Surviving and Thriving as a tMPA

surviving and thriving in TMPAThe decision to come back for a master’s (or a PhD) isn’t an easy one. If you’re anything like me, the prospect of at least another year of lectures, homework, and all-nighters seems daunting, especially if you’ve been away from school for long. Now that I’ve gotten a full semester under my belt, I thought I would share how my tMPA classmates and I have made the transition easier.

1. Relearn – or learn – decent study habits.

Now is the time to really figure out what works for you, rather than just showing up to class. Get analytical about it, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Sometimes the key to understanding difficult material is as simple as doing the reading after class instead of before, or hand writing notes rather than typing them.

2. Don’t forget downtime.

The type of schedule that school demands is grueling compared to a 9-5 job. Not only is it irregular, but you take a lot of your work home. If you don’t make some sort of relaxation a priority, it’s easy to wear yourself out within the first month. I make a point of getting a massage once a month and keeping up with my recreational reading to get my mind off of class work.

3. Respect the difficulty of graduate coursework.

It bears repeating, over and over, that graduate level coursework is totally different than the vast majority of undergraduate coursework, and is taught differently. Your finely honed memorization and recitation skills aren’t going to be nearly as helpful as they used to be, since topics quickly become very conceptual.

4. Don’t obsess about your grades.

Everyone is here for slightly different reasons and has different goals. Some people are going to need a perfect 4.0 for their dream career, but others won’t, so don’t waste energy comparing yourself needlessly.

5. Bring all of your life experiences to the table.

You have a unique advantage as a graduate student – you’ve already been an undergraduate student. Make sure you take full advantage of the variety of unique opportunities to shine that this gives you. Expertise that you developed during your bachelor’s degree, during your jobs, or just in general can be applied if you are diligent about looking for opportunities to do so.

Getting Involved: How Much Is Too Much?

One of the biggest struggles I’ve faced during my time at the University of Texas is figuring out how to get more involved on campus. There are tons of opportunities to get involved in student organizations, volunteer work, internships, and even academic research, but my problem has always been finding a balance between doing well in my classes, getting involved in extracurricular activities, and having enough free time to relax once in a while.

My inherent inability to find that balance is pretty obvious when you consider that I added an entire extra major just because I like to read and write and wanted to take some non-business classes. Doing Plan II was a lot of extra effort for something that I didn’t initially think would have a huge impact on my career, but it ended up helping me a lot with the research and writing aspects of tax.

Beyond academics, I’ve had to learn to say no to a lot of great opportunities, such as being a TA, helping on research projects, and getting involved in too many of the student organizations on campus. One thing that has helped me decide whether I should get involved in a new activity is figuring out how much time it would take, and then going through a typical week (or thinking through it, if I don’t have time) and seeing if I can spare that much time, but obviously that’s not foolproof. Another great way to reach that balance when I’m short on time and energy is to participate in one-day events like Project Reachout or Project 2012, where you can spend a day volunteering without a semester-long time commitment.

So far, I’ve come pretty close to finding a good balance, but I’m always looking for new time management tips!

The Man in the Glass

Harvin C Moore IIIA few weeks ago, Professor Limburg and the MPA program welcomed Harvin C. Moore to speak at our Distinguished Speaker Lyceum.

Mr. Moore began his presentation with some relatable stories, his qualifications, and who he was. To give you some background, Mr. Moore was a lawyer, businessman, and UT Grad (Hook ‘Em!) who had much success in both Real Estate Development and the Savings and Loan business. He was known for having a “Midas touch”  due to his gift for putting together lucrative real estate deals. His story seemed to be similar to others we have had the pleasure of hearing this semester in Lyceum- a successful businessperson who has graciously volunteered their time to share with us personal anecdotes and provide some advice before we head off into the real world.

All of a sudden, Mr. Moore began describing a scenario to us and asked us to close our eyes and imagine a man standing alone in the middle of El Paso. (Are you a little confused? Don’t worry- we were too.) Much to our surprise, we open our eyes and see Mr. Moore standing on stage and he begins to tell us of his time in PRISON in El Paso. His company had been issuing illegal loans, and justifying it to themselves because they were solvent at the time of the loan. Being solvent doesn’t negate the fact that the type of loaning Mr. Moore was participating in was illegal. He explained that after he was notified about the criminal charges, he knew he could not sit in the court room and plead “not guilty.”  Thus, Mr. Moore went to prison.

I found his story so interesting, and it was quite an eye-opener to the entire Lyceum audience. The MPA program provides us with ample opportunities to succeed, yet once we do succeed, we must be sure that we maintain our ethical principles. In his message, Mr. Moore alluded to the poem, The Man in the Glass, by Dale Wimbrow. The poem reminds us that we will all have the opportunity at least once in our lives to act in a way that compromises our ethical beliefs, but if you can’t live with yourself after you make such decision, it probably is the wrong decision.

Choosing a Career Path: To Ph.D. or Not to Ph.D.

One of the things I love most about the MPA program is the amazing faculty, so of course I jumped at the chance to attend Dr. Jeri Seidman’s “Don’t Mess With Taxes” presentation. Professor Seidman went broadly over some of her research findings, such as companies paying taxes on fraudulent income to avoid fraud detection and reasons for increases in the book-tax gap (the gap between what a company reports for book income and taxable income).

In her presentation, Professor Seidman also covered some of the basics of accounting research. As a dual degree student in Plan II (which, if you’re unfamiliar with the program, is essentially an interdisciplinary liberal arts degree) and the MPA program, the idea of research and writing really appeals to me. This, of course, begs the question: should I be considering a Ph.D. in accounting?

The thought has occurred to me before. After all, being a professor sounds pretty great. Teaching and researching – I mean it’s definitely hard work, but hard work that I would enjoy. So what does it take to get there? I started skimming through rankings and curriculum descriptions, and of course wasn’t surprised to find out that McCombs has a top program, so I decided that would be a good starting place to look at what it takes to get your Ph.D.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that getting a Ph.D. would require so much math, but nonetheless, once I got past my initial aversion to the words “probability” and “statistics”, I realized that the course work actually seems pretty interesting, ranging from math and economics classes to research seminars, all culminating in a final dissertation. From what I can tell, the MPA program has provided me with a strong starting point if I decided to pursue a Ph.D. here or at any other top school.

All this is not to say that pursuing a Ph.D. is the only way to have a career centered on research. During my internship in the spring, I had some amazing opportunities to work on research memos for clients facing various tax issues, which I loved! For now, at least, I think that’s definitely the place for me. I’m going to start back there full-time next fall and hopefully continue on similar research projects, but somewhere down the road, maybe a Ph.D. is something to consider?

Analytics in Practice: Going Beyond the Buzzwords

The MPA Distinguished Speaker Lyceum is one of the most important traditions in the MPA program. Last Tuesday we hosted Ms. Camille Stovall, a partner at Deloitte and the Chief Operating Officer of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services (FAS). The conversational interview between Ms. Stovall, Professor Steve Limberg, and my fellow MPA students ranged from how to approach difficult restructurings to the importance of analytics. The latter prompted Prof. Limberg to ask just how analytics are used in the real world.

Continue reading Analytics in Practice: Going Beyond the Buzzwords

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