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4 Myths Dispelled

4 Myths Dispelled: My Experience as a Minority PhD Accounting Student

Posted January 16, 2017 by Porschia Nkansa - Assistant Professor of Accounting - California State University, Los Angeles

As a minority accounting professor at a large public university, I’ve taken an educational journey that is not necessarily common but one that is certainly achievable—despite myths prospective students may have heard about pursuing a PhD in accounting. I hope to debunk those myths and encourage more students, particularly minority students who are too few in number in the discipline, into doctoral accounting programs.

During my last two years earning a BS in accountancy at DePaul University, I worked as an accounting tutor, which solidified my interest in becoming an accounting professor. I also had two female African-American accounting professors who became my role models and who would later become instrumental in helping me get into a PhD program.

Before tackling myths, I should note that I was in a PhD program at the University of Memphis, a university classified as a “R2 research university,” known for higher research activity according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. There is a distinction between R1, R2, and R3 universities in terms of research and teaching expectations. As a PhD student and graduate assistant at a R2 school, I was expected to teach one course each semester starting my second semester. I have friends who went to R1s and were not required to teach as much during their programs, and I have friends who had to teach two courses each semester. I mention this because balancing research, teaching, and life outside of school is a challenge.

It took me five years to complete my PhD in accounting. I would like to address some myths that I encountered along the way, and that you, too, may hear about pursuing a PhD:

  1. You Walk the Path Alone
  2. While it is true that the research process can be lonely, especially when coding data and writing, you'll have people around you whom you can reach out to for help. I sought advice and guidance from my cohort members (people who entered the program with me), senior PhD students, and PhD students from other disciplines in my classes. I am also a member of The PhD Project, an organization that seeks to increase the number of minority business faculty in academia. The PhD Project holds an annual conference for doctoral students, which is where I met other accounting PhD students from across the country. We saw each other every year and stayed in contact throughout the year.
  3. You Have to Be Good at Math
  4. Foundational math is important, but I struggled more with coding and writing. Besides, there are software programs (such as SAS, SPSS, and Stata) to help analyze and transform data. I took classes, reached out to my network for assistance, used online resources, and watched YouTube videos to help master these software packages.
  5. You Will Accumulate Thousands of Dollars in Graduate Student Loans
  6. For most traditional business doctoral programs, you will receive a tuition waiver and research stipend in exchange for working as a research or teaching assistant. I only have 3,400 USD in graduate school loans because I took two summer courses that were not covered in my student contract.
  7. You Will Not Have a Life
  8. It's true that I had long days and nights of homework, literature reviews, working with data, and writing. In my PhD program, the estimated completion time was four years: two years of coursework and two years of dissertation work. During my coursework years, a cohort member and I would visit a new restaurant each week. At the end of my second year, I had the amazing opportunity to intern at the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) in Washington, D.C. I not only gained insight into the standard-setting process while at the PCAOB but also got to explore an awesome city. During my dissertation phase, I took Fridays off to recuperate from the week. I caught up with friends and went to see movies or shop. Sometimes, I extended my downtime into sporadic weekend trips to visit family or friends. Your schedule will be hectic but flexible, and you can (and must, for sanity'’'s sake) carve out time for yourself to enjoy life and hobbies.
Yes, the path to a PhD is a long and rough journey, but you will not go through it alone. I had family, friends, mentors, advisors, cohort members, dissertation committee members, other PhD students, and supportive organizations (like The PhD Project) to help along the way, and so will you. During the dissertation phase, I had to motivate myself to keep working and writing to push through to the finish line, but knowing I had cheerleaders on the sidelines helped enormously. You can contact me at [email protected]; I would love to connect with aspiring PhDs and dispel (or confirm) more myths.

Porschia Nkansa is an assistant professor of accounting at California State University, Los Angeles. She earned her BS in accountancy from DePaul University and her PhD in accounting from the University of Memphis. She is also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA).