2020 Best Undergraduate Professors: Karen Nelson, Texas Christian University Neeley School of Business

Karen Nelson of Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business is a 2020 Poets&Quants Best Undergraduate Business School Professor

Karen Nelson

M. J. Neeley Professor of Accounting

Texas Christian University 

Karen Nelson is an award-winning and top accounting professor and the M. J. Neeley Professor of Accounting at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business. Prior to joining the Neeley School of Business, Nelson was an Assistant Professor of Accounting at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the Chair of the Accounting Department at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

Nelson’s research volume is truly prolific. At time of publication, she had more than 6,600 Google Scholar citations. Nelson also received 14 nominations from former and current students vouching for her teaching chops. Nelson knew she wanted to become a business school professor as an undergraduate business student at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“I was an undergraduate business student. Prior to that, I was an indifferent student, but it was in college that I developed a love of learning and as a professor, I am able to share that every day,” she says.

Age: 54

At current institution since what year? 2016

Education: University of Michigan (Ph.D. 1997), University of Colorado (B.S. 1988)

List of courses you currently teach: Financial Reporting II


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was an undergraduate business student. Prior to that, I was an indifferent student, but it was in college that I developed a love of learning and as a professor, I am able to share that every day.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

People typically think of corporate annual reports as very dense documents containing a lot of numbers and complex terms. However, society, in general, has witnessed a shift towards more visual forms of communication, and financial disclosures are not immune to this trend. In a recent study, my co-authors and I examine the use of infographics, or visual representations of information or data, in corporate annual reports. We find that the number of infographics embedded in annual reports has increased dramatically over the past decade and that their use is associated with companies providing more readable narrative disclosures. However, the financial metrics that companies emphasize are not those required by accounting rules. Instead, they highlight various industry or firm-specific key performance indicators and macro-economic data, especially when the required accounting metrics are not good indicators of future performance.

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… playing clarinet in a symphony or running a doggy daycare

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

I have taught undergraduate, master, and Ph.D. students at several different universities which has enabled me to understand and adapt to student needs. I keep in mind that even though I have taught something many times, it is the student’s first time seeing it. Most importantly, I let my passion for teaching and the subject matter shine through as an example for my students to enthusiastically pursue their own interests.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Butterflies

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: You do not get summers off!

Professor I most admire and why: Vic Bernard. He was my Ph.D. advisor and respected by students and faculty alike for his intelligence, warmth, and humor.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

In my experience, undergraduate business students are goal-oriented but they are also open to new ideas and possibilities.

What is most challenging?

Overcoming the perception that accounting is boring and difficult to understand.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Receptive

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Entitled

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… someone who establishes challenging but fair expectations


What are your hobbies?

Exercising, walking my dogs, reading, decorating.

How will you spend your summer?

This summer will be a stay-cation working around the house and garden.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Colorado. I grew up there but now living in Texas I miss the mountains.

Favorite book(s): It is too hard to name a favorite. I usually have a pile of books waiting on the nightstand to be read.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Better Call Saul. The characters have so many layers and the cinematography is beautiful.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?

Classical (I grew up playing it) and Country (I live in Texas now)


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Responsiveness to student needs.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… valuing diverse leadership teams.

I’m grateful for… every day.

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say: 

“Professor Nelson is one of the most inspirational and thought-provoking professors I have ever had the privilege of learning from. The way that she structured the class allowed for the students to learn the textbook material while displaying the presence of key topics with real-world examples. I believe that she is one of the top Undergraduate professors both at TCU and in the general world of academia. She is very deserving of the achievement reflecting what an astounding professor she is.”

“Dr. Nelson is driven, caring, and passionate about her students. This semester was nothing short of unconventional but Dr. Nelson make the transition smooth and her students comfortable. She was well prepared for the online platform and made herself readily available for students in need. Accounting is certainly not the easiest subject to learn outside of the classroom, but she equipped up with resources to help us succeed and not cheat our learning for the future. I am grateful for time spent in the classroom with her as she always connected the dots to how the subject translated to me real world job. I feel confident and prepared to take on what is next, all thanks to great professors like Dr. Nelson.”

“Professor Nelson taught the most technical accounting class that we take as undergraduates, yet she did it with grace, encouragement, and confidence. In the midst of a global pandemic she provided a sense of support and availability that allowed me to walk into my tests with assurance and capability, while also using her time to do research. She still made the effort to get to know me even after in-person classes were cancelled. Simply put, she is the most put together professor I have had during my undergraduate education and deserves this nomination.”

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.