Arts and Sciences at the University of Toronto attracts high performers. New undergrads arrive on campus, hit the ground running, and expect to earn their degrees at top speed. Then, they find unexpected hurdles on the track. Like many students, alumnus En Hua Hu had to change pace and learn how deal with new challenges at the beginning of his university career.
“The first year is difficult, and part of it is the classes,” En Hua said, “but part of it is also being in a new environment, facing certain types of disappointments for the first time. I did poorly in my first-year classes. Nonetheless, the university experience is a marathon, not a sprint, so I encourage undergraduate students to not let their performance discourage them in first or second year. There is still a lot of time and there is so much potential in everyone.”
Living at Innis College gave En Hua the space he needed to overcome his own initial disappointments.
“As my family did not live in Toronto, Innis provided a space that felt safe and welcoming,” he remembered. “I stayed at the residence, and it was a great experience.”
While he continues to realize his own potential today, the resilience En Hua started building as an undergraduate has certainly strengthened over the years. The student who struggled in first year graduated with a degree in Economics, Mathematics, and Philosophy. By all standards, En Hua Hu is an academic success. He earned his MSc at the London School of Economics and was a visiting student at the Paris School of Economics. He is now in his fifth and final year of PhD studies at the Department of Economics here at UofT.
As a teaching assistant he is full of empathy for his undergraduate students, but En Hua is not finished with facing academic pressures himself. He and his cohort of PhD candidates are on the job market and preparing to share their original research through mock interviews that include presentations and rigorous Q and A sessions.
One of En Hua’s first publications, in 2016, was in Noēsis, the University of Toronto’s Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy. It was a paper called Interpersonal Preference Comparison. Today, he’s promoting his Job Market Paper, a portion of his doctoral dissertation.
The Job Market Paper, or JMP, is a unique feature of Economics. Candidates edit chapters of their dissertations into a highly structured piece that summarizes the depth of their research methodologies and results. The JMP is the centerpiece of an application package candidates use to apply for the approximately 200 open positions in the field around the world. En Hua has also been sharing his work via social media through the active #EconTwitter community and its threads.
En Hua’s JMP, Confidence in Inference, examines how people make decisions after gathering samples of information, a process everyone engages in.
“This ranges from comparing different Google map reviews before deciding on a restaurant to gathering several weather forecasts before going out,” En Hua explained in the paper.
But what happens if, after new information samples are added, different circumstances reveal themselves? Will the decision-maker update their beliefs and rationalize their choices using new information signals? En Hua assessed models from the literature to answer this question through an experiment using three different information sampling interventions. En Hua’s research shows that decision-makers largely ignore the sample size and this uncovers new dynamics that current models are unable to explain. His finding suggests that confidence in correctly interpreting information matters – and a confident decision-maker is surprisingly more likely to ignore the sample size.
It’s important work, according to En Hua’s supervision team.
“En Hua Hu applies state-of-the-art methods in behavioural and experimental economics to understand the choices people make,” said Professor Colin Stewart, one of En Hua’s co-supervisors. “He has uncovered fascinating new insights into how people use information to inform their decisions.”
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