How did you first become interested in economics?
When I was a year-three student in China, a well-known economist gave a semester-long module named New Institutional Economics in my university. I was immediately captured by the elegance of rigorous economic thinking even without mathematics.
Following the reading of some classical references recommended by the professor, for the first time I tasted the sheer intellectual satisfaction of acquiring insights into some fundamental societal issues with a structural and logically-consistent framework. This laid out the foundation for my later interest in the role of institutions
Why did you choose to study at the School of Economics at Nottingham?
In 2007 as a post-graduate student in China I attended the first international conference in my life, which happened to be held in the University Park campus. I literally fell in love with the university at my first sight.
Not only was the beauty of the campus carved in my mind after the two-day conference, but more importantly the world-class research environment of the School of Economics made a life-changing impact on my career path.
Soon after I returned to China, I decided to apply for a PhD place in Nottingham. I came up with a very carefully written research proposal and submitted a form for scholarships. Both were accepted, and that’s how I came to Nottingham.
What are your fondest memories of your time at the school?
The thought-provoking supervisors and research seminars, together with very supportive admin staff. With nothing to worry about other than your research, the only distraction was the decisions of whether to shut down your laptop and go out for trips at weekends. These were the best four years in my life, academically and personally.
What advice would you give to someone considering or about to start a course at the school?
League table ranking is a useful index, but more importantly, you should come to visit the school if possible, to see it, touch it, feel it, and to talk to staff and students for any questions or advice. As the school offers such an amazingly wide range of course options for students at different degree levels, there must be something that suits your interest.
Tell us about your career path since graduation.
After gaining my PhD in Nottingham, I first worked in the University’s China campus as an assistant professor. Then I moved back to the UK and worked in the University of Hull as a lecturer for three years before I took my current job as a Reader in Economics at De Montfort University.
What do you enjoy most about that?
To me the best part of being an academic economist is that most of the time I am my own boss and can do things I really enjoy – indulging in any topics that interest me. I believe it is almost always the case that people are most productive when they do things they really love. Plus, you get paid that is index-linked. Not everybody has this kind of privilege.
And what are the main challenges?
One challenge is to get your research recognised by people in your areas, which unfortunately is not always that easy. Being in an increasingly competitive and crowded profession, you need to be ready to receive negative decisions on your work you are proud of sometimes three times in a week.
The other is work-life balance. Many academics have a blurry line (if any) between work and life. Workaholism is often not a rational choice of lifestyle from an economic point of view. Sometimes I turn to a National Holidays brochure when I find myself having a tendency of working on Sundays.
Have your experiences at the school helped you?
Undoubtedly, my time at the school was a life changing experience for me. It paved the way for my professional career, and more importantly shaped the way I work and think. I see the school and Nottingham as my spiritual home, which I don’t think will ever change for the rest of my life.
Are you still in touch with your fellow alumni and, if so, how do you stay in contact?
Yes, very often. I still work closely with some fellow alumni as well as academics in the school. We use emails and Skype for work, and all sorts of social network services and casual meetings for exchanging gossip.
Why is staying in touch important to you?
First, some of us are still working together on research projects. Second, we all see ourselves still spiritually attached to the school which gave us some most beautiful, shared memories in life. It is a common ground you can always resort to to get or give support when needed.
Have you been back to the school since you graduated?
Since moving back to the UK, I visited the school twice or more every year.