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Chicago Student Killed in Mass Shooting Awarded Posthumous Ph.D. After Professors Defend His Dissertation

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Faculty defend Yiran Fan’s doctoral dissertation on his behalf after he was murdered in a shooting spree, in order for him to be awarded a Ph.D. posthumously
Yiran Fan, a University of Chicago student who was murdered mass shooting will receive his Ph.D.

In January assailant Jason Nightengale died in a shootout with police after first shooting three victims to death. One of these victims, University of Chicago student Yiran Fan, was sitting in his car in a parking garage when he was shot in the head. It is believed that Nightengale chose his victims at random and had never met Fan.

The next day, Fan was remembered by friends, classmates and professors at a vigil.

Professor Lars Peter Hansen, David Rockefeller Distinguished Service Professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a 2013 recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics remembered Fan as brilliant and inquisitive. "As a student, what really stood out, not only was he a brilliant student, he really viewed the pursuit of knowledge and science as a community thing," he said. "He was a very nice person, quiet, unassuming, but incredibly thoughtful. Like I said, he will be missed, but not forgotten."

Another Professor, Dr. Zhiguo He remarked, “Yiran had every trait to be a rising star in a few years. As an intuitive thinker on deep economic questions, he was recognized as super smart, extremely diligent, and extraordinarily persevering.”

"He was so enthusiastic about teaching, that many of us felt he was one of the most outstanding teaching assistants we ever had," classmate Yusheng Fei said.

"We will always remember him, remember him for who he was as a wonderful individual. And remember him for his talents and accomplishments," said University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer.

When Fan arrived in the U.S. from China in 2014, moving to Chicago, to attend the University and study in the financial mathematics program, he already had completed a bachelor’s degree in finance from Peking University and a master’s degree in financial engineering from the University of Cambridge.

After earning a second master’s degree at the University of Chicago, he served as a research professional at the Fama-Miller Center for Research in Finance. A fourth year Ph.D. student in a joint program of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, Fan had intended to propose his doctoral dissertation in the year in which he died.

Now, Yiran Fan will be awarded a posthumous Ph.D. at the University of Chicago’s graduation next week.

With the help of one of Fan’s former classmates, Professors Zhingo He and Lars Hansen obtained the password for Fan’s Dropbox. After faculty members read through the research, four of Fan’s professors decided to complete the dissertation in his honor determined to actually defend it in order to pass the requirements for the Ph.D. on Fan’s behalf.

Hansen and He formed a dissertation committee with Professor Veronica Guerrieri and Assistant Professor Doron Ravid. According to a university spokesperson, the committee wanted to ensure the process was as rigorous as that faced by other University of Chicago students.

Nishant Vats, a doctoral student and friend of Fan’s and Professor Hansen presented Fan’s work over Zoom to more than 100 people. Fan’s work examined how rational bank behavior can lead to risky lending, according to the university.

“The University of Chicago has very rigorous standards, and I want to assure anyone that the standards are not being lowered for Yiran,” Vats said. “If anyone deserves getting a Ph.D., it’s absolutely Yiran.”

Fan’s doctoral degree will be awarded on Saturday, along with those of the other 2021 graduates of the University of Chicago. Fan’s parents will also have their son’s degree presented to them at the University’s Beijing center in July.

The university has started a fund in Fan’s honor to support doctoral students.

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