Since January 2018, Alison Parkes has been the Head of Department of Accounting & Data Analytics. Business Newsroom sat down with Alison to ask her some questions about who she is, what made her come to La Trobe and other interesting facts about her.
Are you new to La Trobe?
I joined La Trobe in January 2017 and took up the HoD role after one year in the Department.
Where do you come from and what brought you to La Trobe University in 2017?
Before starting at La Trobe, I was with Taylor’s University in Malaysia for two years. I was recruited by them to build and accredit their MBA program. I specialised in postgraduate education during my time at Melbourne Uni which preceded my Malaysian appointment. While at Melbourne I had oversight of the Master of Business & IT throughout its entire life cycle from inception through to eventually teaching it out. When Taylor’s recruited me as their inaugural MBA Program Director I lived and worked two years in Malaysia, did lots of travel, built the MBA, got it accredited, and saw my first student cohort graduate just before I came back to Australia.
When I got towards the end of my two-year contract at Taylor’s in 2016 I had to decide whether I wanted to stay on for another two years or move back to Australia. I loved living in Malaysia but missed my family in Australia. I had already decided to come back when the job at La Trobe came up. I always wanted to work at La Trobe, so I applied for the job and was lucky enough to be appointed.
Before Taylor’s, I was at University of Melbourne for 15 years, I did my PhD there as a part-time PhD candidate and a full-time staff member. I graduated with my PhD in 2009. I’m a late career academic, a large part of my career was in industry. In my last industry role I was the most senior female IT executive in a state railway, working with huge financial systems projects and large numbers of staff. I got my first academic appointment at Massey University in New Zealand as a level A Lecturer in Information Systems. When I went into academia I had to start all the way from the bottom again, which was sort of a fun thing.
Why do you think La Trobe University is a good fit?
I have always been interested in the research projects and outputs from La Trobe as they are not always mainstream. I came from a more conservative academic environment with particular and relatively narrow views on what you were expected to publish and where to publish. I like what people are doing here, there is a lot more freedom and critical analysis, more work around sustainability, more private enterprise focus.
I have never been a traditional financial accountant. My background is accounting information systems. My first ever-academic job was not in an accounting department, but in an information systems department. While I was lecturing in IS I did my Honours year and a Masters Research which equipped me to enter the PhD program at Melbourne in Accounting & Business Information Systems. I’m a chartered accountant but have always been interested in the technical accounting systems side, which means my research isn’t necessarily published in mainstream accounting journals.
How will you be approaching your new role as Head of Department?
I’m fortunate that my expertise bridges both sides of accounting and data analytics, and I’m looking forward to bringing these disciplines closer together. We also need to refresh the accounting curriculum. Accounting doesn’t have to be boring, I know from my work experience that accounting is a really interesting and diverse field to work in. Across most universities, accounting is mostly treated the same old way, it’s as though we are still working with pen and paper.
I have always been passionate about educating students for the job they are actually going to be doing. To me that means educating them to be an accountant who uses accounting systems and data competently. This year I am rewriting the first year accounting information system subject to integrate Xero software and give students an idea of how it looks when you’re working with an accounting system in the workplace.
So my overall goal is to bring the two related disciplines closer together and refresh the curriculum so it better reflects the authentic lived experience of what accounting actually is. I’m not necessarily talking about changing the topics, but instead focusing on the pedagogy, how it’s being taught and assessed.
What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were a student at university?
I have an atypical student experience. I left high school early and came to University for my bachelor’s degree on a special admission program for mature students. I completed my Bachelors, Honours, Masters and PhD all as a part-time student while working full time. My advice to former me would be to maybe consider doing the PhD full-time instead of part-time. Working full-time as a Level B lecturer meant there were whole semesters where I got pretty much nothing done on the thesis. It’s good to look at your research through fresh eyes, but it’s also hard having to re-engage with your topic afresh over and over again.
What do you do to get rid of stress?
I never work on the weekend. Everyone has different tactics but that is the rule that I find works for me to balance out my life. I don’t mind being in the office for long hours during the week if it’s necessary but weekends are mine. I like to come back in on Monday feeling re-energised and ready to tackle the week ahead.
Lastly, if people come across you at the coffee-machine, what’s a good conversation starter?
Travel! I’m a big traveller. I love all parts of Asia and have travelled there extensively, also lots of US, UK & Europe. Since coming back to Australia I’m making time to visit places that I hadn’t been to before. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I recently went to the Great Ocean Road for the first time after living in Melbourne for 15 years. I’m always coming back from somewhere or about to go somewhere.
Associate Professor Alison Parkes is a researcher, educator, consultant, and author whose expertise relates to optimising information quality and decision outcomes via better design and control of accounting systems and processes. In her professional career prior to entering academia she held positions at Queensland Rail, Rio Tinto, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Her academic career has included positions at Massey University New Zealand (Associate Lecturer) The University of Melbourne (Lecturer, Senior Lecturer) and Taylor’s University Malaysia (Associate Professor and MBA Program Director). Alison’s research consists of two primary themes; (1) The task-technology-individual fit implications of accounting systems design choices, and (2) Strategic investment decision-making. Her research has been published in journals including Decision Support Systems, Behaviour & IT, the Business Process Management Journal, and the Australian Journal of Information Systems. She authors a leading Australian accounting information systems textbook and also designs and delivers specialised executive education and consulting. Alison has consulted internationally to the Governments of Malaysia and Iraq, and completed a variety of management accounting consulting jobs in the Australian not for profit sector.