By Kara Sherrer
One of the major distinguishing factors of the Vanderbilt Master of Accountancy is the 10-week internship that students complete with one of the Big 4 forms in Mod III. The internship allows students to get hands-on experience during busy season and to get a sample of working full-time before they graduate. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year the MAcc students were still able to complete their internships, albeit virtually in many cases.
The internship is a very formative part of the MAcc program, so every spring we survey students about their experiences after the internships wrap up. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s reflections:
While interns are occasionally assigned basic tasks, for the most part they are given significant responsibilities, even in a virtual internship. “The most surprising aspect of my internship was how much my engagement teams trusted me with work, especially in a virtual environment where they could not check my work until I asked a question or gave it back to them complete,” said Davis Mitchell, who interned virtually for KPMG’s Los Angeles office.
For many students, the internship confirmed their choice of career path and made them excited to start full-time work. “By seeing a busy season, and seeing the relationships that exist within a team, (the internship) showed me that public accounting is a going to be a great place to launch my career,” said Hagen Ellis, who interned for EY’s Louisville office.
Whether they are on the assurance or the valuation track, students say that the MAcc program prepared them well for the technical aspects of their internship. “One way that the Vanderbilt MAcc program helped me out with was becoming familiar with the technical aspect of a business valuation career…. The base that Vanderbilt classes develop helped me to ‘connect the dots’ during my internship. Also, classes such as financial modeling helped to develop skills that are crucial for a business valuation career,” said Alex Just, who interned for KPMG’s NYC office.
“I feel my academic background provided a great foundation to being able to understand things on Day 1 and to then be able to supplement that education through the work I performed,” added Tim Malley, who interned for KPMG’s Atlanta office.
Students also say that the soft skills they learn in the program, such as networking, also proved important, even in a virtual environment. “Many of the soft skills we learned in our classes were so important in our internships. In the MAcc program, we learned how to communicate with clients, and also how to dig deeper into situations we were unsure about,” said Lexy Tays, who interned for EY’s Nashville office.
Indeed, getting to know colleagues — even over Zoom — were often cited as a highlight of the students’ experiences. “My favorite aspect of the internship experience was engaging with my colleagues outside of the ‘workspace.’ Each engagement team I was on took the time to step outside of work and have authentic conversations with me about topics other than work. This was such an enlightening and fun experience and was also a great opportunity to learn about my colleagues. In this way, I was able to become a better, more productive, team member,” said Blake Smith, who interned for EY’s Chicago office.
The class of 2021 urged future MAcc students to make an effort to build these connections during their internships. “Take the time to network with your colleagues and learn about the jobs of individuals in different functions from your own function. I took the time to network with colleagues in business valuation, complex securities, and transfer pricing, and I found this helped to enrich my experience and helped me to learn more about the different valuations performed by other functions,” advised Irene Murphree, who interned for KPMG’s Philadelphia office.
All in all, students confirm that the internship prepared them to begin full-time work after graduating in a few months. “I feel better equipped to launch a career in public accounting as a result of the internship because I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses. The internship experience, especially during the busy season, highlighted areas that I need to work on to increase my performance as an audit staff and also highlighted areas that I excelled in, and need to continue to work to maintain proficiency,” Smith said.