A Pioneering Spirit

By the SMU Postgraduate Research Programmes Team

When word got around that Liu Xiaobin was leaving for Singapore to start on a PhD programme, his neighbours started talking.

“I come from a very small village in eastern Guangdong, where nothing matters more than financial security. Some people there couldn’t understand why I wanted to continue my academic pursuit when I could easily find a job.”

Indeed, growing up, Xiaobin never dreamt of becoming an academic, let alone leaving China. He was thinking about a career in programming until his Master’s advisor at Sun Yat-sen University recommended doctoral training in finance and Bayesian econometrics. After talking to his wife and parents, Xiaobin began looking for PhD programmes and ultimately decided on SMU’s PhD in Economics programme with a secondary specialisation in finance—becoming one of the three pioneer students of SMU’s Interdisciplinary Doctoral Programme. He chose SMU due to its strong reputation in his research interests. “SMU is very good in econometrics; one of the top in Asia. The training’s very good, my research interest is very close to my supervisor’s (Professor Yu Jun) research, and we have Peter Phillips, who is possibly the best econometrician alive! Also, the school’s reputation has been built up within a mere short period of time because of its highly productive research community.”

Xiaobin had no idea what to expect from Singapore and SMU. While he is now fully settled into the rigours and routine of life here, he was quite overwhelmed at the start of the journey. “Coming to SMU has opened a new world to me. When I first came here, I was shocked! Everything was new and I was surprised by the beauty of the campus, as well as by the cost of living. Fortunately, the monthly stipend provided as part of the SMU PhD programme is sufficient for me to live in Singapore. Before I started the PhD, I thought I would be making a lot of international friends. Instead, I have been spending the whole day reading and collecting data,” he shares, laughing. “Jokes aside, I have made several good friends”.

Xiaobin remembers his first year being especially challenging. He gives credit to his wife, the collaborative environment in his department, and the well-resourced library for helping him stay on course. Even then, the going sometimes does get tough. “Finding data is a challenge,” he admits. “Sometimes you know what to do but not how to do it; like you don’t know where to go and what papers to read, and sometimes you find out that others have already done the research you wanted to do.”

However, it’s not all work, up PhD Avenue. Xiaobin regularly runs with his PhD peers, and sometimes plays table tennis with Professor Yu. He also participates in student activities and professional development workshops organised by SMU’s Office of Postgraduate Research Programmes. Additionally, he teaches classes at the Math Camp run by the SMU School of Economics for incoming PhD students, something he thoroughly enjoys. “I enjoy teaching because you get to deliver insights to students, and it helps you organise your own knowledge system,” he says.

At the end of the day, Xiaobin wants to be a good teacher, son and husband. “I want an academic career where I can use my knowledge to find something new, to provide new knowledge for humanity, no matter how big or smalI,” he says. “I want to do my part to give my wife and family a better future.”