insight magazine

GEN NEXT: Pursuing a Higher Purpose

An aspiring Ph.D. aims to help shape the future of the profession through higher education. By JULIA ARIEL-ROHR, CPA | Fall 2018

Julia-310I didn’t know what it meant to be an accountant when I chose to major in accounting at DePaul University. Rather, I knew there were a lot of numbers, and that appealed to me. Having always loved school, I naturally excelled in my coursework, and to the surprise of my family, I actually enjoyed accounting theory. During this time, I also got my first taste of teaching.

Serving as a Supplemental Instruction leader, I attended introductory accounting classes and organized weekly review sessions for students struggling with the content. I enjoyed working with students to better understand accounting theory. I liked learning how to translate sometimes-obscure ideas into practical ones, and I enjoyed seeing my peers succeed. I had never felt like I belonged somewhere as much as I felt I belonged at that university, with those students. I loved the collegial atmosphere, the halls filled with professors, the studying, and the knowledge acquisition. It was the perfect cultural fit. So, it is only natural that I would eventually make my way back to higher education.

Like many accounting program graduates, I kicked off my professional career in an accounting and finance rotational program at a Fortune 500 company. As I gravitated towards the technical aspects of accounting, I made the decision to leave corporate accounting to join Grant Thornton’s not-for-profit audit practice. Although the pace of public accounting was an adjustment, I valued having a multitude of clients, and experiencing the diversity of practice and interpretation of accounting guidance. I appreciated the big-picture issues and having the resources to research complex and gray areas that my clients were faced with. This is the intellectual stimulation I crave; however, I wanted more time with my curiosity, more balance in my life, and more time developing others.

After a year at Grant Thornton, I divulged to my coach partner [mentor] my dream to earn a Ph.D. and become a professor. To my delight, he rallied the audit practice to support me. Perhaps this was part of Grant Thornton’s cultural mission to “bring your whole self to work,” but with that support, I was able to attend the American Accounting Association’s annual conference in 2017 (the event for academic accountants all over the country) and was allowed flexibility during busy season to travel the country for graduate program interviews. This kind of employer support can change the lives of employees. And with further support from the Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program — a scholarship program supported by more than 100 organizations, including the Illinois CPA Society, aimed at addressing the huge shortage of accounting faculty — my dream of becoming a professor is becoming a reality.

In Fall 2018, I will embark on my Ph.D. journey at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. It has been hard work to get here, and will continue to be hard work, but I couldn’t be more excited to get started or more grateful for all the support I’ve received along the way. If you have ever had a little voice in your head telling you to pursue academia, share it with the people around you, you will be surprised by the response! As an accounting professor, I will get to teach and mentor the next generation of accountants and help shape the future of our profession, and you could too.

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