Women in Research: Mengqiao Du From China

Mengqiao Du is living in Mannheim/Germany at the moment. Photo/Credit: Mengqiao Du

Mengqiao from China is a PhD student at University of Mannheim, Business School, Germany.

This interview is part of a series of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and the 7th Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences to increase the visibility of women in research (find more information on Facebook and Twitter).

Her research interests lie in behavior finance, institutional investors and gender-related topics

Enjoy the interview with Mengqiao and get inspired:

What inspired you to pursue a career in science / in your discipline?

My passion and curiosity to understand the world lead me to pursue a career in science. It is usually not hard to find a job for students who major in business and finance. I indeed had a decent job right after my bachelor study but I started to wonder what I truly love. I gradually realized my passion did not lie in “how” to do the work but “why” the business works this way. Therefore, I was determined to pursue a doctoral degree, hoping to contribute to the understanding of the business world.

Who are your role models?

Madame Curie has been my role model since I was a little girl. I read a biography of Marie Curie and was inspired by what she achieved. The loneliness she experienced during her study abroad in Paris, the difficulty she encountered as a female scientist, and the persistence she had during her study left a strong impression on my mind. When I decided to study social science instead of chemistry or physics, I actually felt sad about not following the path of Marie Curie.

Nevertheless, she still encourages me to be stronger when I just started to study abroad in Germany, facing an entirely strange environment and a new language, when my ability is undermined as a female researcher and when I had a hard time in research.

How did you get to where you are in your career path?

After quitting my job as an accountant in a large company, I came to Germany to get a master degree. I learned behavioral finance at the University of Mannheim during my master study and find it fascinating: people’s physiological and social perspectives affect their financial behavior and consequently the entire capital market! I started to conduct research in this field and was super excited to see the interesting findings from my studies.

My supervisor for my Ph.D. dissertation who is also my mentor for my career, Prof. Dr. Alexandra Niessen-Ruenzi, encourages me to explore different fields that I’m interested in. She conducts research in various fields in economics herself and has never set any limit on my research topics. Inspired by her work, I’ve also started interesting projects on gender-related issues. I’d rather say I’m a data scientist and an empiricist. My knowledge of economics and finance helps me to understand the world and develop hypotheses. With necessary abilities, I’m happy to explore interesting topics in behavior finance, institutional investors, gender-related labor economics, as well as anything I may become interested in in the future.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

I find all my projects cool because I only work on them when I find them cool.

That’s actually why I love doing research: I have a call on what I spend my time on.

Mengqiao loves the mixture of research and teaching in her PhD programme. Photo/Credit: Mengqiao Du

If I have to pick one project to be the coolest, I’d say it’s the most recent one we are working on: the effect of female role models on female labor market outcome. It is exciting to find that women exposed to counter-stereotypical female role models such as female politicians and scientists make different occupational choices than women exposed to stereotypical female role models like housewives. Specifically, admiring counter-stereotypical female role models makes women participate in full-time employment and work in male-dominated industries and advanced occupations like managerial positions. The study suggests a practical way to improve women’s career: by promoting counter-stereotypical female role models, we can expect more young girls will choose to participate in competitive industries such as STEM.

What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?

When I get the chance to present our work at conferences or seminars, I feel very proud. I enjoy having the opportunity to show our progress in research to people with similar interests. Of course, presenting at conferences and seminars also helps us to gain feedback from the audience and improve the work.

What is a “day in the life” of Mengqiao like?

Perhaps different from the Ph.D. study in other countries, teaching constitutes a very important part of the Ph.D. study in Germany. I actually like it a lot to be intensively involved in teaching because it gives me a chance to seriously think about how to commute research findings to students. My working time is basically divided into two parts: teaching and research. Personally, I prefer to draw a clear line between these two parts to work efficiently. It means my days in life are divided into “teaching days” and “research days”. In order to accomplish a clear division, I usually schedule classes and meetings with students quite in advance.

Perhaps different from the Ph.D. study in other countries, teaching constitutes a very important part of the Ph.D. study in Germany. I actually like it a lot to be intensively involved in teaching because it gives me a chance to seriously think about how to commute research findings to students. My working time is basically divided into two parts: teaching and research. Personally, I prefer to draw a clear line between these two parts to work efficiently. It means my days in life are divided into “teaching days” and “research days”. In order to accomplish a clear division, I usually schedule classes and meetings with students quite in advance.

Sometimes Mengqiao presents results at conferences. Photo/Credit: Mengqiao Du

On teaching days, I usually deal with some administration work in the morning and review the slides for the coming class. My class is usually at noon. After teaching the class, I have a quick lunch and start to meet students who work on their master theses or bachelor theses. The meeting contents vary a lot based on the students’ needs. After the meetings, I usually feel exhausted talking so much so I go home, get dinner, and do some sports. In the evening and at night, I still work on research but usually do not work on mentally demanding stuff, just conduct simple and necessary work such as data collection.

On research day, it is more flexible. I usually start at 10 in the morning since I like to work late. I read papers, collecting data, or conducting data analyses. Sometimes I go to lunch with colleagues at around 12 but sometimes I’m so occupied with the work that I just have a quick lunch later at 13 or so. At the university, we often have all kinds of seminars and workshops so that we can present our projects to gain feedback or get to know what interesting projects other people are working on. We have presenters from well-known universities worldwide every week and we always have the chance to talk with them personally if we are interested in their research topics. As a young researcher, I really enjoy talking with them and getting advice on research and career from them. I usually leave the office early at 17.30 or 18 to have a break by making dinner and doing sports. I do research again from around 9 to midnight.

What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

I really love what I’m doing for work now: research plus teaching. I hope I can keep this lifestyle and gradually contribute more when I become more capable in the field.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

Cooking is very relaxing for me. I also learn to bake from friends after coming to Germany. Of course, after eating so much delicious food, I need to work out. Doing sports is an excellent way to fresh my mind.

What advice do you have for other women interested in science / in your discipline?

I’d rather not say it’s a piece of advice but I really want to encourage girls to find out their “utility functions” in life and try their best to optimize the utility function. If science brings you happiness, nothing should stand in your way.

In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science / in your discipline?

I believe the research in my field will move away from demonstrating the existence of a phenomenon to identifying how to make an impact on the market and society. For example, in gender economics, researchers will not only focus on identifying the existence of the gender gap but also effectively contribute to the ways to overcome it; in behavior finance, more and more studies aim at nudging and educating investors to avoid behavioral biases and behavior rationally.

During the Online Science Days 2020 Mengqiao talked about Do Counter-stereotypical Female Role Models Impact Women’s Occupational Choices? in a Next Gen Science Session.

About Ulrike Böhm

Ulrike Boehm is a physicist and science enthusiast. She works as a research specialist at the Advanced Imaging Center at the HHMI Janelia Research Campus in the United States. She did her PhD studies at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in the Department of NanoBiophotonics of Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell. She loves to develop and build tools to image, probe and manipulate biological structures. Furthermore, she is passionate about science communication and open science and is a huge advocate for women in science.

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