2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: David Yang, University of California Irvine (Merage)

David Yang

Assistant Professor of Finance

University of California Irvine, Merage School of Business

At just 31, David Yang is the youngest professor to make this year’s list of top 50 professors. Simply put: Yang is a budding rockstar, earning three degrees from Harvard University including his Ph.D. in Business Economics. Yang currently teaches investments across undergraduate and MBA programs at the Merage School of Business at the University of California-Irvine. Earlier this year, Yang’s research and presence in the classroom was recognized by being nominated as the Merage School Dean’s Honoree.

Age: 31

Education: PhD, Business Economics, Harvard University; AM, Business Economics, Harvard University; AB, Applied Mathematics, Harvard University

At current institution since: 2015

List of courses you currently teach: Investments (Undergraduate, Full-Time MBA, Full-Employed MBA). Current Topics in Finance (PhD)

Twitter handle: @davidcyang

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Whirlwind. I over-estimated how much material I could cover and so re-wrote large chunks of the class while the class was underway.  

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My recent work studies the idea that retail investors hold stocks at the “wrong time”, sometimes called the “dumb money” effect. The following two data points illustrate the anecdotal version of the key finding: In March 2000, at the height of the dotcom boom, households tilted their portfolios towards stocks and the aggregate stock market performed poorly subsequently. In contrast, in March 2009, at the depths of the recent financial crisis, households tilted their portfolios away from stocks and the aggregate stock market performed well subsequently. The paper, “Be Fearful When Households Are Greedy: The Household Equity Share and Expected Market Returns”, shows that this relationship holds generally and is robust.

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? More online classes.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: You are pulled in many different directions. Professors don’t have a boss/manager in the traditional sense. This is a plus, but it also means that inbound requests for your different responsibilities (research, teaching, university and professional service) are uncoordinated. As a result, while there is generally much intellectual freedom, there are also times where it feels like you have multiple bosses.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: My advisors from graduate school: Larry Summers, for always making time for mentorship, while juggling his hectic schedule as a well-known economist. John Campbell, for the intellectual rigor he brings to answering research questions. Robin Greenwood, for going beyond giving research feedback and proactively helping graduate students with unglamorous, but important, career development like revising presentation slides.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? It’s fun to hear about the latest products/services/apps/etc that fascinate them. Some turn out to be fads, but others reach mainstream later.

What’s the biggest challenge? The wide range in student goals in my “Investments” class. Some students take the class for career reasons: they aim to pursue investments-related careers and hence want to understand investments in sufficient detail to succeed in those jobs. However, there are also a substantial number of students who take the class for personal reasons: they don’t plan to work in finance and are instead looking for a high-level understanding so they can work with a future financial advisor for their personal investments. Because of their differing goals, it’s a balancing act when figuring out how in-depth go into for each topic.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Understanding the intuition behind the key ideas, as opposed to just memorizing the equations.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Teaching students how to use and interpret data. Because there is so much more data today, we can go beyond relying on “conventional wisdoms” and see which ones are actually true. At the same time, because there is so much more data, it’s vital to learn what the data does/does not imply to avoid being misled by faulty statistics.

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