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 :)

July 25, 2014
by Ellen

Accounting and…Victorian Literature?

Yes, Victorian literature — as in British literature written during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901). Why would you, accounting students in 2014, want to read Dickens, Eliot, or Hardy? Well, believe it or not, the concerns of that bygone era are not so different from those we struggle with today. The Victorian era was a period of great change — economic and social change brought about primarily through the Industrial Revolution. We, too, are living through significant economic and social changes influenced by factors such as globalization (the evolution of industrialization).

You have probably heard the term “Dickensian economy” mentioned a time or two in the last decade, particularly after the start of the Great Recession. See for example Alan Blinder’s piece for the Wall Street Journal, reprinted here in full by Yale Global Online, or Anna Shapiro’s piece for the Guardian. Such analyses are fascinating, for sure, but Victorian literature explores other themes that will interest you — growing up and finding your way in the world, the role and value of education, the underpinnings of class, women’s roles in society, social reform, and the impact of industrialization, to name a few.

You will be surprised by how interesting these novels are — plus, you’ll able to say you’ve read Charles Dickens (so cultured!). Here are a few suggestions. Most, if not all, of these books are available to download for free online at Project Gutenberg:

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South


July 18, 2014
by Ellen

BRIC vs. the World Bank: Clash of the titans?

BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) have long talked of creating a development  bank to compete with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are dominated by the U.S. and other major Western powers. But this week, at a summit of BRIC nations held in Brazil, these talks are happening in earnest. BRIC, with the addition of South Africa,  have all agreed to contribute billions of dollars to get the bank, which will be based in Shanghai, off the ground. What does this mean for the global economy and financial markets? Will it even work? See the reporting in the Wall Street Journal and  Business Week for more details.

July 10, 2014
by Ellen

Follow Up: Learning a Language

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how learning a second language can boost your career and earning potential. (You can read that fantastically written piece here.) I suggested you take some classes or look into Rosetta Stone to facilitate your learning — great suggestions that require a financial investment. Since then, however, I have stumbled upon an exciting and FREE way to learn a language.

It’s called “Duolingo” – a free app for your smartphone that you can also access online. It really is free — “100% free forever” as they say on the website. I looked into it, and apparently the program was created as a way to give non-English speakers in impoverished areas free access to a language learning program so they have a fair shot at getting higher-paying jobs. To fund the program, there are various documents posted on the website as “immersion” activities. The documents range from newspaper articles to form letters to Wikipedia pages and are translated, one sentence at a time, by advanced Duolingo users. The documents are crowd-sourced work that Duolingo sells — providing the needed revenue to keep the program alive. It’s brilliant.

Ok, so it’s free, but does it work? I was kinda skeptical at first — I mean, how effective can a free service be? To test it, I started the German program. As an English teacher who once lived and worked in Germany, I figured I could pretty easily judge the quality of the instruction. I was pleasantly surprised. The course has really refreshed my knowledge, and the app itself is addictive. It’s set up like any other gaming app, bells and whistles included — I have been sucked in for over an hour more than once.

While I was re-learning German, my ten-year-old son started the Spanish program. He has absolutely no experience learning a foreign language, but since most of his friends are native Spanish speakers, he’s pretty motivated to do it. He’s about 1/4 of the way through it and already able to carry on very basic conversations with his friends (“My name is…”, ‘I like to eat apples..” etc). That a 10 year old is catching on quickly is a great testament to the accessibility of the program. If he can do it, so can you!

Duolingo is effective because it integrates reading, writing, hearing, and speaking, which is awesome because in order to learn a language you need to be able to both understand and replicate what you are seeing and hearing. It also focuses on the basic outline of the language, rather than extensive lists of words to memorize. In other words, it shows you how the language “works” — how sentences are structured (the proper order of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) — and it gives you the basic vocab you would need to tell someone about yourself and to get around in the country as a tourist. The creators of Duolingo claim that by the time you complete the program, you will be functioning in the language at a “high intermediate” level (able to read with a dictionary, converse slowly and simply, and pick up words watching TV programs or listening to native speakers). From there, your fluency becomes a matter of adding vocab and increasing speed.

Duolingo is a great place to start learning another language, even if you’ve never tried before. Check it out.