Photo of Jiaying Gu

U of T Mississauga researcher wins 2018 Polanyi Prize in Economics

Tuesday, January 22, 2019 - 10:00am
Maeve Doyle

Jiaying Gu, an econometrician and assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Toronto Mississauga, has been awarded the 2018 John Charles Polanyi Prize in Economics. She won the award for her work in developing econometric techniques to analyze and learn unobserved information from economists’ data.

The $20,000 Polanyi Prizes are awarded annually in the same fields as the Nobel Prizes—physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine, literature and economics. The Polanyi Prizes recognize early career scholars who have already made significant contributions to new knowledge.

“To know that the Polanyi Prize recognizes exceptional work of junior researchers motivates me to continue my line of research and maintain the quality of research I have been conducting and that earned me this recognition,” says Gu. “I consider this positive pressure.”

A specialist in econometrics, the branch of economics concerned with statistical modelling of economic ideas, Gu is producing unique methodologies to analyze specific features of economic data.

Miquel Faig, professor and chair of the Department of Economics at U of T Mississauga, says that until recently, economic data was scarce. But with the enormous amounts of data generated by computers, the availability has changed dramatically. Faig says that this is challenging as the data on its own doesn’t speak. “You have to interpret the data. Professor Gu is working to develop the techniques to understand the data and she is moving towards applying those techniques to interesting problems.”

Gu’s work also has applications in industrial organization, another branch of economics.

“The new method I am developing allows me to disentangle a firm’s unobserved characteristics from the market incentive that will motivate them to make business decisions. I want to understand from the data how the firm’s behaviour changes as market conditions change.”

Although Gu has only been with UTM  for three years, she has published 11 times, which Faig says is a very high rate in economics. “She has a long list of honours and awards, which is also surprising for a junior scholar." Faig describes Gu as both driven and accomplished. He says he was hopeful Gu would win and not surprised when she did.

A stellar year

Also in 2018, Gu was awarded a $40,000 SSHRC Insight Development Grant and a $90,000 SSHRC Insight Grant.

“The usual progression for a junior scholar is to receive an Insight Development Grant before successfully applying for and receiving an Insight Grant. It is a rare thing to be awarded both in the same year,” says Vice-Principal, Research Kent Moore. “Now to be awarded the John Charles Polanyi Prize in Economics confirms Professor Gu as one of UTM's leading scholars.”

And shortly before the announcement of the winners of the Polanyi Prizes, Gu gave birth to her first child. Asked if she considered naming her daughter “Polanyi” Gu laughs. “I think that’s too much pressure, too soon,” she says.