Teacher Talk - dr. Yutao Sun

In this episode of Teacher Talk, we talked to assistant professor Yutao Sun. He currently teaches Introduction to Programming and Advanced Programming. Currently, he also works with methods for bias correction in statistical inference, and panel data and fixed-effect models.

Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you study?
I am from China; I mean, you look at my face then the best guess is China. I am from a place called Hangzhou, 200km from Shanghai. For my bachelor, I studied finance, in Zhejiang.  Then after that, I moved to Belgium, Leuven, to do two masters and a PhD. Technically I only have degrees in economics, but now my research is only econometrics oriented. 
Why did you decide to work in Rotterdam?
I mean, why not? EUR is a great university in econometrics which is my field of work now, so it is a great opportunity for me to work here. There is actually a funny story: I applied for the Department of Business and Economics in 2016. Initially, they did not want me, because I was not a good match. They sent my CV to the Econometrics Institute, and I had an interview in November 2016. I already had received an offer from another university by then within an economics department. But I eventually got accepted by the Econometric Institute, which was a better fit for me!
What do you like most about teaching?
I never thought about it. It feels cool, you are sort of the boss. You decide how these students get their knowledge, you have the power to help the students. If you start teaching a new subject it also helps you reinforce your own knowledge. The first time I taught here, I actually made a mistake. A student corrected me, right in the middle of class.  It was a bit embarrassing but I appreciated it, it's part of teaching, everybody makes mistakes.

Teaching feels cool, you are sort of the boss. You decide how these students get their knowledge, you have the power to help the students.

What did you want to do when you were young?
I don't actually remember. Most likely I wanted to be a scientist or a pilot. I think becoming a scientist was higher on the list. When I was young, I performed many chemical experiments, mixing my mom's cosmetics. I also disassembled a lot of our houses appliances out of curiosity. I got punished a lot for doing those things of course! I did those things because I wanted to be a scientist. Unfortunately, it did not happen.

When I was young, I performed many chemical experiments, mixing my mom's cosmetics. I also disassembled a lot of our houses appliances out of curiosity.

So why did you choose finance over sciences? 
Because I was not good at sciences. I went into finance because it sounded like something I could make money out of. I found out, however, that economics and econometrics are even more interesting subjects.
Do you have any future plans? Staying in the Netherlands perhaps?
I don't know. Any good university would do for me, not necessarily in the Netherlands of course. My contract is a postdoc, it terminates next year. After that, I will have to prolong my stay here, or find something else, but I'm open for what the future has to bring.
What are your hobbies apart from teaching?
Watch shows and play computer games. I like the game Cities Skylines a lot, where you build your own city, which I enjoy a lot. Besides I also like to watch Japanese animation series (Anime).
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you while teaching?
So far, nothing really strange has happened, at least nothing outside my range of 'normal'. I also haven't been teaching for that long so maybe the strange things are still to come. 
Changing subjects, what would you do with 5 million euros?
Save it in a bank, to earn interest on it and live off of that. Maybe that is not a good idea with the current low interests! I could also buy a lot of houses, rent them out, and live on the revenue. That sounds like a better idea. I am not entirely sure, but that is the general idea. 
What type of research do you do?
Theoretical econometrics, panel data, and large sample theory. I try to fix the biases coming from fixed effect models with econometric knowledge.
Who is your biggest hero?
This is a hard one. I do not think I have a hero. It is very difficult to rank them. Take firefighters, for instance, they are heroes, but so are policemen et cetera.
What is your favourite econometrician?
Manski, because his paper is very easy to read. It is easy to follow. He focuses on many things, like panel data.
Do you have a favourite programming language?
I really like and hate PHP.  I like it because it is very flexible, but I hate it because of the design philosophy is not consistent.  Sometimes the substring could be the first argument and the whole string the remaining argument. However, if you are talking about an array, the order is reversed. This is why I like java. It is very consistent. For work, nonetheless, I use Matlab the most. PHP is more of a hobby.
What do you also program as a hobby?
As I said, I watch a lot of animation movies. There was an android TV app where you could store your favourite shows and watch them there. Unfortunately, the app was discontinued, so I wrote a backend for that app myself. This way I could keep watching my favourite shows on the app again! 

I reprogrammed a TV app so I  could keep watching my favourite shows with the comfort of the programme!

Why don't you sell it?
The code is for me, not everything is efficient. I don't think there is a market for it. The app was discontinues for a reason probably!
What exactly do you like watching?
Many TV shows and Japanese animations (Anime). Aldnoah.Zero, as well as Darling in the Franxx and Attack on Titan, are good animations. I like adventure shows. Regarding TV shows, I really enjoy revenge shows. There are many others.
What languages do you speak?
Mandarin, English, my mother tongue, Hangzhouese, and Japanese. Don't count on my Japanese, though.
No Dutch?
I can pronounce some words. Reading is not a big problem. I lived in Leuven for some years of course so I am already quite familiar with Dutch, but it is still very hard! Spoken Dutch is different. When Dutch people find out you are not a native speaker they immediately switch to English. Not a very good environment to learn the language unfortunately.
Do you have any favourite music genre or artists?
Anime related music of course!
Do you have a favourite food place in Rotterdam?
There are two good Chinese restaurants: Oriental Express, next to the Sumo near Central Station, and the other one is SānSān, a spicy food place. My favourite thing to eat in the first one is pork meat [叉烧], I order some every week. In Sānsān most things are good. I mostly like spicy foods. Sānsān is a Sichuan style restaurant, and this region is known for its super spicy foods!
Any favourite holiday destinations?
I don't take a lot of holidays, but I really like Southern Europe. I was in Thessaloniki for a panel data conference. I really liked the place, the people were relaxed, the food was nice, and the weather was great!
China is not on your list of favourite holiday destinations?
Going home is always nice, but it is not a holiday destination for me. I always wanted to visit Hainan island, in the South of China. It has great beaches and beautiful nature. I have never been there and I don't have much time to go now sadly! I also really want to visit Africa!
Finally, do you have any life or study advice for the people reading? Maybe regarding programming?
For programming, you have to practice. Honestly, I don't even think it should be taught formally. I also have another piece of advice: for those going into theoretical econometrics or statistics, take the time to learn mathematics, measure theory, asymptotic statistics and advanced probability theory. I lacked those things and I had to teach them myself.

About this article

Written by:
  • Noemi Antônia Carolina Savelkoul
| Published on: May 29, 2019