María Cabán-García, already a college professor, lacked three things in her life: the letters Ph.D. and all they stood for. To earn them, she uprooted her life and family, left her native home in Puerto Rico, and took on a challenge so daunting that she dared not to dwell on it too closely.
Dr. Cabán-García had initially begun teaching accounting part time atthe University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, to bolster her income as an accountant and consultant. Before long, she was teaching full time. But she sensed something missing. Her husband was an engineering professor at another college, and some of the faculty there engaged in research. In her college, there was no ongoing research and there were no doctorally-qualified accounting professors. The urge to do research and stretch her intellectual capacity became harder to resist with each passing semester. But changing her life was not an easy step. There were no Ph.D. granting accounting programs in Puerto Rico, she had a widowed mother, and there was an engrained cultural mindset to tackle: “When you live on an island, you tend to be very regional—you don’t want to ‘cross the ocean.’”
On the other hand, the timing was right—her three children were now aged fourteen through twenty, and her husband was open to the possibility of finding a professorship on the mainland. After many long discussions and much thought, the family agreed to support Mom’s decision.
“It was a big step for us all,” she says. “We left the place where we were born and grew up. My kids left their friends, their school, their family and their culture.”
Dr. Cabán-García’s husband found a visiting professorship at the same university that accepted her for her doctoral studies, and the deal was clinched.
What seemed like a daring step turned out to be a logical evolution of the family’s growth. Dr. Cabán-García firmly believes that having her doctorate provides “a chance to lead the path for others—to do research, to help others who might have the same ambitions.” Her children adjusted well—so well that her daughter is now pursuing a Ph.D. also—but, following Dad’s footsteps rather than Mom’s—in engineering.
“I look at where I was before and where I am now, and I see it has opened a whole new perspective,” Dr. Cabán-García says. “In every way, I have moved forward.”
Students—especially Hispanic Americans—flock to Dr. Cabán-García for career advice. When prospective doctoral students ask her about becoming a professor, she tells them how to know if it is the right move for them. “Practitioners have to be current in their profession. Academicians have to be a little bit ahead. You need a sense of vision. This is for people who are not afraid to change, or to adjust to change.”
In other words, for people who can see the rewards of “crossing the ocean.”
The dream continues…
True to her plan, Dr. Cabán-García actively conducts research, especially into areas relating to international accounting, with several high quality publications in journals like The International Journal of Accounting, the Journal of International Accounting Research and The British Accounting Review. She teaches intermediate financial accounting and financial statement analy sis while serving on several faculty committees and organizations such as the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Issues of Diversity and Inclusion from 2013 to 2019 and in in the Diversity Section of the AAA from 2013 to 2017. Additionally, she will be soon stepping down from her leadership position as Interim Director of the Program of Accountancy at her institution. Dr. Cabán-García continues to mentor students and provide career advice. Students find her especially helpful in providing perspectives on the choice between a career in public or private accounting.