Use your knowledge to boost the profession
Scott Showalter, CPA, CGMA, calls himself an “eternal optimist”. He believes accounting research can do more to better serve practitioners, and he realizes that now. In more than 20 years of research experience – both as a faculty member and as a KPMG partner – the accounting practice professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, has found a growing overlap between industry and academia.
Other professors would like to see more research with more practical applications as well. Bob Allen, Ph.D., president of the American Accounting Association, addressed this topic during his plenary address at the AAA’s 2021 Annual Meeting. Allen, a professor of accounting at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, said he believes accounting research can help solve many problems in the profession and beyond – from the high cost of health care the human and financial costs of homelessness.
“Higher education is expensive, and taxpayers and students pay a lot of money for our services. An important part of our jobs is research, and I believe we have a responsibility to make a difference in the world in which we live,” he said. .
Many academics strongly favor research that is more theoretical than practical, and with good reason. Departments are more likely to recognize faculty whose work appears in elite journals, but those journals are incredibly competitive, said Alan Reinstein, CPA, DBA, professor of accounting at Wayne State University in Detroit. Faculty members can improve their chances of publication by examining complex questions and using advanced methods to answer them. However, this type of research can be time-consuming and doesn’t always answer the day-to-day issues professional accountants face, Reinstein said.
Full professors, both Showalter and Allen observed, are more likely to publish in journals where they are able to highlight issues facing the practice. Often, incumbents are not under the same pressure to have their work appear in specific publications. “Full professors, professors who are further along in their careers, are in a better position to take those kinds of risks,” and invest valuable time and energy in publishing in a wider variety of journals, Allen said.
Some schools and organizations are taking steps to encourage faculty to publish research that has a more direct impact on the profession. Some departments (like NCSU’s, Showalter said) recognize professors for publication in various journals.
Showalter, as co-editor of Accounting horizons, also attempts to promote more pragmatic research. The co-editors have defined a new format for articles in the journal, which is published quarterly by the AAA. Authors should submit articles that are shorter – with a main text of around 3,500 words or less – and formatted in a way that is more reader- and editor-friendly. For example, each article must now begin with a short section describing its contribution to practice.
Research needs to be available to practitioners at the time they face issues, not years after the fact, Showalter said. Although articles are still peer-reviewed, reducing their length will likely allow researchers and editors to process them more quickly.. It will be a real live experience “to see if we can have a high-level journal with research written for practitioners,” Showalter said.
Showalter hopes that the interests of academics and accounting practitioners will continue to align. And these tips can help accounting professors ensure their research is useful to those outside of academia:
Connect with practitioners. Reinstein attends approximately 150 luncheons and luncheons with accounting industry professionals each year. “My job as a teacher is to help my students succeed in the profession,” he said. “How can I do this if I don’t know what the profession expects of my students? He talks to practicing accountants about the new technologies they’re using, the trends they’re seeing, and the best in the field. Then he takes what he learns in the classroom, and he incorporates that into his research as well. For example, discussions with practitioners have led him to write articles on implementing new FASB leasing standards, applying new AICPA attestation standards, developing sustainability reporting cases and the benefits of mentorship from professional accountants.
Allen agreed with this approach. “I think talking to practitioners is an important first step. Being aware of issues in practice and using your skills in research methods to investigate those issues is something that can be really valuable when done right,” did he declare.
It’s important for faculty members and practitioners to speak early in the process, Showalter said. If practicing accountants can offer advanced insights into emerging problems, researchers can begin working to solve them.
Regulators and practicing accountants want to be informed, he said.
“But if professors want to influence regulators, they need to find a way to speed up research, reviews and publication,” he said.
Influencing change. Senior faculty members and those in leadership positions may be able to help steer their departments to a place where they encourage publication in a variety of different publications.
“I think it’s important for individual schools to be careful [to not be] so narrow that we lose practicality,” Allen said. “We can become so narrow that we miss the opportunity to be a greater resource for the accounting practice and the community as a whole.”
Consider the end user. When Reinstein retires from teaching, he plans to continue doing research, he said. “I love what I do. The profession has been wonderful for me and I want to help the profession,” he said. Faculty members who wish to influence change in the profession must focus on the end reader.
This is the idea behind the format change of articles in Accounting horizons, and it’s something academics can consider when deciding what projects to take on and where to publish. “I think academics do a lot of research that informs practice,” Showalter said. But the “way it is packaged,” he continued, “makes it difficult for the practice to consume it.”
There’s room both for the kind of research that appears in top journals and for the kind that’s more accessible to practitioners, said Allen, a former Deloitte Foundation Wildman Medal Award winner for research that has a impact on the profession. “We should be looking for ways to have both rather than reasons why we can’t,” he said.
— Megan Hart is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.