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Fuqua Dean Douglas T. Breeden Speaks at Convocation

September 05, 2002

DURHAM, N.C. – Douglas T. Breeden, Dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the William W. Priest Professor of Finance, spoke at the Duke Graduate and Professional Schools Convocation on Aug. 22. Breeden is a finance scholar and entrepreneur who has founded and chaired successful consulting and financial management firms.

Breeden is strong believer in the benefits of an outstanding graduate education and a proponent of lifelong learning. He received his undergraduate degree in management science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, and earned an M.A. in economics and a Ph.D. in finance from Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

Following are some highlights from his address.

On graduation and professional education expanding capabilities:

  • While my undergraduate years were quite wonderful, it is my graduate education that has really helped me discover, prepare for and execute my ultimate career choices. Being a professor would have been impossible without a graduate education, and my principal entrepreneurial ventures were also based on the special skills and knowledge learned in graduate school.

     

  • Education expands your capabilities. Soak it up. Learn all that your professors and colleagues can teach you. And learn to do research and analysis independently so that you can innovate and continue with lifelong learning after graduate school.

On the societal impact of graduation and professional education:

  • The impact on society of the research and applications that comes out of graduate and professional school education is difficult to overestimate. You should certainly feel that your studies here are likely to help you make this world a better place.
  • As the noted anthropologist, Margaret Mead, said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

On the “sphere of knowledge”:

  • When I think of education and research, I often think that it is as if we start as students at the center of a great sphere of knowledge. As you learn more, you move from the center out towards the perimeter of the sphere. Almost all of what we learn in our first years of graduate school is known by many researchers and taught to us. By the end of your graduate education, many of you will be at the outer edge of the sphere in your areas of expertise, learning practically everything your professors can teach you in the most advanced doctoral seminars.

On the importance of professors and universities:

  • Thus, it is not clear to me that the raw talent that the top two or three schools have is very different from what the next five to seven schools have. However, certain schools and professors, including many professors at Duke, have a much more distinguished long-term record of producing outstanding graduates who do pioneering works. Clearly, those schools and professors are better at getting their students more solidly prepared to work at the frontiers of knowledge.

On the depth and focus needed during graduate school:

  • Graduate school is the best time in life to go slowly, to learn your subjects deeply. It is a time to understand, think about and discuss the important relationships and why things work the way they do. Or why things don’t make sense that you once thought did. If you thoroughly understand the major issues, results and open questions of an important area, your research will come much more easily. So go for depth of understanding. Be patient. Work hard on important issues. Simplify your world enough to attack important questions one by one. And new results will come.

  • There are no shortcuts to greatness in research. I have been very fortunate to have been taught by or have been a colleague with several Nobel Laureates in Economics. It is stunning just how hard these people work, even after winning the Nobel. They are consumed by their research and by their pursuit of important new insights. Some young people seem to think that when they get to the top, they get to slow down and rest on their laurels. I have not seen any of these top researchers voluntarily slow down in their research.