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Student Spotlight

Graduate Student Spotlight: Yanning Zhang

Yanning Zhang

Yanning Zhang is a Ph.D. student and a Jenkins Fellow in the Economics Graduate Program at NC State University. Her research interests include matching theory and market design, which led to her decision to join NC State’s program.

Zhang holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Sun Yat-sen University and a Master’s of Science in Policy and Planning Sciences from the University of Tsukuba. This past summer, she completed a consulting internship with EY in their Quantitative Advisory Services program. 

Read more about her work and experience at NC State below.

Can you tell us about your research?

I mainly work on microeconomic theory, with an emphasis on matching markets with affirmative action policies. That may not sound like “economics”, as there is no price involved. In my research, we first observe some failures of a matching market and then propose a solution which could be used by policy makers.

I am working with Dr. Umut Dur for my dissertation on matching theory, including research on the effect of seat precedence order on the assignment of underrepresented groups, affirmative action policies in public school assignments and random assignments. 

In a centralized school assignment system, usually students submit an ordered list of schools, and each school has a priority ranking over students. A matching algorithm currently in use can be flawed in certain situations. We design a new mechanism to address these flaws while accommodating policy makers’ needs.

What are your goals for the rest of your time at NC State and after earning your Ph.D.?

My main goal is to finish my research projects. Specifically, I am designing some algorithms that could potentially help matching markets to become more efficient and fair. This summer I learned several new topics from the industry, such as climate stress testing and scenario analysis. I hope to contribute to climate change research and apply matching theory to carbon emission allocations in the future.

Are you involved in any other programs at NC State?

I was invited by my English Conversation class teacher to join the Conversation and Coffee Program. I was paired with a retired woman who is in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program at NCSU. I got the chance to practice my English with her during many coffee chats. I enjoyed talking with her about my research, affirmative actions and climate change.

What stands out to you the most about your time in the program?

There are many aspects about our program that have impressed me. First, our faculty are really supportive of us. Many are willing to help guide you through tough situations in research and even help plan your future career. 

Second, there is a wide selection of economic field courses for you to explore your interests. They provided me with a solid set of tools for my research. For example, what I learned from advanced micro theory helped me develop a deep understanding of matching theory, which became the focus of my research. 

Also, the empirical skills I learned from labor economics helped me broaden my horizon in areas such as causal inference and economics of education. In addition, the first-year core curriculums prepared me well to think in a critical mindset so that I have the confidence to tackle most economic problems.

Do you have any advice for those considering the Economics Ph.D. program at NC State?

I would suggest talking to professors about your goals and interests. Finding a professor who aligns with your interests is very important for becoming a successful Ph.D. student. Reach out to our program ambassadors if you have any questions about the Ph.D. life at NCSU and want to learn more about living in Raleigh. Also, taking math and some higher level economics classes would always be helpful.

To learn more about our economics graduate programs, visit our Graduate Programs page.