Eleven graduating PhD students celebrate “insanely huge accomplishments”

2020 Phd graduates
PhD students slated to graduate in the Class of 2020 gathered remotely last Friday for a celebration with Dean Ann Harrison and Prof. Ulrike Malmendier. Photo: Maria Kurakina

Eleven Berkeley Haas PhD students, congratulated for “insanely huge accomplishments,” were urged to take a moment to reflect before moving to the next stage of their careers.

“Please take that time to think about your accomplishments—even if it’s not with the usual commencement music in the background,” said Finance Prof. Ulrike Malmendier, faculty head of the doctoral program, who dressed in full regalia for last Friday’s remote celebratory call. “You made it through, you showed your resilience, and found a starting point for the next part of your life.”

Melissa Hacker, the executive director of the PhD program, welcomed the students, many of whom thanked her personally for her help and emotional support.

Praising the class for its resilience, Dean Ann Harrison, who earned a PhD in economics from Princeton University, noted the students’ “insanely huge accomplishments.”

Harrison recalled working tirelessly during the third year of her doctoral program, after finally coming up with a dissertation topic. “I spent an entire summer in the basement of the computer center typing in numbers into a spreadsheet so I could have a database,” she said. “I’m getting tears in my eyes just thinking about what you’ve been through. You are all going on to do amazing things and I’m just so proud of you.”

You are all going on to do amazing things and I’m just so proud of you.

The PhD students slated to graduate include Christopher Lako, Dayin Zhang, Jieyin (Jean) Zeng, Luc Kien Hang, Margaret (Maggie) Fong, Maria Kurakina, Marius Guenzel, Michael Rosenblum, Oren Reshef, Troup Howard, and Xin Chen. Their areas of specialization include real estate, accounting, finance, business and public policy, marketing and management of organizations.

The graduates selected Prof. Ernesto Dal Bó, the Phillips Girgich Professor of Business, to receive the Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching. Faculty are selected to receive the award—which is the top teaching honor at Berkeley Haas—by students in each program.

“We all made it.”

Nine of the grads are heading to jobs in academia and two landed in industry both in the U.S. and abroad. Guenzel, whose dissertation was on behavioral and corporate finance, accepted a job as assistant professor at Wharton, while Hang, who researched asset pricing, will work as a data and applied scientist at Microsoft. Zeng, who welcomed a baby boy with her husband during the program, is headed to the National University of Singapore as an assistant professor.

Students shared stories of late-night poker games, intense study groups, testing research questions on each other, and forging lifelong friendships along the way. The program was about experiencing something together with your friends, Zeng said. “The third year was hard but it was less hard because my cohort was experiencing the same thing and we all made it,”  she said. “I’m really happy with that.”

Howard, who will be an assistant professor at David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, recalled many “incredible, wonderful moments” during the program “and some tough ones as well.” He recounted heading into Hacker’s office three weeks into his first semester worried that he would lose his funding if he failed all of his classes, and that he wouldn’t be able to pay rent. “I wouldn’t have made it without a ton of support and friendship of the folks on here,” Howard said.

I wouldn’t have made it without a ton of support and friendship of the folks on here.

Hacker, who held back tears several times, responded that she remembered thinking that day, “He’s going to be just fine.”

Influential couples in economics

Zhang, whose wife is graduating with a PhD in economics from the University of Michigan, expressed his admiration for the “best couples in economics” at UC Berkeley, including husband and wife economics professors Christina Romer and David Romer, and Malmendier and her husband, Prof. Stefano DellaVigna. “This gives me a goal to achieve,” he said, of becoming another successful economics couple.

Reshef and his wife had two babies, a girl and a boy, while he was in the program, both of whom made an appearance during the call. Reshef, like other students, regretted that they couldn’t be together to celebrate in person, but vowed to reunite after the coronavirus crisis passes.

“It’s great to see everybody,” he said. “I hope we get to see each other again under different circumstances.”