Faces of UMSI: Ming Jiang

Imagine all your hard work in high school doesn’t count – not grades, not standardized tests, certainly not community service. You don’t even possess the opportunity to interview with a university of your choice. There is only one test - which cannot be retaken without consequences - that determines which university you may attend.

This isn’t hard to imagine at all in countries like China, Japan or Turkey where a single centralized test is administered to high school students in their senior year. This test effectively matches them with universities based on their exam score. If they don’t do well and want to retake it, the only recourse is to repeat their senior year. “Even if you are a better student, just because you didn’t do well on the exam, you are put in a lower priority,” said UMSI PhD candidate Ming Jiang.

Ming, a Chinese native, is focusing his dissertation on comparing this method of college admissions with the American method of using grades, testing and college entrance interviews. “We’re exploring the advantages and disadvantages compared to the American way of college admissions,” Ming said. “Even if centralized tests can accurately reflect the student’s true abilities … they can only take it once.” Factors such as illnesses, stress related to such a high-stakes exam, or personal problems could impact their scores.

“In China the market is really large - one million students are matched to colleges each year,” he said. “Do those properties of the matching mechanism still hold true if we go into other systems?” By changing the matching mechanism, Ming said, better students could be assigned to better colleges rather than students with higher test scores.

Ming came to UMSI because of the strong mentoring program. “I got to choose a mentorship from the start,” he said. “Traditional economic departments only have advisors in the third year. It’s not as close a relationship as SI. That’s a major advantage of this program.”
“I appreciate SI for giving me … the ability to work with people in different areas,” from social norms and human-computer interaction to social networking, Ming said. Learning about cultural differences has expanded his horizons. “When I study a problem, I can understand the American system and I grew up in the Chinese system. I can compare and it gives me a lot of research ideas,” he said.

Ming’s dissertation features a large-scale school choice study. Instead of only a handful of human subjects, Ming’s group experiment with advisor Yan Chen also includes computer-generated people using real human strategies to make choices. “In the real world, there’s tens of thousands of people,” he said. “It’s as if we’re playing with real human subjects.”

He’s also researching how people’s perceptions change their behavior. “You don’t or do want to do something because you think other people think it’s socially appropriate or not,” he said. Subjects are put in a given situation and asked to choose how nine other people in that same situation would react based on social acceptance. The most accurate participants are paid for their time.

Ming, who received a BA in Economics and BS in Mathematics from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, plans to graduate in the winter of 2015. His career goal is a combination of research and teaching at a U.S. research university.