The practice of accounting typically focuses on a single firm. By contrast, accounting research focuses
on groups of firms. In accounting practice, you may probe deeply into the reporting of say,
goodwill, in a single firm. Accounting research, on the other hand, seeks to explain the driving causes
of the observed patterns of goodwill reporting across the firms in the economy. Accounting
research is thus related to, but distinct from the practice of accounting, and requires insights
from both accounting practice and allied social sciences research disciplines.
The insights and skills required to conduct accounting research cannot be acquired in isolation, but must be obtained in an institutional setting where students interact with established and upcoming researchers. Any research activity in such a institutional professional setting results from the forces of demand and supply. The
profession demands knowledge about certain things, and individual researchers, based on their
interests and inclination, endeavor to supply particular pieces of the demanded knowledge.
The primary goal of the Ross PhD program therefore is two-fold: help the student understand the
nature of existing knowledge, and help the student recognize the nature of his or her capacity
to extend this base of existing knowledge. This two-fold goal is accomplished using both formal
and informal techniques. Formal techniques include lectures, courses, exams, seminars;
virtually all top schools are excellent at these formal techniques, and Michigan is no exception.
This formal education, while crucial, is rarely sufficient. The student needs to touch the “pulse”
of the profession, “feel” what directions of further investigation are valuable, and learn how to
“educate” the profession on the importance of his or her investigations. These techniques,
which require the student to overturn the roles of who teaches whom, cannot be directly
learnt; they must emerge from a process of social osmosis.
The distinguishing feature of the Michigan Program is the informal techniques the Program
employs to educate its students. The Program first co-locates the students with faculty. This
architectural configuration ensures that students and faculty constantly interact with each
other in common spaces and hallways. Many a fruitful conversation has begun that way, as
have several critiques of current papers and seminars.
More important, research ideas have a tendency to emerge in amorphous ways, but then must
be rigorously shaped into clearly understood objects. The ongoing nature of student-faculty
interaction at Michigan has the power to accommodate both the amorphous and the rigorous
stages of ideation. Other programs that are more formal in nature excel at the latter rigorous
stage, but are relatively unhelpful in the initial amorphous stage. The Michigan Program is thus
best viewed as an apprenticeship where the student learns both the art and the science of
The value of this apprenticeship is evident in the placement success of the Program, and the
impact the Program alumni have had in influencing the profession at large. We welcome to you
peruse the accompanying document on current and recently graduated students. Our more
senior alumni in the last fifteen years include Professors K. Nelson at Rice, B. Bushee at
Wharton, J. Piotroski at Stanford, S. Richardson and I. Tuna at London Business School, M.
Bradshaw at Boston College, S. Mcvay at Utah, M. Soliman and W. Ge at Washington, V. Tang at
Georgetown, M. Feng at Pittsburgh. The contributions of these alumni have been recognized
not only by their respective universities but also by the Ross School. For instance, J. Thomas at
Yale and B. Bushee at Wharton have both won the Ross Distinguished Alumnus Award. In
addition, a few years ago, the Ross School successfully wooed and hired as a faculty member
one of its own alumni, namely G. Miller.
In addition to enclosing all the necessary materials such as transcripts and test scores and
recommendations, please make sure your application demonstrates two key things: first, you
should demonstrate some contact or familiarity with the practice of accounting. It is not
necessary for you to have worked for an accounting firm, but it would be helpful if you could
inform us about any contact you’ve had with accounting data (cost or financial) in the course of
your employment or schooling. Second, you should give some indication that you are familiar
with the difference between the practice of accounting and accounting research. In this regard
it may be helpful to visit faculty web pages across the country; many faculty members
showcase their research on their professional webpages. Another useful website is
www.ssrn.com, an extensive repository of accounting and finance research papers. Again, it is
not necessary that you be an expert at accounting research (that’s what the PhD program trains
you for!), but you should be somewhat aware of what an accounting PhD program entails.
We hope you found this brief statement on the Michigan Program to be helpful, and we look forward to your application.