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Ph.D. in Accounting Student: Michael Paz

January 23, 2013

As a group, accountants aren’t usually known for being ‘artsy,’ but that doesn’t mean they don’t have artistic hobbies, says Drexel LeBow Ph.D. student Michael Paz, noting that several faculty members in LeBow’s accounting department play musical instruments.

Music is now a hobby for Paz too, but it used to be his career. After graduating with a music major and a business minor from the Rhode Island College, Michael spent several years performing at weddings and funerals, and maintaining his own music studio of 30-35 students, teaching voice, piano, the recorder and brass instruments. While he thoroughly enjoyed working in music, he decided that putting his minor in business to work might result in a more challenging career.

His first job working in business was doing operations management for Fleet Bank, followed by a stint in client support and underwriting at GE Money Bank. Working in banks helped him to realize his love of accounting, and he returned to the University of Rhode Island to earn his master’s in that subject, with an eye on the possibility of progressing to a Ph.D. program.

Yes, you read correctly: Paz does not merely enjoy accounting, he loves it.

“My non-accountant friends laugh at me when I say this, but I truly don’t understand why anybody wouldn’t love accounting,” says Paz, who provides an example that also hints at a love of history. “I recently saw a presentation at an accounting conference which began with a photograph of a cuneiform tablet depicting ancient Sumerian methods of accounting for beer production.  It was a little stone tablet that had been stamped with small symbols for barley and other ingredients, subtotals and totals, and the amount of beer produced.  I find it fascinating that people thousands of years ago were concerned with the same sorts of details of life that I think about every day, namely tracking and reporting costs. 

“Accounting provides us with frameworks for thinking about information, and tools for using that information to make decisions. I think it’s cool that this is true not only today, but also for thousands of years in the past.”

Paz, a KPMG Doctoral Scholar, focuses his teaching and research in managerial accounting, which is accounting used mainly for internal reporting; as compared to financial statements, which are for external users like investors and creditors. “I am currently involved in a project which explores honesty in a budget reporting setting, where we measure the honest behavior of participants in a variety of scenarios where they have access to different levels of information about the behavior of others,” he explains. “I am also working on a project which explores how attempts at explanation impact assessments of corporate performance depending on the credibility of the financial statements.”

Paz’ innate curiosity inspired him to seek out a career in research.  “In the corporate world, I always found myself asking questions like ‘why do we do things this way?’ or ‘why does he behave in that way?’ Over time, the desire to find some answers to those questions became too persistent to ignore. 
“A few evenings spent searching the internet showed me that business researchers were studying some of the questions I was asking, and it seemed like a natural idea to pursue an academic career so I could answer my own questions,” says Paz, who quizzed all of his professors during his master’s program to make sure he really wanted to go through with a Ph.D. program. “In the end, I feel like it has been an excellent decision for my life.”

Identifying a single mentor at LeBow isn’t possible, Paz says. “I feel like I am constantly asking questions and getting help from the people around me.  In particular, the professors in the Accounting Department have been generous in offering both advice and constructive criticism related to my research and teaching. I have worked most closely with Tony Curatola, Bernhard Reichert and Hsihui Chang, all of whom have freely offered their time and talent to help me develop as a researcher.”

Originally from Cumberland, Rhode Island, Paz now resides in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, across the street from Fairmount Park.  He says moving from the country’s smallest state to one of its largest cities has been “a real transition. 

“As residents of the smallest state, Rhode Islanders get used to being close to everything and everyone.  It’s difficult to go anywhere in Rhode Island without running into somebody you know, since it only takes an hour to get from one end of the state to the other.  I never have that problem here in Philadelphia.”

He enjoys living in Mt. Airy because his neighbors are friendly and the commute to and from the office is relatively short. “I also like that it’s close to Chestnut Hill and Manayunk, two neighborhoods with lots to do.”

Little Known Fact

Michael says that while most of his colleagues know that about his background in music, he thinks they might be surprised to learn that he also writes poetry and short stories. “Once a week, I take my journal to a coffee shop near my house and spend an hour writing. I particularly like sonnets and Japanese-style poetry (Haiku and Tanka) written in English. I mostly write about what is happening around me or things that I observe. I use the writing as a way to indulge my creativity in a way unrelated to work,” says Paz.

He keeps these hidden in his apartment and has only ever let a small handful of people see them.