A stigma surrounds economics because of its reputation as a difficult major. But how difficult is it really? In this interview with The Bottom Line, Professor Bob Anderson unpacks economics (specifically accounting) and explains why it is not actually a difficult subject. Below, he talks about his own personal experience with accounting and teaching.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Why did you choose to teach accounting?
I did not choose to teach accounting; I discovered it accidentally. To answer that question, I have to go back to when I was a student at UCSB myself. I was actually a mechanical engineering major. I found physics and engineering interesting and then I didn’t anymore, not because my attitude changed at all. It just got more and more complex and as it got more and more complex, to some people that becomes more and more appealing; but to me, it became less appealing.
I started looking around and I stumbled upon the class Econ 3A, and I liked it. So I pursued that a little further and, in the process, I found out how the Big 4 firms recruit here and how public accounting was a great profession to get into even if you weren’t going to be into public accounting for the rest of your career. I was very attracted to the job certainty. There was a high probability of getting a job right out of college and it was a job that had such a significant growth potential.
I worked for a huge firm and the large firms all have training sessions and the training sessions are taught by people who work at the company. I was very technical in accounting so they asked me if I would teach and I did. It’s interesting because the very first time that I taught, I was terrible. And I didn’t like it at all. If it looks like I enjoy myself when I’m teaching it’s because I am; I sincerely enjoy it. So I discovered by accident that I like teaching. I discovered by fear, through choosing a profession that I thought was secure; I found accounting.
Economics, especially accounting, has a stigma surrounding it, that it’s a difficult subject or that it’s sometimes boring. How do you feel about that stigma? Do you think it has any basis?
Can’t anything be interesting if you’re interested in it? It’s my duty as a teacher to make it interesting. I actually am worried sometimes or concerned when I hear students say, “Oh I had no idea that accounting was so interesting.” So sometimes I worry that I make it too interesting.
The truth is that in my experience through accounting, I have met a ton of people who are my best friends; people who I think are very interesting. Accounting touches every business so if you go into accounting, you’re going to be talking to the people who are the executives of whatever companies you’re dealing with, whether it’s a public accounting firm or working in the accounting department.
I think that a lot of the stigma is a misconception, I think that most of the stigma about accounting and accountants being boring are false and not based on reality.
What are the career opportunities that an economics and accounting major could pursue other than being in an accounting firm?
With public accounting here at UCSB, our students have a huge advantage which is that the public accounting firms recruit heavily here. Public accounting is [also] a great springboard into all kinds of occupations. So we have students who are CFOs of large companies and CEOs running their own business doing something totally different.
I think that when you graduate college, that first job is really important. When you’re applying for your jobs, your GPA is going to be very important and then you’re going to get that first job and your GPA will never come up again. But the name of the company — it becomes your new GPA. So though I don’t think it should be the end of all, I think being able to say, “I have a 3.9 GPA from U.C. Santa Barbara,” demonstrates something significant to anyone who’s considering you as a potential employee. In my experience, people going to large firms get a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things.