Smeal Alumni in Profile: Doctoral grad begins career at top real estate program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- James Conklin earned his doctoral degree from the Penn State Smeal College of Business Ph.D. program in real estate as part of the class of 2014. This summer, he’ll begin his new position at the University of Georgia in one of the top real estate programs in the country.

Conklin received his bachelor’s degree in finance with a minor in management information systems from the University of Delaware and then went to work in the mortgage industry. When he decided to go back to school to pursue an advanced degree, his interest in and experience with mortgages led him on a search for programs in real estate.

“I came into the Ph.D. Program here at Smeal without a master’s degree, so that took some extra work,” said Conklin, “but the faculty were nothing but supportive throughout the process.”

“I didn’t understand just how much Penn State has to offer compared to other schools until I went on the job market and began visiting other universities."

-- James Conklin 2014 Penn State graduate alumnus

After devoting several years to coursework and spending his summers exploring research topics, Conklin was able to devote more time and energy to research throughout the academic year. After some exploration, he settled on a research focus area of mortgage markets and brokers.

“There was a time when I was exploring other topics because I didn’t want to be pigeonholed, but my adviser [Brent Ambrose, Smeal Professor of Risk Management and director of Ph.D. programs] saw my excitement on the topic of mortgage brokers and encouraged me to continue pursuing my passion,” he said. “My research mostly focuses on lender and borrower behavior in the subprime mortgage crisis.”

Conklin said that the resources available to graduate students at Smeal — and, more broadly, Penn State — are a big advantage.

“I didn’t understand just how much Penn State has to offer compared to other schools until I went on the job market and began visiting other universities,” he said.

The accessible support of faculty is another draw that helped position Conklin for successful entry to the job market.

“One of the most valuable experiences I had during my time as a graduate student was working on a paper with my adviser,” said Conklin. “We worked closely together throughout the process of researching and writing, and then the paper was published. I’m confident that experience helped differentiate me from my competitors on the job market.”

In the end, said Conklin, key to getting your foot in the door as an academic in a top program are the people you work with throughout the graduate school process.

“Having strong people vouching for you is a huge advantage,” Conklin said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the people I had writing my recommendations from here at Penn State opened a lot of doors for me. That speaks volumes about the quality of our program.”

About the Smeal College of Business Ph.D. program
The Smeal College of Business Ph.D. program, aimed at students who want to pursue a career in academic research, offers specialization opportunities in accounting, finance, management and organization, marketing, real estate, and supply chain and information systems. Learn more at

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated June 02, 2014