Musings on Accounting Research by Steve

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CAAA PD day

After seven years it seems strange to be back at the CAAA Annual Conference. Readers of my former blog careditorsteve know the reason for my long absence.

The Craft of Accounting Research (CAAA) seems to be in good hands with the next generation, Hai Lu and Khim Kelly ( both former co-authors of mine).

The Canadian accounting profession is playing with things called enabling competencies (a.k.a. Soft skills, JADE, EQ)) but the most recent update of the competency map almost ignores the big data revolution and data analytics. Well I guess we can all be kind and understanding as the profession implodes due to lack of relevance. The minor changes to the key technical competencies last year to twerk towards some analytics knowledge and the focus on enabling competencies this year are most worrisome. Fiddle and Rome come to mind.

Nonetheless it was great to start to reconnect with a large cross-section of Canadian academia! But tomorrow the rubber meets the road and I will get my first read in a decade on the quality of research produced in Canada!

An intellectual snob ( or slob)?

One thing new attendees at academic conferences often get swayed by is the title of sessions or the titles of papers within sessions. One piece of advice I offer is rely n brand name for most of your choices.

Certainly, you will not be able to stop yourself from going to that sexy session that sounds right up your intellectual alley. But, do not choose all your sessions that way.

The simple rule, stick to brand name schools that the authors come from. If your choice of sessions features Northwest Dakota State versus Michigan State, Harvard, Queen’s or Toronto it is easy for me to choose what session I might get learn more about research in – no matter what type of research they are presenting.

And go to the research sessions as a young scholar. There will be plenty of time for panel discussions and education sessions later in your career. Indeed, the only panels I would ever go to was ones that focused on methods or theories. I would certainly skip the what’s hot in research sessions as by the time you graduate they will be quite old and cold.

Finally, avoid editors panels unless you are seeking entertainment value. Those folks can tell good stories but if you are in a d3cent PHD program with a responsible experienced supervisor you have better things to do with those 80 minutes of your life.

Free advice, and remember you get what you pay for!

Full disclosure – “average” programs need to tell it as it is

While the accounting PHD job market is still a robust one, getting a PHD from a name brand school is no longer the guaranteed top employment it used to be for the “average” program graduate. While it is doubtful that many accounting PHDs will be taxi drivers or waitstaff anytime soon, expectations must be more realistic.

Why? Supply and demand are close to equilibrium at the overall market level with oversupply in financial accounting and small shortages in audit, management accounting, tax and anything to do with data analytics!

Second, most demand these days is coming from baby boom retirements, not program growth! Indeed, we may well be looking at program shrinkage in the not too distant future. Yes there are schools and parts of the world where this is not true but my overall sense is we have passed peak accounting”. But like being on the other side of “peak oil” there are still lots of opportunities.

But be realistic. The days of $200k plus 2/9 in the USA with a three course one prep teaching load for the “average” PhD program grad likely fast coming to an end. (That does not mean that recruits at top schools will not start at 230k plus etc etc). However, more “average” PHDs will be starting with a 4 load after the first year, with shorter guaranteed summer support, more stringent evaluation for renewal of support, more focused and demanding standards at renewal, and less willingness to put up with prima Donna behaviour.

Students at less mature PhD programs have to realize that salaries well under 200k are the norm, 5 course teaching loads are more common (especially after three years), extensive service commitments are required and lots of flexibility in what you are willing to teach will be needed.

Is it still a great life? You bet!!! But it is not what we have thought for the 37 of the last 40 years as ” normal”.

And that’s how I see it!

Going to the CAAA

The research by some biologists and doctors suggest that human skin completely renews itself every seven years! That means when I make my first appearance at the CAAA Annual Meeting since 2012, I will be a completely different person than I was then, or at least I will have new skin to put in the game!

But seriously it will be fun to be back! There looks like there are a lot of new faces at the Conference, hopefully some are readers of this blog or will be after the Conference!

The main responsibility I have is to introduce the 2019 Winner of the Haim Falk Award for Distinguished Accounting Thought, Dr. Yves Gendron of Laval University ( universitie Laval). Haven’t quite figured out how to introduce Yves with justice in a minute but he is a VERY deserving winner of the Award!

Never hit reply to an editor . . . .

On the day you get a decision letter it is NEVER wise to reply to an editor unless it is to thank them for an acceptance! Anything else, wait a week or two (or if you are like me a month) before responding. I guarantee that whatever response you send will be immeasurably better than that “great” response you crafted minutes after reading the Edith’s letter and the reviews.

As I have said many times in my Craft of Accounting workshop it is amazing how much more insightful I find Editor’s and reviewers to be after a month in my in box ( in the old days I had a special drawer in my desk for them). Lola Lopes, an excellent psychology professor, noticed this phenomenon in the early 1990’s and for a long time her cheat sheet that contained this advice among others was handed from psychology doctoral student to doctoral student (and by mistake or intent to a couple of BAR doctoral students at Michigan named steve and joan!).

So I repeat, NEVER hit that reply button on the day a decision letter arrives! I paid the price when I did it once at the dawn of the email age and you should learn from that mistake!

The CHOICE

What will you do when you inevitably face the CHOICE? The “choice” is when you find a significant result that was not the subject of your investigation either through adapting the dependent or independent variables or both

Examples of the “choice:”

A. In archival work you are attempting to rule out alternative explanations and you come across a much stronger relationship than the hypothesized one that was the subject of your investigation. Do you now change the paper to make it read like this is what you were looking for all along?

B. In experimental work you find that a question among the manipulation checks is a “better” measured variable than the variable you manipulated. Are you tempted to claim measured variable was the IV all along?

C. In experimental research you find that the intended dependent variables do not lead to statistical significance in the results but that a measure among the various additional questions you posed does lead to such results. Do you claim that was that measure was the real DV all along?

D. In a survey you use a scale that has been previously used to represent a construct. In your survey the items do not load but you find a set of items that do load and lead to the result you predicted. Do you claim an original measure with results?

In each of these circumstances the right “choice” may not be obvious if you are an assistant professor at a research school under tenure pressure or if you need that one publication at a teaching school to show you are a scholarly academic!

However, the “choice” should be clear! The real question is what will you do when you face the CHOICE. Take the short term gain that leads to long term soul destruction or face the short term pain that might require you to relocate or worse?

I hope you make the RIGHT “choice” for as an ethical researcher there really is NO choice!

The discussant afterthought

One of the things that “bugs” (i.e., annoys) me is the lack of attention given to assignment of discussants at Association/section/segment conferences. Of course, that assumes there is a discussant given the fact that in order to promote attendance some conferences have significant portions of their conference schedule without discussants. That is a subject for another day – does access result in equality/equity or dilution of scholarly conference purpose?

Why does this discussant issue bug me? For graduates of non-elite Ph.D. Programs conferences are one of the main options open to them to get feedback on their work prior to journal submission. But the conference paper volume often leads to rushed short reviews, at best, from conference reviewers. That means the only source of real feedback for the young scholar is the discussant.

Yet by the time organizers get to assigning discussants they (the organizers) are exhausted! They have dealt with large volume of papers, dealt with reviewers that promise and do not deliver, tried to combine papers into sessions that make sense, and now they need to solicit/assign/obtain discussants. No wonder it is done in a rushed manner with little thought to the quality of feedback to the scholar. Just get the schedule filled to meet the printing deadline for the conference program!

A few years ago I took part in a ‘secret’ experiment. I was asked by the “scientific/conference committee” to step in and assign discussants as they were exhausted and out of time. There were sixty papers on the program and a pool of volunteer discussants to assign plus the ability to twist arms of presenting authors to discuss papers even if they had not volunteered. The Conference organizers were praised by attendees for having the best match of feedback and discussant quality match at the Conference in years.

Why? I was a fresh face with some energy and while it was a very long day of matching subjects to cells it was probably one of the most productive days I have had in terms of helping scholars get feedback! Imagine, improving the quality of feedback on 60 papers with one (hard) days work! Senior academics rarely can make that impact for so little investment in time!

The point of this is not to highlight how great I am (although those whose dislike me will read it that way) but to highlight that the process can be improved. Is this the definitive way forward, heck no! But it illustrates that the status quo does not have to be!!! hopefully food for thought!

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