Faces of UMSI: Linfeng Li

Linfeng Li is always looking to explore, to delve deeper. 

That would explain the focus of his research as a third-year doctoral student at the University of Michigan School of Information. Linfeng, who grew up in a university community in China, is interested in how individual decisions are made and the decision-environmental factors behind them.

“I want to understand individual decision making under various strategic environments,” he explains. 

The fundamental question, he says, is a methodological one: How to properly model and predict the aggregation of individual decisions. He sees it as an attempt to understand the fundamental elements of modern society. 

“By investigating the individual behavior and thereby the decision-making process, however simple they could be, there are emergent patterns at the aggregate level. Through emergence, there is always something new to explore,” he says.

His research focus evolved from his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, where he studied economics and mathematics. During that time, he was first exposed to aggregating individual decisions at the Center for Study of Complex System and became hooked to the Center ever since. 

Before arriving at U-M, Linfeng attended the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing. He also was a visiting student in economics at Stanford University in 2012.

He chose to pursue his doctorate at UMSI because he was familiar with the campus from his undergraduate years and he thrives on the collaborative environment. 

“We are very well treated and well taught and trained here,” he says. “There’s a lot of freedom and a lot of support and we have a word-class behavioral group that I can share my thoughts with.”

While growing up on a university campus may have been intellectually inspiring, Linfeng concedes there were drawbacks as well.

“I think a university campus is like a greenhouse: the (bad) weathers are shielded away, yet youngsters have little exposure to the real world,” he says, noting there can be challenges in adapting to less isolated environments.

Even as he continues research and juggles a busy schedule, he has maintained contact with his professors in economics and mathematics. Outside of research, Linfeng swims nearly every day and frequently plays basketball. 

“I spend a lot of time in the office reading and doing research,” he says. “You can pretty much find me in my fourth-floor office.”