Once a month, doctoral student Wei Yu's parents send her snapshots of their suburban neighborhood in Beijing, China. They want her to see how rapidly new roads, bridges, and buildings are changing the landscape as the economy booms and the city prepares for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
"I can't even recognize my family's area," she says. "They told me I might get lost next time I go back because everything's changed so much. An Olympic stadium will be built directly in front of our house, so maybe we can watch the Olympics from there."
Though Yu misses home, she loves her doctoral studies in accounting at the College of Management. She likes Atlanta, too, finding the weather much more hospitable than the colder climates of Beijing and Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, her entry point into America.
Her first arrival in Mt. Pleasant was something of a shock, she remembers. Moving there in 2001 to earn her master's degree in economics from Central Michigan University, Yu expected America to "look like it did in the Hollywood movies." Though indeed pleasant, the small city didn't live up to the glamour and excitement of her mental movie.
One benefit of being there was that it forced her to become highly fluent in English. She admits her English has gotten a tad rustier at Tech because there are so many opportunities to speak her native language with the large Chinese population on campus and in the city.
That hasn't stopped her from writing impressive research papers, though. The American Accounting Association, which awarded her a 2006 Doctoral Consortium Fellowship, invited her to present her paper, "Auditor Industry Specialization and Real Activities Manipulation," at the organization's annual meeting in August 2006 in Washington D.C.
This research was partly inspired by her experience working for the auditing firm KPMG International for a year after graduating from college in 2000. "It's been a big help, showing me what the real world is interested in," says Yu, who earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Beijing's University of International Business and Economics.
One of her main topics of interest, auditing industry specialization, became a hot topic after the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 demanded higher accounting standards and greater auditor accountability in the aftermath of numerous corporate financial scandals. Her research shows that while auditors who specialize in certain industries can help constrain the questionable numbers games that companies sometimes play, their auditing expertise might inadvertently contribute to a destructive practice called real activities manipulation.
Instead of manipulating numbers to inflate their earnings reports, companies can alter their operating strategy. For instance, they could cut their research and development expenses to look better financially at that moment. But over the long run, their operating performance could suffer from such manipulations, Yu finds. "It's a big problem," she says. "Auditors often can't catch these manipulations, and if they do, they can't tell a company how to operate its business. It's their decision."
Yu, who started her doctoral studies in 2003, plans to finish by 2008 and join the faculty of a top-notch university. One of four PhD students in accounting at Tech, she appreciates how much support she receives from highly accessible faculty members. But her schedule, which includes teaching auditing, is highly demanding. When she started, her advisor, accounting professor Bryan Church, half-jokingly warned her that she'd "be working 24/7."