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He died in shooting spree, but professors made sure he still got his Ph.D.

Yiran Fan’s parents are set to receive his degree at the University of Chicago’s Beijing center in July.

Yiran Fan teaching a class at the University of Chicago.
Yiran Fan was a financial economics doctoral student and teaching assistant at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
Photo courtesy of Jiaming Wang

Thanks to the tenacity of four professors, the legacy of a brilliant mind and a Dropbox password, a University of Chicago student slain earlier this year will still get his Ph.D.

Yiran Fan, a University of Chicago doctoral student, was killed in January in a shooting spree that started in Hyde Park and ended in Evanston.

In March, his dissertation was defended by faculty on his behalf.

Yiran Fan will be awarded a posthumous Ph.D. at the University of Chicago’s graduation next week. His parents are also set to have their son’s degree presented to them at the University’s Beijing center in July.

The 30-year-old was shot in a parking garage on South East End Avenue on Jan. 9. The gunman, Jason Nightengale, killed three people and wounded five more before being shot dead by police in Evanston later the same day.

Through the help of a classmate, 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 Ph.D. in his honor by defending his dissertation.

Hansen and He formed a dissertation committee with Professor Veronica Guerrieri and Assistant Professor Doron Ravid. The committee wanted to ensure the process was as rigorous as that faced by other U of C students, according to the university.

Fan discussed his dissertation work with He about twice a week before his death.

“Lars and I split the work. I did one paper. He did the other paper,” said He, who recalled Fan as a wonderful person, helpful classmate and patient teaching assistant.

Professor Guerrie advised Fan and was on the committee to review Fan’s dissertation and research.

“He was an amazing student and was really talented,” said Guerrieri, adding that Fan “will be missed as a person and as an economist.”

Fan’s doctoral degree will be awarded on Saturday, along with those of the other 2021 graduates.

Nishant Vats, a doctoral student and friend of Fan, said Fan never showed off, even though he knew what their professor was teaching. Vats recalled an asset pricing class they took together.

“I had some questions at the end of the class, so I went to Yiran and our professor followed me,” said Vats. “While I was asking the questions, the professor asked, ‘What questions do you have?’ My answer was, ‘No, Yiran is here.’”

He and 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.”

“We were both immigrants trying to navigate the American system. And because he had been here longer, he also gave me a lot of advice on how to navigate this world,” Vats said.

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