhD program, some asking multiple times for clarification.  The admissions folks told me it had been building up slowly in recent years but this year was at a peak!  Again, experience with rejection is not common for this generation and hence disbelief that you are turned down from something you want causes an over-reaction.

So folks, chill out! Accept “you can’t always get what you want” as a famous song in the baby boomer generation says.

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