The Sincerest Form of Flattery
by Dana Howard
When Kevin Jackson came home from an interview and found himself saying, “It went great, but I hope they don't ask me to work there,” he knew something needed to change.
Kevin Jackson, assistant professor of accountancy in the College of Business wasn't always on the path to an academic career. He describes his post-interview uncertainty following a visit with a prominent accounting firm and how it drove him to consider different career options.
It was after that interview when he considered going back to school. While researching his options, Jackson came across an advertisement that read, “Your job may satisfy you, but does it sustain you?” In that moment he knew he was headed in the right direction.
The ad was for the PhD Project, started in 1994 by the KPMG Foundation, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the Big 4 accountancy firm KPMG. The PhD Project provides incentive and support for those who might not otherwise pursue an academic career. To this day, the foundation seeks to bring about systemic change in business and society that increases the diversity of ideas. Encouraging African-, Hispanic-, and Native-American students to pursue doctoral programs and careers as business professors is one important way they are achieving their goal.
Once accepted into the program, Jackson spent the next 5 years studying business at the University of Texas until finally landing a job at the University of Illinois in 2004. After becoming an assistant professor of accountancy, he told the Diversity Journal of KPMG that he is now in a position to model tolerance, respect, understanding, and a strong work ethic.
After achieving and living this once elusive “sustainable” job, Jackson felt an obligation to the program that helped him with his success. So much so that after returning to Illinois as a professor, he decided to continue his involvement with the program by becoming a registered visitor and presenter for the project’s conferences.
Jackson helps by presenting topics to doctoral students ranging from what it means to have a PhD, what research is being done in the business field, ways to get a dissertation published and much more.
He said he still feels the same way today, adding a piece of advice for targeted students when he says, “If people don't know a professor or someone with a PhD it seems so unattainable, but we're normal people,” he said. Jackson encourages students by telling his own story and arguing the merits of an academic career.
Jackson said students shouldn’t discount their abilities in the pursuit of a Ph.D. degree, but also cautioned them to remain informed about becoming a professor.
Since the PhD Project began, the number of new minority professors has more than tripled. The program has also helped to enlarge the ranks in a field quickly becoming desperate for professors to teach an expanding industry.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, another organization intent on increasing the numbers of accountancy educators, considered the success of the PhD Project when it sought a way to boost the ranks of accounting faculty. They modeled their own successful program after the PhD project, which Jackson says can also be a measure of success, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Jackson and others who support the KPMG/PhD Project are hoping to be flattered even more as aspiring accountancy professors follow in their footsteps.