Five months ago, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business was shocked when one of its most promising students was shot and killed by an emotionally disturbed man. A Ph.D. student in his fourth year of study, Yiran Fan tragically found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of a shooting spree left five people dead and another three in critical condition.
Tomorrow, at the university’s 534th Convocation ceremony, Fan will be rewarded his Ph.D. after his professors and classmates examined his work found on his Dropbox folder. “This is a very small thing we could do to recognize such a special person,” said Lars Peter Hansen, one of Fan’s former professors who teaches in Chicago’s Departments of Economics and Statistics and at Chicago Booth. Along with Booth professor Zhiguo He, Hansen formally presented his late student’s research to colleagues.
When Fan lost his life, he had not yet proposed a dissertation topic. But is professors and classmates who felt the profound loss of its death began exploring the possibility of acknowledging his work with a posthumous award. “I see many students who get straight As but can’t do the critical thinking or challenge existing theory like Yiran could. He had the right mind to do this type of work,” said He, a professor of finance. “It was a great pleasure to chat with him.”
PRESENTING THEIR LATE STUDENT’S WORK VIA ZOOM TO MORE THAN 100
The two professors–Hansen and He–presented Fan’s work over Zoom in early March to more than 100 people—a much bigger crowd than the usual Ph.D. defense, according to an article on the Booth website. One of Fan’s research areas focused on the aftermath of the 2008–09 financial crisis, a time when many people questioned why bankers kept issuing subprime loans that were likely to fail. Fan’s work examined how rational bank behavior can lead to risky lending.
Born in China, the 30-year-old Fan came to the U.S. to pursue an academic career after briefly working in Beijing for J.P. Morgan First Capital. When he began Booth’s Ph.D. program in financial economics in 2017, he had already earned master’s degrees in financial engineering from Cambridge University and in financial mathematics from the University of Chicago.
The bloodshed began in the 5300 block of South East End Avenue in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood when the alleged killer, Jason Nightengale, entered a parking garage and randomly picked out Fan who was sitting inside his car. Nightengale, whose relatives told local media that he was mentally disturbed, then went on to randomly kill four others, including a doorwoman of a nearby condo building, a convenience-store worker on the South Side, a woman he took hostage at an IHOP restaurant in Evanston, and a 15-year-old girl. The tragedy was put to an end when Evanston police officers killed Nightengale in a shootout outside a Dollar General store there.
‘IT WAS JUST SO TRAGIC AND SENSELESS’
Nishant Vats, a fourth-year finance student who was Fan’s friend and classmate, said the Ph.D. would have meant a lot to Fan. Vats described Fan as a rigorous researcher who loved theory, with a seemingly endless appetite for making conversation and helping other students understand complex issues.
“It was very apparent, once you spoke to him, that he knew what he was talking about,” Vats told the Booth website. “Whenever you asked him a question, he knew how to answer it. But he was extremely honest—if he didn’t know something, he’d tell you that he didn’t know it. I wish this thing didn’t happen. It was just so tragic and senseless,” He said. “Yiran impressed everybody here. People who read his papers will benefit.”
Along with conferring a Ph.D., an annual fellowship will be created in Fan’s name to further honor him. The fellowship, which includes contributions from Fan’s parents, will be awarded to students in the Joint Program in Financial Economics.
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