Tag Archives: learning

Competing With Engineers for a Sustainable World

A couple of months ago, we all received an invitation to compete in BASF’s Team Chemistry challenge. A fellow MPA student decided to formTexas-mascot a group, and so I joined. It seemed like a fun project – come up with ideas to lessen the environmental impact of football gameday. I love football gameday and I have an interest in environmental sustainability, so it was like a match made in heaven. Of course, the incentive of winning a bunch of money didn’t hurt.

So, we set to work coming up with ideas on how to approach the problem.  We easily came up with a host of small solutions that would have some impact, but quickly got bogged down in the details. After spending some more time pondering our work, we decided to focus on a group  of related solutions and hone in on them.  As Joel said in his most recent article about accountants being risk-averse, we learned from our initial mistakes, found the proper balance, and ended up with some pretty cool ideas.

We were invited to a couple of events by BASF and the Athletic Department to learn more about the initiative and the goals of the competition. One event was a sustainability panel sponsored by UT Engineers for a Sustainable World. The panel was entirely made up of engineers and the audience was entirely engineers … except two of us MPA students. It was very intimidating hearing about them discussing various polymers of which we had no clue of their existence much less their properties. Apparently these students have a big advantage over us with their knowledge of chemicals, considering BASF is essentially a chemical company. The next event was a stadium tour, during which our guides told us about their issues with waste management. Their focus seemed to be only on waste management problems, while our solutions did little to address that.

ConcoursePoster_#2_Sec120But, we pressed on, confident in the power of our ideas despite not having the technical knowledge that is certainly common among our competition. What we do have is a business ingenuity that enabled us to come up with feasible solutions that are easily implemented and have a measurable impact. We used the skills we have learned in economics, finance, and accounting to estimate the results of our proposals. We also used our branding and presentation skills to develop a persuasive format through which to deliver our proposal.

We find out Friday if we are invited to the finalist round, where we will present and defend our ideas in a “shark tank” environment. We’ve had fun putting it all together, and we’re proud of our accomplishments, but it would be great to get to write a “Part II” to this article about our preparation for the finalist round!


Can you Identify a Fraudster?

Currently I am taking Professor Bradshaw‘s Fraud Examination class as an accounting elective. In the course we learned about the typical white-collar criminal and I believe most of us were surprised by the statistics. (I know I was!)

Maybe I have watched too many episodes of Law and Order: SVU, but I pride myself in being able to read others and anticipate who is the “bad guy” in a movie or TV show before it is revealed to the audience. Being able to read people is a valuable skill to have and, unfortunately, a necessary one because professionals in the workplace may not always be as honest as we hope they will be. In this respect, we cannot let stereotypes bias the way we view our colleagues and others in the professional environment.

Before discussing who is most likely to be a corporate fraudster, Professor Bradshaw prompted the class to describe the quintessential fraudster. In our minds, it would typically be the sinister looking professional who is either A) quiet and viewed to be anti-social or B) really aggressive. It is easy to convince yourself that the corporate “bad guys” are going to resemble the ones that you see in Hollywood dramas. However, statistically, the typical fraudster is not who you would expect.

Here are the characteristics of a typical corporate fraudster:

  • Male, aged 35+
  • Strong accounting/finance background and above average education
  • In a position of trust
  • Stable family/personal situation
  • Good psychological health
  • No criminal record

These characteristics, as Professor Bradshaw humorously pointed out, are more believable to be descriptive of the average McCombs professor, not a white collar criminal.

I would highly recommend Professor Bradshaw’s class if you are looking for an accounting elective to take! And remember to be wary in the workplace- the fraudster may not be who you most expect!

“It’s never the person you most suspect. It’s also never the person you least suspect, since anyone with half a brain would suspect them the most. Therefore I know the killer to be Phyllis, AKA Beatrix Bourbon, the person I most medium suspect.”
                                           –Dwight (during a Murder Mystery on The Office)

Career Crossroads

Life is full of decisions. In fact, every hour and every minute is composed of miniature ones that we subconsciously make. While some are intuitive, others require long and serious analysis to guide the next course of action. It is these critical decision points that give us pause and rightfully so. As recruiting season for full-time opportunities reaches its denouement, the next phase of decision-making starts. This is where everything comes together.

To choose one opportunity over others is tough. It is not easy considering all the factors that come into play. I find it interesting that in this kind of soul-searching process, money, though relevant, is not the main driver of my decision. It sure helps, but more important than that is the question of future opportunities, ambitions, and caliber of experience.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

For lack of a better illustration, I think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and place special emphasis on the top three tiers: Self-actualization, Self-esteem, and Belongingness. In order to make sense of this big decision, I find myself asking the following ten questions (in no particular order): 1) Where do I see myself in 5, 10, or 15 years? 2) Where do I want to live? 3) What are the benefits like? 4) What kind of corporate culture would I like to be in? 5) Does the firm share the same values I have? 6) Did I like the people I visited and those I have met? 7) What kind of training will I receive? 8) Are there opportunities to travel? 9) How can this experience help me get to the next level? 10) How does the position fit in to my story?

It is important to look far enough down the road that the immediate role in front of me matters, but not too far that I can’t see how this decision can lead to what I envision.

What I realize in this exercise is that as much as I have devoted time in getting to know several companies, I am also learning more about myself, my interests, and personal goals. It is interesting how it comes full circle. Through this process, I have had to revise some of my plans and reassess earlier assumptions. So far, I have visited quite a few firms and I am really glad for these opportunities. Though it won’t be an easy one, I’m looking forward to making a decision in the next few weeks and use exactly this framework I’ve laid out. Choosing the next step after graduate school is certainly my next crossroads.

Finding the Ideal Study Playlist

Wonder what Beethoven would have had on his iPod?

It’s the time again…first round of midterms is coming up! There are many different views on what makes the perfect study playlist so I thought I’d explore those today.

1. Brain-stimulating/calming music: Everyone has heard rumors/stories of psychology studies that prove classical music has a brain stimulating effect. I haven’t done enough research to know if this is actually true, but I know from experience that a calming playlist full of classical pieces is one of my favorites to study to. In this category, besides the classics, I often find myself listening to artists like Fleet Foxes or Mumford and Sons. These artists’ folk/rock sound has such a calming effect on me and they aren’t too distracting when you are trying to focus.

2. Familiar music: I think it is important to make sure that you aren’t listening to music that is going to cause your mind to wander away from the task you are trying to complete. I read a few years ago in a NYTimes article that listening to music can actually increase productivity. The author says that, “In biological terms, melodious sounds help encourage the release of dopamine in the reward area of the brain.” And if you are in a more pleasant mood, your productivity will increase. For this category I would suggest the 90’s pop Pandora station. These songs have a tendency to increase my mood, but at the same time, I do not feel the need to focus completely on the song and divert from the studying I am trying to accomplish.

3. “Pump-up” music: I know I have talked about Beyonce before (can’t help it!) but sometimes you just need a good pump-up song before an exam. I am a firm believer in my “pre-test playlist” which is full of embarrassing, yet confidence-boosting tunes to inspire me before I take an exam. Listen to Katy Perry’s Roar right before your next exam and tell me that it doesn’t inspire you. A little cheesy confidence never hurts.

4. No music: This is a view by many that the best study music is actually no music at all. In my experience, when I am trying to analyze a problem or memorize a list, no music is the right way to go.

Of course, most people, like myself, probably utilize all 4 of these during the course of exam studying. Good luck on exams, everyone! And an extra bit of luck to the MPAs taking CPA exams this semester!

Melissa Takes Boston: Part 3

Hi again!

I have yet another week at the client under my belt and I am still learning every day. The idea for this blog came to me after an intense conversation about the reality vs. entertainment value of the Kardashians empire.  (I’m sure, considering the title of my blog series, you can tell that I am a fan.)  After working for four weeks, I wanted to take the time to dispel some of the rumors that I heard about interning; a “fact vs. fiction” piece, if you will. I understand my intern experience is unique to me; however I still believe that this is applicable to those of you who will be interning in the future.

RUMOR  1: You will work on one client the whole time and only on cash.”

REALITY: FACT/FICTION. This was something that I consistently heard spoken with a negative connotation as I went through recruiting. Although I wasn’t even 100% sure what it meant, I was convinced that it was definitely something I didn’t want. However, I have been on the same client for four weeks now, and I have loved every minute of it. Being on one client for so long has allowed me to get comfortable with the client and with my team. I understand the work that is being done and my team has been able to give me projects that allow me to see a large piece of the audit and even build on my previous work. If I was switching around clients, I doubt I would have this luxury. As far as the ‘working on only cash’ piece of this rumor is concerned, that certainly hasn’t been the case for me, and even the projects that I have done that relate to cash have all been so different and each one was a brand new learning experience. I guess I can’t say this rumor is completely fact or completely fiction, but I do want to dispel the negative connotation that accompanies the idea of working on a client, or within a specific area of the audit, for an extended period of time.


RUMOR 2“You will work CRAZY long hours.”

REALITY: FACT. After talking with my friends who are also interning right now, we have all been on slightly different schedules, but overall, you shouldn’t expect to leave work at 5:30 every day. We are lucky enough to intern during busy season, the time of the year where there is the most work to be done, and this means we will be working a lot. This being said, the day will fly by – at least it has for me. I have left work anywhere from 8:30-11:30PM but even my longest days haven’t dragged on in the slightest. The great thing about there being a lot of work to be done is that you will constantly be busy; no sitting around waiting for something to do.


RUMOR 3: “Clients HATE auditors.”

REALITY: FICTION. As a person who likes to be liked (don’t we all?) this particular rumor really made me nervous. I have had quite a few interactions with the client thus far and I can’t say all of them have been 100% pleasant, but there has never been a time where I felt personally victimized by the client. Even though being audited is a government requirement for accounting firms’ clients, the clients still do appreciate the work we are doing.

These are three rumors I can almost guarantee that you will hear before embarking on your internship and I hope that my experience can help you to understand them a little bit more.

Happy interning to my fellow interns and happy studying to those of you taking classes!

Click here to read Part 4 of Melissa Takes Boston!