PhD profile: Yang Liu

Yang Liu

Yang Liu: a desire to help entrepreneurs in the developing world

What would prompt someone to lend money to people they don’t know, living halfway across the world?

UMSI PhD candidate Yang Liu found that team competition and a desire to help entrepreneurs are key motivating factors. His research project is based on Kiva.org, a peer-to-peer website partnering with microfinance institutions to match lenders with low-income entrepreneurs in developing countries and selected cities in the United States. Through Kiva, anyone can make a zero interest loan of $25 or more to entrepreneurs.

“People in the U.S. want to help those entrepreneurs in developing countries. They don’t have credit. The only way to get loans is through these microfinance institutions,” he said.

Yang highlights his findings in a recent paper co-authored with his advisor, Qiaozhu Mei, along with Roy Chen, Yan Chen and Suzy Salib, “‘I Loan Because’: Understanding Motivations for Pro-Social Lending,” and a second paper, “Team Competition in Pro-Social Lending: A Field Experiment on Kiva,” co-authored by Roy Chen, Yan Chen and Mei.

The first member of his family to come to the United States from China, Yang recently taught a U-M undergraduate class. “That’s the first time I taught using my second language. It’s a very interesting experience to work as a GSI (graduate student instructor) in an undergraduate class. I think it’s a lot of fun.”

Yang came to the University of Michigan because he wanted to get the most comprehensive education possible. “I chose U-M because it’s a great university and the program here is really interdisciplinary. The U.S. has the best education and also I wanted to go to a foreign country to explore the culture.”

After receiving his MSI from Michigan in 2010, Yang entered the PhD program at UMSI. His thesis proposal focuses on mining health-related information. He put that technique to work researching how frequently “hedging phrases” — terms used by medical professionals to discuss their uncertainty about symptoms — are used in electronic health records. Hedging phrases can be difficult for patients to understand when reviewing their health records, he said. Those findings are discussed in his paper, “Hedging their Mets: The Use of Uncertain Terms in Clinical Documents and Its Potential Implications when Sharing the Documents with Patients,” which was submitted to the Annual Symposium of American Medical Informatics Association in 2012.

He’s also studying the public’s opinions on vaccinations based on online news comments. Some parents stopped vaccinating their children based on a 1990s study, which linked autism to vaccines. “People found out in 2011 that study was a fraud. We use text-mining techniques to automatically extract why people are for or against vaccinations.”

Yang returns to China every summer to visit family and friends, but he will continue to live in the U.S. until he’s ready to open his own IT and health-related business in his native country. “Here, there are many top IT companies. My plan is to work for several years, gain more experience, and go back to China.”

In addition to his Michigan degree, Yang has a BA in information management and information systems from Nanjing University in Nanjing, China where he graduated magna cum laude.

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