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Student story

Sara Toynbee

20 July 2023

"I had great lecturers and mentors, including several that encouraged me to pursue my PhD..."


Sara has launched her academic career in the Department of Accounting at the University of Texas at Austin, often considered one of the best in the USA. Her role involves teaching a third-year Accounting course and conducting a variety of financial accounting research projects in between classes.

“I have so much flexibility in what I do because I get to choose the topics I study,” she says. “I love being able to learn something new every day, whether directly through my own research or by reading and listening to what other researchers are working on.”

Sara attributes her research and analytical skills to her Accounting studies back at UC in New Zealand.

“My education at UC allowed me to develop my critical thinking skills. My courses and training ensured that I was prepared to use judgment in what had seemed like a black and white subject. I now use these skills in my research and try to help my students develop these skills.”

In choosing her major, she recognised that “a degree in Accounting opens the door to several career paths, whether it be as a small town Chartered Accountant or a top executive at a company. My time at UC provided me with many opportunities to explore these different options”. For instance, Sara completed a summer internship with KPMG, and was assigned to the Christchurch Casino through the CA NZ programme to learn about the accounting functions and challenges in a real company.

Although she originally planned to follow the traditional accounting career path into the Big 4, getting to complete an honours degree opened her mind to the opportunities in academia.

“The honours year at UC represented an important and valuable opportunity in my education at UC. I got a chance to learn about and conduct research, which I really enjoyed. I have always been passionate about learning and felt that a career in academia was the perfect fit as it allowed me to constantly learn about topics I was interested in as well as encourage future students to embrace the learning opportunities they are provided while at uni.”

She initially chose UC due to multiple members of the family being past students, but ultimately it was Christchurch that made her decision.

“I had never lived in the South Island and I liked the balance between the uni environment and city life that wasn’t quite as hectic as Wellington or Auckland,” she says. “The campus is great – a good balance between indoor and outdoor spaces to study and relax – and the location of it meant that I walked to campus the majority of my years there.

“I had great lecturers and mentors, including several that encouraged me to pursue my PhD and provided a lot of assistance through the process. I always felt like my teachers were available to help me whenever I had questions or problems. I enjoyed the balance of being able to study both Accounting and Spanish.”

Sara went onto master’s and PhD studies in Business Administration at the University of Washington after UC. She hopes to inspire her own students in the same way as her lecturers at UC helped her get started in the USA.

“I enjoy engaging with students and being able to watch them work toward their goals and witness their successes. The mentoring is the most fulfilling part of the job,” she says. “I want to continue to conduct high quality research and provide high quality and though provoking classes to my students. I try to encourage my students to make the most of the opportunities to learn concepts and learn how to learn, because their future success will not depend on their ability to memorise formulas but rather their problem solving skills and ability to deal with real life challenges.”

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