A smiling Mary Cowx poses for a portrait in Ohio State's Garden of Constants.

When Mary Cowx talks about pursuing her passion, it comes from experience. Cowx, a PhD student in accounting, left behind a 10-year career in public and private accounting to pursue academia. Now in her second year at Fisher, Cowx’s academic prowess is being recognized, as she was named a recipient of a 2018 Deloitte Foundation Doctoral Fellowship.

The $25,000 grant, awarded to just 10 PhD accounting candidates from 100 universities nationwide, supports recipients’ final year of coursework and a subsequent year to complete their doctoral dissertation. Cowx, the fifth PhD student at Fisher to receive the prestigious fellowship in the past seven years, shared her thoughts on the fellowship and the winding road that brought her to Fisher.

What does receiving this distinction mean to you?

Prior to starting the PhD program, I accepted an offer to teach full-time at Queens University in Charlotte. I was lucky to be sent to the AACSB Bridge Program in Boston that summer, where I worked through a week-long intensive workshop with a dozen professionals transitioning to teaching, most of whom were Big Four Partners nearing retirement. Speaking with these leaders about their excitement to finally fulfill their dreams of giving back in the classroom was inspirational and also provided perspective: I am here today because I took a chance to follow my dreams, which required leaving a successful career of 10 years for a career in academia.

I recognize that I am truly fortunate to have this opportunity to pursue my passion for teaching and research. The Deloitte Foundation Doctoral Fellowship will allow me to dedicate myself to improving my research and teaching skillsets over the remainder of the PhD program. To say I am honored is an understatement — flabbergasted might be a better description.

What goes through your mind when you consider the past winners of this fellowship here at Fisher and the nationwide competition for it?

Prior Fisher fellows have been very successful, not only in the PhD program, but also in their research and faculty placements. I hope to follow their lead as I work on developing the technical skills required to do valuable, relevant research that will be useful to practitioners and policy makers.

Do awards and fellowships like this play a role in what schools you considered for your PhD?

When applying to PhD programs, student success was a critical component of my program selection process. Recent job placement, working papers with faculty and receipt of distinguished fellowships and awards were valuable signals regarding the quality of Fisher’s PhD program. These indicators of student success accurately reflect Ohio State’s rigorous research training program.

What is your area of interest as you pursue your PhD?

My research interests are broad and center on financial research in taxation, including accounting for income taxes, tax policy, and tax disclosure. These interests stem from my professional experience at both KPMG and Hearst Corporation, which gave me the opportunity to practice tax planning and compliance from two perspectives: as a consultant and as a corporate tax manager. These experiences fuel my interests in the role of corporate governance in tax planning, the impact of taxes on organizational structure, and the interplay of financial reporting aggressiveness and tax avoidance. Additionally, I am interested in the impact that tax regulations have on real firm decisions, such as whether to acquire a target, invest in research and development, or expand overseas and whether proposed and established tax regimes meet their objectives.

Though my primary research interest is tax, I believe it is essential to also immerse myself in financial research. Ohio State’s rigorous research training program exposes me to a variety of research issues and topics in accounting, finance, economics and tax. This multi-field research approach, coupled with the institutional knowledge gained from my professional tax experience, will enable me to answer important research questions about how taxes impact businesses.

Does a fellowship like this validate anything you’ve done? Is it motivation to continue to excel? Both?

Transitioning from a successful professional career to academia was admittedly scary, and doubts abounded. I am only two years into the PhD program, but I can say with confidence that this is the most challenging goal I’ve ever pursued.

I see being selected as a Deloitte Doctoral Fellow as a signal that I am making progress toward my goal of becoming a well-rounded researcher and teacher, and I look forward to continued growth throughout the remainder of the PhD program.