From Sheet Music to Spreadsheets

A career pivot from composition to taxation leads to a master’s degree and a published paper.

How many people find their careers on Craig’s List?

Craig Pellet, MST ’18, did just that. While getting a master’s degree in music composition at the Boston Conservatory, he answered an ad on Craig’s List to help out in a small accounting firm in Boston’s Back Bay.

“I had never studied taxation or completed a return for anyone else or had any experience in a tax firm,” Pellet says.

It didn’t take him long, though, to start working with clients and filing returns. Soon he realized he really liked the work. So after finishing his music master’s, he started at the firm full time. Ten years later, he was still there, working with clients and helping them with their finances.

And yet…he felt that in certain situations he didn’t always have the tools he needed to solve client issues. He didn’t feel as versed in his craft as he wanted to be. So he came to the Sawyer Business School to get a Master of Science in Taxation (MST).

“Part of the reason I wanted to come to Suffolk was to fill in gaps in my knowledge,” Pellet says. “I knew Suffolk would give me give me better tools to approach every problem.”

Once here, he appreciated the “real world” experience that professors were able to bring to the classroom—and that he was able to bring as well.

“I enjoyed meeting professors who were teaching their day job,” he says. “It wasn’t a typical educational experience using a textbook. And they helped explain many of the things I’d been seeing at work.”

Finishing on a high note

It was that real world awareness that lead to Pellet’s writing a paper with Professor Michaele Morrow, his instructor in a tax policy course.

In the final presentation for this capstone class, Pellet had made a bold argument about S-corporations, which are a specific kind of corporate entity whose income or losses are divided among and passed through to shareholders. He said that, because of how their earnings are classified, S-corporations have an unfair advantage over other corporate entities because they can pay far less in taxes. To make taxation more fair, Pellet continued, S-corps should be eliminated completely—because their only function is to give tax breaks to their shareholders.

“It’s a pretty radical notion,” says Morrow. “I somewhat believed him but wanted to really see,” says Morrow. “So I asked him to run the numbers. Turns out, he was right.”

And then last December, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. So Morrow had him run the numbers again. “I was surprised. Things were even more unbalanced after the changes to the corporate tax code,” says Morrow. “So I said to him that we need to write this up and submit it.”

Over the course of the next few months, Morrow and Pellet sent drafts back and forth to one another, edited the piece down, and made sure that, indeed, the numbers were correct. The paper was recently published in Tax Notes, a trade publication that reaches more than 330,000 tax practitioners around the world.

“It’s really interesting, because I never set out to become a ‘published academic,’” says Pellet. “Now here I am. And it was super exciting, because I got to take this tax policy class while all the tax reform was going on. It was awesome.”

Tax Notes would seem to be a long way away from musical notes. But Pellet says that his composition training has actually been very helpful for getting his master’s degree in taxation.

“Music teaches you how to practice, be committed, and be focused,” he says. “It puts you in the mind-set: I want to get good at this, but it’s going to take me 10 years. So it’s time to start chipping away at it.”


Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs

Ben Hall
Office of Public Affairs