I have a Master of Science in Accounting. I graduated with the degree in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and I remember receiving my diploma in the mail and feeling cold. I wasn’t proud of my achievement. Even though getting through those accounting courses was like passing kidney stones, I couldn’t enjoy what I had because, at the time, it felt like an empty achievement.
I think some people forget how bad 2020 was. I can tell you my experience for sure: the pandemic was terrifying and led to an awful recession which impacted my job offer, thus ruining my plans to move to San Francisco, I was isolated from all of my friends, and I had what felt like a useless degree in a field I didn’t even like. I remember spending the day before my 28th birthday trying to study for another CPA exam I was doomed to fail, feeling entirely alone. Rather than enjoy the beautiful day, I spent it inside with my AUD textbook and cried myself to sleep.
I promise this story gets less depressing. After all, the very next day, I got to have a lot of cake.
My loneliness had an upside because it gave me time to reflect on what I wanted from life. I knew from my time in the program that I enjoyed learning and wanted to try and help people with what I’d learned. I also knew that one of the most frightening things we were facing as a society was a rise in misinformation. It concerned me that people I cared about were so susceptible to this information, often because they had no experience with media literacy. For example, take this awful message I received from a friend during the early days of the pandemic:
For the record, no, this is not a screenshot message but rather an image of a screenshot of a text message that someone sent me. I have no idea who the original poster is or who this was sent to. For all I know, someone without a medical license at a hospital called their friend, who then messaged their friend, who then took a screenshot of this message and sent it to every person they ever met. Sometimes people like to feel important during scary times and achieve this by sharing unverified news. I have no proof of this imaginary sequence of events because the only scrap of evidence I have is an image with no identifying information.
On some level, the “beware of gas stations” message makes sense: many people touch gas pumps, so germs will congregate there. However, tons of fact-checker websites have debunked this (there was even a study about it).
All of this was a greater concern than the content in my AUD textbook. It gave me purpose and direction when I needed it most. I am very sorry for the people who suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, many of whom are still dealing with the effects to this day. (It’s the reason I was less-than-charmed by SNL’s hilarious and not-at-all tone-deaf “get COVID so you can get a break from life!” skit)
I say all this not to bum people out but to provide context for where my head was at this time and how it led to me eventually switching careers. I also hope that being honest about my experience can provide some hope to people struggling with depression and loneliness. If you take anything away from this blog, I hope it is this: your sadness is not forever. Although times are hard, there will be joy in your future.
So with that depressing bit out of the way, let’s talk about why accounting is so great! Because that is truly the point of what I’m writing.
Had I been a different person, I would have loved my time in public accounting. Although the work is challenging and occasionally tedious, many options are available for people to grow in their careers. There are plenty of opportunities to make friends, not necessarily because of long, grueling hours, but because you’re exposed to so many new people. Although public accounting companies will first place you where you’re most needed, you have some control over which fields you work in.
When I interned at a Big 4 Accounting firm, I was able to do work in Biotech. When I worked at a different public accounting firm, I was able to do work for non-profits, and before I quit, I was also able to get involved with Environmental, Social, and Governance work. If I had stayed in public accounting, I would likely be doing that because it interested me the most.
If you work in accounting, you can work in almost any industry you like. If you’re interested in Tech, which was the case for 99% of my classmates, then you can do that. If you want to use your accounting knowledge for good, that’s also a real possibility. You can easily work for various non-profits and governmental agencies or even sit on the board of a few non-profits.
For a brief time, I dreamed of working at KQED, a dream that is still not entirely dead. A brief google search led me to the KQED Leadership page and to Mitzie Kelley, the current Chief Financial Officer at KQED. Her biography explains that before working for KQED, she was a manager at Grant Thornton, another public accounting company. The truth is, working in public accounting can open a lot of doors for you. I thought it might be my key to meeting the puppets from “Sesame Street,” but that was not in the cards for me.
Within public accounting itself, there is also so much room for advancement. If you love what you do, which happens to some people, then you have the opportunity for endless promotions, raises, and bonuses. That’s one of the coolest things about public accounting, and generally all accounting jobs: while you may not be making Big Tech money, you’ll still be able to pay your bills and save up for retirement.
Another impressive draw within public accounting that is technically not special to the field but still deserves a shout-out: Health Insurance. You may be reading this now and thinking, “Holy sh*t, a job that offers health insurance? What a unique concept! What next, a 401k?”
The whole “health insurance” thing may seem obvious, but I bring it up for readers who may not know how this blog started. I began this blog in May 2021, and my first-ever post was about Disability Employment and Public Accounting. For those who do not feel like reading that post, allow me to explain. People living with a disability in the United States often have unique financial concerns that accountants in the field do not address. Not because they’re trying to be dicks, but because our education does not exactly prepare us to address these concerns beyond “I can help you write off medical expenses, but it’s kind of complex and maybe you don’t want to itemize on your taxes?” In addition, people with disabilities often require additional income to maintain the same standard of living as others.
Public Accounting, as well as many other accounting jobs, will provide health insurance, but they can also provide opportunities for accountants with disabilities. In 2021, I had the opportunity to interview several accountants with disabilities, who described their experiences to me. If you have time, I hope you can explore the backlog of content I’ve made, including this short podcast with only accountants and this longer podcast that touches a little more on issues of disability and employment. I cannot say how much I appreciate the people I interviewed who were willing to share their experiences with me.
I’m not going to say that the field is perfect because that lie would be so egregious you would never trust me with anything again. It would be like saying, “Earl grey tea doesn’t taste like pencil lead,” or “‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2’ is the best movie ever made.“
I think the accounting field, and all workplaces in general, need to take greater strides to address inequality. I was appalled to learn that the AICPA and NASBA were sued in 2017 for not providing adequate accommodations for individuals with blindness and low vision. I was disappointed by the weirdly sexist training the EY gave employees in 2019 that compared women’s brains to “pancakes” and gave advice on how to dress so as not to attract negative attention. The field needs to make a greater effort to retain LGBTQ+ employees and also provide more protection for whistleblowers.
Some people may not think that the time commitment is worth it. And to that, I say, “sure, that’s fine.” This is not the field for everyone. Some people will not like the work, and others will be concerned by the amount of work. Some of the controversies I’ve mentioned have also given people pause. But I think that by working together we can make the field a better, more welcoming place for people. This 2019 study has some interesting information on how the field is changing for women. As it stands, not nearly enough women are partners at accounting firms (and even fewer of those women are women of color), but women do make up more than half of the field.
Although I wish that the top management in public accounting companies was more diverse, I can’t help but feel excited and enthusiastic about the people who will become leaders in the field. I sincerely hope that future leaders in the world of accounting come from more diverse backgrounds. Although it may not be much, I will do my best to continue advocating for this from my position.
I am no longer an accountant, and I hope my path with science communication works out, but if I had to return to accounting, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It may not be for me, but I still appreciate the opportunities it gave me. Through my work in Public Accounting, I was often inspired creatively and had the chance to meet many kind, interesting people. I also met a few douchebags, but I think that’s the case for any job.
If you feel alone and without purpose, I can’t say this field will be for you. The last thing I want to do is recommend someone try a new career path because they have nothing else going for them. I did that, and it sucked for me. Despite all that, accounting is worth considering for many reasons. Even if it’s not your passion, it could be a gateway to finding your path. (Also, if you do want to become an accountant, then you may want to read this blog post I wrote about what I wish I had known before entering the workforce)
Just expect every person you know to ask you to do their taxes.