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Seong Byun

By Megan Nash

Meet Seong Byun, Ph.D., an associate professor of finance in the Department of Finance, Insurance and Real Estate at VCU School of Business, who might just be the most accidental academic you’ll ever encounter. From a serendipitous journey that began with a string of major changes in undergrad to discovering his passion for teaching by what he calls “pure dumb luck,” Seong’s path is anything but conventional.

Let’s get started!

Where can we find you on the VCU map?

In my office on the fourth floor of Snead Hall (B4169) or at local coffee shops around campus (Alchemy or Lift).

Can you share a bit about your educational journey? Where did you go to school and what was your major?

I went to the University of Texas at Dallas. Dallas is also where I grew up. I never left my parents’ house until I got my Ph.D. and married in the same month at age 27! I switched majors four or five times as an undergrad–physics, biology, mathematics, economics–ultimately graduating with a degree in finance, I think.

What inspired you to pursue a career in your field, and how has your journey evolved over the years?

Honestly, it was pure dumb luck. I was graduating right around the financial crisis and didn’t have any jobs I liked, so I just kept staying in school. I got my master’s degree and then applied for a Ph.D. program in finance without knowing what I was getting myself into. It turns out Ph.D. programs are designed to make you become a professor, which I didn’t know. But when I had the opportunity to teach a class as a doctoral student, I found that I really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the freedom I was given to choose and develop my own topics and questions to study in academic research. It always feels like I fumbled my way to this point and got really lucky to meet the right people and be in the right situations at the right time, even if it didn’t feel that way in the moment.

In the early part of my career, I focused intently on making sure I got tenure, which mainly involves publishing a certain number of papers. These days, I am more selective in the types of projects or research questions I take on and try to work on projects that could have the biggest impact.

Can you share a memorable experience from your teaching career that had a significant impact on your approach to education?

I don’t have any one particular moment, but what I remember the most throughout the years is hearing back from my former students and learning about how they are doing after graduation. These memories probably have the most significant impact because they remind me of what my profession is all about, and they encourage me to give my best in every opportunity that I have in interacting with my students.

If you had to create a playlist of songs that represent your academic journey, what would be your ‘Top 3?’

  1. “An Unexpected Party” – The Hobbit Original Soundtrack (as I am wondering how I got here)
  2. “Shake it Off” – Taylor Swift (for all the journal rejections)
  3. “For the First Time in Forever” – Frozen Soundtrack (when I receive journal acceptance)

If you could time travel to any historical period for a day, which era would you choose and why?

The day when Satoshi Nakamoto launched Bitcoin–for purely research purposes 🙂

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