My pathway from practitioner to professor

By Theresa DiPonio Hilliard, CPA, EDB

Editor’s note: The JofA asked Theresa DiPonio Hilliard to share her story of moving from practice to academia, to shed light on the challenges and rewards of this career path.


Almost from the very start, my career path included both practicing and teaching. I taught accounting as an adjunct professor for 11 years while working at two top 20 public accounting firms. But, as I took on increased responsibility, I found that I could no longer maintain parallel career paths. I decided I could make a more profound impact on the profession in academia. I knew that I would need a doctoral degree in order to pursue a full-time career in higher education, but I could not afford to spend several years without a salary while earning one. I opted to attend the Executive Doctorate in Business Program at Georgia State University (GSU).

I left public accounting and taught full time at a teaching college while studying for my doctorate. As GSU's program requires monthly three-day-long residencies and I was living in Michigan at the time, I flew from Detroit to Atlanta nearly every month from August through April for three years.

My doctoral coursework involved developing written communication skills, mastering research methods to test research questions, reading a voluminous amount of academic literature, and presenting my own research.

Because I pursued a nontraditional path into academia, I had to be strategic upon entering the job market. I met scrutiny of my doctoral training immediately. This proved a useful experience, though, because it allowed me to be prepared for future discussions about my degree. I was fortunate in that I had the full support of the academic director from GSU and my dissertation committee members, all of whom were prolific and distinguished scholars. After 18 interviews at the American Accounting Association's annual conference and nine campus visits, I accepted a position at a Ph.D.-granting regional research university.

Having worked full time in academia now for seven years, I am very happy with my professional path. I enjoy mentoring students and conducting research that investigates questions that are relevant to the profession and address current business problems. My compensation is higher than when I left public accounting—though, with my responsibilities in teaching, scholarship, and service, I work about the same number of hours!

Given the chance, would I have pursued a more traditional path to academia? I'd have to say "no." I believe my professional journey enriches my ability to conduct academic research, effectively educate future practitioners, and bridge the gap between academia and the profession.

Theresa DiPonio Hilliard ­(hilliard@rmu.edu) is an ­associate professor of accounting at Robert Morris University in Moon ­Township, Pa.

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