October 17, 2014
by Ellen

CPAs Anyone?

Getting ready for the CPA exams? Freaking out? Yeah, I get it. I sat for two bar exams (California and Illinois) and the Ph.D. candidacy exams. The intensity of these life-altering events is enough to make even the steely of us crack. I still feel a little anxious when I think about it — trauma? Maybe. But you can harness that intensity and make it work for, rather than against, you. Use it — jump on the wave and ride it to shore. Your anxiety can become the fuel your brain needs to focus, if you impose a little structure on it. Here’s how.

1) Take a review course. This is a great way to get an idea of the scope of the exam, and the materials provided usually contain a relatively clear explanation of the relevant material.

2) Create your own subject matter outlines. It’s important to create your own outlines, rather than simply relying on the review materials, because the act of independently creating an outline forces you to actually process the material — you have to figure out how it all goes together. Each outline should reflect full understanding of the specific subject matter — if you were a super-genius, this would be your memory (the mastery you aspire to). Having a brilliant outline is crucial because it provides the foundation for your preparation.

3) Progressively memorize the material.

  • Break it down into sections and then break the sections down into layers. For example, take the first heading of the first outline level (I.) and the material that falls beneath it as your first “section.” Then, identify the layers — the heading (I.), the subheadings (A., B., C…), the next level (1., 2., 3…), the next level (a., b., c.,…)….you get the idea. Depending on the complexity of the material, you may have several layers.
  • Notecards are great for memorizing, but before you go there, try writing the outline out several times first. I literally used 100s legal pads when I was studying for the bar — writing out my outlines over and over. You could also type the material, if that works better for you, but there is something about physically writing the material over and over that helps me memorize it. Start with the big picture — the first level of the outline — write it out a few times. Then transfer it to notecards, memorize the notecards, and then write it out again from memory. Pacing around and saying the material out loud helps — kind of getting more senses involved. One of my study partners liked to create flowcharts, too.
  • Every time you add info, repeat what precedes it — like you are continuing the thought. This preserves the logical connections and helps you actually understand the material you are memorizing. For example, first you learn “I.,” then “I., A., ” then “I., A., 1.,” then “I., A., 1., a..” etc.
  • The key to memorization is repetition. Take your outline with you everywhere — stick copies in your bags, car, bedroom, coffee table — put it on your phone. Read through it whenever you have a moment or when you have a little shock of anxiety about the exam.

4) Stay calm and focused. Yes, it’s a herculean task, but it’s also doable. Thousands of people have taken — and passed — the exam. You will, too.

October 3, 2014
by Ellen

Ruth Chang: “How to Make Hard Choices”

Next week is “Belief Week,” so let’s kick things off with another great Ted talk by Ruth Chang (who, like me, is a lawyer who quickly realized her true passion lay elsewhere). Now a philosophy professor, Dr. Chang walks us through “How to Make Hard Choices.” We are forced to make several hard choices throughout our lives — what to be, where to live, what job to take, what to do when our boss tells us to do something we are iffy about…. The list is endless, but Dr. Chang breaks it down into a simple exercise. As the video’s description accurately attests: “Here’s a talk that could literally change your life.” Check it out.

September 26, 2014
by Ellen

Rockefellers Join Divestment Movement

You have probably heard of the “divestment movement” that started with students on college campuses calling for their universities to sell assets tied to fossil fuel companies from their portfolios. The success of the movement is stunning — in just two years, over 180 institutions (universities, religious organizations, state and local governments), as well as wealthy individual investors, have pledged to divest. And this week, the almost unthinkable happened:  the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced that it, too, will divest. The Rockefeller fortune was built on the success of Standard Oil, one of the oldest, and largest, fossil fuel companies, so the heirs’ endorsement of and participation in the divestment movement signals the growing mainstream concern about global warming and climate change. So where is all the money going to be diverted to?  R&D of clean energy solutions. Perhaps the brothers (as business-savvy as those before them) see the opportunity to get in on the ground level — the era of fossil fuels is coming to an end, so why not be the first to enter the green energy market? This could be like getting in on Apple in the 1980s….

September 17, 2014
by Ellen

Julian Treasure: “How to Speak so that People Want to Listen”

My husband and I have given up cable television — it is just too expensive. Instead, we bought a Roku device, which provides most of the same stuff through various “channels” that are basically a free version of cable’s “on demand” feature. Anyway, one of the free channels is the “TED” channel. TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a non-profit organization that holds conferences where “talks” that are usually 5-30 minutes long are given by various individuals on a wide range of topics. In its own words, “TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.” Their motto is “ideas worth spreading,” and most TED talks are available for free at TED.com.

I like these little talks. Last week, I came across one that is particularly relevant to what we aim do here in the center — help you become better communicators. In this talk, Julian Treasure, the chair of a company that advises businesses on how best to use sound, lays out the keys to effective speech. I found this Julian Treasure talk fascinating, and I think you will, too.

August 22, 2014
by Ellen

Launching Your Grad School Career

Welcome to the NIU Department of Accountancy! We are all excited to have you here and encourage you to take advantage of all the resources available. So come on in to the center and introduce yourself — I look forward to meeting you! In the meantime, here’s a little advice on how to get off to a great start :)

Many of you are entering the program directly from undergrad, but it’s important to know that grad school is different — it is a whole new ballgame, so to speak, and requires a new approach. Here are ten nuggets from my own experience (some of which I wish someone had told me!):

1. You want to be here, you chose to be here, so act like it. Grad school is where you learn how to be a professional. This is the foundation for your career, so take it seriously.

2. Do all of the assigned work, and do your best. Don’t cut corners. It is actually important that you learn the material because you will need it when you get out into the real world (and take the CPA).

3. If you don’t get it, ask your professor. Don’t be afraid to talk with your professors — they want to help you. Plus, they’re all great people (I know because I’ve met them) and will be an invaluable resource now and in the future.

4. Make friends. Join a study group and student organization(s), go to all the department social events, talk with the people in your classes. This is called “networking” — something you will have to do in your career, if you want to maximize your success. Learn how to do it now, and it will be easier later.

5. Take care of yourself. The workload in grad school is typically double or even triple that in undergrad, so you will be studying long hours. That’s a good thing, but be sure to keep yourself balanced. Now is the time to break the undergrad, “party as much as possible” mentality. If you try to maintain that lifestyle, you will fail, big time. Instead, focus on being healthy — get in shape, be mindful of your eating habits, and get enough sleep. Basically, give your brain what it needs for optimal performance.

6. Subscribe to a professional journal. You should start acquainting yourself with the accounting world — what are accountants talking about these days? What are the issues you may be expected to know about? This is “dinner party” conversation material. Ok, you may not go to many dinner parties, but you get the idea — learn the topics you need to know to have a good conversation with (and impress) a future employer or a potential contact.

7. Think long term and prepare accordingly. What’s next? The CPA. How will you study for the CPA? Read my post about studying for the CPA, then start the skeletons of your outlines. As you cover the material in your classes, fill in the outlines accordingly. This will not only make studying for the CPA easier, it will also make studying for your exams easier — you will have one more opportunity to go through and master the material. Plus, it will reveal to you where you need more information or what you’re not quite clear on, and you will have the perfect opportunity to talk it over with your professor while the material is still fresh in your mind.

8. Start building a professional wardrobe. Ok, I know this sounds weird, but have you noticed just how expensive nice, professional attire is? If you start now, you can buy things bit by bit — a suit here, a dress shirt and some nice shoes there…. You get the idea. When you start your internship or enter your first real position, you will still be a poor grad student who eats ramen noodles every night – not exactly in the position to spend big bucks on a wardrobe. To avoid that, start now and build it gradually.

9. Use all of the resources available to you. There are a lot of people here to help you. Take me, for instance. I am in the LPDC M/W from 9am-3pm every week and Clare is here T/TH 10am-4pm. Come see us! I can help you with pretty much anything (except the technical stuff, of course). I’d be happy to go over your writing and presentations with you. I can also help you devise a study plan or personal schedule (I love structure). I can help you brainstorm ideas for your assignments. I can just sit with you and chat, too. Seriously, come on in and say hello. Jen, Jeff, and Barry are also here to help, so don’t hesitate to contact them, either.

10. Smile. Attitude is everything — in school as in the workplace, people who have positive attitudes are more successful and more respected by their supervisors and peers than those who act indifferently, or worse, like they don’t want to be there in the first place.

One more thing: CONGRATULATIONS!!!! You’ve made it through college and have reached the next level. You should be really proud of yourself :)