2016 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Camelia Kuhnen, Kenan-Flagler Business School

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Camelia Kuhnen

Associate Professor of Finance

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Finance is far more than techniques for acquiring and allocating investment. Below the surface of measuring risks, pegging value and formulating strategy is raw emotion – and emotions shape decision-making. And this philosophy makes Camelia Kuhnen very different than your traditional associate professor of finance. Teaching at the University of North Carolina since 2014, Kuhnen’s research focuses on the beliefs and fears that underlie how financial choices are really made. A prolific researcher and award-winning teacher, Kuhnen already ranks among Kenan-Flagler’s most respected and popular instructors. “Professor Kuhnen is one of those teachers that once you take a class with them, you find out the other courses they teach and you try to take them, too,” writes first-year Timothy Ryan. Outside class, Kuhnen serves as President of the Society for Neuroeconomics and is a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) faculty research fellow.

Age: 37

At current institution since: 2014

Education:

Ph.D., Finance, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2006

B.S., Neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001

B.S., Finance, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001

Courses you currently teach: Financial Tools – Core Finance

Professor you most admire: Darrell Duffie (Stanford): Darrell taught the hardest class I ever took in my life, which was a requirement for the PhD degree at the time. But he was always available when we needed help to understand the material, and showed amazing dedication and kindness to his students. We didn’t get much sleep during the three months of the course, because of the intricacy of the subject and the heavy work load, but Darrell didn’t either – he was on the computer, answering emails about the class, at 4 o’clock in the morning, every day of the week.

I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when…I was working as an undergraduate research assistant for Andrew Lo, a wonderful finance professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Working with Andrew made me realize that understanding finance is in large part about understanding people, not just about applying off-the-shelf mathematical formulas. So I figured that I could put together my training in neuroscience and finance, go the academic route, and bring to the classroom all facets of financial decision making, including insights from psychology and neuroscience.”

“If I weren’t a b-school professor…I would be a neurosurgeon.”

Most memorable moment in the classroom or in general as a professor: I had a student once who, at the beginning of the introductory finance course I was teaching, came to my office said she would not be able to tackle the finance concepts in the course. She was clearly intimidated by the syllabus of the class and was already envisioning that she’d fail the course. Somehow I convinced her to give the class a chance – to put in the work, to believe in her ability to deal with the concepts – and she ended up getting a stellar grade. Most importantly, she again came by my office after the course was over, and told me she’d pursue a career in finance, which she did. This type of event happens every year, in every cohort of students I teach, and I am so glad that I can change the perceptions of students regarding finance – that they no longer think of it as a difficult, dry topic, but one that is thrilling, intellectually stimulating, and relevant to anyone.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Being elected President of the Society for Neuroeconomics in 2014. I had been involved in the evolution of this new field of research since its beginnings 10 years earlier, and worked hard to get neuroeconomics be accepted by the mainstream finance and economics profession. This was not an easy thing to do for a young academic – it was a risky bet, in terms of tenure prospects, since novel work that combines different disciplines does not get accepted in the mainstream circles easily. So getting elected as President for the Society for Neuroeconomics was a great honor and recognition for a decade of work in support of this new interdisciplinary research field.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? Being able to have thoughtful conversations with my students and my colleagues on important issues related to finance and economics that touch all of our lives, on any given day.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Every once in a while I see a student who does not even try to follow what is happening in the class. No matter who you are, if you know something about sound financial decision making, it will help you down the road. So, give finance a chance and pay attention in class.

Fun fact about yourself: I was on the MIT Ballroom Dance Team.

Favorite book: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Favorite movie: Silver Linings Playbook

Favorite type of music: Indie pop, indie folk

Favorite television show: Big Bang Theory

Favorite vacation spot: Pacific Coast, Northern California

What are your hobbies? Hiking with our two kids. It lets us see the beauty in the simple things in life, and the merits of a slow and steady pace. Road biking and skiing, because fast is fun, too.

Twitter handle: @CameliaKuhnen

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…regular and substantive interactions between business school students and those pursuing degrees in any field in other parts of the university – from engineering to genetics to linguistics, and so on – because these interactions can lead to great ideas for new entrepreneurial ventures.”

Students say…

“Professor Kuhnen has been one of the highlights of my UNC Kenan-Flagler experience, both inside and outside the classroom. An 8 a.m. finance course for sleep-deprived MBAs is often described “colorfully. What makes Cami’s teaching style rare and special is her gift for both clear instruction and great humor. Unlike marketing or OB, where you can use games to teach, she has to engage us with only the glory and wonder of math. Incredibly, in her very first year while juggling a new home, a new university landscape and a very heavy neuroscience/finance research load, she drafted a herculean office hours schedule. Early morning or late at night we sought her out, sitting on chairs if available and the floor if not. She poured herself into the student experience and we gave her every grateful recognition that we could, ranging from the  UNC Kenan-Flagler Outstanding Dedication Award to the Weatherspoon Award for Excellence in MBA Teaching— both being absolutely unheard of for a professor new to the school. Her warm and supportive attitude extended far beyond lectures as she has attended student events or signed up for LGBT safe zone training to grow her own brand of inclusivity. I am enormously grateful for the contribution she has made as a role model to young professional women like myself and believe she is one of the most incredible assets we have in our community.”

Samantha Cunningham (‘16)

“Professor Kuhnen is one of those teachers that once you take a class with them, you find out the other courses they teach and you try to take them, too. I took her finance class and even though I had no prior knowledge of the topic, she found a way to make it intuitive and easy to understand. And she didn’t just do this for me; when any student had a question, she knew right away what the underlying issue was and answered their question in a way that got them right back on track. Professor Kuhnen is also very approachable and I think that’s because her classroom dynamic is fun and engaging – the examples she uses are relatable and relevant. For me, this made the subject real and actually got me to think about how I could apply what she was teaching me outside of the classroom. While I won’t be pursuing a career in finance, after taking her class I am confident in my ability use the knowledge and tools she gave me to be successful. Professor Kuhnen truly deserves this recognition and she is a tremendous asset to UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.”

 

Timothy Ryan (‘17

Associate Professor of Finance

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School

Finance is far more than techniques for acquiring and allocating investment. Below the surface of measuring risks, pegging value and formulating strategy is raw emotion – and emotions shape decision-making. And this philosophy makes Camelia Kuhnen very different than your traditional associate professor of finance. Teaching at the University of North Carolina since 2014, Kuhnen’s research focuses on the beliefs and fears that underlie how financial choices are really made. A prolific researcher and award-winning teacher, Kuhnen already ranks among Kenan-Flagler’s most respected and popular instructors. “Professor Kuhnen is one of those teachers that once you take a class with them, you find out the other courses they teach and you try to take them, too,” writes first-year Timothy Ryan. Outside class, Kuhnen serves as President of the Society for Neuroeconomics and is a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) faculty research fellow.

Age: 37

At current institution since: 2014

Education:

Ph.D., Finance, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2006

B.S., Neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001

B.S., Finance, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001

Courses you currently teach: Financial Tools – Core Finance

Professor you most admire: Darrell Duffie (Stanford): Darrell taught the hardest class I ever took in my life, which was a requirement for the PhD degree at the time. But he was always available when we needed help to understand the material, and showed amazing dedication and kindness to his students. We didn’t get much sleep during the three months of the course, because of the intricacy of the subject and the heavy work load, but Darrell didn’t either – he was on the computer, answering emails about the class, at 4 o’clock in the morning, every day of the week.

I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when…I was working as an undergraduate research assistant for Andrew Lo, a wonderful finance professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Working with Andrew made me realize that understanding finance is in large part about understanding people, not just about applying off-the-shelf mathematical formulas. So I figured that I could put together my training in neuroscience and finance, go the academic route, and bring to the classroom all facets of financial decision making, including insights from psychology and neuroscience.”

“If I weren’t a b-school professor…I would be a neurosurgeon.”

Most memorable moment in the classroom or in general as a professor: I had a student once who, at the beginning of the introductory finance course I was teaching, came to my office said she would not be able to tackle the finance concepts in the course. She was clearly intimidated by the syllabus of the class and was already envisioning that she’d fail the course. Somehow I convinced her to give the class a chance – to put in the work, to believe in her ability to deal with the concepts – and she ended up getting a stellar grade. Most importantly, she again came by my office after the course was over, and told me she’d pursue a career in finance, which she did. This type of event happens every year, in every cohort of students I teach, and I am so glad that I can change the perceptions of students regarding finance – that they no longer think of it as a difficult, dry topic, but one that is thrilling, intellectually stimulating, and relevant to anyone.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Being elected President of the Society for Neuroeconomics in 2014. I had been involved in the evolution of this new field of research since its beginnings 10 years earlier, and worked hard to get neuroeconomics be accepted by the mainstream finance and economics profession. This was not an easy thing to do for a young academic – it was a risky bet, in terms of tenure prospects, since novel work that combines different disciplines does not get accepted in the mainstream circles easily. So getting elected as President for the Society for Neuroeconomics was a great honor and recognition for a decade of work in support of this new interdisciplinary research field.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? Being able to have thoughtful conversations with my students and my colleagues on important issues related to finance and economics that touch all of our lives, on any given day.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Every once in a while I see a student who does not even try to follow what is happening in the class. No matter who you are, if you know something about sound financial decision making, it will help you down the road. So, give finance a chance and pay attention in class.

Fun fact about yourself: I was on the MIT Ballroom Dance Team.

Favorite book: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Favorite movie: Silver Linings Playbook

Favorite type of music: Indie pop, indie folk

Favorite television show: Big Bang Theory

Favorite vacation spot: Pacific Coast, Northern California

What are your hobbies? Hiking with our two kids. It lets us see the beauty in the simple things in life, and the merits of a slow and steady pace. Road biking and skiing, because fast is fun, too.

Twitter handle: @CameliaKuhnen

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…regular and substantive interactions between business school students and those pursuing degrees in any field in other parts of the university – from engineering to genetics to linguistics, and so on – because these interactions can lead to great ideas for new entrepreneurial ventures.”

Students say…

“Professor Kuhnen has been one of the highlights of my UNC Kenan-Flagler experience, both inside and outside the classroom. An 8 a.m. finance course for sleep-deprived MBAs is often described “colorfully. What makes Cami’s teaching style rare and special is her gift for both clear instruction and great humor. Unlike marketing or OB, where you can use games to teach, she has to engage us with only the glory and wonder of math. Incredibly, in her very first year while juggling a new home, a new university landscape and a very heavy neuroscience/finance research load, she drafted a herculean office hours schedule. Early morning or late at night we sought her out, sitting on chairs if available and the floor if not. She poured herself into the student experience and we gave her every grateful recognition that we could, ranging from the  UNC Kenan-Flagler Outstanding Dedication Award to the Weatherspoon Award for Excellence in MBA Teaching— both being absolutely unheard of for a professor new to the school. Her warm and supportive attitude extended far beyond lectures as she has attended student events or signed up for LGBT safe zone training to grow her own brand of inclusivity. I am enormously grateful for the contribution she has made as a role model to young professional women like myself and believe she is one of the most incredible assets we have in our community.”
Samantha Cunningham (‘16)

 

“Professor Kuhnen is one of those teachers that once you take a class with them, you find out the other courses they teach and you try to take them, too. I took her finance class and even though I had no prior knowledge of the topic, she found a way to make it intuitive and easy to understand. And she didn’t just do this for me; when any student had a question, she knew right away what the underlying issue was and answered their question in a way that got them right back on track. Professor Kuhnen is also very approachable and I think that’s because her classroom dynamic is fun and engaging – the examples she uses are relatable and relevant. For me, this made the subject real and actually got me to think about how I could apply what she was teaching me outside of the classroom. While I won’t be pursuing a career in finance, after taking her class I am confident in my ability use the knowledge and tools she gave me to be successful. Professor Kuhnen truly deserves this recognition and she is a tremendous asset to UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.”
Timothy Ryan (‘17)

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