Vietnamese, 22, wins PhD scholarships to two Ivy League universities

By Doan Hung   June 14, 2024 | 07:31 pm PT
A senior from Hanoi at Dartmouth University has won full PhD scholarships at two Ivy League schools, alongside many other top U.S. institutions.

Nguyen Tuan Hoang, 22, has received the scholarships from Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania, aside from other prestigious schools including Duke University, Northwestern University, and New York University.

Hoang was the top scorer in the entrance exam for the sixth grade at the Hanoi - Amsterdam High School for the Gifted in 2013. Four years later, he continued to lead the entrance exam for 10th grade at the school, and was the top scorer for the Math special class.

Nguyen Tuan Hoang. Photo courtesy of Hoang

Nguyen Tuan Hoang, a college student from Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Hoang

Throughout high school, Hoang was a member of the national excellent student team in Informatics, winning second place as early as in his 10th grade. Such teams largely comprise students in 11th and 12th grades.

He completed his studies at Dartmouth College in 2020.

At this Ivy League school, in just three years, Hoang graduated magna cum laude with double majors in Mathematics and Economics. The young man then spent a year working with the Economics and Computation group at Microsoft Research, a research and development division of Microsoft in New England, the U.S.

Initially planning to pursue Computer Science, Hoang switched to Economics after participating in research with a professor at Dartmouth on financial aid policies for American students.

"The research has helped me see that economic and social issues can be modeled and calculated relatively tightly using mathematical tools and programming skills, which are my strengths," Hoang shared.

"With increasingly large data and the superior computing power of modern computers, I believe that designing and evaluating economic policies will become more objective and closer to reality, rather than just relying on theoretical frameworks."

His time working at Microsoft helped Hoang see the impact of new technologies, such as ChatGPT, on labor productivity. While always eager to learn in detail about how those technologies work, Hoang was more attracted by broader questions about the impact of technological advancements on human life.

On one hand, he wants to explore ways to help more people keep up with new technologies through education and training. On the other hand, he seeks solutions to ensure welfare for the disadvantaged labor group, who may struggle to keep up with advanced technology.

From Hoang's perspective, history shows that technological advancements have always been a key factor in economic growth but also bring about many social instabilities. For example, previous industrial revolutions have caused severe unemployment and rapidly increased wealth gaps in many countries around the world.

"I hope to find a direction that makes the process of technological innovation and economic growth harmonious, equitable, and stable," Hoang shared.

This is also why he chose Brown University for his PhD journey.

According to Research Papers in Economics (RePEc), a collaborative effort of hundreds of volunteers in many countries to enhance the dissemination of research in economics to make the largest economic database globally of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. This school has been ranked number one in the world for years in the field of economic growth research.

The scholarship granted for Hoang, includes tuition, insurance fees, and living allowances during his time as a research student, totals up to $732,000.

Hoang at the headquarters of the Department of Economics, Brown University, USA. Photo courtesy of Hoang

Nguyen Tuan Hoang at the headquarters of the Department of Economics, Brown University, U.S. Photo courtesy of Hoang

On its website, Brown University stated that it receives over 750 applications annually for its Economics PhD program and that it selects only 16 outstanding candidates.

According to US News & World Report, this Ivy League institution is currently ranked ninth among the best universities in the U.S.

Thai Thi Thanh Hoa, his homeroom teacher at Amsterdam High School in 2017-2020, said she still remembers the first day meeting Hoang for the first time.

"I was impressed because he had a bright face, bright eyes, and a very fresh smile," Hoa said.

She was later surprised when Hoang came to see her, saying he wanted to compete in the Informatics Olympiad. This was the first time Hoa encountered such a case, as Hoang was specialized in Maths.

"The program in the specialized Math class was already very heavy, and although Informatics was related, it was still new to Hoang. I was worried whether he could succeed in both subjects at the same time, but he was determined, saying he would try," Hoa recalled.

Just after one semester, Hoang became the first 10th grader in Amsterdam's history to make it to the national excellent student team for the 12th-grade Informatics competition of Hanoi.

Seeing the effort of her student since a very early stage, Hoa was not surprised when she learned that Hoang had been awarded a PhD scholarship in Economics at two Ivy League universities.

"With his capacity, perseverance, seriousness, and persistence, no matter what direction he switches to, no matter how big the challenge, I believe he will still be successful," Hoa evaluated.

She mentioned that Hoang was admired and respected by both friends and teachers at Amsterdam, adding that he was known as very affectionate, always caring and sharing with teachers each step of his journey, staying connected with friends.

Successfully entering Ivy League twice, Hoang thinks the biggest challenge at the undergraduate level is how to make the admissions council see the most common traits of candidates with his capacities and dreams, Thus he communicated his own personal and individual worldviews well in just a few short essays.

Conversely, at the PhD level, where interests and specializations are more specific, the ability to study and research is the key factor.

The PhD admissions council in Economics does not only look at the scores of subjects in this specialty but also focuses on other quantitative subjects such as Mathematics or Computer Science. Hoang acknowledges that pursuing Mathematics alongside Economics from early on made his application processed easier at this point.

However, to achieve good results in both fields, he faced many difficulties. For example, many times, he could not register for the desired course because upperclassmen were given priority in class selection. Hoang overcame this via being flexible between the two majors.

"If I couldn't choose an Economics class as I wished to attend, I then replaced it with a Math class and made up the other in the next semester, and vice versa," Hoang shared.

Another solution is to meet directly with the professors, asking them to register for advanced classes with fewer students, even if he hadn't accumulated enough prerequisite credits.

In his sophomore year, Hoang often asked to study Mathematics with senior students or postgraduate students.

"I was bewildered in the first few weeks due to a lack of foundational knowledge, but by being patient to reading more and ask upperclassmen questions, I survived, caught up with them, and achieved good results," Hoang said.

In terms of research experience, Hoang was fortunate to learn from many leading economics professors at Dartmouth College.

"Among the two professors who had the most influence on my PhD studies, one was a former chief economist in the Advisory Council to the U.S. president, and the other was an advisor to the prime minister of Malaysia – they advised me on development strategies and enhancing the competitiveness of the economy," he shared.

He recognizes that he has demonstrated passion and capability through classes and research projects led by those professors. They are also the people who wrote recommendation letters when Hoang applied for the PhD program.

Hoang will start his journey at Brown University this upcoming fall. The 22-year-old dreams of pursuing a research and teaching career at the university level in the future.

"However, since Economics is a very broad field, I still keep an open mindset to embrace many other exciting opportunities, especially if they help me fully utilize my abilities in my area of expertise," Hoang said.

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