EPIC Spotlight: Sherry Li

Sherry Li had one word to say when she first laid eyes on the Walton College’s Behavioral Business Research Lab: “Wow!”

The state-of-the-art facility caught her attention while on a job interview with Walton. It had it all: computer labs, focus group and breakout rooms, a shopper insights area that resembles a small store, and rooms for observations and conferences.

Li joined the economics department in August and also serves as the behavioral research lab’s director. “For me, it’s a paradise to do lab experiments here,” she says.

As the lab’s director, Li helps Walton faculty and students be productive in their experimental business research. Through the support of Walton’s associate deans, the lab has recently tripled the participant pool. The lab also offers opportunities for researchers to present in the Brown Bag Seminar Series. Its full-term and short-term visitor programs bring established scholars to campus for an extended period to collaborate with Walton faculty and engage students.

Li is also readying for the Behavioral Operations Conference, which will take place the summer of 2020 in Fayetteville. The lab, Walton’s supply chain and economics departments will play host to the event that will attract many renowned behavioral operations researchers worldwide, she says.

In addition to serving as the behavioral research lab’s director, Li teaches experimental economics to both graduate and undergraduate students.

Li grew up in the Sichuan province in Southwest China. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public finance from Renmin University of China in Beijing before coming to the United States to study economics. Li earned a master’s degree in economics at Syracuse University in New York and received her doctorate at the University of Michigan.

Her first job after earning her Ph.D. was at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she taught, researched and worked with the experimental research lab for 12 years. She applied for the job opening in Walton’s economics department that carried the role of its Behavioral Business Research Lab director in the fall of 2017. She visited and gave presentations. Everything felt right.

“It was a no-brainer,” she says. “It was clearly the place for me.”

Li says she found common research interests with many of her new colleagues. “I felt I could write papers with every single person I met,” she says.

Her research includes how social identity – a person’s sense of self derived from perceived membership in social groups – affects economic decision-making; how individuals contribute to support public goods in communities; and how monetary incentives and social factors influence young children’s pro-social behaviors (for example, donating time or money to help others) in developing countries. Li’s work has been published in many scholarly journals, including one of the most respected in economics, the American Economic Review. She is associate editor for Economic Inquiry and past associate editor for the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Li is married and the mother of two boys. Though she has been busy getting acclimated to her new job and surroundings, she says she eventually hopes to get back to one of her favorite hobbies: drawing.