Tax Research and Texas Rangers: What’s the Connection?

Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton (Keith Allison photo)

If you want to become an instant millionaire, try catching Josh Hamilton’s homerun baseball. It seems that easy, right? Well, not until you consider the tax consequences of catching such.  It took me a total of maybe 40 hours, 8 cups of caffeine, and a hundred surges of migraine to look for and analyze these consequences and to write a six-page, single-spaced memo on my analysis.

Welcome to Tax Research.

Tax Research teaches students how to identify and use relevant tax laws and sources in answering tax questions and how to communicate these research analyses and conclusions effectively.  The course is comprised of two exams and case assignments derived from real-world situations. It has been one of the most challenging courses I’ve taken, and ironically enough, I’ve been enjoying the class.

 What makes it so challenging?

Professor Zvinakis has taught the course for six years, ever since she began teaching at UT.

She said that what makes the class difficult is that “a clear-cut answer doesn’t always exist [in tax] and the tax law is more often gray than black and white…There could be more than one answer to a particular question, depending on how the relevant tax law is interpreted.”

While I was working on the baseball case, I thought I had the answers to the questions already. However, after continuing with my reseasrch, I found more relevant tax laws and cases that could seriously refute my previous arguments. What was I to do? Work like a recharged research machine!

Effort = Effort

It seriously felt like 100 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders after I turned in that paper. I would never want to think about it again; well, at least not until I get my paper back.  Professor Zvinakis spends a good deal of time in evaluating our memos.  She appreciates the effort that we put in our cases which is why she “expends the same amount of time and effort in evaluating the assignments [she] receives.”  She also believes “that if students know that [she is] evaluating [our] assignments carefully, [we] will often work harder to provide [her] good material to evaluate.”

No wonder she provides us with very thoughtful comments on our paper. Most of the time, I don’t look at the grade anymore. I look at the comments more closely, because I know it will help me not only on the next assignment, but on my internship, which is right around the corner.

 Key to success

Like any other class, there is no easy formula to achieve an easy “A” in this class. Professor Zvinakis said that “the key to success [in the class] is hard work.  I also think that it’s better to work on the course a little bit each day, rather than allotting a large block of time near an exam date or assignment deadline.  I think that with complicated ideas and concepts, it’s better to spread out the work, rather than try to master it all at once.”

If only I had taken this advice more seriously while working on the baseball case, the process would have been less stressful. I did not start genuinely working on the case until three days before the due date. My goal in mind right now is to start working for our last case at least a week before it’s due. Wouldn’t it be more engaging to have a tax discussion on the table, while munching on a turkey leg? Yes, I’m breaking the stale “what’s-going-on-in-your-life” Thanksgiving conversation tradition!

 “What starts here changes the world.”

 Despite that challenge I have encountered from taking the class, I knew that this will be highly beneficial to me once I start working. Professor Zvinakis’ goal is to give students the skills and confidence to tackle the difficult business problems that await us in the real world. 

Many alumni whom I’ve encountered through recruiting told me how beneficial the class had been on their internships and full-time jobs. The challenge they went through from taking the class had definitely paid off, as they felt more confident in handling tax issues and cases of real clients.

Professor Zvinakis also said, “If I can get students comfortable with [problems they haven’t encountered before] in a classroom setting and give them skills to attack and solve [those] type[s] of problem[s], then hopefully they will be able to be successful at tackling difficult problems outside the classroom, as well.”

It is very comforting to know that the MPA program has prepared us to become well-rounded individuals, and Tax Research, without a doubt, is among the tools that make this possible. 

Let’s just say that the class is like a baseball bat that would help catapult us to get that homerun.

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