The comments from other accountants working in academia will give you a range of insights which concern thinking things through. Read through the three topics below and reflect on the issues in the box preceding the quotes relating to each topic. As you read, make a note of any actions you might wish to take and add them to your Researching Accountant Development Plan.
10. Understanding the implications for you
The quotes which follow mention that:
Issues for you to consider as you read the quotes below:
I think the first thing is to figure out what you want from your career. At the moment I'm toying with where I want to go next. But I was very, very sure, or my mind was made up, that I wanted to get to this grade, because you would not get a better work life balance than where I am now. I could earn more money in practice still. Yes, fine, but I would really pay for it in other ways. I would rather not have the money, and I'd much rather enjoy what I do. And then if you understand what you want from your career, or what you want in terms of advancement, I think the thing is what are you interested in? If you're happy with your path, or if you feel your path in terms of advancement and interest is balanced, then you've got a really happy job. One of my friends always said if he felt that he was getting paid okay for the amount of work he was doing, if he was interested in it, and he felt he had the opportunity to advance, if he could answer yes to all of those questions, then there was no point leaving, even if there might be something better elsewhere. And I think it's really about understanding that.
Just be open-minded about it. Rather than saying I want to do research, it’s to be open-minded as to where your interests might lead you. For me I see the cons of doing research as quite high because there’s a lot of pressure on those academics doing research and teaching. I’d be very reluctant to go on to a research contract because I can see the pressure that people get under to make the three and four star journals.
I think you have to see that developing as a researcher is something that will be with you for your career. It’s not just to do one or two things and tick-boxes. That’s a very hard way to sustain doing research. People who move from accounting in industry or practice into academia, or maybe start a research career at different times, have maybe formed their view of the world. It’s how easily they make that transition. How embedded they’ve become in other ways of thinking. When people join now into this University, they are in no doubt that research has to become an absolute central part of their being. Research performance in the School matters really strongly at the collective level for the School. But also individually. It’s critical for promotion. Not at the exclusion of other things but you can’t be just an outstanding teacher or just an outstanding contributor to engagement or programme management. You have to reach a certain threshold with research activity.
I would say do get involved in research. But think of a way where you are building on some sort of knowledge base that you are bringing to the table, in a way that people who have gone directly through an academic route, who haven’t been in practice but are in the same discipline, wouldn’t be able to. Build on the strengths of your experience and what you are bringing, in terms of ability to access data sets, ability to access interviewees and understanding how organisations work. Build on that uniqueness and find your contribution through that. You then need to make it relevant to the academic debate. So, there needs to be a way to frame it within the literature, or within a theoretical framework. You need to find where it sits within what’s already been done in the field. And then articulate what you are bringing in an academic manner.
I think there are two sides to the research coin. You can probably classify yourself as pro-research or research averse, in the sense that you would get people who would tend not to do research at all, because they don't like it. They would go so far as to say I simply refuse to do any research. And there are stories of people who would resign if they needed to do research. I've got one colleague who has looked at the amount of time that he would be losing in doing his PhD instead of deriving fees from the work that he's doing and says it'd cost him too much. So you do have people who are slightly more averse to research. I've always been pro research, in the sense that I think a university without research is just a technical college. So that obviously to me, it's part and parcel of what it should be about. If there is a negative on research, I think it's if you either do research which has no impact, or has no rigour attached to it, to the extent that no one's going to read it anyway. Or you do research, and you publish it in such a way that only your peers are reading it, and it doesn't get out. It's not packaged in such a way that commerce or practice can actually use it, and have an appetite for it, and grasp what you're talking about. So I think that's probably the negative side.
I think the best advice I could give would be to have a really good relationship with your line manager and let them know from the beginning where you want to be. What you want to be doing and what sort of support can the Department give you? And what support is out there, within the University, that can help with that? And, perhaps, find out from the institutions that you’re thinking of working at what they do and what support they can give you, before you actually commit yourself to a specific institution. I wish that I had done a little bit more with research, earlier on. For instance, I’m a permanent member of staff. I started here several years ago. I wish I had started dabbling a little bit then. Because, then, several years later I think I would be in a much better position to be doing something a little bit more substantial.
It would have been better if I’d made my career decisions with my eyes open. If I’d been able to look forward five years and say this is going to be the impact of your decision of taking on a management role as opposed to just doing lots of repeat teaching and having the mental space to spare for research. So I think the advice would be to not so much do this or do that, but to try and think through the medium-term impact of your decisions. Not just think is this a good opportunity now, but where do you want to be in five years? Or where do you want to be in ten years? Now maybe even if I’d thought through that I would have taken the same decisions all over again. Whichever route you go down, it’s not necessarily easy. I think probably the other advice I would give to someone starting out in a university is to make sure that you’ve got an understanding of the dynamic of the relationship between you and the university and the people managing you. If I’d got my first academic job somewhere else, in a university that was more research active, I would have probably had a very different research experience. And might have ended up joining a research team at a very early stage and maybe got more joint publications at an earlier stage and ended up becoming a lot more research active. But the flip side of that is that I probably wouldn’t have got the job at a more research-intensive university because at the point in time where I got my first academic job I didn’t have an undergraduate degree in accounting. So would I give my younger self more research? I probably wouldn’t because that wouldn’t have been playing to my strengths.
I didn’t appreciate how difficult it was for an accountant without a doctorate to actually transfer over to a university. So I had a few conversations with a few people. And they were very interested in my skill set. But when I applied for jobs, the thing that was holding me back was the fact that I didn’t have a doctorate. I knew academia was where I wanted to go rather than back into practice. I saw a job come up with one University. So, I rang the head of the department and I said, I am really interested, but is it worth me applying? I haven’t got a doctorate. And because of my technical background and the business experience that I had as well, they were prepared to take a gamble and take me on. But part of the transition was that I had to study for a doctorate. I think from a credibility point of view, an academic needs to have some type of output. Just as when I was teaching for accountancy exams, we needed to have a professional qualification in order to do that teaching. So, I think it is a necessary criterion if you want to stand up there and say you are an academic. You need to have some credible output whether that’s starting with a PhD or having some outputs in academic journals. Also from a progression point of view. Certainly, at our institution, promotion is linked into academic success. So, I do think that there are a lot of benefits to pursuing the academic career.
I think it very much depends on the university that you're in. Some want people to have research or they want people to have PhDs. They want people to do research. I think a lot of new universities now, who are very good at teaching historically, are now really heavily focused on research. And there's almost no promotion, no advancement, no opportunity unless you have a PhD.
Because I’m not a Researcher, I don’t have a lot of pressure to publish a load of papers. That might happen, but at the moment, it’s a great freedom that I appreciate that I don’t have to do that. So I’m not looking over my shoulder all the time to just churn out papers. It’s a nice free time where I can think about how I want to do it.
11. Considering doing a qualification
The quotes which follow mention that:
Issues for you to consider as you read the quotes below:
I think it’s absolutely essential that you think about getting a PhD. Before you start on that if you’ve not been in a position where you’ve been reading any journal articles it’s useful to perhaps do an Accounting and Finance Masters degree, so a more research intensive one. Most Institutions now have teaching-focused career paths so if you want to go into Higher Education, into the environment and a culture where they understand research, then perhaps think of applying for a teaching-focused job where you won’t be expected to do any research and you might not be supported to do research, but if you couple that with clear conversations that you want to develop research, that you’re very enthusiastic about a PhD, you believe that you can help the department translate its research in a way that will generate impact, which is a really important factor that most universities don’t do very well on at the moment, I think all of those factors could well play a part.
I got promotion fairly recently and was looking for the next challenge. And one thing I’ve been interested in increasingly over my time in academia has been the research side. And so I wanted to look and explore taking on a PhD. I didn’t have any pressure from the university to do that. So it was something that I’ve explored myself. In fact, when I took on the role I asked about doing a PhD, and the Director at the time of the Business School said, ‘yes, fine, but you’ll have to do it in your spare time’. So it went on the back-burner for a while. I was getting to know the ropes of my new role, but now I think the time is right to start on that journey.
I think it is necessary to get a doctorate but don’t just think of it as a condition of employment. A lot of people say that there’s snobbery within the profession. But there is just as much snobbery within academia. And if you want to be credible in your career in academia, I think that you do need to take that step. I like management. That’s what I prefer and I realise that I do need to have my doctorate in order to do that at a high level. It will open more doors for me. I have found it a challenge to actually get to the level where I want to be without having that piece of paper.
I think, if I have one regret, I wish I’d done my PhD straight after university and then gone into practice and then come back into academia with a PhD. If I look back, I just wish I’d taken those three years out right at the beginning of my career, but at the time, it was mainly a financial decision to be honest. I strongly think that if you were moving into academia, probably the best thing you can do is to start off by doing some sort of academic qualification either at a master’s level, or at a doctorate level. I’d encourage anyone, coming into academia, to take the financial hit for the first three years and do a doctorate and then go into the lectureship or whatever.
It is problematic that I don’t have a PhD. And we had discussions about it at my first university but at the time I was just about to start doing my Masters, which I’m very happy I did. I deliberately chose to do research methods as the final Masters module and that’s been very helpful. I’ve returned to that one a lot. But in terms of fitting in a PhD, that’s been problematic really. So I’m still pondering what I want to do, whether I want it. I’m edging towards an EdD at the moment, because I think that might be a better fit with what I’m interested in and what I’m doing. But I think the lack of PhD is a block sometimes.
Whether I can get to professorial level without a PhD, in theory, yes, I can, not easily, but there is a pathway. But I’ve just got the feeling that the ranks will close, and it will be something where if I don't have a PhD, they'll want some research outputs.
The EdD is also another route that a lot of my colleagues who are on teaching contracts are undertaking. I think it’s increasingly the case, probably even in a teaching route, that they are looking for commitment to the discipline. Either in the form of a PhD or through an EdD, or DBA, or some sort of evidence of commitment and mastery at a high level. Further study to increase your skill set is encouraged.
I would definitely tell anyone new to academia to start their studies as quickly as possible. At least with their Master's. Outside my University, I'm not even a blip on the radar. Simply because I don't have my Master's, I don't have my Doctorate. So I've got no weight when it comes to that. And I've got no qualms about it, because I know you need to have a doctorate, and you need to show that you are skilled in research. But unfortunately, I need to play catch up now.
I realised some months ago that the one thing I was missing more than anything else was the confidence coming from having more research experience. So having never done any formal research training or anything like that, I thought there probably needed to be an element of going back to basics. So I enrolled for a Masters and did the research methods module which was quite useful in formalising stuff that I’d seen but not really seen in context. I now have a chance to build up my research credentials. The one thing that’s missing from my academic profile at the moment is some more formal research experience.
I actually came across this by accident but there’s this qualification called the Senior Fellowship which is run by the Higher Education Academy. It’s called the HEA. And, now, you can become a Fellow. To strengthen my case to help me try to move from Teaching Fellow to Lecturer, I decided to have a go at this qualification.
12. Working out your next steps
The quotes which follow mention that:
Issues for you to consider as you read the quotes below:
I’m still unsure which direction I want to go in. A criticism I’ve received that I keep all the plates spinning is a fair one but I’ve gone back with ‘well I don’t know which plate to drop, because I don’t know which plate matters least?’ I’ve seen some of the research on teaching focused academics across the sector and I think there’s still some ambiguity about which direction to go in. So I don’t know whether I can keep the plates spinning and I don’t know how long for. I guess that’s my next thing to work through. I am consciously keeping them spinning. I don’t want to shut doors at this stage, when that’s the door I might want to walk through. But I think I’m going to have to make a choice at some point.
When I first joined, my teaching only role suited me down to the ground. And, it certainly ticked all of my boxes because I live nearby. It was easy to get to the Uni and to get my children to school, so it just fitted me really well. Now my daughters are older and I have more time to look at my career I’m realising am I, actually, in the right institution in terms of progression? I’ve given myself two years to see if I can push the boat out and progress. And, I’m going to try every avenue and see what happens. And, if it’s not happening here, there are many other institutions and that’s what I’m going to do. That’s my game plan.
I moved to another University and got a slight promotion and the other thing that I was really keen about was that the new University had a pathway where I could get promoted beyond that grade, as and when I might be ready or suitable, and keep my post, whereas at the previous University, if you wanted to get promoted, you had to change your job.
I know someone who’s been promoted to Senior Lecturer without any research experience. I don’t think there’s anyone higher than that that I know of. But for me that doesn’t put me off. Maybe because I’ve got a young family I’m just feeling I’ve got enough to do at the moment. So I’m pointing in the right direction but I don’t have a particular goal in terms of promotion. It’d be good to get Senior Lecturer in five years or so but I’m not in any particular rush.
I’ve focused my mind a little bit on what I want out of a university career. Do I want to be a predominantly research-led academic? Or do I want to be an academic that does a bit of everything and dabbles in research a bit and maybe does enough research to keep my interest there and maybe run a small research centre? So I think it’s certainly got me to think a little bit more about what I want out of an academic career.
Now I have very few active research projects but I recognise that I have it in my control to take some charge of that and do better in that regard as my roles change in the future. But, it is hard and I think there’s always such a demand. I could be doing things about my job here 24/7. There’s always more to be done. But, increasingly, I realise that you don’t get more credit for getting more done and the only person who probably misses out by not doing as much research, is me. I know that research has been a big part of making me feel I have good credibility in my roles. If that just bubbles along at the bottom, rather than being core to what I’m doing, that could begin to erode my sense of credibility. I really do love being involved in the School activities. I’m not someone who sits on the side-lines very easily. And, I suppose with my accumulated knowledge and experience it’s hard not to want to do that. But, I recognise for a period, and it can be relatively short if I want, I probably will have to just forego a bit of that involvement if I really am serious about getting a bit of concentrated research time.