University of Southern California

Karen Ton
Ph.D. Candidate
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Graduating Year
Undergrad Institution
USC Marshall School of Business
Alhambra, CA

After graduating from USC with a dual major in accounting and business administration, Karen Ton worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers for five years, first in auditing and then in transaction services. “I realized I liked the technical side of accounting,” she said, “but didn’t want to do all the traveling that the transaction services practice requires.”

So Ton reached out to one of her undergraduate instructors, Kendall Simmonds, professor of clinical accounting, who suggested something she hadn’t considered before: applying to Leventhal’s Ph.D. program to become a professor. The idea appealed to her. “A teaching career offers the opportunity to do research, which is intellectually stimulating, and to teach, so I’d be able to work with people,” she said.

Having just finished her fourth year as a doctoral student, Ton has worked as a research assistant and a teaching assistant and has taught an undergraduate managerial accounting course. She knows she made the right choice. “When you’re in corporate, there’s a lot of administrative work and it can get repetitive,” Ton explained. “Whereas with the Ph.D. program, it feels like you’re always doing something different because you’re doing research or teaching. Since you’re given the flexibility to research topics of interest to you, you can always be working on new projects or ideas.”

Ton is currently working on a couple of co-authored projects, one with Associate Professor Shiing-Wu Wang and another with A. N. Mosich Chair in Accounting and Professor of Accounting Mark DeFond and Assistant Professor Jieying Zhang. “Working with faculty is a really good experience because it gives me a chance to develop my research, writing and presentation skills,” she said. “Faculty members also provide guidance and advice to help me become a better researcher.”

Attending professional conferences where she has presented her own research and learned what other scholars are working on, Ton said, has also helped to prepare her for the all-important final year when she will seek out a faculty position. “At these conferences, you get to meet people from a lot of different schools, so it gives you an idea of what the environment and research interests are at different universities.”

But Ton’s mind is not on the job search quite yet. For now she is focused on completing her dissertation. “I’m mainly interested in corporate restructuring,” she said, “specifically, how the role of accounting information affects corporate restructuring.”