How to prepare Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam

At The American College of Financial Services, the majority of the Ph.D. students are CFPs, have successful full-time financial planning practices and a few work full-time for the financial industry. When it comes to approaching preparation of Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam, students cannot rely on the traditional Ph.D. students method. For Financial Planning Ph.D., there are a handful of universities like Taxes Tech, Kansas State, Ohio State, etc. These Ph.D. students are mostly not CFP or CFP practitioners yet and they mostly focus on the academic side of the research.

The first Ph.D. cohort of The American College of Financial Services or TAC took their Comprehensive Exam mid-December 2015. I met Kimberly Turner at The Academy of Financial Services in Fall of 2015.  Kimberly is in TAC’s first cohort and presented her Policy Class paper at the conference; I asked her to share her experience with preparing the Comprehensive Exam in Feb 2016. She recommended our study group to start early in developing the summary of each course six months before the Exam.

Our study group, Rebecca Stay, Jay Cruise, David Peters and Kris Carroll, we brainstormed based on Kimberly’s recommendation. Kris developed a course summary template for the study group. We then divided up to each study group member to take two or three courses to fill the templates with a summary of the course. We resumed right before summer of 2016 to review the status while we are still taking Ph.D. courses. We spoke to Jeffrey Camarda from cohort 2 about his experience too in mid-2016. Our leader Jay helped to direct the effort and by the last two courses in our residency in Oct. 2016. We had all 12-course summaries ready to study.

About one month before the exam, the study group gets together to go through themes, critical theories, integration of topics, current hot topics, etc. Rebecca came up with a summary of all theories for each course as a reference guide. I came up with a master cross-reference guide to all research papers with the theme such as accumulations, decumulations, investing, consumption, regulation, behavioral finance, financial literacy and current trends. The Master Reference and theories guide served as a quick reference to locate and cite research papers when you answer the Exam question. Kris identified that accessibility is the key strategy. David predicted which course to pay less attention of for the purpose of the Exam.

Our weekly study group discussion since the inception of the Ph.D. program helps us to collaborate and raise issues and overcome challenges. However, at the same time, we helped each other get the integration through many subjects or courses. During the last month of Exam preparation, we discussed how the theories weave into the overall argument. The last two weeks before the Exam, I gave myself a potential topic to write, but this was challenging and risky. I went ahead and pretended that was the topic and start pulling reference and make arguments about them. I am so glad I did that, it was not about how to reference, but to actually use the reference to argue about some topic. We stored all our team work in Google Drive. Google Drive also served as our backup during the Exam preparation period.

Here is the timeline for those who is preparing for Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam at TAC:

6-Month before Exam: gather your study group, assign two to three courses for each study group members to provide a summary. The summary has to be brief. For example, each research article has three bullet points to summary the important ideas. Each article is fully APA, so you can copy and paste quickly later.

3-Month before Exam: Check the Summary courses status. For example, Kris had some business and family issues in the summer. So I finished up half of his assigned course. Reassign courses if a team member is not up for the task. Ultimately your goal is to have all 12-course ready one-month before the Exam.

1-Month before Exam: Discuss and integration of major theories, themes, current event and potentially try to ask the question for the purpose of the practice. About one week before the Exam, each of us downloads the latest copy from Google Drive to make sure we had all the latest updates locally at our own desktop.

The day of the Exam: read all Exam questions first, don’t try to solve anything yet. Put together your Exam schedule first. For example, when I saw the Exam, I cried first. I did not know what are they talking about, specifically on one terminology. However, I went ahead and put a schedule of Monday, answer Question 1, Tuesday, Question 2, Wednesday Question 3 and Thursday for Question 4. Friday, review, rewrite, rearrange Question 1 and 2. Saturday, review, rewrite, rearrange Question 3 and 4. Sunday, double check all APA citation, grammar, spelling, etc.

Chia-Li Chien PhD Comp Exam Words

Chia-Li Chien PhD Comp Exam Words

The week long Exam, I lose much sleep at night. If I was awake, I went downstairs and started writing again. When I am tired; I take a nap or sleep. The schedule was awful because you had a deadline to return four papers and each paper is about 15 to 20 pages long. That was much writing in one week. During the Exam week, there is no access to the internet, no collaboration from anyone. This is very difficult for me, because English is my second language, and I would love to have someone edit for me but I cannot. What I did instead was to purchase Grammarly desktop version to do all the grammar and spelling check. In Grammarly, you have the option to check grammar based on Academic Dissertation. Grammarly is not perfect, but my only option without any editing help. According to Grammarly’s weekly report, in my Exam week, I wrote 15,198 words.

After the Exam is the most excruciating wait about 8-week, the handbook indicated 6-week, but due to the holiday, somehow it stretched to 8.

I do not know if TAC will change the Comprehensive Exam format or not but if it is the one-week long format with no internet access or collaboration. Then this method works for me and hopefully for you. Might you ask me for a copy of our preparation work? Well, it is best for you to put your own effort to retain the information.

Best of luck!

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What’s the Financial Related Career Path?

Financial Career Path by Chia-Li Chien

Financial Career Path by Chia-Li Chien

Students are near receiving a Business degree but not sure what is the desirable career path? Students often chose career path base on passion, family history in the profession, make much money, know someone in the profession or interests learned from coursework. The truth is that student does not know that until he or she is in their first job and boss. The first career boss will either break or build the career.

My first job in U.S. after receiving a Bachelor Degree in Finance was a Billing Analyst at CIGNA Group Life Insurance division (a 3rd party administrator). Diane was an alumnus who recruited me. In 1990, the computer is still really new in many offices. Diane allowed me to try different ways to get the job done. I decided to program the billing system to send out the letter to each insured for detail monthly billing. Diane soon recognized that I was more than a Billing Analyst and should consider pursuing in Financial System instead. I worked for Diane while I was in graduate school. Diane was an excellent boss and excellent example to help me discover what my talent is in Finance. I went to work for ABB Nuclear Power after CIGNA as Financial System Analyst primary focusing on forecasting sales and government proposals. Again, I was leveraging my financial knowledge to develop many proposals over the years successfully. Both CIGNA and ABB are a public traded company. I was blessed to have Diane and Ken (at ABB) as my boss. They both encourage and guide me into the financial career.

This article is intended to take students who are major, minor or have interests in Finance and a desire to be in financial career path. There are two major paths 1) Corporate Finance and 2) Consumer Finance.

Financial Career Table by Chia-Li Chien

Financial Career Table by Chia-Li Chien

Corporate Finance is related to management from Financial Statements, Capital investment forecasting to financial re-engineering. In Corporate Finance, public traded company is quite different from the privately held company. The public traded company is firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Tesla, Delta Airline, etc. The function in the Corporate Finance is complicated from the regulatory compliance.

However, privately held firms are as challenging compared to public traded firms. Some privately held company is as large as a public traded company. For example, companies like Chick-fil-A, Dell, Pricewatercoopers (PWC), Publix, Deloitte, Enterprise, Fidelity, Meijer, Loves Travel Stops, etc. are all household name in U.S. The amount of audit to satisfy the bank can be arduous tasks for many corporate finance teams.

To be successful in Corporate Finance career path, consider obtaining two professional licenses that can position students into Chief Financial Officer. Certified Treasury Professional or Financial Planning & Analysis Professional

Consumer Finance area has become very needed in the past decade or so due to the demand. Additionally, there is a shortage as Boomer generation leaving the industry. There are two paths in Consumer Finance 1) Institutions and 2) Retail.

In Consumer Finance Institutions there are a. Product Manufactures b. Institution Investors c. Investment Banker d. Customer Service and f. Centralized Financial Planning. In Product Manufactures further break into life, annuity, property & casualty products such as the Prudential and Statefarm. Mutual Funds companies such as Vanguard and Putnam. Well known Exchanged Traded Funds company like Blackrock. 401(k)/Pension platform like TIAA-CREF servicing medical and higher education professionals. Institution Investors would be like a Hedge Fund firm with top two U.S. firm like Bridgewater Associates and AQR Capital Management. Top three Investment bankers are  JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Here is a link to investment banking career path.

In Consumer Finance Retail, there is a. insurance agencies b. Investment advisors and c. financial planning. The agents or advisors sell financial products that are affiliated with product manufacturers to consumers. When you get your auto insurance from Statefarm, that is an insurance agency. When you buy an annuity from Edward Jones, that is an advisor. When you need to get a comprehensive financial plan developed, you can buy service from Lincoln Financial independent advisor or TIAA-CREF retail advisors.

To succeed in the Consumer Finance, consider Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) or Certified Financial Planner (CFP) CFA can be an investment banker that can cross between Corporate Finance and Consumer Finance.

At the end of the day, there are plenty of opportunities in Finance career path. Students can have a rewarding career when culture fit is right. I spent 15 year is the Corporate Financial System before I ventured into Consumer Finance specialized in succession planning for the privately held business. Perhaps I am one of the few that cross both Corporate and Consumer Finance. I am grateful that I had fabulous bosses in the past that shaped my career. If you are a Ball State University student and like to have a phone consultation, please schedule the meeting at Best of luck to you.

About Author: Chia-Li Chien, CFP®, PMP®; Chia-Li “like JOLLY,” Succession Strategist of Value Growth Institute, dedicated to helping private business owners increase their company equity value. She is the award-winning author of the books Show Me The Money and Work toward Reward. Chia-Li is an Instructor & CFP® Program Director at Ball State University and Adjunct Faculty of the American Management Association. Her blog and newsletter were named a Top Small Business Resource by the New York Times You’re the Boss blog. Schedule your appointment today!


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Happy Chinese “Dragon” New Year

恭賀新禧 & 年年有餘
Happy New Year & Wishing you a prosperity 2012.

Chia-Li Chien Jan. 7, 2012

The Chinese New Year 2012: Year of the Dragon is on January 23rd 2012. Famous people born in the Year Of The Dragon include Bruce Lee, Courtney Cox, John Lennon, Keanu Reeves, Nicolas Cage, Reese Witherspoon, Russell Crowe, Sandra Bullock, and Shirley Temple. Of course most famous of all, my MOM and my father-in-law.

Few things must have prior to the holiday to achieve a prosperous year are:

New Year Cake , 年糕 pronounced “Nian Gao” is a sweet steamed glutinous rice-like cake. Ingredients include dark brown sugar, hot water, banana extract and sticky rice flour. There are ready-mix packages, but the end product is not as good. I make mine from scratch. And see my “Nian Gao.” Here is my recipe.

Fa GaoAbundance Cake 發糕 pronounced “Fa Gao” is like a muffin but steamed. Ingredients include rice flour, sugar, flour and banana extract, or you can get a ready-mix for them now. I think the package mix is pretty good. The secret lies on the degree of “steam” from your pot. Here is my “Fa Gao”.

You can read the entire article about this tradition from my business blog “Good Luck Chinese New Year Cake.”

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