A Practitioner’s Guide to Transitioning to Academia

By Benjamin J. Pearl, CPA, CITP, CISA, Seton Hall University – February 18, 2022
A Practitioner’s Guide to Transitioning to Academia

Have you ever thought about what you may do after your career as a CPA or practitioner? I always considered being a presenter during my time in practice, whether it be training a team or presenting at a conference. But how does a practitioner successfully make their way into academia? Here’s a roadmap to help you enter academia at the pace and frequency you choose.

Leverage Your Expertise

The first consideration is how to get your brand out there to the academic chairs in the specialty you possess in practice. This is where your network is key, and you need to be persistent with your marketing and outreach. There are many practitioners looking into this career transition, so your competition is healthy. Therefore, you must find ways to contact the academic chairs on a consistent basis. Create a brief introduction that you can present to the academic chair in the department. Tell them your practitioner background and how this will synergize into their department. Remember, departments are seeking your domain expertise and how you can apply this knowledge into an academic setting. Specialized knowledge areas are heavily sought after and applied to the core curriculums, so this could provide you with an advantage.

Find a way to contact the department chair via a phone call; even chairs who have embraced technology will appreciate the personalized outreach. Once you introduce yourself, thank them for their time, and make sure you perform routine follow ups via phone and/or email on a regular basis. There can be changes in the department (e.g., sabbaticals, leaves, maternity/paternity leaves, expansion of a major/offering), so make sure you are persistent in your contacts and follow ups. 

Audit a Class

When preparing to make your transition to academia, try auditing a class. This will get you familiar with the education/teaching process and gain inroads with the professor and department functions. To audit a class, you must usually get permission from the instructor; you can ask them to kindly waive the audit fee, if needed. Define the scope and timing of your audit, and provide value added recommendations during the audit and evaluation process. 

Become a Practice Partner

If you are still on the fence about making your transition, you can remain in practice (for now) and choose to be a practice partner with a professor. A practice partner can help lead lectures with a professor, and you can share your practical knowledge in the form of a case study or exercise based on your domain expertise, and, if permissible, based on your company (publicly available information please). 

Explore Adjunct Opportunities

More and more colleges and universities are hiring non-tenure-track faculty (e.g., adjunct, lecturer), so this is where you can use your practical experience to sell your value proposition as a teacher. Starting as an adjunct allows you to both work in practice and experience the mechanics of being a teacher. Adjuncts have great resources to tap into (e.g., full time faculty, adjunct guides) while you learn the tricks of the trade, enabling you to put your best foot forward as a teacher and establish a sound foundation. Remember, your student evaluations and your faculty evaluations will “make or break” you, so do pay attention to these key metric measurements in your academic endeavors.

From there, you can seek a full-time lecturer position. Note that you will be tasked to teach a number of courses each semester, and you likely will be asked to get published in practitioner journals and magazines. 

The transition from practice to academia can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Your clients are your students, and they will be fortunate to listen to your practical knowledge. Best of luck in your journey of transformation! 

Benjamin J. Pearl

Benjamin J. Pearl, CPA, CITP, CISA, is a faculty instructor/advisor for Information Technology Management at Seton Hall University. He is a member of the NJCPA Emerging Technologies and Federal Taxation interest groups and can be reached at benjamin.pearl@shu.edu.