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Accounting PhD Specialization

General Information

Accounting is an interdisciplinary area, combining study of financial information with areas such as economics, finance, decision theory, and cognitive psychology. The study of accounting involves examination of financial, managerial, and tax accounting problems, as well as related problems in auditing and decision-making.

The Ph.D. curriculum in accounting encompasses two major streams of research. The first stream examines the role of accounting information (both financial and managerial) in contracting and capital markets. This first stream is economics-and-finance based and relies heavily on empirical research methods using archival data. The second stream is judgment and decision making in accounting (also known as behavioral decision theory research). This second stream is primarily psychology-based and relies heavily on controlled experiments with human subjects. The approach is often applied to study auditing issues but also can be applied to financial and managerial accounting issues. The accounting Ph.D. program is designed to prepare students to publish research in top-tier accounting journals including The Accounting Review, Journal of Accounting and Economics, and Journal of Accounting Research and to take positions at leading research-based universities.

The Department of Accounting offers both major and minor areas in accounting. The remainder of this document first describes the policies for a major in accounting. This is followed by a description of the policies for a minor in accounting.

Department web site
Accounting Faculty

Admission Requirements

Applicants must have completed an undergraduate degree at an accredited university and should have reasonable training in mathematics and economics. An admission committee of faculty members reviews all completed applications. While the committee considers all relevant factors in its recommendations, important factors include past academic performance, GMAT scores, personal statements, and letters of recommendation. The GRE exam can be substituted for the GMAT but the GMAT is strongly preferred. In some cases, we may request a personal interview.

Recommended Preparation Prior to Entry

In the summer preceding arrival at UW, new doctoral students are strongly encouraged to review important concepts in basic tool areas (e.g., economics, statistics, calculus, and linear algebra). Knowledge of financial and managerial accounting is required.

Accounting Area Faculty Coordinator

Prof. Sarah McVay, Accounting Area Faculty Coordinator, would be glad to answer your questions. You can contact her by phone (206-616-2196) or by email (

The Accounting Area Faculty Coordinator advises new students until they establish a supervisory committee by the end of the Spring quarter of their first year. The supervisory committee assists the student in choosing appropriate courses, approves the course of studies, and monitors the student’s progress.

All accounting majors must complete the following requirements. The number of credits for each course is indicated in parentheses after the course number.

Course Number Catalog Title Current Course Content
ACCTG 579 (4) Special topics in Accounting Introduces faculty’s areas of research
ACCTG 580 (4) Introduction to Accounting Research Includes positive accounting theory
ACCTG 581 (4)* Seminar in Managerial Accounting Analytical accounting research
ACCTG 596 (4) Seminar in Financial Accounting Capital markets
ACCTG 597 (4)** Seminar in Managerial Accounting Behavioral accounting research
ACCTG 599 (1) Accounting Research Workshop Weekly accounting workshop series


* Offered periodically.

**Offered every second year.

Accounting majors are expected to register for ACCTG 599 each year in which they are enrolled in coursework (minimum two years). All Accounting majors are expected to attend ACCTG 599 each year they are in residence.

Occasionally, optional special topics classes will be offered reflecting instructor and student interest (for example, empirical research in taxation).

Research Methods Minor Area Requirements

In addition to the major area, students are required to choose three additional areas as minors. Doctoral students in accounting must select Research Methods as one minor area. Coursework in Research Methods should include Statistics 481 (or equivalent courses in probability and/or statistical inference), ECON 581, and ECON 582. ECON 581 and 582 are the econometrics series the UW Department of Economics offers. These requirements are viewed as minimal background for conducting doctoral level research.

Students should also include at least 3 units (e.g., one course) of additional coursework in Research Methods tailored to their specific interests and selected in consultation with the area advisor. The UW Business School also offers behavioral research method courses BARM 590 and 591. Additional econometric and behavioral research method courses are available in the economics and psychology departments, respectively.

Other Minor Area Requirements

Although Economics is highly recommended as a second minor area, students may petition to substitute another minor area in special circumstances. The courses to be included in the Economics minor should include the three-course sequence ECON 500, 501, 508 and at least 3 additional units (e.g., one course) of coursework selected in consultation with the Economics area advisor. The three-course sequence is the microeconomics series economics doctoral students are expected to complete in the economics department.

The third minor area will depend on the student’s interest. For example, students might choose one of the following minor areas: Finance, Information Systems, International Business, Operations Management, Psychology, and Quantitative Methods. It is also possible to design a special minor area, which more directly addresses a student’s interests. Since many students choose Finance as the third minor area, it is also briefly discussed below.

The Finance minor area is recommended for students interested in financial accounting research. Students can either complete the 4 course doctoral seminar sequence FIN 580, 590, 591, 592 or they can take three courses from this sequence and at least 3 additional units (e.g., one course) of coursework selected in consultation with the Finance area advisor. The four-course sequence includes coursework in financial economics, capital market theory, corporate finance, and advanced finance research.

Assuming adequate background preparation, students are expected to complete the following coursework in the first year. The normal schedule is as follows but course offerings and quarter offerings can change depending on faculty availability.

First Year

Autumn Winter Spring Summer
ECON 500 Microeconomic Analysis I ECON 501 Microeconomic Analysis II ECON 508 Microeconomic Analysis III ACCTG 600 Research Project
STAT 481 Mathematical Statistics ECON 581 Econometrics II ECON 582 Econometrics III BA 580 Problems in Microeconomics
Elective Elective ACCTG 580 Accounting Research
ACCTG 599 Research Workshop ACCTG 599 Research Workshop ACCTG 599 Research Workshop
Teaching Effectiveness Seminar



Second Year

Autumn Winter Spring Summer
ACCTG ACCTG 597 Managerial Accounting ACCTG 596 Capital Markets BA 800 Doctoral Dissertation
Elective Elective Elective Area Examination
ACCTG 599 Research Workshop ACCTG 599 Research Workshop ACCTG 599 Research Workshop


Each student registers for ACCTG 600 during the first Summer quarter to complete a summer research project under the guidance of a faculty advisor. This project is to be independent research on a topic and issue selected by the student. The ACCTG 600 advisors and the accounting doctoral area coordinator constitute a Summer Project Committee to approve and evaluate the projects.

The following deadlines are strictly enforced:

Requirement Deadline
Topic approved by the Committee July 15
Completed written project turned in to the Committee September 15
Presentation of project in a workshop (45 minutes) October 15


Grades in ACCTG 600 for the summer projects are based 50 percent on the written project as submitted by September 30 and 50 percent on the presentation completed by October 15.

Doctoral students minoring in accounting must meet the following requirements:

ACCTG 510 and ACCTG 511 or equivalents
ACCTG 580, Introduction to Accounting Research

In addition, students minoring in accounting are required to successfully complete one of the following:

Course Number Catalog Title Current Course Content
ACCTG 581 (4)* Seminar in Managerial Accounting Analytical accounting research
ACCTG 596 (4) Seminar in Financial Accounting Capital markets
ACCTG 597 (4)* Seminar in Behavioral Accounting Research Behavioral accounting research


*Offered every second year.

Written Area Examination
After completing all coursework required for a major area in accounting, the student takes a written area examination offered each year during late August or early September. The accounting area examination tests students on coursework as well as on topics of current research. The exam consists of two parts: a closed book eight-hour exam and an open book take home exam requiring a review of a research paper.

General Examination
It is expected that students will complete all coursework and area exam and begin working on a dissertation proposal by the end of their second year. However, students are encouraged during their third and fourth years to attend the accounting doctoral research seminar in their area of interest (ACCTG 596 for financial accounting empiricists, ACCTG 597 for behavioral or experimental researchers). When the supervisory committee believes that the dissertation proposal is well defined, a general exam is scheduled. During the general exam, the student presents the dissertation proposal and answers questions related to the proposal and/or to courses taken. Members of the supervisory committee, a representative of the Graduate School, and any other interested faculty and students, attend the general exam. The chair of the supervisory committee determines the precise format of the general exam.

Students who have passed their area examination but not their general exam are required to present an Accounting Research Workshop on their research in progress each Spring quarter until they have passed their general exam (and thus have an approved thesis topic). Students are required to present their research paper in the research workshop before sending it out to schools to interview. This presentation should be in early December to allow time for revision before sending the paper out in early January.

After passing the general exam, students complete the proposed research and write the dissertation guided by a reading committee. The reading committee may consist entirely of members of the supervisory committee or may include one or more members not previously on the supervisory committee. When formation of the reading committee introduces new members, a new chair of the reading committee would ordinarily become chair of the supervisory committee and new members of the reading committee would ordinarily be placed on the supervisory committee.

Final Examination
The supervisory committee administers the final defense of the dissertation.