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Research advances practitioner careers and student experience

Nov 15, 2022
6 min Read
Maggie Knight smiling portrait photo

Creighton’s Heider College of Business professor channels academic interests to benefit accounting education and practice.

Being a college professor involves more than time in the classroom teaching. It’s also time dedicated to research and then finding an outlet to publish your findings. Maggie Knight, BSBA'01, DBA’18, CPA, CGMA, chair of the Accounting and Business Intelligence and Analytics Department and director of the Master of Accounting (MAC) program, has managed to balance service to her students and advancement of her research interests.

Knight shares with us her research interests and discusses how they are enhancing her students’ Creighton experience and accounting practitioners’ careers.

Q: Behavioral accounting topics, especially burnout and alternative work arrangements in public accounting, are a focus of your research. What draws you to these topics?

A: My research has largely focused on employee retention and well-being in public accounting, specifically examining burnout and the use of flexible and hybrid work arrangements. My personal experience in public accounting and my concern for students entering this profession motivated my research in this area. We are part of a profession that is known for alarmingly high burnout rates. I want students to leave Creighton with working knowledge of the causes of burnout in accounting and how to mitigate them. I want them to understand the benefits and costs to hybrid work arrangements, especially as they relate to young professionals in our industry. For these reasons, several of my papers have explored these issues from an educator perspective, offering advice for faculty members to pass along to students as they shepherd them into the profession. I want my research to inform both academia and practice, such that educators and professionals can collectively tackle these issues to better serve those around us.

Q: You also gravitate toward topics in accounting education. In fact, you rank among the Top 10 internationally in accounting education research, according to Brigham Young University Accounting Rankings. What particular topics within this field appeal to you?

A: I enjoy two facets of education research. One is related to the Ignatian approach to business education and the integration of Catholic Social Thought (CST). This has uniquely prepared me to ‘teach for mission’ at Creighton, and to incorporate assignments like a vocation discernment module into my accounting courses. The vocation discernment module allows students to reflect on ‘why’ they are making their career decisions and offers reading materials from the Rev. James Martin, SJ, to assist in their reflection. The module leads to deep and fruitful discussions with students about their choices and influences.

The other facet of education research I’ve explored relates to the shortage of accounting professors and how we might attract business (accounting) professionals to the world of academia. Specifically, I’ve examined student outcomes from nontraditional accounting doctoral programs to help promote programs that are research intensive enough to result in tenure-track position placement. I’ve also explored how to best integrate nontenure track faculty that may bring a wealth of professional knowledge to business schools but may lack the educational background to do research.

Q: You've been rather prolific on the publishing front these past three years – 10 articles in top-tier publications, two of which have earned three Best Paper awards, and four other papers under construction. What accounts for this amazing productivity?

A: A lot of strategy. It’s not just deciding on topics and researching those areas; it’s also determining what journals to approach and what kinds of topics these journals are interested in currently. It’s determining what strengths you have, what strengths your co-authors have and how these strengths combine. And it’s focusing on what truly interests you and passing on projects that don’t advance your interests or play to your strengths. There is a power to saying ‘No’ in research, too.

Q: Much of your research and subsequent publishing are joint efforts with fellow academics, many of whom are Heider College of Business faculty and more often than not from fields outside of accounting. What is the value of seeking out faculty partners in different disciplines?

A: Creighton’s DBA program (of which I am a graduate) has uniquely positioned me for interdisciplinary research, and my research record is reflective of this. Nine of the co-authors in my publication list are from other disciplines, including management, economics and information technology. It has been a privilege to glean insights from other disciplines, to engage in meaningful education research and to highlight management theories more prominently in accounting research such that we can better inform professionals and students about how to manage themselves and others in the workplace. I have also been fortunate to work with students in the DBA program on their accounting research, serving as dissertation chair for two students, serving as a research mentor each summer for the past three years, and collaborating as a co-author with students interested in accounting behavioral research. Serving as a mentor for DBA students has been extremely rewarding personally, has resulted in two publications to date (in Journal of Managerial Issues and Accounting Education) and allows me to give back to a program that has been life-changing for me. 

Q: Multiple speaking engagements – American Accounting Association annual conferences and regional meetings, Association of Government Accountants, Missouri Valley Economic Association – are based on articles you've published. Is this common? Do conference organizers invite you after reading your work? Or are articles born from speaking engagements?

A: There is a huge difference between an academic conference and a professional conference. Many times, academic research doesn’t translate to professional application. My goal is to conduct research that is useful to the practitioner. So, employee retention and well-being in public accounting has been an extremely rewarding line of research, and I believe it has impacted the professional community. I’ve been asked to speak to professional groups about how to manage burnout, generational differences and flexible/hybrid work arrangements. Most recently, I was a keynote speaker at the Nebraska Society of CPAs 1st Annual Women in Accounting Summit. I have subsequently met with individual accounting firms to provide them more specific guidance for retaining young professionals and developing effective policies surrounding hybrid work arrangements. There is a thirst for this knowledge in the accounting community, and I’m thankful I will get another chance to speak about this topic at a professional conference in Des Moines this spring.

Q: How does your research feed your teaching and enrich the Heider College of Business student experience?

A:  My research heavily influences my teaching and student interactions. I have incorporated what I have discovered into my classes, particularly a professional development class (ACC 461) and a course focused on current issues in the profession at the graduate level (MAC 761). This research is also woven in the career discussions I have one-on-one with students, as they often come to me for career advice.