Why Pursue a PhD in Accounting?
Who Should Pursue a PhD in Accounting?
Specialization in Accounting Course Requirements
Financial Economics Discipline
Behavioural and Organizational Discipline
Financial Economics Cognate Discipline
Behavioural & Organizational Cognate Discipline
Accounting research spans a broad range of inquiry into the production, use, nature and impact of accounting information. Research questions arise from problems in financial and managerial accounting, auditing, taxation, and information systems, as well as from research findings in disciplines that are relevant to accounting. Good research in accounting, therefore, requires a strong knowledge of accounting as well as applying knowledge from underlying disciplines such as economics, psychology, sociology, and philosophy. Accordingly, we offer students the opportunity to pursue doctoral studies in two underlying disciplines: Financial Economics and Behavioural & Organizational Accounting. Students can choose to pursue their doctoral studies in either of these disciplines.
The Department of Accounting and Operations and Information Systems (AOIS) has internationally renowned accounting faculty active in each of these major research disciplines, several of whom have helped to define and develop major areas of accounting research. These researchers help to attract other influential international scholars, who visit the Department in order to develop their own work. We periodically organize major international research conferences (recent examples include "strategic management accounting", "state auditors and government accountability", "knowledge management and managing accounting firms" and "recent accounting abuses") and run a weekly research seminar series where leading researchers from other Universities present their latest work. Details of the research interests and accomplishments of the accounting faculty can be found at the Accounting OIS Department Members site.
Whichever discipline is chosen, students will receive a thorough education and become capable of producing high-quality accounting research. Your courses, exams, cognate disciplines, and thesis will be specific to the discipline that you select. A strong focus is necessary because a comprehensive grounding in your chosen discipline will ensure that you can compete successfully in the academic world. Although students specialize within one of the three disciplines offered, an advantage is that students can choose to work across disciplines or to change disciplines since we have faculty members and a thorough program in each.
Financial support for doctoral students is competitive with other schools and the very low cost of living and tax rates in Alberta allow you to stretch your income. Additionally, individual faculty members holding research grants may provide financial assistance to students who work as research assistants. The School cares about its students and will work with you to ensure your success.
The University of Alberta is located in the friendly, safe, and affordable city of Edmonton, the capital of the province of Alberta. It hosts a wide variety of restaurants, theatres, music, cultural, and sporting events. With more parkland per capita than any other city in North America, Edmonton provides a wide variety of outdoor sporting and recreational activities. The city regularly scores at the top of international affordability and quality of life surveys. Applicants with children will find an excellent education system, excellent recreational facilities, and a full range of extra-curricular activities and opportunities.
Overall, our program is designed to provide the student with the education, the research tools, the intellectual stimulation, the physical research infrastructure, and the personal support necessary to making the student's program at the University of Alberta enjoyable and fulfilling and ultimately lead to a successful career as an academic.
The following discusses why and who should consider pursuing a PhD in accounting at the University of Alberta. Each of the two research disciplines are then reviewed, including outlines of their specific programs and faculty members.
Required courses for all disciplines:
ACCTG 701. The Methodological Foundations of Accounting Research
Because the practice of accounting and the use of accounting information are complex and multi-faceted, a wide variety of research approaches provide an understanding of accounting. These approaches are primarily in the social sciences, but also in mathematics and some of the humanities, such as history and philosophy. The purpose of this course is to examine some of the fundamental ideas and concepts underlying the research process in accounting. It focuses on the philosophy of the social sciences, since they provide the core of theory and methods for accounting research. Topics include the objectives of social science research; the nature and role of theories; the relationship between facts and values; theory construction, testing, falsification and inference; "positivist" vs. "non-positivist" methods; social studies of science and scientists; and research ethics (including research involving human subjects). The emphasis is on the scientific method broadly construed and applied, rather than on specific techniques. Open to all doctoral students or with written permission of the instructor. Approval of the Associate Dean, PhD Program is also required for non-PhD students.
ACCTG 708. Introduction to Financial Economics Based Research in Accounting
An introductory course on research that examines the role of accounting information in market economies and organizations. Topics covered will vary, including the theory underlying financial economic research and the development and a broad survey of empirical and analytical studies conducted in accounting settings. Open to all doctoral students or with the written permission of the instructor. Approval of the Associate Dean, PhD Program is also required for non-PhD students.
Financial Economics Discipline required courses:
ACCTG 706. Behavioral Research in Accounting
A generalist course on research that is primarily oriented to individual behaviour in accounting settings. Topics covered will include individual cognitive processes and limitations, the experimental method, and a broad survey of experimental studies (drawing on psychology and economics) conducted in accounting settings. Open to all doctoral students or with the written permission of the instructor. Approval of the Associate Dean, PhD Program is also required for non-PhD students.
ACCTG 707. Introduction to Accounting in its Organizational and Social Context
A generalist course that examines historical, sociological and organizational perspectives on accounting. Topics covered will vary, but will include the development of accounting thought, historical and field methods in accounting research, theories of accounting change, political economy of accounting, and analysis of the accounting profession and regulatory institutions. Open to all doctoral students or with the written permission of the instructor. Approval of the Associate Dean, PhD Program is also required for non-PhD students.
ACCTG 732. Analytical Research in Accounting
This course develops an information economics framework for understanding the role of accounting information in financial markets and in organizations. The course will involve significant microeconomics, game theory, and mathematics. Prerequisite or Co-requisite: ACCTG 701 or equivalent. Open to all doctoral students or with the written permission of the instructor. Approval of the Associate Dean, PhD Program is also required for non-PhD students.
ACCTG 733. Advanced Topics in Empirical Accounting Research
This course is intended to serve advanced doctoral students who have a specific interest in financial economics-based accounting research. The course will cover research design, implementation, and statistical issues in empirical accounting research. Prerequisite or Co-requisite: ACCTG 701 or equivalent. Open to all doctoral students or with the written permission of the instructor. Approval of the Associate Dean, PhD Program is also required for non-PhD students.
Behavioural and Organizational Discipline required courses:
ACCTG 711. Seminar on JDM Research in Accounting
Judgment and Decision Making research draws on theories in psychology, economics, statistics and cognitive science to examine issues in accounting and auditing. The course will review work on a range of issues such as accountability, fraud detection, accounting policy choice, the effect of discretion in accounting rules on decisions made by managers, investors and auditors, and how well auditors can assess the knowledge and/or preferences of other agents. Students may conduct an empirical study (e.g., an experiment, survey, simulation or case study) as part of the course. Some literature in behavioural finance and marketing may also be covered. Prerequisite or Co-requisite: MGTSC 705 (or equivalent). Open to all doctoral students or with the written permission of the instructor. Approval of the Associate Dean, PhD Program is also required for non-PhD students.
for Behavioral Concentration: ACCTG 706 – Behavioral Research in Accounting
for Organizational Concentration: ACCTG 707 – Introduction to Accounting in its Organizational and Social Context
ACCTG 721. Advanced Topics in Interdisciplinary Accounting
A specialist course on the conduct of interdisciplinary accounting research. Content of this course will vary depending on the interests of students and faculty, but the emphasis will be on organizational, institutional, social, political or philosophical perspectives on accounting and auditing. Open to all doctoral students or with the written permission of the instructor. Approval of the Business PhD Program Director is also required for non-PhD students. Open to all doctoral students or with the written permission of the instructor. Approval of the Associate Dean, PhD Program is also required for non-PhD students.
Why Pursue a PhD in Accounting?
A PhD in accounting can lead to a rewarding career for individuals with strong intellectual abilities and curiosity. Almost all the graduates from our program are full time academics in universities in Canada, the USA, Hong Kong, PRC and Singapore. The combination of teaching and research makes for a varied and interesting working life. Both teaching and research provide opportunities to work with people. Helping enthusiastic and motivated students to learn important and complex subjects is highly rewarding. Research allows you to focus your intellectual talents on challenging questions that interest you, and have a relevance to organizations and society. As an academic you will have to work very hard, but you also have both the freedom and responsibility to manage your own time and choice of projects. Additionally, because business school faculty address applied problems, there are significant opportunities to develop contacts and work with organizations in the private and public sectors. Thus, a PhD in accounting opens many doors, allows you the opportunity to choose the focus and setting of your work, to make significant contributions to issues of organizational, professional and social concern, and to operate with significant autonomy throughout your career.
Who Should Pursue a PhD in Accounting?
There is a strong demand for accounting PhDs and successful graduates can expect a choice of employers and salaries above those available in other university departments. You should be aware that the skills necessary to be a successful accounting academic include not only accounting knowledge, but depending on the discipline, knowledge of related research and ideas in economics, finance, mathematics, statistics, psychology, philosophy, sociology, history, and other social sciences. Thus, any individual with a background in any of these subjects can aspire to become a successful accounting academic.
Students with accounting backgrounds have an advantage through their understanding of accounting institutions. Students with honours or masters degrees in economics, mathematics, or other technical disciplines will have a comparative advantage in their understanding of the underlying research tools in Financial Economics. Psychology students can apply their knowledge to issues in Individual Oriented Behavioural research. A strong background in social science disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, political science and history can assist students in Organizational research - researching accounting’s roles in organizations and society. You will find that a PhD in accounting will lead to a career that is challenging, rewarding, and provide ample opportunity to apply your abilities from these diverse disciplines to interesting and complex problems.
The focus is to understand the role of accounting in a market economy. Accounting problems are addressed by applying the insights and tools gained from economics, finance, mathematics, and statistics. An economic perspective on accounting helps to integrate your work with finance and economics-based researchers and practitioners. Topics include: the influence of financial reporting on capital markets and securities pricing; the relative merits of alternate accounting procedures with respect to providing better information to investors; the links among incentives, performance, and compensation; the choice of information and reporting structures within the firm; the role of accounting and information systems in structuring contracts inside and outside the firm; the economic consequences of tax rules and accounting standards, policies, and choices; among many others. This discipline has significantly influenced financial and managerial accounting practice, as well as related areas such as the pricing of securities and evaluating and compensating management. Standard setters, regulators, managers, and consultants regularly incorporate this research into their decisions. Overall, conducting accounting research from the perspective of the financial economics discipline will provide you with the maximum opportunity to positively influence and improve accounting, reporting, and management practices.
The Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta has a strong faculty working in the financial economics discipline in both accounting and related fields. The accounting faculty members collectively provide the depth and the breadth of knowledge necessary to cover the range of methodological and topical issues both analytically and empirically. Further, these faculty members are enthusiastic and willing to work closely with students, help students to succeed, and become research partners with students. Students will benefit from the strong doctoral program and faculty members in the related field of finance. Students have the opportunity to interact and learn with their fellow doctoral students in the finance program. Our finance faculty members are widely published, with interests in both corporate finance and asset pricing. The School provides a dynamic and stimulating visiting speaker series in accounting, finance, and related fields.
We have both an excellent research infrastructure and strong social and financial support for students. The School ensures that the necessary data, tools, and personnel are available to provide excellent support for accounting and financial economics-based empirical research. We have an in-house data manager and dedicated UNIX server to facilitate financial data access, processing, and analysis. We also subscribe to Wharton Research Data Services (WRDS) that provides access to COMPUSTAT, CRSP, IBES, NYSE-TAQ, Thomson Reuters, and other important accounting research databases. Our financial data collection is the most comprehensive in Canada and among the most comprehensive in North America, with easy access to comprehensive Canadian, American, and international stock price, financial reporting, analyst, and other economic data. The ready availability of data will allow you to act on your research ideas quickly and effectively. Further, the library has a comprehensive collection of journals and on-line economic and financial data sources.
Financial Economics: Program Specifics
The program ensures that students are well educated in the underlying economics, finance, mathematics, and statistics necessary to successfully conduct accounting research at the highest level. In the first two years students take courses that combine an accounting specialization with two additional disciplines: a research methods discipline that ensures that students have the necessary skills in economics, mathematics, and statistics and a cognate discipline in the closely related field of finance. Additionally, students are encouraged to participate in our visiting speakers seminar series and to become actively involved in research by working closely with a faculty member form the beginning of the program. The suggested courses are described below, although they can be modified to suit individual students' particular interests and backgrounds
Accounting Specialization: Normally comprised of the following four courses: The Methodological Foundations of Accounting Research (ACCTG 701), Introduction to Financial Economics Based Research in Accounting, one of Behavioral Research in Accounting (ACCTG 706) or Introduction to Accounting in its Organizational and Social Context (ACCTG 707), and one of Advanced Topics in Empirical Accounting Research (ACCTG 733) or Analytical Research in Accounting (ACCTG 732). Students will write a comprehensive examination in the accounting specialization only.
Research Methods Courses: Normally comprised of three graduate-level statistics or econometrics courses and two graduate-level economics courses. Students with strong backgrounds in these subjects may have some of these requirements modified.
Cognate Discipline: Normally taken in finance and is comprised of three doctoral seminars.
Dissertation: Following the successful completion of the required course work and the comprehensive examination in accounting, students will propose and ultimately defend their thesis. Students progressing satisfactorily can graduate in four years although the norm has been around five years.
The Behavioral and Organizational Discipline examines the design, uses and impacts of accounting in an organizational and societal perspective. It reflects an important and influential body of research about accounting that draws on theoretical perspectives in psychology and social sciences, including economics but extending to sociology, political science and history.
Behavioral accounting research focuses on how individuals, both intuitively and with the assistance of a vast array of decision aids, solve problems and make decisions. A key thrust of the research is to understand and improve the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of individuals, business organizations, financial markets, and governmental organizations. Behavioral research employs an inter-disciplinary approach using theories from cognitive and social psychology, economics, statistics and cognitive science. The realization that humans are boundedly rational, and that coping with complexity is central to effective human decision-making, sets the direction of behavioural research. A major part of the research focuses on understanding how problems are perceived and cognitively represented (framed), and then how people go about trying to solve problems and rationalize / justify the solutions that emerge. Agenda setting, corporate financial reporting, problem structuring, accountability, professional expertise, auditor judgment, anticipating the preferences and/or knowledge of other people, response to budgets and performance incentives, auditor-client negotiation, and the complex interaction between individual, group and organizational decision making are some of the domains of behavioural research in accounting.
Organizational research relies on a variety of theoretical perspectives and research methods to better understand how accounting and related calculations and systems operate in organizations and society. Organizational research offers a broad view of the roles of accounting, seeking to explore both how accounting can improve organizational and social welfare and to understand the purposes it fulfills in a variety of contexts. Some of the main areas of investigation of organizational research in accounting that have been carried out at the University of Alberta include:
- Studies of professional regulation, including national and international standard setting;
- Analyses of the history and current state of professional ethics and independence of the auditing profession;
- The management of professional firms, especially the globalization processes of large multinational accounting firms;
- Examinations of the process by which accounting innovations, technologies and expertise developed;
- Development and use of performance measurement systems within large organizations;
- Field and historical studies of management accounting and control practices in organizations.
Faculty at this university have served on the editorial boards of the major journals (including Accounting, Organizations and Society, Auditing: A Journal of Practice & Theory, Contemporary Accounting Research, Journal of Business Ethics and Accounting Historians Journal). The scholars of our Department who are involved in organizational research in accounting have expertise in a range of research methods, particularly involving qualitative methods (e.g., field observation, interviewing, historical methods and philosophical and documentary analysis). It is worth noting that we have a strong sister group in the Strategic Management and Organization Department, with expertise in strategy, narrative and institutional theory. These colleagues are enthusiastic to work with our students, and there has been excellent interaction which allows us to deliver one of the strongest PhD programs in organizational research in accounting in North America.
Graduates from the PhD Program who have concentrated on behavioural and organizational research have obtained positions at the Universities of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), New South Wales, Manitoba, York, Waterloo and Western Ontario.
Behavioral and Organizational: Program Specifics
The program ensures that students are well educated in areas that are deemed necessary to successfully conduct behavioural and organizational research in accounting at the highest level. In the first two years students take courses that combine an accounting specialization with a research methods discipline and a cognate discipline. The specific courses taken will be chosen by the student and their supervisor to suit individual students’ particular interests and backgrounds. Additionally, students are encouraged to participate in our visiting speakers seminar series and to become actively involved in research by working closely with a faculty member from the beginning of the program.
Accounting Specialization (Behavioral Concentration): Normally comprised of the following four courses: The Methodological Foundations of Accounting Research (ACCTG 701), Introduction to Financial Economics Based Research in Accounting (ACCTG 708), Behavioral Research in Accounting (ACCTG 706), and Seminar on JDM Research in Accounting (ACCTG 711). Students will write a comprehensive examination in the accounting specialization only.
Accounting Specialization (Organizational Concentration): Normally comprised of the following four courses: The Methodological Foundations of Accounting Research (ACCTG 701), Introduction to Financial Economics Based Research in Accounting (ACCTG 708), Seminar on JDM Research in Accounting (ACCTG 711), and Introduction to Accounting in its Organizational and Social Context (ACCTG 707). Students will write a comprehensive examination in the accounting specialization only.
Research Methods Courses: Normally comprised of four methodology courses covering statistics, experimental design, or other qualitative research methodologies (e.g., surveys and case studies). Students with strong backgrounds in these subjects may have some of these requirements modified.
Cognate Discipline: Normally comprised of four courses in psychology, sociology, organizational analysis, political science, anthropology, history, philosophy, or economics.
Dissertation: Following the successful completion of the required course work and the comprehensive examination in accounting, students will propose and ultimately defend their dissertation. Students progressing satisfactorily can graduate in four years although the norm has been around five years.
updated December 6, 2018