York University professor defies academic stereotypes

York University professor defies academic stereotypes

There is a common perception that academics are aloof, introverted, dull and boring.

Not Dr. Marcia Annisette, who’s warm, engaging, witty, gregarious and full of life and energy.

The York University’s Schulich School of Business associate professor is also the director of the Master’s of Accounting program designed to develop students’ academic and intellectual abilities in all fields of professional accounting.

The 12-month specialty degree program was launched three years ago.

“I was on sabbatical when I was approached to consider designing this program,” said Dr. Annisette who has been at York University since 2005 and was appointed Schulich School of Business executive director of student services & international relations in November 2013. “In retrospect, this was a gift as it allowed me to address certain issues that I had with how accountants are trained. I got the opportunity to come up with a program that would specifically speak to people who didn’t do business as their undergraduate degree. This program was going to be for someone who did things like music and environmental studies. As long as you are bright, you can become an accountant.”

She’s quick to point out that, contrary to popular opinion, not much math is needed to pursue accounting studies.

“Accounting is more like counting and that really isn’t math,” said Annisette. “It’s more conceptual rather than mathematical at the fundamental level. Financial accounting is really about adding and subtracting. You are looking at transactions and trying to determine if it increases or decreases your wealth. How you conceptualize that exchange is the hardest thing. The arithmetic part of accounting is just trying to add or subtract and it requires more of a conceptual endeavour to take an abstract economic act and define it. That’s conceptual and not math.”

A product of Bishop Anstey High School in Trinidad, Annisette graduated with a management degree from the University of the West Indies St. Augustine campus in 1981 and worked as a trained auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) before heading to England in October 1982 to pursue her Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) accreditation.

Back in the twin-island republic eight months later, she worked with two private accounting firms for a few years before returning to England to complete a Master’s in Accounting & Finance and a PhD in Accounting at the University of Manchester.

Her doctoral dissertation, Imperialism & the Professions, was influenced by the few months she spent at PwC.

“It was borne out of my being perplexed about how professional accountancy was organized in Trinidad & Tobago,” said Annisette who is conducting research on accounting and its effect on immigrants and refugees in Canada and Australia. “Because I came from a family that was immersed in the legal community, the disparities were just so clear. When I went to PwC, everyone was English. It was almost like a Harry Potter movie. As a young girl, I remember walking by the premises and it seemed as just another office building. When I went through that door, it was a different world back there and I couldn’t believe I was in Trinidad & Tobago. It was like a piece of England in the country, and we are talking about the 1980s.”

After spending six years as a student and lecturer at the University of Manchester, Annisette proudly headed back to the Caribbean as the first person from the twin island republic with a doctorate in accounting.

“The expectation was that I would develop a culture of scholarship and research,” she said. “I however didn’t feel I was in a position to do that at the time as I was fairly new in the academic world. My feeling was that the Caribbean would be better served if I worked from abroad where I would have access to resources to develop a research culture for accounting in the region.”

With the opportunity of returning to the University of Manchester or going to Howard University in the United States or Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in Spain, Annisette – who was raising a young son – chose the latter.

“They were paying the least amount, but I am an adventurous person and always looking for a challenge,” she said. “I absolutely loved it in Spain and the only reason I left was because of the isolation.”

Nearly three years later in June 2002, she was again on the move and Howard University was her next stop for 35 months until her work permit expired.

York University was hiring at the time and she accepted an offer to come north of the border.

After 11 years in Canada, Annisette has found a home and promises she’s here to stay.

“York has it all,” she said. “The mere fact that I could be here in this position speaks a lot about York as a university and the Schulich School of Business as a school. I am not sure if I would have been valued as much in another institution. At the end of the day, you stay somewhere where you feel your opinion matters, you can make a difference and your values align with the overall vision of the project.”

It’s not all work and no play for Annisette who last jumped up with a mas’ band – Bliss – four years ago in the T & T Carnival.

“That’s in my DNA and I played mas’ every year from the time I was 12 up until I left Trinidad in 1991,” she said.

For three years in the 1980s, Annisette was quite active in the arts in T & T. She played the lead role of Sylvia in The Dragon Can’t Dance, adapted from a novel by Earl Lovelace in which Port-of-Spain residents prepare to live out their dreams on Carnival Night.

“I was at Piarco Airport reading his novel while waiting for my mother who was coming back from St. Lucia,” said Annisette whose 24-year-old son is preparing to enter law school. “I remember turning to the person next to me and asking if he knew when the flight would be landing and his response was ‘no’. When I looked at him again, I realized it was Earl. That’s how I met him and he later invited me to audition for the play which was a major theatrical production.”

Annisette, whose parents reside in T & T – comes from a family of legal professionals.

Great uncle Gibbs Raymond Annisette owned the twin-island republic’s first Black law firm, her uncle Emmanuel Annisette – who is in his 102nd year – stopped practicing law two years ago, her father’s cousin – Clinton Bernard – was chief justice for a decade up until 1995 and another family member – Selwyn Richardson who was assassinated 21 years ago in his driveway – was an attorney general.

In addition, her older sister, Brigid Annisette-George – a former attorney general – is the house speaker.

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