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Interview with Professor Annette Nellen, CPA, Director of the MS Taxation Program at San José State University

Professor Annette Nellen has had a varied and successful career in accounting. Currently Professor Nellen directs the MS Taxation Program at San José State University. She also maintains a highly informative and engaging blog on taxation, 21st Century Taxation. Professor Nellen took time from her busy schedule to speak with us and share her advice with master’s program students and candidates.

Can you share with us a brief overview of your current research?

Most of my research is focused on tax policy and tax reform at both the federal and state levels. This involves articles, testimony for legislators and tax commissions, blog postings and materials for presentations to practitioners. I have been blogging for over six years at 21st Century Taxation to highlight and address topics related to helping our tax laws follow principles of good tax policy and 21st century ways of living and doing business. I am also the author of two Bloomberg BNA portfolios which I’m in the process of updating. One is on amortization of intangibles (IRC Section 197) and the other is on the basics of Internet taxation.

What new or newer technologies have you found especially helpful for accounting and finance students?

For my graduate tax students, I think the wealth of tax materials available on the web related to tax policy and reform is outstanding. For example, they can watch live or archived legislative hearings. There are also numerous reports available from think tanks and government agencies. For classroom use, in addition to online classroom platforms, we use narrated PowerPoint presentations (made by both me and students) and Skype for interaction between student and professor for online courses. All of our graduate tax students have access to online tax tools, such as RIA Checkpoint, CCH and BNA.

What advice do you have for students who are feeling overwhelmed by a challenging course or course load?

Take a step back and review the course syllabus to be sure you have a good understanding of what the course is about and what is expected of you. Review your calendar to be sure you have blocked out time for attending each class, as well as 2 – 3 hours each week per class units for studying and homework. If you don’t have enough time, see what free time you can give up for the balance of the semester. See if someone can help you with some of your household or family obligations. If you have questions you cannot find the answer to or figure out, check with your professor, but do so well in advance of any exam or assignment due date.

Many publications have recently noted a national shortage in accounting and finance professors. What advantages might there be to current accounting students in pursuing an education track that leads to teaching?

One advantage today is that you’d be entering a field where demand exceeds supply. If you enjoy teaching and research, consider a career in academia. I have found it quite rewarding to work with students and be involved with university governance and curriculum development. If you are considering this, talk to several of your professors to be sure you know what is involved in earning a PhD and what all is involved in working at a university.

Are there any career assessment programs or tools you would recommend for students who are still considering their career options?

The AICPA has helpful resources for students. Also check with the CPA Society in your state.

Would you do anything differently in your education or professional experience if you had the opportunity?

No. I’m pleased with my career path. I was in the tax and accounting field for ten years before moving to full-time teaching. My experience at a Fortune 500 company, the IRS and a Big 4 firm, has proven extremely beneficial to my teaching of accounting and taxation.

What misperceptions about accounting or finance would you like to see corrected?

Some people think that these are boring fields. They are not. Accounting and finance are the key areas to make companies operate; they represent the “language of business.” To not have a strong understanding of them will likely pose restrictions on career options and advancement. These areas, including taxation, are intellectually engaging, always changing, and never boring.

We extend our thanks to Professor Nellen for her insights and for taking the time to share with us. You can learn more about Professor Nellen and her activities on her faculty page at SJSU, find out about opportunities for learning from Professor Nellen and other accomplished tax professionals through the SJSU Tax Institute, and keep up to date on issues in taxation with the 21st Century Taxation blog.