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PhD in Accounting - concentration in Tax?


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Hello everyone,


To give you a quick background, I have almost 8 years of corporate tax experience at a Big4. I am considering a move to academia but, due to personal reasons, will start the application process next year. I hope that this forum will shed some light on a few questions that I have.


  1. Any recommendations on programs that have strong interest in tax research? Most of the research papers published by schools that I have seen so far (granted I just looked at a few schools) are focused on financial accounting / capital markets. Is it worth pursuing only those programs that have been publishing in tax (which I would prefer), or do I need to "branch out" to other accounting fields, i.e., FA, audit to broaden the pool.
  2. Correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I can tell from the discussions on this forum, practical work experience doesn't play that much of a role once you are past the 2-3 year mark. Would 9 years of public accounting actually hinder my chances of acceptance by T40?


Thanks much!

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1. TaxPhD (another frequent visitor here) can probably answer a little better than me. Here are a few schools off the top of my head. UT Austin and UNC have been strong in the field for a long time. MIT and UPenn are excellent programs with some senior tax people. UC Irvine Has Terry Shevlin, but I would be interested in his retirement plans before applying there. Oregon has senior people. I think Iowa still does, they had a tax grad last year place well. UIUC is fairly strong in all areas. I think Texas A&M has graduated tax people recently. Arizona had a strong history of tax, but their most senior faculty member passed away.


Additionally, there are lots of schools that provide solid training in the exact same research methods, but only have more junior tax people without a long history of training tax students. If you branch out, you should look at schools like this. OSU, UGA, Duke, Washington, Stanford, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Florida, ASU. This is definitely not a complete list and I am probably missing some senior faculty at at least one of these schools.


The BYU Ranking for tax is a great place to start investigating stuff so you can look into programs yourself: Tax_ArchiAccounting Research Rank


2. It doesn't really matter for you. You already have the experience, so this isn't affecting any decisions. That said, I think there is still a positive effect of more work experience, but there is decreasing marginal benefit after about 2-3 years. The people that I have known with 8+ years of experience going into a program have all done fairly well. They all struggled with coursework, but their experience clearly informed research interests and they were able to talk about details of institutional settings very easily. Some experience is quite common in tax, so I wouldn't worry about your age or experience being negative parts of your application.

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Always good to see another tax person!


Places I would consider as a tax applicant, in no particular order. I made a pretty broad list because target schools will largely depend on what sort of GMAT score you get.


Texas A&M (John Robinson, Connie Weaver, Brad Hepfer)

UNC (Ed Maydew, Doug Shackelford, Jeff Hoopes, and Scott Dyreng nearby at Duke)

UC-Irvine (contingent on knowing Terry Shevlin's 5-year plan)

Nebraska (Tom Omer)

Oregon (Dave Guenther, Linda Krull, Ryan Wilson)

Texas (Lil Mills and Brady Williams)

Indiana (Casey Schwab, Sonja Rego, Bridget Stomberg, Brian Williams)

Georgia (Ben Ayers, Erin Towery, Paul Demere, John Cambell also does some tax)

MIT (Michelle Hanlon)

UPenn (Jennifer Blouin)

Tennessee (LeAnn Luna, James Chyz)

Wisconsin (Stacie Laplante, Fabio Gaertner, Dan Lynch)

Florida (Gary McGill, Mike Mayberry, Luke Watson)

Michigan State (Ed Outslay, contingent on retirement plans)

Arizona State (Jenny Brown and Dave Kenchington)

Arizona (would probably want to wait to see what happens in terms of tenure decisions this year)

Connecticut (George Plesko, Amy Dunbar, Frank Murphy, Steve Utke, Dave Weber)

Illinois (Pete Lisowsky and Mike Donohoe)

Iowa (Christi Gleason, Jaron Wilde, Kevin Markle)

Waterloo (Ken Klassen and Andy Bauer)

Texas Tech (Kirsten Cook, Robert Ricketts, Ryan Houston)

Kansas (Tom Kubick)


I don't think nine years of work experience will be viewed negatively. Many very successful researchers had significant careers in accounting before getting their PhD (e.g., Mary Barth, Jennifer Blouin, Lil Mills, etc.)

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Thank you, YaSvoboden. I appreciate the insights and hope to hear TaxPhD's thoughts on this matter as well.


As a follow up, I have a couple more burning questions:


1. I have a plethora of quantitative subjects from undergrad and grad schools, with fairly strong GPA for both (3.8-3.9). My concern is that both programs are from D2 state schools with little emphasis on research. And, of course, it's been almost 10 years that I opened a statistics textbook last. Is there any way to compensate for this lack of pedigree while compared to other applicants? Clearly neither factor has affected my very strong growth in public accounting but academia is a different animal. E.g., what GMAT score should I aim for?


2. Do schools welcome "practice oriented" research? What I mean is that I would like to capitalize on my experience to research topics that are currently "trending" in the real world and will have a long lasting impact on the capital markets whether we like it or not. Think digitilization, data analytics, AI and robotics, etc. but all in the tax realm.



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1. You should be aiming for a GMAT of 700+. Many schools use 700 as a "magic" cut-off for whether applications will be looked at further. Having said that, there are many schools that accept students under 700 (think 650-690 range). You can signal your willingness to increase your quant knowledge by taking online courses and such before you apply to the PhD program, even if these are MOOCs, it signals that you recognize that your quant background is maybe a bit weak and that you are trying to remedy that.


2. Absolutely. Practice experience often influences the choice of research topics that particularly researchers work on. The bigger issue is data reliable data that can be used to research some of the topics you mentioned. But big picture, assuming data was not an issue, if you could provide insight into questions such as "Does use of AI in tax corporate tax compliance increase or decrease errors?" or "Does use of AI in the audit improve audit quality?" . . . journals would be interested. But finding the data and setting necessary to cleanly test such questions is difficult.

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