EPIC Spotlight: Tracy Liu

If research can positively impact society, then all of those hours toiling over data is well worth it, says Tracy Liu.

Liu, a visiting economics professor at the Walton College, is working, among other things, to better her home country of China. After learning that many of the country’s citizens aren’t taking advantage of the pension benefits available to them, Liu reasoned that, perhaps, they simply weren’t aware of them.

That’s when she and her research partners printed 2,540 informational brochures and distributed them to 1,064 households – a practice not common in China, she says. She says the country’s information dissemination is a bit more “abstract” than in the United States. However, she says her research indicates that when people learn about the benefits available to them, they were more likely to utilize the country’s social health insurance program as well as increase their consumption of unnecessary goods.

In addition to researching, Liu, an assistant economics professor with Tsinghua University in Beijing, is spending a year at the Walton College teaching Ph.D. students how to design experiments, write experimental papers, observe, participate and apply other aspects of research.

Liu grew up in China’s Hunan Province, also the home to General Tso, who is familiar to many Westerners primarily for the popular chicken entrée named in his honor. Her parents, both teachers, inspired her to embrace her interest in game theory and pursue higher education as a profession. She earned a bachelor’s degree in management information systems from Renmin University of China and both her master’s in economics and Ph.D. in information from the University of Michigan.

Through attending conferences, Liu became acquainted with Walton’s economic professors, including Li Hao and Cary Deck. In fact, Liu occupies Deck’s office while he is in Alaska serving as the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Rasmuson Chair of Economics for the 2015-16 academic year.

“I look at this and say it’s Cary Deck’s office,” she says. “I better work harder!”

She will accompany Amy Farmer, economics professor and director of Walton’s Global Engagement Office, on a trip to Vietnam where they will combine research with community development. Liu says that while she’s there, she hopes to apply her research involving market design and its implications, such as crowdsourcing, game theory and their effects on a person’s identity. “It’s so impressive to see how people appreciate experimental economics here,” Liu says of her Walton associates.

Once Liu’s visit to Arkansas is over, she will return to China, where she will continue teaching at Tsinghua University. She will also collaborate with Tencent, China’s largest Internet portal, as it explores its pricing strategy in the gaming market and its market design implication on WeChat, a texting and voice messaging app created by the company. In addition, she will help XuetangX, a startup company in Tsinghua, develop its massive online open course (MOOC) platform and, along with Lia Hao, will work for Alibaba, which has the e-commerce site, Taobao.

Liu says she’s finding her time at Walton College to be very welcoming. “This is a very nice place, and people here are really friendly,” she says.