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The PhD Project and the Advancement of Minority Business Education Leaders

Posted February 15, 2018 by Hannah DeBevoise - Coordinator, Social Media - AACSB International

In the month of February, the United States and Canada observe Black History Month, an annual celebration that recognizes the achievements of black citizens throughout history and today. In recognition of the month, we interviewed three alumni of The PhD Project on their decision to enter the program and how it shaped their education, as well as their professional lives today.

The PhD Project seeks to expand workplace diversity by increasing the diversity of business school faculty in order to encourage, mentor, support, and enhance the preparation of tomorrow’s leaders. “When The PhD Project started in 1994, there were less than 300 African-American, Hispanic-American, or Native American business school professors. Today, there are more than 1,300. I am fortunate to be among the 1,300,” says Michelle Harding, who received her PhD from the University of Tennessee. “I owe a great deal to my predecessors who earned PhDs and paved the way for me during a time when they were not as welcomed and supported. I stand on their shoulders and count it a privilege to be a part of paving the way for the next generation of doctoral students and accounting leaders.”

Michelle Harding, assistant professor of accounting at Virginia Tech, Thomas Lewis, Jr., assistant professor of accounting at Norfolk State University, and Mohamed Abedelhamid, associate professor of information systems at California State University Long Beach, share how their experiences in The PhD Project built the foundation for where they are today.

What made you want to pursue a PhD?

Lewis: The idea of continuous learning. I was an accounting major in undergrad and later obtained my MBA with a concentration in finance. I worked in public accounting and on Wall Street; however, both industries gear towards client-directed outcomes, which do not always coincide with the more introspective and empirically driven experience of examining complex business issues I wanted to obtain.

Abdelhamid: I have always wanted to become a professor. Teaching and mentoring was the most attractive part of becoming a professor; then I grew interest in research. I was born in the African nation of Sudan. It is politically unstable and economically stricken. At school, we had no electricity and shared close quarters with 95 other students, six of whom I shared a single desk with. There was no technology, no books, and no basic facilities. I learned very early that teaching does not depend on physical infrastructure. My teachers resorted to creative means to teach subjects without books, boards, and technology. Those teachers were some of the best I have ever had, and they made me the person I am today. I have a unique appreciation for education because of its impact on my life. Without education, I would not have the privilege of sharing this statement.

Harding: I encountered a number of accounting issues and corporate tax strategies as a corporate controller for the subsidiary of a publicly traded company. I found myself wondering if other companies encountered the same accounting issues and whether they employed the same strategies to deal with those issues. Getting a PhD provided the training necessary to research these issues across publicly traded companies.

Additionally, one of the aspects of my career in industry that I enjoyed the most was the opportunity to help develop my staff and equip them to be prepared to grow in their careers. Teaching affords me the opportunity to train the next generation of accounting students so that they are equipped to be competent accounting professionals.

How did you learn about The PhD Project? How did it help you through your doctorate?

Harding: I learned about The PhD project through a colleague in the Nashville Chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants who previously participated in the November PhD Project Conference. When I told her that I was considering getting a PhD, she was adamant that I apply to attend the PhD Project Annual Conference. She said that there is no other place where you can receive all of the information you need to successfully apply to a business PhD program.

The most important aspect of The PhD Project for me was the support of the Accounting Doctoral Student Association (ADSA) during my doctoral program. Having a support network of other PhD students was invaluable. More advanced students encouraged and coached me during the rigors of coursework. Having access to senior students and senior faculty from universities across the country made a difference when I was working on my dissertation and going through my job market process. I always had access to people who were willing and available to answer questions and provide assistance when needed. I knew that I was never alone in the process.

Abdelhamid: I learned about it through two of my colleagues who were already members of The PhD Project at that time.

The PhD Project organizes a conference every summer in which they offer great workshops and talks. I will never forget my one-to-one elevator pitch workshop with Dr. Allen Lee of Virginia Commonwealth University. His advice played a big role in landing a job a couple of months later. The PhD Project also introduced me to Drs. Julie and Kenneth Kendall, who have become my mentors.

Lewis: I first heard about The PhD Project through one of my college professors, who was herself a project alum. I attended the Chicago conference in 2012 and started my program in 2013.

The PhD Project provided the financial, emotional, and academic support I needed to realize my dream. The KPMG scholarship allowed me the financial flexibility to be a full-time grad student and The PhD Project network provided an informal channel of peers with shared backgrounds and experiences that I was able to leverage as I navigated my program.

What was your main area of research, and what led you to making that decision?

Lewis:My primary research interests involve the importance that firms place on the non-financial aspects of conducting business. I have conducted research that examines the antecedents of using non-financial performance measures in compensation contracts. Supplementary to this research stream, I have interests in employee incentives.

I found this stream of research to be a natural segue combining elements from my professional work experience in both the public and private sectors.

Harding: My primary area of research is corporate taxation. Specifically, I am interested in how firms disclose tax information in their publicly available financial statements.

My dissertation examines how firms change their public tax disclosure in response to the IRS requiring additional private disclosure of information about firms’ tax positions. I find that following the inclusion of the requirement of additional private disclosure to the IRS, firms will disclose lower-quality tax information in their public tax disclosures.

I had wonderful tax professors at the University of Virginia for my undergrad and master’s programs, Dr. Sally Jones, Dr. David LaRue, and Dr. David MaLoney. I was in awe of their expertise and mastery of complex tax issues. Hearing about their client and expert witness experiences in the classroom hooked me. During my professional career, I worked with nonprofit organizations, a public accounting firm, and a Fortune 100 company. In each of those settings, taxes were relevant and impacted business decisions. It was a natural progression for me to examine tax research questions as an academic.

Abdelhamid: The key objective of my research is to keep people safer using information systems. Specifically, my research examines human behavior in terms of adoption of technologies and compliance in the healthcare and emergency context.

My research tries to answer these questions in the healthcare IT and emergency systems contexts:

  • Does communication influence human behavior as it relates to use of technologies?
  • What is the role of message-framing in impacting adoption and compliance?
  • Does empowerment persuade users to adopt and comply?

What are you doing now, and how has your experience in The PhD Project influenced your current work?

Abdelhamid: I currently work as faculty on a tenure-track line at California State University Long Beach. Education has changed my life; this is my dream for all students. Consequently, I have dedicated myself to changing lives, inspiring, and giving hope to students through meaningful education. Just as The PhD Project brings well-established professors in academia to inspire and mentor PhD students, I have been building connections with industry experts and inviting them to my classes to inspire my students. For example, in the Fall 2017 semester I invited several guest speakers from prestigious companies to my classes. In total, I had guest speakers from KPMG, EY, and Deloitte; one speaker from Amazon; and one from Northrop Grumman Corporation. This semester (Spring 2018), I have several speakers already scheduled: two people from KPMG and one person from Deloitte.

Harding: I am an assistant professor of accounting at Virginia Tech. In additional to my research on corporate tax disclosure, I teach the introductory course on taxation for individuals. It is very fulfilling to train students so that they are prepared to add value as accounting professionals. Most of my students come into my classroom with little to no exposure to tax. I am excited to spark their interest in tax the way that my professors did for me.

The PhD Project influences my current work because it makes me aware of the importance of my role in the classroom. A factor in the underrepresentation of people of color in the business world is that students of color do not pursue business degrees. One of the reasons that students of color don’t pursue business degrees is that, at many universities, there are very few and sometimes no faculty of color. Students feel more welcomed when they see diverse faculty members that reflect the diversity of the marketplace. I make it a priority to be a resource to all of my students. However, it is important that as a diverse faculty member, I am available to encourage students to achieve their potential and make students aware of the opportunities that successfully earning a degree in accounting affords them.

Lewis: : I am an assistant professor of accounting at Norfolk State University, a Historically Black College (HBCU), located in Virginia. My experience in The PhD Project had a direct influence on the decision to accept my current position, as I am the only African-American PhD on staff in our AACSB-accredited school of business.

The PhD Project is currently assisting more than 300 minority doctoral students in their pursuit of a PhD. To learn more about The PhD Project, visit

Mohamed AbdelhamidMohamed Abedelhamid received his PhD from University at Buffalo and is currently an associate professor of information systems at California State University Long Beach.
Michelle Harding HeadshotMichelle Harding received her PhD from University of Tennessee and is currently an assistant professor of accounting at Virginia Tech.
Tom Lewis HeadshotThomas Lewis, Jr. received his PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently an assistant professor of accounting at Norfolk State University