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Darla Moore School of Business


Economics professor thrives in mutual learning environment of MAEcon program

May 22, 2019

Master of Arts in Economics professor Crystal Zhan

What is your educational background?
I got my bachelor’s degree from Peking University in China, majoring in finance and computer science. I did my Ph.D. in Economics at the University of California, San Diego, with a focus on labor economics and applied econometrics.

How did you come to be at the Moore School?
I chose to work at the Moore School because of its academic excellence and the friendly and collaborative colleagues that I met during my job visit. Also, Columbia has a very similar climate to my hometown, Hangzhou, which is definitely a plus to me.

What is your involvement with the Master of Arts in Economics program?
I have taught Applied Econometrics, one of the three core classes of MAEcon program, for three years. I also teach Labor Economics, which is one of the electives for the master’s students. Besides instruction, I have advised the master’s theses of two students and recommended one to a Ph.D. program.

What do you like most about the MAEcon program?
I like that it’s a relatively small program, so I get to interact with the students both in and outside of class. Most of our MAEcon students come from different backgrounds, and they join the program with varying goals. I enjoy getting to know them and helping them fulfill their goals. More importantly, I also learn from their unique experiences, which sometimes inspire my life and research.

What is your favorite student/teaching memory from your time at the Moore School?
It is a bit hard for me to determine my favorite teaching memory as there are many. But if I have to, I would say that I definitely love an “ah, that’s what it is” moment with students. Econometrics is not an easy class. For people who learn it for the first time, it is very easy to get lost in details and overlook the big picture. While some students do well in the exams, a thorough understanding takes time and practice.

One semester, after we were done with all the lectures, a student came to me to discuss his term paper and his thoughts about how he could apply the techniques introduced in class to his business. After we went over his paper, the concepts suddenly appeared to connect better to him, and he had that “now I see what it is” moment.

What does this program offer students in comparison to similar programs?
In my view, the MAEcon program is important because it gives students a more thorough understanding of economics and helps them make better-informed choices about their future careers. Upon graduation from college, many students are not well-prepared either for the job market or for Ph.D. programs. This program helps the students figure out their interests and strengths by challenging them with a more analytical curriculum and offering them more in-depth knowledge about the frontier in economics research. During the past few years, we’ve had multiple students who went on to pursue a Ph.D. degree in economics after they completed the MAEcon program. Some actually joined the Ph.D. program in our department.

Of course, we also get students who have been working for a while and want to come back to school to hone their analytical skills and expand their career perspectives. The program serves that purpose well since it is relatively short but provides rigorous training.

What are the most valuable skills students gain from the MAEcon program?
I believe the most valuable skills that student gain from the MAEcon program are critical thinking and the quantitative and analytical skills.

What do you think makes the Moore School stand out ?
I think the Moore School stands out among other business schools due to the collaborative working environment and an administration that supports the faculty and students.