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“The program is set up perfectly for me. It helped me prepare myself as a professor and my new career.”
— Sunghoon Joo
When Jim Hilliard imagined establishing a doctoral program in finance at the Harbert College of Business, he envisioned a program that produces strong job candidates with research that impacted peers and industry. By most metrics, the program has been successful!
Since 2014, the first five doctoral candidates of the program:
One candidate graduated in May and four other candidates graduate on Saturday, August 3.
“We are happy for these young men and women,” said Hilliard, Harbert Eminent Scholar in Finance, who advises the program. “Not only do they have the potential for successful careers as research scholars but they will also impact countless students in the classroom and serve as great ambassadors for the Harbert College of Business and the PhD Program in Finance.”
Originally from China, Haoran Zhang discussed the importance of being called “professor.” “In the East Asian culture, education has a special meaning,” said Zhang, who previously earned a masters degree in statistics at Auburn and a master’s degree in finance from the Harbert College of Business. “If you have a PhD, then you are well respected. I wanted to be someone who can contribute to this. I wanted to be a professor. Being a professor is a very great honor in our culture. It’s not only a job – it’s something more.”
Haoran Zhang will soon begin work as Assistant Professor of Finance at Manhattan College in New York City. Yanfei Sun, who graduated in May, is now Assistant Professor of Finance at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
Other graduates include Tri Trinh (right, assistant professor, NEOMA Business School in Mont-Saint-Aignan, France), Shen Zhang (assistant professor, Troy University), and Sunghoon Joo (assistant professor, California State University-Dominquez Hills in Los Angeles).
“With faculty here, just knock on their doors ... in all cases, they are very willing to help.”
— Shen Zhang
What sets the Harbert College of Business apart? Students agreed: A close-knit bond with faculty.
“A large purpose of the PhD program is to learn how to research,” said Shen Zhang (left), whose co-authored “The Role of Market Sentiment in Asset Allocations and Stock Returns,” with Jitka Hilliard, Associate Professor in Finance, was accepted for publication into The Journal of Behavioral Finance. “To learn this, we work closely with the faculty, learn how to develop our research ideas, and how to write the paper. If you do not have a close relationship with them, you cannot learn. This information is not easily found in a textbook, or in a video. With faculty here, just knock on their doors and ask them. In all cases, they are very willing to help.”
For Joo, sharing the third floor of Lowder Hall with finance faculty is a major plus.
“Sometimes I hear from friends at other PhD programs at other universities whose faculty members are in other buildings,” he said. “They say it’s difficult to interact with those faculty members and that delays their research projects. Here at Auburn, we are very fortunate to have our offices next to the faculty offices. They are always very active in their research, which allows us to learn their ideas and expand ours even further.”
“They (faculty) are always very active in their research, which allows us to learn their ideas and expand ours even further.”
— Sunghoon Joo
Harbert College’s nominal five-year PhD in Finance program is designed where candidates are heavily focused on course work in years one and two. That expands into the classroom in years three and four, where the candidates prepare for their futures in front of students as independent instructors. But year five? Focus reverts to the dissertation and job market.
“The program is set up perfectly for me,” said Joo. “It helped me prepare myself as a professor and my new career. Not teaching in the fifth year really helped. That’s one of the most important factors. At other schools, PhD candidates are teaching in the fifth year. That wouldn’t allow much time to prepare the dissertation and look for jobs.”
After working with doctoral students in finance at LSU and Georgia, Hilliard took his passion to Auburn and shared the desire to begin a similar program here. “I wanted a PhD program, and thanks to Bill Hardgrave (former dean and current Auburn University Provost), the enthusiasm for it really amped up when he arrived in 2010,” Hilliard said.
Three years later, the program was established as part of 1982 alumnus Raymond J. Harbert’s $40 million naming gift to the college. “That’s another thing that sets us apart – the endowment really gave us the funds to do special things,” Hilliard said.
Funds are used to pay for research databases, software, manuscript submission fees, and attendance at national and international academic and industry-focused conferences. At these conferences, the students present their research and discuss the research of other academics/practitioners. “This doesn’t look bad on their résumés,” Hilliard noted. “We had funds to send them to conferences and that provides lots of exposure and visibility to the students, the Harbert College, and the PhD program.”
For example, Sun (left) presented her co-authored work, “Do State Regulations Effect Payday Lender Concentration,” at the Federal Reserve in Philadelphia in 2015, and Trinh presented his co-authored research, “The Effects of Activist Investors on Firms’ Mergers and Acquisitions,” at the 2017 Southern Finance Association annual meeting in Key West, Florida.
There are also quality of life advantages at Auburn.
“Auburn is an excellent place to live,” said Shen Zhang, who previously lived in metro Dallas while earning an M.S. in Quantitative Finance at the University of Texas-Arlington. “We have football and many good restaurants. It’s a small city, but it’s safe and the people here are very friendly. People do not always acknowledge each other in big cities. Here in Auburn, you always see people smiling at you. It makes you feel very comfortable.
“Also, the school is expanding and developing. We have a new business building. The PhD student offices are spacious compared to other schools. You may even have an office with a window. Not many PhD students have that.”
RELATED: Doctoral students in Finance named Emerging Scholars for consecutive years https://harbert.auburn.edu/news/EmergingScholars.html