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.


  1. saltersb says:

    Interesting post but what makes you think we are at a balance of supply and demand. As I look at the more senior group at my current employer I see significant retirement in the next 5 years. We did have a lot less trouble than before hiring but I thought that was due to an average salary offer above what is normal for a research 3 school and hiring persons on their second and third round of employers. Maybe Canada is also different because its immigration system is much more user-friendly than that in The US.

    • Actually, it is taking a while for the mid tier schools to get the message but there is a terrible oversupply of financial accounting PhD students on the marketplace at present in North America (primarily in USA). When we recruited at Miami last year, we figured there were 1.5 students for each market’s job available. This eventually has to work its way down to mid-tier schools as the international market cannot continue to absorb the overflow as it has done in the past three years. So unless a lot of people retire very fast, at the very least supply = demand except in the specialties of management accounting, auditing, and tax. Of course, anyone who can do Big Data is hot.

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