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  Accounting Area PhD Program Philosophy

Accounting Area Doctoral Program
    Raffi Indjejikian, Director


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 accounting research.

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.

Application Tips: 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, 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.

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