Margaret Christ, an associate professor in the J.M. Tull School of Accounting, prepares students for thriving careers in the digital age by incorporating the latest big data and data analytics skills and technologies into her accounting courses.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I have an undergraduate degree in accounting from Louisiana State University with a concentration in internal audit. My Ph.D. is from the University of Texas at Austin, where I focused on management accounting research. I’ve been at UGA since 2008 and teach accounting information systems and data analytics in the undergraduate program.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA right after graduation from UT in 2008. I was initially drawn to UGA because of its strong reputation for behavioral accounting research. I also found that UGA had a really diverse faculty—with more female faculty members than most schools. I hadn’t sought that out specifically, but when I found it, I realized that it was really important as a young female faculty member to be somewhere where I would be well-supported. It was great to have strong female role models to help me develop as a professor. In general, our entire accounting faculty is amazing. I remember walking through the hall my first year, and I had to pinch myself when I’d think about how I was now working with these really incredible scholars who I had admired as a Ph.D. student.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I have taught the same course throughout my tenure at UGA: “Accounting Information Systems.” I’m very excited about the direction that the course has taken over the last few years. I have had the opportunity to mold it into a data analytics course and am able to incorporate many of the new skills that accountants need to be successful today. The profession has been changing rapidly, and I have added many new skills and technologies to keep the course current. Next year, I will begin teaching a new course on fraud analytics in the master’s program. I’m very excited about that class. I’ll be working with practitioners this year to develop realistic cases.
My favorite course that I took was as an undergrad at LSU. I added the internal audit course as an elective my junior year, and it completely changed my career path in a really great way. Before that class I had no idea that there were other choices for accounting students besides the traditional audit or tax positions. As an internal auditor, I became more of a business advisor or consultant. I used audit methods to examine organizations’ operational and financial risks and to evaluate the controls they had to mitigate the risks. In my four years as a practicing internal auditor, I traveled the world and worked in companies from many different industries. No two audits were alike. I loved it, and I owe all of those experiences—as well as my move into academia—to that class. Without it, I don’t know what I’d be doing now.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Earning tenure at UGA has been one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. It is hard work, but being a professor is incredibly rewarding, and I’m so glad I get to do it here. More recently, I have been honored to be selected as a Senior Teaching Fellow and inducted into the UGA Teaching Academy. Working with UGA students is the most fulfilling part of my job, and I have really enjoyed being able to spend time thinking about how I can continue to improve as a teacher. It has been great to connect with other professors across campus who are passionate about teaching.
How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
As a management accounting scholar, my research focuses on how organizations motivate and control employee behavior so that organizational objectives are achieved. I primarily use experimental methods to examine what types of policies, rules and procedures can best elicit desired behavior. Some of my more recent research focuses on how employees’ relationships with their supervisors might influence their reaction to various types of controls. Everyone can relate to this research because we’ve all had bosses that we’ve loved … and those we haven’t.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
My research and teaching are very closely aligned. My research focuses on control systems, which are broadly defined as mechanisms that direct employee behavior, and in my class, I teach business processes with a focus on the many controls built into each process. As a result, I’m regularly able to draw from research to enhance my lectures.
More recently, both my course and my research have broadened to include big data and data analytics. For a current research project, I have been interviewing finance and accounting professionals and their external auditors about how they use data analytics in the financial reporting process and to detect fraud. I was able to share these insights with my students throughout the semester. I think it really helped the students understand the importance of what we were learning in the course, and it helped me provide very real, practical examples of how these tools and techniques are used in the real world.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope that students develop an analytic mindset—the ability to think critically about a business issue and identify a way to analyze it to solve a problem. I also want them to become comfortable with a variety of technological tools that we use in class. But more importantly, I want them to develop confidence that they can successfully figure out any technology that they encounter in their careers. Many accounting students are actually quite apprehensive of IT, and I hope that I give them enough exposure that they will be able to overcome those fears. Finally, I hope that I help them develop the tools they need to be lifelong learners. My favorite part of being a practicing accountant was learning about the different ways that each client carried out business processes. I never stopped learning, and I hope that my students embrace this as well.
Describe your ideal student.
My course is very hands-on and case-based. My ideal student is a hard worker who is willing to take on a challenge. My ideal student is also intellectually curious and a critical thinker. My class is not a traditional accounting class, and students have to be comfortable with ambiguity and be willing to take risks. Of course, I also like a student with a positive attitude who is willing to engage in class discussion and can work well with others on group projects. Much of accounting work is done in teams, so having good people skills is absolutely imperative.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
The UGA campus is such a special and beautiful place. I’ve spent many leisurely Sunday mornings on North Campus near the Chapel with my family. It’s one of our favorite places to play. Before the business school moved, I often ate lunch in the Founders Memorial Garden. It is so peaceful there. I also love to walk through the Trial Gardens in the spring, admiring the many new varieties of flowers that are developing there. But, of course, Sanford Stadium on a Saturday in the fall is just the best. I love the energy and excitement, the sea of red in the stands, the Redcoat Band, the traditions … it’s there that I’ve really felt the love and loyalty people have for UGA, and I’m always reminded of how proud that I am to be a part of this great university.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
I have three young children — Adam (6-years-old), and Kate and Eloise (4-year-old twins) — so I spend most of my free time with them and my husband, John. I love that I get to re-experience the world with them.
I also like to run. Before I had children I ran three marathons, so I love lacing up my running shoes and turning on a podcast to go for a run through Five Points.
Community/civic involvement includes….
My children attend Barrow Elementary School, so I volunteer regularly at the Barrow media center. I think the library really is the heart and soul of the school. I’ve loved spending time there helping children find books that they can really connect with. Today, libraries also serve as makers’ spaces, robotics labs and communications hubs; I’ve been amazed to see all of the other things children learn in the media center. I’m definitely learning right along with them.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
This is a hard question. But I think my all-time favorite would have to be “The Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux. My dad introduced me to the Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber first; we used to listen to it together every day. He bought the novel for me when I was in about fifth grade. I still remember that he left it for me in my mailbox with a funny note signed by the “opera ghost.” We read it at the same time, and it was such a great shared experience. It’s one of my favorite memories of my dad, and I think of him anytime I hear the music or anything about the story.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
I’ve had many memorable experiences at UGA. One of my favorites was the first time I read the names of the accounting graduates at Terry Convocation. I had just had my first child, and I think that made me really feel the significance of the event. I just looked out at the sea of graduates—and their very excited and proud parents—and I was so moved my eyes welled up with happy tears. I was so grateful to be part of that special day and that I’d had the privilege of teaching many of those students. Graduation is really one of my favorite events.