Juanjuan Zhang is a daredevil—with her mind. At least that’s what her Haas mentors, Miguel Villas-Boas and Teck Ho, told her about her unconventional dissertation topic.
Zhang’s dissertation explored how “observational learning” shapes the behavior of kidney transplant candidates when they’re offered an organ. The term refers to the inferences people make from others’ choices and is typically used in the context of economics and marketing. But Zhang’s research found that it played out in the transplant arena as well. For example, candidates high on the waiting list might refuse a kidney from an older person, choosing to wait for a longer-lasting organ from a teenager. Observational learning comes into play when the kidney is offered to the next person on the list. Even though perfectly viable, that patient also refuses the kidney, assuming that since it’s already been rejected, it’s no good.
Zhang’s research demonstrated her ability to find connections between fields that aren’t usually linked, which she attributes in part to her time at Haas.
“There’s this sense of freedom at Haas,” she says. “I was encouraged to research concepts that I found exciting—to pursue that particular intellectual sparkle that happens when you come across an idea that fires up your imagination.”
Now a professor at MIT, Zhang uses this ability to push scholarly limits in service of her students, and for this she has been noticed, earning two of MIT’s most prestigious teaching awards.
“My time at Haas trained me to think big and bold, and today, I teach my students the same,” she says. “It may be more comfortable to write familiar, incremental papers, but ultimately the frontier of knowledge in our field is defined by research that challenges boundaries.” —KMY
Epoch Foundation Prof. of Intl. Management & Marketing,
MIT Sloan School of Management