May 16, 2014
by Ellen

Launching Your Grad School Career

It was great to see everyone at the LMAS Launch on Wednesday! I hope you enjoyed the activities and made some new friends. In the next week or so, we will post some pictures and other notes, so stay tuned.

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 :)

May 7, 2014
by Ellen

The Economics of Climate Change

The long-awaited “National Climate Assessment,” which “summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future,” was released this week. “A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.” Their conclusion: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present…. While scientists continue to refine projections of the future, observations unequivocally show that climate is changing and that the warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from burning coal, oil, and gas, with additional contributions from forest clearing and some agricultural practices” (You can read the entire report here: http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report )

The major focus of the business community has been the economic impact of both climate change itself and the proposed solutions. As Alicia Mundy and Colleen McCain Nelson explain in their Wall Street Journal blog post, “Five Things to Know About the Climate Change Report,” “the big takeaway from the National Climate Assessment released Tuesday morning is that man-made climate change is affecting the U.S. economy and the everyday lives of Americans. The congressionally mandated study says extreme weather has already cost the U.S. billions of dollars, and it will only get worse” ( http://blogs.wsj.com/five-things/2014/05/06/5-takeaways-to-know-about-the-climate-change-report ). This certainly is a conundrum: ignoring climate change and continuing business as usual will hurt the economy as we are exposed to more severe weather events, but taking the measures necessary to mitigate immediate effects and reduce future harm isn’t exactly free, either, and would require some of the most established industries (oil, coal, and gas) to change their practices, possibly reducing their profits.

There is no lack of economists putting forth ideas for how to address climate change in a way that would minimize harm to or even benefit the economy. For example, Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT’s business school, suggests that the best way to solve the problem is to tax carbon emissions. While he acknowledges that such a tax would increase the cost of oil and other carbon-emitting energy sources, which on its face appears to harm the economy, the tax — because it is a tax — would raise revenue that could be returned to the economy in the form of tax cuts in other areas (i.e., income taxes) and ultimately be neutral, or even beneficial, to the economy (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/06/28/196355493/economists-have-a-one-page-solution-to-climate-change ). And there are many, many more solutions being put forth by economists, liberal and conservative alike.

Which brings me to the point — why should you care? Because the economics of climate change is one of those “current events” type issues that may come up in conversation with your colleagues (“dinner party conversation,” if you will). You should be able to talk intelligently about it – do some reading, understand the arguments, and be ready to weigh-in should the opportunity arise.

Current issues of the Wall Street Journal  are a good place to start. Check out this article: “Climate Change Is Harming Economy, Report Says,” (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303417104579545510182551226?mod=mktw ), and then follow the links to additional articles on the same topic. You may find that the economics of climate change are more interesting than you thought!

 

May 1, 2014
by Ellen

Want More $$$? Learn a Language!

If you’re looking for a way to really up your employment prospects (and your potential income), take the time to learn another language. As Lisa Chau explains in her article, “Why You Should Learn Another Language” in this month’s online version of U.S. News and World Report, “The benefits of effective communication across multiple languages have long been known by the international business community as an indispensable tool for relationship building and financial success.” (http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/economic-intelligence/2014/01/29/the-business-benefits-of-learning-a-foreign-language)

Not only will you be more attractive to potential employers here in the U.S., with each language you learn, you are literally opening additional markets for you, personally — an American who can speak, say, Chinese, is extremely desirable to Chinese corporations. Given the grim employment market here at home, you can look abroad for better opportunities. For example, when I graduated from the University of Denver with a B.A. in English and German, it was hard to find a job in the U.S. Germany, however, was a different story — I worked in the HR department of a German corporation.

Bi-lingual Americans, because of their level of education and native English ability, are desirable employees in many foreign corporations that, internally, employ their native tongues, yet externally use English. Plus, living and working abroad is a pretty awesome experience, and you can always come home — and benefit from even better job prospects having gained invaluable experience in the international business world.

But which languages should you learn? Any language would be beneficial, but the current consensus among business leaders is that Chinese and Spanish are the best bet because those are the markets with the greatest growth. How should you do it? Well, as a student at NIU, you can take as many language classes as you like — as a graduate student, you can even audit them, rather than take them for a grade. You can also take advantage of the various study abroad programs or look into “immersion” courses. And, while I haven’t tried it myself, I hear that the Rosetta Stone method is pretty good, too.

So hop to it! ¿Quieres más dinero o no?!

April 25, 2014
by Ellen

What is Aereo?

You’ve probably been too busy studying to keep up with the news, so here’s a little summary of an important case being heard this week by the U.S. Supreme Court. Aereo, a start-up company with an innovative approach to network television access, has been sued by the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, etc.) for copyright infringement.

Basically, Aereo captures the broadcast signals and retransmits them through the internet to television viewers, enabling consumers to watch network TV on various devices, such as computers, tablets, and phones or through other devices hooked up to TVs such as Roku, for $8 per month.  But the networks are not happy with this arrangement. Jess Collen of Forbes explains the legal arguments: “The broadcast networks, who brought the suit, charge cable companies millions for the right to transmit their shows. They are arguing that Aereo is acting like a cable company and needs to pay them. But the technology Kanojia created cleverly relies on farms of tiny TV antennas. So when you sign up for Aereo’s monthly service, you’re really just renting an antenna and watching the shows as if you were using old fashioned rabbit ears in your home” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/dorothypomerantz/2014/04/22/aereos-long-strange-trip-to-the-supreme-court/).

Why is the Court’s decision in this case important? Like so many other technological innovations, Aereo’s approach could fundamentally change the way we do something — in this case, the way we watch TV. With Aereo, the consumer would have more choices — the trend to get rid of cable and its outrageous monthly fees would be an easier one when you would still have access to networks, which provide the majority of sports coverage and local news, for just $8 per month. Yes, network access is, in theory anyway, already free if you use your grandma’s antenna, but many consumers cannot pick-up a decent signal — especially if they live in a crowded city (too much interference) or rural area (I can tell you from my own experience that DeKalb does not have decent access). Aereo basically just provides a better antenna.

It will be interesting to see how the Court rules. In either scenario, the landscape of TV access will change — either the networks will make more money or the consumer will save. And who knows, could Aereo become the next big investment opportunity?

April 18, 2014
by Ellen

CPA Exam Sudy Tips

Getting ready for the CPA exam? Freaking out? Yeah, I get it. I sat for two bar exams (California and Illinois) and the candidacy exams for the Ph.D. 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.

Everyone has his/her own process for studying, which has, presumably, served him/her well through college and grad school. For me, the magnitude of the bar and candidacy exams called for a dose of study method steroids. The plan I devised worked well for me (I passed the California bar exam, the hardest in the country, on the first try, and I passed with distinction both of my Ph.D. candidacy exams). While I have not taken the CPA exams, my method may, nonetheless, serve as a model for yours:

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.

For more tips, see this article by Ryan Hirsch, NASBA Multimedia & Video Services Manager: “Preparing for the CPA exam”  http://nasba.org/features/five-tips-to-know-before-taking-the-cpa-exam