May 4, 2014 11:30 pm

Women in business – Allison Koester, assistant professor

Allison Koester

Allison Koester is an assistant professor of accounting at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in the US. An expert on corporate taxes, financial reporting and financial misconduct, she has been invited to present her research at more than 15 academic institutions.

Before joining Georgetown, Prof Koester was a senior tax associate at KPMG. In her spare time, she enjoys running marathons and practising yoga.

1. What is an average day at work like?

I spend the majority of my day working on data, writing and reading. My co-authors are spread across the US, so we spend a fair amount of time on conference calls working through issues instead of meeting in person. After several months of working on a project, I usually have a brown bag presentation at Georgetown or try to do a workshop at another university. Brown bags and workshops involve presenting your research in front of 10 to 30 faculty members and seeing where they can poke holes in the theory, analyses and inferences. These events are actually a lot of fun – you quickly realise what you know and what you don’t know.

2. What do you enjoy most about your job?

There are two parts of my job: research and teaching. On the former, I love the freedom to research what I believe is most interesting and important and the rigour of using data (and not opinions) to answer research questions. This is a luxury not afforded at 99 per cent of jobs out there, so I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. Academics love to study unintended consequences, so you can think about a new business practice or regulation and consider the full scope of how this practice or law impacts businesses, shareholders, debt holders and other stakeholders. On the teaching side, I love interacting with my students. I teach the financial accounting course required by all Georgetown MBAs, so I literally teach every single student that receives an MBA at Georgetown. Meeting 270 new and energetic students each year is really invigorating.

3. How do you deal with pressure?

When I am stressed I try to make exercise a priority. Running and hot yoga really help me keep my sanity. My colleagues and family can actually tell when I skip my workouts. They will literally say “Can we talk after you go to yoga?” – I guess it really makes a difference!

4. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

Completing my PhD programme. There were definitely days in the beginning of the programme (and maybe towards the end as well!) where I wasn’t sure I had the endurance to make it through the five years.

5. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

I actually have two best pieces of advice. First: “You choose the life you live”. It reminds us that we might not have control over how things turn out, but we always have control over how we respond to situations. No one can force you to do or feel anything, you are always in control of your life. It reminds me that when a situation feels hopeless, we always have the power to turn things around.

Second: “If you do something, do it wholeheartedly and with great enthusiasm”. In other words, if we are going to do something, let’s really give it our all. This always reminds me to show up for life with energy and vigour, no matter what the task. Probably the number one comment I receive from students on my end-of-course evaluations is along the lines of “I am truly amazed that anyone could be this enthusiastic about accounting”.

6. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?

Ruthlessly be true to yourself and your passions. I see so many graduates enamoured by big salaries and signing bonuses but not the day-to-day job responsibilities of the position. I know that money is important and financial freedom feels great, but what you do and who you work with 60 hours a week is going to matter much more to your short and long-term wellbeing. Follow your dream regardless of salary.

7. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Like most students who enter graduate school, I was accustomed to mastering material if I just worked hard enough. I learnt in grad school that sometimes you can work for 1,000 hours on something and it just isn’t going to be intuitive. Learning to let go of the need to have the perfect answer was a big challenge for me and I am grateful that I learnt that lesson. You need to focus on your competitive strengths and not all of the things you wish you knew better.

8. What is the worst job you have ever had?

There are a lot of telemarketing centres based in the midwest (allegedly because midwesterners have no accent) and my first job was an outbound telemarketer selling mortgage products. Looking back it was crazy – what does a 16-year-old know about mortgage products?

9. What is the strangest thing you have ever done when teaching?

This one relates to something strange that happened in my class, not something that I necessarily did. When I was in graduate school, I was a teaching assistant on the Executive MBA programme. On the last day of class students present their capstone projects and one student is picked to play the role of the professor, complete with clothing choices, mannerisms and sayings. One year a male students decided to play the role of the TA (me) – complete with a wig of long brown hair, high heels, women’s clothing and make-up. Imagine a 40-year-old man pretending to be a 25-year-old female – it was hilarious!

10. What is the last book you read?

The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business by Charles Duhigg. I’m quasi-obsessed with efficiency and automation. The ability to train our brain to automatically engage in productive behaviours – like going to the gym or putting in a few more hours of work – fascinates me. Imagine if something we currently dread could become as automatic and painless as brushing our teeth. Being able to form good (and break bad) habits is a really empowering concept.

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