Yiran Fan remembered as promising scholar and friend with ‘romantic heart’

Friends, colleagues share memories of Ph.D. student in Jan. 14 candlelight vigil

About five years ago, Yiran Fan asked three of his fellow University of Chicago students to stand in a perfect isosceles triangle. They were in the middle of a drama rehearsal—and this shape, Fan said, would better evoke the tension of the characters.

This memory was one of many shared during a Jan. 14 candlelight vigil on campus held in honor of Fan, who died in a Jan. 9 shooting. Just 30 years old, Fan was remembered as an exceptional student and collaborator—one whose skills and knowledge were sought after, even as a fourth-year Ph.D. student who had yet to propose his dissertation.

But he was also so much more.

“Yiran had a romantic heart as well as a logical brain,” said Katie Tian, MBA’20, a former president of the Windmill Chinese Drama Club at UChicago. “He liked to express artistic presentation in mathematical terms.”

Fan, SM’15, came from China to the University in 2014 to study financial mathematics. He later enrolled in a joint program of the Booth School of Business and the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, but his interests also extended far beyond his academic studies.

In the first email he ever sent to his drama club, Fan illustrated his deep knowledge of existentialism and the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. To his actors and fellow students, he was also a capable and patient director—albeit one who, Tian said, “was always too nice to criticize anyone.”

—Non-YouTube users: Access the full video and transcripts here.

Fellow Ph.D. student Lun Li remembered the passion with which Fan spoke, as well as his recognizable voice and his great sense of humor.

“He was always able to provide valuable advice to me when I needed it the most,” Li said.

Elsewhere on campus, Fan’s ability as a scholar and collaborator stood out to nearly everyone he encountered. Prof. Lars Peter Hansen, who first met Fan six years ago, recalled the way that other students and researchers would gravitate toward him.

“When he took my classes, I would see students clustering around him after the class—not me—to better understand the ideas and concepts,” said Hansen, a Nobel laureate in economics. “He was the one to be trusted with his deep understanding.”

That trust and respect was hard-earned. When he arrived at UChicago in 2014, Fan already held 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 master’s degree at UChicago, he served as a research professional at the Fama-Miller Center for Research in Finance. He had hoped to propose his doctoral dissertation later this year.

Prof. Zhiguo He remembered a dinner he once had with Fan in Chinatown, during which he talked about his personal life and his dream of gaining acceptance in a top Ph.D. program.

He recalled a saying that Fan loved to quote. “He told me once: ‘If you only give some effort, success is not necessarily guaranteed,” He said. “‘But with great and sustained effort, something will eventually be achieved.’”

Fan’s reputation spread even to those who did not have the pleasure of working with him.

“He was an extraordinary student and scholar,” said President Robert J. Zimmer, who said eminent scholars at the University had “remarked just how much [Fan] was able to accomplish and just how much potential he had.”

Provost Ka Yee C. Lee said Fan “reflected the best and brightest of our community and enriched the lives of so many of us during his tenure here.”

“Our hearts are heavy as we mourn a life cut short in a senseless act of gun violence,” Lee said. “To those of you who are fortunate enough to have known Yiran on campus, we are here to support you in this profoundly sad time.”

Lee ended her comments by speaking in Chinese directly to Fan’s father and mother, Chenggang Fan and Chunzhi Xu.

The vigil concluded with music composed by Fan, and words from Maurice Charles, dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

In his closing comments, Charles extended his thoughts to Anthony Faulkner and Aisha Johnson, who along with Fan were three victims killed in a citywide shooting spree on Jan. 9.

“We blow out our candles,” Charles said, “confident that love can never be extinguished.”

In partnership with the Fan family, the University of Chicago is establishing a fund in memory of Yiran Fan to support students in the joint program of Chicago Booth and the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics. To contribute, call 773-702-7747 or visit http://ChicagoBooth.edu/memorial-gift and choose the memorial gift option in the drop-down menu to honor Yiran Fan. The University will send correspondence on your behalf to the family acknowledging your gift.