Jiaying Gu wins Polanyi Prize in Economic Science

Jiaying Gu
Wednesday, January 23, 2019 - 9:59am
Mihai Baetu
U of T Mississauga’s Jiaying Gu has been awarded the 2018 Polanyi Prize in Economic Science. The assistant professor of economics who specializes in applied econometrics was recognized for her development of new statistical methods to measure differences in individual behaviour, such as teacher performance and consumer decision-making.

U of T Mississauga’s Jiaying Gu has been awarded the 2018 Polanyi Prize in Economic Science. The assistant professor of economics who specializes in applied econometrics was recognized for her development of new statistical methods to measure differences in individual behaviour, such as teacher performance and consumer decision-making.

Gu was among five researchers, including three U of T researchers, recognized for innovative and ground-breaking work. U of T astrophysicist Jason Hunt, a fellow with the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Assistant Professor Husam Abdel-Qadir of the Department of Medicine, were also recognized.

Gu’s research addresses an acknowledged challenge in achieving comprehensiveness in economic data, namely unobserved heterogeneity or the differences in the behaviour of individuals that cannot readily be measured, such as innate ability or personal preference.

According to Gu, the results derived from the standard methods used to allow for these differences are unreliable. She says that big data’s increasing capacity to provide more nuanced information can reveal elements that are traditionally difficult to observe.

One area of focus is teacher performance evaluations. Typical appraisals focus on student grades, while teaching style cannot be factored in accurately given the difficulty of observing teacher behaviour. To devise a more representative evaluation method, Gu is working with a dataset from American elementary schools to produce analysis methods that will more accurately reflect the contribution of teachers.

Gu also studies individual behaviour and is developing a way to understand how personal characteristics and market conditions impact consumer decision making behaviour. An improved statistical method could help predict how consumers might react to changes in the market, such as the introduction of a new product or alterations to the price of a product.

Gu, who was honoured at a ceremony at Massey Hall on January 22, becomes the thirteenth member of U of T’s economics department to win the prize since the awards were established in 1987 to honour U of T chemist and Nobel Prize winner John C. Polanyi. Funded by the Government of Ontario, five prizes of $20,000 are awarded annually to young researchers undertaking exceptional work in economic science, physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine and literature.