July 13, 2021Print | PDF
The Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University extends heartfelt congratulations to Sara Wick for successfully defending her doctoral dissertation, Subjective evaluation of professional employees: Work-day duration as a heuristic to evaluate output, on November 30, 2020.
Wick earned her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Accounting at the Lazaridis School, and went on to pursue her CPA designation while working for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) before earning her MBA at the Schulich School of Business at York University. She returned to the Lazaridis School to complete her PhD in Management in Accounting to pursue her goal of teaching. Wick said, “I wanted to teach from a young age. After doing my undergrad at Laurier and being in a university setting with students who are passionate about what they want to do, I realized I wanted to become a professor so I could teach in this age group and help others catapult their careers.”
Wick describes what inspired her journey and shares her thoughts about the Lazaridis School and the opportunities her PhD in Management has created.
“Going to Laurier to do my PhD is one of the best decisions I've ever made.”
I did my undergrad in Economics and Accounting at the Lazaridis School and really enjoyed the accounting aspect, so I was already pretty sure this is where I wanted to focus. I spoke with an accounting professor at Laurier about my goals - Theresa Libby, who is now the director of the Kenneth G. Dixon School of Accounting at the University of Central Florida. She was a great mentor and really took an interest in my career aspirations and helped me plan out the right steps to follow. She was such a good role model - the way she conducted herself in class, the way she imparted knowledge, she was top notch. I looked up to her and thought ‘I want to have a career just like hers’. She told me to first get some experience before doing my PhD. Now looking back, it was bang-on the right advice.
I earned my Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation while working at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). While there, I was able to take on a mentoring role and help my colleagues prepare for their CPA exams. I started a mentorship program, which really gave me the confidence in teaching accounting. Having this professional experience really helped me along my path to the PhD because I had real-world experience to bring not only into my own learning, but also into the classroom as a teacher.
I also completed an MBA and taught at several universities, including Laurier, which solidified the need to pursue my PhD in order to become a professor. With these experiences under my belt, I knew for sure a PhD in accounting was right for me.
I wanted to work with Leslie Berger, associate professor and KPMG Foundation Fellow in Accounting, and Lan Guo, associate professor and Grant Thornton Fellow in Accounting. I knew them from my undergrad days and later when I taught at Laurier. I was motivated by their work and their research interests were like mine so I knew they would be perfect as my co-advisors. They were one of the reasons why choosing to do my PhD at the Lazaridis School was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
It was also nice to be back as Laurier as a student again – I felt like I was at home. You need to be a Golden Hawk to really feel it, but it’s just an incredible community and being back there was such a comfort. It’s a small community and the professors and PhD office really care about the success of each student and provide so much support. They care about your well-being and want to see you do well. It does come down to motivation – it’s on you to actually do the work, but they gave me all the tools and support I needed to do that.
They really helped me along this whole path – in the beginning providing me with guidance and support and by the end really giving me the confidence to believe in my own abilities as a researcher. They coached me about presenting at conferences and how to present my research. They helped me get working papers ready. They sat with me for hours refining my research question. They just were just so great and supportive from day one. I can't even put into words how I feel about that.
Lazaridis offers a PhD that focuses on management in addition to your area of specialization, which I think is great. I learned how management thinking informs accounting. I gained insights that were crucial to my research, which depends on understanding how management decisions affect human behaviour.
During your first two years, you do course work with PhD students in all five streams (Accounting; Finance; Marketing; Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management; Supply Chain, Operations, and Technology Management). You learn how your area of research relates to and is informed by other areas of business and economics. Plus, you get to know people who become colleagues you can turn to for advice in their area of specialization.
In addition to the Lazaridis faculty, who are all great, you learn from a cross-section of professors from other top-notch schools who are invited as guest speakers for our Faculty. Time was carved out in their schedules to meet with PhD students. I would read their papers and think, ‘Wow, they're amazing and they came to talk to us!’ We also had opportunities to sit down and meet with them privately to get their advice. I asked them about their careers, what made them successful, and things they would do differently. Now, if I go to conferences and other academic events, I see these superstar research scholars who visited our school and they say ‘hi.’ That’s a big deal for me. You make connections that pave the way and open the door for future opportunities thanks to those informal meeting opportunities.
I have a young family. The people at Lazaridis helped me balance school and being a parent, which was bit challenging. The people running the PhD program understand that life happens and were so supportive. And, my advisors were really understanding. They helped me navigate competing priorities and made sure I accomplished great things.
Running was also really important. Even if I felt that sometimes I couldn't take a break from my studies, I would make sure to go for a run. I even ran a half marathon at one point and the morning of my defense, I went for a 5 km run even though I didn't sleep the night before.
I had to defend on Zoom because of social distancing. A lot of faculty came, virtually speaking, to support me. That was really nice. They wanted to see me get my PhD. I was nervous about the questions that the committee examiners would ask. But I will say it was very collegial and the process helped me to consider how my dissertation sets the stage for publishing papers and doing further research.
As soon as I finished, I was so excited. I immediately called my supervisors on a group chat. I didn't want to shut my computer. It almost felt surreal. Thinking I'm a doctor now is an odd concept. When it’s safe to do so, I plan to get together with colleagues, family, and friends to celebrate.
The workload is heavy. It’s a lot of work, including things you might not be used to doing, like reading academic papers, which means understanding a new language. It’s an example of how, at first, the learning curve is steep. Another challenge is fully appreciating what academic rigor entails. For example, you are asked to revise things many, many times. You get back a lot of comments. It’s all part of an academic process that trains you to think deeper and deeper. My supervisors were reassuring the whole time, supporting me, reminding me that I was doing good work, that this is just part of the process of doing great research.
Part of accounting is understanding how controls are put in place that affect people. My research looks at pay structures and performance measurement; how we evaluate employees, and how we incentivize them. This became my area of focus after I observed a common misconception – one I wanted to address – that the more time you put in, the better your work. A friend, who always put in long hours at the office had to start leaving early every day when she became a mom. She compensated by adopting a focused strategy to keep up her productivity. She made sure she was still making the same contributions. Nevertheless, her managers assumed she was being less productive, which she saw as a bias. I also met a manager who said he could not possibly reward someone if they left early every day. I disagreed. Not everybody has the same opportunity to spend long hours in the office, which doesn't necessarily mean that the quality of their work is any different. So, I thought about how theories I learned in my PhD program could explain and address this bias. I then examined how the time an employee spends at work relative to their peers affects how their supervisor evaluates their contributions.
It was really the perfect storm to observe something in the real world and be able to study it in my research, apply the theories I was learning through my PhD, and put it all together to tell a story.
COVID-19 has accelerated the shift toward remote work, which has created a pressing need to understand how this trend is affecting productivity. My dissertation couldn’t have been timelier since it provides a foundation to examine this issue. As soon as I finished my PhD, I teamed up with an academic at Lakehead University. We earned a grant from the Canadian Academic Association to study how the pandemic is affecting accounting faculty and graduate students from equity seeking populations, which consist of people who experience unequal access to opportunities. The research will help universities identify how they can help people who are struggling more than others during the pandemic. I can relate to this issue on a personal level because I’m a mother with caregiving responsibilities, as well being a faculty member. There's lots of discussion in the press about how women's careers are uniquely affected by the pandemic because of demands they face in their personal lives.
The professors really cared about our success and gave us all the tools to make that happen. They took a very personal approach. Part of that was caring about our mental well-being. In terms of my studies, they took the time to understand what I was interested in and then suggested the best courses for me to take. They worked with me through some challenging times. I wasn't just a number. I was me and they cared about that. That really helped me to get past the finish line. If you're looking for something that sets apart the PhD program at Lazaridis, I think it’s this individualized approach.
The administrative side of things can be a headache sometimes, especially when you’re so focused on your degree and research. The staff were so supportive and made sure that part was as easy as possible.
Definitely. The professors led regular meetings for people in my PhD stream so we could share and discuss our research with one other. It was a safe place where everyone bounced ideas off one other and received feedback. The professors fostered an environment where everybody's opinion was important. They never said, ‘that's not right.’ The faculty taught us how to be collegial and constructively critique other people's research and provide feedback.
We also had a great relationship with fellow PhD students at the University of Waterloo, which is within walking distance of the Laurier campus. We held brown bag lunches together. That made my academic community richer.
I would tell them that it’s life changing. It's a lot of hard work, but it's really expanded my mind and opened me to think about things, even life problems, differently. It's taught me a lot about life in general, not just accounting. I would also say, it takes a whole lot of self-motivation to succeed. You're on your own after the courses are done in terms of organizing your time to get your research completed. You also need to have a thick skin. You're going to get a lot of comments back to improve your work and that's normal. It’s important to know that you are buying into a process that guarantees revisions and thinking differently about things. You just have to trust the process.
I'm an assistant professor at the University of Guelph where I hope I can continue to be a great teacher and build my profile as a researcher. I'm so excited to start my academic career and I hope to do research that makes a difference.