Accounting switch
April 10, 2014 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I am finishing my PhD in the life sciences this year. I do not want to stay in science. I have been debating switching to an accounting career. Difficulty level: bachelor's degree in mathematics, masters degree in biochemistry, phd in pharmacology. But no accounting coursework or direct experience. Also I will be 34 in November. How realistic of a switch is this and how long will it take me, best case? Advice for what to start doing NOW to make this as efficient as possible?
posted by sickinthehead to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
you have a oerfect background for certain finance gigs. That would an easier transition than accounting
posted by JPD at 3:54 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

What type of finance gigs?
posted by sickinthehead at 4:01 PM on April 10, 2014

I'm not sure why someone thinks a transition to finance would be easier than to accounting, but in any case, I think you could master accounting because the principals are not more complex than anything else you've already studied and mastered. But like anything else, it will take time to learn because there are many concepts, rules, and regulations, and finding open doors in a new field when you are not a recent college graduate can be challenging. But the seemingly strong job market for accounting and finance people would seem to help mitigate that to some extent. Have you considered trying to network with some people who are in "public accounting" to see if they can give you some personal advice and maybe even serve as mentors? That's what I would suggest you do.
posted by Dansaman at 4:04 PM on April 10, 2014

What kind of accounting? That's the elephant in this particular room. "Accounting" is basically as broad as saying "math" in career terms--the job requirements and such to be a professor are very different from what are required to be an actuary, you know?

Just glancing at your previous questions, it sounds like you're looking at this for at least partially financial purposes, in which case you almost certainly would need to get into public accounting at a large firm, probably with a Master's degree, and without an accounting degree I think those tend to run 2-3 years. Even there, Big 4 starting salaries are not anywhere near six figures, so you're looking at considerably past that point to get to serious money, and the workload expected is not a gentle one. In particular, tax or audit season is not a family-friendly time. Everybody will say that they think that work-life balance is important, and that will matter not one bit when you're coming up on deadlines and you're not going to finish in time if you're not there until 10pm or after.

Smaller firms may be more flexible in some ways, but also considerably less likely to pay serious money for quite a lot of years after you get into the field, if ever. Corporate accounting can have better benefits and saner hours, but the pay and advancement tends to not be as good. In any case, if you aren't really personality-compatible with the work, it is an awful slog.
posted by Sequence at 4:24 PM on April 10, 2014

Why accounting? At least at the large public company where I work, accounting means the somewhat boring, monotonous work of closing the books each month, maintaining appropriate transaction ledgers, etc. A PhD in anything with an undergrad in math would be seriously overqualified. (Not that that's inherently a bad thing.)

If you use Matlab, R, Python or SAS to do quantitative analysis, you can explore lots of more creative (and better-paying) jobs under the heading of "data science". These people are hard to find, especially if they have good communication skills. If you're up for a move to the SF Bay Area, there are tons of jobs in this space. Heck, memail me and we can have a chat. We're always looking for good people with that combination of technical and communication skills. And like I said, they're hard to find.

If your toolkit leans more to Excel, then "Financial Planning and Analytics" or FP&A or "Business Analytics" could be a fit (though these may want more business experience than you have).
posted by CruiseSavvy at 5:03 PM on April 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Check out the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program. It's not equivalent to a full level CPA in terms of detailed accounting knowledge (specifically building financial statements), but it is designed to give you the tools for fundamental analysis of financial statements for investment purposes. Your background + CFA would fit well for an equity analyst for pharma companies and biotech.

The CFA is self-directed and a lot cheaper than a degree program but is still well-respected and useful. And as importantly, just going over the books and study material will tell you if this is something you want to do or not.
posted by limagringo at 5:26 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

No, you should not pursue a career in accounting, unless, perhaps, it is forensic accounting.

On the other hand, yes, you should absolutely consider a career working with numbers in a business context. I would suggest looking at "data science, "analytics," maybe business intelligence/BI. Any stats background and a good deal of your math background will likely serve you in good stead. Also valuable, but not necessarily something you put in a resume or cover letter: a familiarity with getting a grasp on complex, evolved systems, because every organization, every industry, every economic cluster, is the result of more evolution than deliberate, intentional design.

Please though, keep your distance from the finance sector. By my rough estimation, approximately 80% of their use of simulation and statistical models is evil, and they'd like nothing better than to corrupt a naive refugee from academia.
posted by Good Brain at 6:18 PM on April 10, 2014

Consider becoming an actuary instead of an accountant. Much more interesting work, generally better paid, no need to get another degree. I just transitioned from a similar background and I found it surprisingly straightforward.
posted by peacheater at 4:23 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you'd make an EXCELLENT actuary with your background. Extra points, you could work in health or life with your biomedical background.

Another option would be to be a data analyst or a statistician with the CDC.

I think that at this point, you need to be done with school. Your ambivalence seems to point to the idea that you just want to stay in the cocoon of the university.

If you feel like you want to make a change in the future, then cool, do that. But for now, try to find a job you'd like using the education and experience you have RIGHT NOW.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:53 AM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

What type of finance gigs?

anything involving financing or investing in pharma and biotech. You would not need additional training. Probably not going to be interested in you to do their "Evil" quantitative analysis - your credentials are not right.

CFA is for these purposes sort of a useless suggestion - as you would need to be gainfully employed in the sector for three years to receive your CFA, and its more a of a nice to have rather than a tool to drive a career change. I am a charterholder so I'm not biased against it, just telling you its value.

I think you should be able to make a move w/o further education. Just a question of networking. A transition to accounting would almost certain require some formal education in the sphere. Hence my opinion its an easier transition (also Actuary and Accountancy - I mean be really really confident you are interested in those things before you spend more money on school.)
posted by JPD at 8:06 AM on April 11, 2014

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