A life of learning among the halls of academia may be the dream of many, but few have the gifts necessary to achieve it. Dr Agnes Lo, assistant professor in the Department of Accountancy at Lingnan University, obviously has them, and the success of her transition from practising accountant to highly regarded academic has been reconfirmed recently by the "Best Research Paper Award" for 2004 from the American Accounting Association (AAA).
Speaking of the award-winning paper, "A Tax Compliance Study of the Impact of Firm Characteristics on International Transfer Pricing", Dr Lo explains that research excellence lies in a combination of factors. First on the list is familiarity with one's subject, while originality also plays a decisive role. "My previous work experience in taxation brought me to my topic which is very important for multinational firms and developing countries," she notes. "Very few people have studied it and I hoped to make a bigger contribution to the field by working on this relatively unexplored area."
Support from Lingnan University has also been a major factor in Dr Lo's achievements. Throughout her research, she received guidance and comments from her thesis supervisor, as well as other teaching staff, and benefited from the flexibility of the university's postgraduate programmes. "There are no required courses," she explains. "We often sit in on undergraduate courses at Lingnan or postgraduate courses at other universities that suit our needs." Small class sizes ensure that students receive maximum support from teachers.
Dr Lo's success in research laid the foundation for her move from the accountancy profession, and her close relationship with the faculty helped in adjusting to life as one of the teaching staff. As a lover of knowledge, she considers her dual role as an ideal way to keep learning and to share knowledge with others. "Instead of contributing my skills to just one company as an employee, I am now nurturing talents who will make a bigger contribution to the profession in future, which I find much more satisfactory," she says. Despite the academic nature of her work, Dr Lo still considers herself a professional in accountancy, since her research is closely related to the realities of the industry.
Reflecting on what was needed for a successful change in career direction, she highlights certain personal attributes as being essential. Courage, persistence and the determination to work towards a well-defined, long-term goal were vital. "I had no idea where a PhD would lead, but I decided to follow my interests," she recalls. "I believe we should go for what we truly want when we are young. A career breakthrough will lie ahead if you can find a way to do what you like best."