The e-mail message was one of the longest and most detailed Dr. Ariana Pinello had ever received from a student. It recited countless facts and information bits from a class Dr. Pinello had taught, including some she had herself forgotten—and with good reason: the class had taken place a full year ago.
The student had been an engineering major, until encountering Dr. Pinello. Her enthusiasm for the subject matter, and her belief in his talent, had inspired the young man to switch majors to accounting. He was writing to thank her.
Dr. Pinello has received similar e-mails from other students she has influenced, encouraged, and inspired. The messages she receives are one measure of the impact she has already had in her new career as a professor.
It was a career that came close to never happening. A successful accountant for several years, she had long yearned to return to the intellectual stimulation of academic life. Receiving The PhD Project brochure each year, she thought that the combination of learning and teaching might be her dream job. “The notion of teaching students, of helping them become whatever they want to become, and to actually have a positive influence on someone’s life, seemed more gratifying to me than auditing financial statements,” she says.
But for someone soon to be married, even the grueling demands of a Big Four accounting firm seemed to pale in comparison to the strain on family life that she had heard a business doctoral program could cause. “I was hearing that a lot of Ph.D. students got divorced during their program, that a marriage could suffer,” she recalls. “I thought, is this right for me?”
Part of the potential strain, Dr. Pinello heard from some successful doctoral students, was that Ph.D. candidates can immerse themselves in an intellectual life to the point where the spouse feels left out. Dr. Pinello and her husband-to-be, a physician assistant, had no intention of becoming a divorce statistic. So they fashioned a game plan.
“You have to know when to spend time together,” she says. “When one person feels distant, they have to come out and say it. And the other partner has to stop whatever they’re doing, and make time to spend together.”
Dr. Pinello and her new husband scheduled regular “date nights.” She might work all day Saturday, but come Saturday night, they would head out the door together. Breakfasts were chances to share a few minutes over bowls of cereal; sometimes they would even meet for lunch. They honeymooned between semesters in the Caribbean.
When she reached the dissertation stage, her husband helped her collect data. This created an opportunity for them to travel together: “It became an activity we shared.” Dr. Pinello believes this conscious effort to make things work at home as much as on campus expanded her ability to succeed.
Now that she is a professor, Dr. Pinello believes she has attained a lifestyle more rewarding than she had dared hope for. In addition to the appreciative students she has influenced, and the papers she has begun publishing, she has more. “I’ve got intellectual stimulation, a strong relationship with my spouse, and I’m living in a gorgeous home in a city I like.
“I’ve got autonomy and flexibility. I can work on the projects I want to. I would never have had this life had I not made this change.”
The dream continues…
Dr. Pinello is now on faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University. She received the 2005 Outstanding Dissertation Award of the Accounting, Behavior, and Organizations Section of the American Accounting Association, and two of her research studies have been published in premier academic journals. “As a professor, I have a lot of autonomy and flexibility in my schedule, especially compared to what my schedule was like in the corporate world,” she says. “I still work just as hard, but the flexibility makes all the difference in achieving work-life balance.”