May 22, 2015
by Ellen

Summer Semester Survival Plan

Summer semester is pretty tough. Not only do you have to cover the same amount of material in half the time, you have to do it while everyone else is outside enjoying the weather and having fun!! That makes summer school survival a psychological struggle — but it’s one you can definitely win. Here’s how:

1. Remember why you’re taking summer classes. To finish your degree as quickly as possible! When you get overwhelmed, just remind yourself that by taking classes this summer, you will graduate and start making money in no time.

2. Go to class. On particularly awesome weather days, it’s tempting to skip class and hit the pool. But stay strong. Because of the compressed schedule, missing one day of class is like missing an entire week during a regular semester. Translation: skip now, fail later. Go to class!

3. Make a study schedule. Just as it’s easy to get lost when you miss a class, missing an assignment or falling behind on the assigned reading will quickly snowball. Schedule daily study time and stick to it, so procrastination isn’t even an option.

4. Reward yourself. Bribe yourself to keep motivated. When making your schedule, be sure to safeguard one full day on the weekend. That way, if you stick to your schedule, you’ll have an entire day to relax and recharge for the next week. During the week, when you think of something you would rather be doing, tell yourself you can do it on your day off.

The summer semester will be over before you know it. Hang in there! When July comes, you’ll still have a whole month to enjoy before fall semester is under way.

May 15, 2015
by Ellen

Launching Your Grad School Career

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

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’s important that you actually learn the material, and learn it well, 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? First, read my insanely helpful 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 because 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 there, maybe some nice shoes…. 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. (And if you’re not sure where to go or what to buy, I wrote a post on that, too.)

9. Use ALL of the resources available to you.  There are a lot of people here to help you. I’m in the LPDC every week,  M-Th, 9am-3pm, and can help you with pretty much anything — writing, presentations, interview prep, ettiquette (no, really, as a former Southern belle, I have the manual memorized). I can also help you devise a study plan or personal schedule (I love structure). We can brainstorm ideas for your assignments or we can just sit 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, too.

10. And last, but not least…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 even want to be there in the first place.

May 8, 2015
by Ellen

CPA Study Plan

It’s that time of year again –CPAs. That means it’s time for my annual CPA study plan blog post. Check it out, and, as always, if you need some help coming up with your own plan, shoot me an email and we can set-up a time to meet!

Here ya go:

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.

May 1, 2015
by Ellen

Work / Life Balance

Congrats class of 2015! You made it out alive, and now it’s time to move on to the next phase — the “real” world.

Starting at your first accounting job is great — perhaps the best part is that you’re finally making money. (That first paycheck is so, so sweet.) And you are, no doubt, super-motivated to make a good impression and begin working toward your first promotion. That’s great, you should be looking forward, but be careful not to fall into the workaholic trap — the place where you rationalize overdoing it by saying, “hey, this is just temporary, once I’m _____, I’ll be happy and relax.” Because what happens? You keep moving the finish line — first it’s promotion to senior associate, then manager, then partner…. Or it’s another type of milestone you call “success” — an amount of money or certain material possessions that will show you’ve “made it.” But once you’re there, you still feel like  there’s something missing, something more, so you reset the goal and keep going. This is a trap, and it’s a trap that many (most) people fall into.

So how do you stop yourself from falling into the trap? Work / life balance. This is a term you hear a lot these days, and companies are quick to claim they’re the exception to the rule by offering certain perks like casual Friday, on-site daycare, or free gym memberships. But as Nigel Marsh explains in his Ted talk, “How to make work-life balance work”, true work / life balance is not acheived by working out during lunch or being able to stay at the office longer because you don’t have to leave early to get your kids. True balance comes through setting your own boundaries. As Nigel explains, “if you don’t design your own life, someone else will do it for you.”

Watch Nigel’s talk, and give some thought to what you, as an individual, really need to be balanced. Then look at your career and find opportunities that enable you to do those things. You will spend most of your life working, so don’t make yourself wait till you’re retired to enjoy it!

April 24, 2015
by Ellen

Finals Again…Time to Meditate!

The buddhist practice of “mindfulness” has been shown time and again to relieve stress and increase productivity. While meditation of the sitting-on-a-pillow-with-your-legs-crossed-and-eyes-closed-while-chanting-”om” variety is considered the “best” way to do it, mindfulness practice is actually very simple and easy to do no matter where you are or what you’re doing, and, if you’re like me, sitting still to meditate is a near impossibility anyway.

Here’s how to do it. The key to mindfulness meditation is “focusing on the breath,” so stop what you are doing, close your eyes, and take a deep breath in while saying to yourself, “breathing in, I know I am breathing in.” Then breathe out slowly, saying, “breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” Then take another couple of breaths saying, “in” then “out,” until you begin to feel a little more relaxed. Then breathe in slowly, saying, “breathing in, I am calm,” then “breathing out, I am letting go.” “Calm,” “letting go.” Try to focus only on your breathing. Random thoughts will pop up, like “what are you doing, you should be studying!” or “this is stupid” or “I think I’ll get pizza for dinner.” But keep refocusing on your breath. Eventually you will stop thinking about other things and relax. Do this for a few minutes and then go for a little walk outside to recenter before returning to your studies.

If your brain is just too worked up to focus on breathing, there are other ways to “meditate” that feel more “productive” and will trick your brain into mindfulness. For example, coloring. Yes, coloring — as in kindergarten. There are buddhist symbols called “mandalas” — circles that contain very intricate patterns meant to reflect the universe. If you take the time to color these intricate designs, focusing soley on the act of coloring and the image you are looking act (not the random thoughts that pop up), the effect is similar to other mindfulness exercises. You can buy mandala coloring books in bookstores and online or you can simply print some for free from various websites. Then grab some colored pencils, turn on some peaceful meditation music, and you’re set!