Accounting and Information Systems PhD Prep Programs a Success

More than 50 graduates entered top doctoral programs

Brigham Young University doesn’t offer a PhD in accounting or information systems, but not because professors are afraid their students will replace them at the front of the class — in fact, they’re hoping some may do just that.

Marriott School of Management accounting and information systems professors developed a unique, hands-on doctoral preparation program to coach select students on what to expect from rigorous PhD schools. The programs have placed more than 50 graduates into top 25 programs in the past five years — creating goodwill for the university and helping a handful of students each year swap backpacks for briefcases as they learn to become research-intensive, university professors.

“PhD programs love our students because they know what they are getting themselves into,” says Professor Doug Prawitt, who developed the School of Accounting PhD Prep Track ten years ago. “The average national drop-out rate from PhD programs is about one-third; ours is much lower because students enter with solid quantitative skills and know what to expect, having already experienced teaching and even co-authoring on research projects.”

Prawitt shared the accounting model with colleagues in the information systems department, who, like their accounting counterparts, have enjoyed 100 percent placement. Since its inception in 2003 the prep track has placed 11 information systems PhD prep graduates into top 25 PhD programs — schools with a reputation for being extremely competitive.

“A top accounting or information systems program will receive hundreds of applications to fill just one or two openings — but our students have an advantage,” says Professor Paul Lowry, director of the Information Systems Department PhD Prep Track. “The best universities are fighting each other for our graduates, and are wondering what it is about BYU that makes our students so well prepared.”

The advantage Lowry specifies is an unusual theory-based empirical research training that transforms highly gifted business students into budding scientific researchers who create new knowledge to help businesses run more efficiently.

Trent Spaulding, an information systems PhD prep student who recently co-published an academic article with Lowry, agrees that the experience helps students compete for PhD admissions. The writing and research training Spaulding and other students receive, as well as the experience of presenting papers at international conferences, are skills that have impressed faculty at top doctoral schools.

Last year, all accounting and information systems PhD entrants from BYU received tuition waivers, and stipends averaging more than $18,000 a year. Most of these graduates also received tens of thousands of dollars in fellowships and additional summer research money.

Greg Moody, an information systems student who will begin his doctorate in August at the University of Pittsburgh, advocates testing the waters in accounting or information systems before deciding to take the plunge into a doctoral program. “If someone thinks they might enjoy being a professor they should apply for the PhD prep program. It’s better to see if this career path fits early on, than applying to a school and dropping out a year later when you learn you don’t like it,” he says.

Prawitt agrees that it’s best for interested students to find out sooner rather than later if being a professor is right for them. “We try to give students all the information they need to self-select the program that best fits,” he says. “If they drop out of the prep program we still see it as a success. It’s much less costly for them and for prospective PhD programs to find out early if it’s not the right choice.”

The Marriott School is located at Brigham Young University, the largest privately owned, church-sponsored university in the United States. The school has nationally recognized programs in accounting, business management, public management, information systems, organizational behavior and entrepreneurship. The school’s mission is to prepare men and women of faith, character and professional ability for positions of leadership throughout the world. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the Marriott School’s graduate and undergraduate programs.

Media Contact: Joseph Ogden (801) 422-8938 or 787-9989
Writer: Derek Westra (801) 422-1512