Members of the University community gathered at a January 14 campus vigil to celebrate the life of graduate student Yiran Fan, SMʼ15. (Photography by Jason Smith)

A community bereft

After graduate student Yiran Fan, SMʼ15, was killed in January, UChicagoans came together in grief and remembrance.

Members of the University of Chicago community are mourning the loss of graduate student Yiran Fan, SMʼ15, and remembering him as an exceptional student, talented scholar, and beloved friend.

A 30-year-old PhD student in a joint program of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, Fan was killed on January 9 in an apparently random attack at his off-campus apartment complex. The assailant killed three more people in other parts of the city before being killed by police.

“This sudden and senseless loss of life causes us indescribable sorrow,” wrote President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee in a message to the campus community. “In the days ahead, we will come together as a community to mourn, and to lift up fellow members of our community in this difficult and very sad time.”

Fan came from China to the University in 2014 to study in the financial mathematics program. He was in the fourth year of a joint Booth/Economics PhD program in financial economics and hoped to propose his dissertation later this year.

“Yiran is remembered as a smart and incredibly talented student, highly respected by his peers and beloved by all who knew him,” said Chicago Booth dean Madhav Rajan in a message to the school community.

Fan worked closely with Zhiguo He, the Fuji Bank and Heller Professor of Finance and Jeuck Faculty Fellow, and contributed to projects about bankersʼ asset and liability management, as well as studying screening competition under flexible information acquisition.

“Yiran had every trait to be a rising star in a few years,” He said. “As an intuitive thinker on deep economic questions, he was recognized as super-smart, extremely diligent, and extraordinarily persevering. We just started working on something, and I never thought the journey would end so suddenly like this.”

Fan also served as a teaching assistant at Booth during the Autumn Quarter, and he served as the Fama-Miller Professional Development Fellow for the 2020–21 academic year, working with current researchers on their professional development.

Robert Shimer, the Alvin H. Baum Professor in Economics and the departmentʼs chair, remembered Fan for his “insightful and rigorous” analyses and for his “extraordinary performance” in his Theory of Income class. Fan received the top grade in the macroeconomics core examination during his first year and “continued to excel after that,” Shimer said.

“Graduate students know Yiran as a talented classmate, a superb teaching assistant, and a kind friend,” said Shimer. “Faculty recognize him as an exceptional research assistant, student, and scholar.”

Outside his research, Fan was an active participant in and organizer of a student workshop in macroeconomics and finance, and often provided helpful comments on the work of his classmates.

At a candlelight vigil on the main quad January 14, friends, teachers, and classmates shared their memories of Fanmdash;of his scholarly promise, his personal kindness, and his artistic talent. The vigil featured music he had composed, and Katie Tian, MBAʼ20, spoke of his work as a theatrical director in the Windmill Chinese Drama Club. “Yiran,” she said, “had a romantic heart as well as a logical brain.”