McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University
“Professor Liu’s class was incredibly impactful to my development as an international business student. Her background and research have informed her unique perspective on international business and politics, and she is not afraid to challenge many of the conventions and assumptions that I had learned not to question in my previous courses. She is a shining star at McDonough, and I hope that this is just the beginning of a long and decorated academic career.” – William Houston, student and research collaborator
Lizhi Liu, 34, is Assistant Professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, where she’s worked since 2018.
She has a PhD in Political Science, an MS in Statistics, and an MA in International Policy Studies from Stanford University. She also has a BA in International Political Economy from Renmin University of China. She currently teaches Advanced International Business, an undergraduate core course; and China: Econ, Politics & Business at the graduate level.
Her research focuses on the politics of trade, technology and innovation, and the political economy of China. She has been published in American Economic Review: Insights, Studies in International Comparative Development and Minnesota Law Review. Her work has been funded by prominent institutions like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Weiss Family Program Fund, and the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies. She is the recipient of the 2020 Ronald H. Coase Best Dissertation Award from the Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics (SIOE).
In the classroom, as noted by several students in their nominations, she encourages spirited debate and deep discussion on complex issues.
“Professor Liu inspires students to understand and make deeper connections with the material she teaches by encouraging critical thought and open discussion, while guiding the conversation with sharp insight. Her teaching style allows students to develop important skills that endure beyond her classroom,” writes Tim Runfola.
LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I decided that when facing “two roads diverged in a wood,” I should take “the one less traveled by.” I got my Ph.D. in political science, a discipline that rarely places graduates at b-schools. Since I do research on the intersection between politics, technology, and business, I was fortunate to have a choice: whether to join a political science department or a business school. It was a tough decision, though. Both options were fantastic academically, but the b-school route would be a riskier path. While a b-school provides more opportunities for cross-disciplinary research, it also means that I must step out of the comfort zone of political science and embrace greater uncertainty in tenure promotion. In the end, I decided to be adventurous.
If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… Most probably a political science professor. But if I didn’t become a professor altogether, perhaps I would be a writer? A data scientist? A research scholar? I have no idea, but I know I strongly prefer a job that involves creativity and daily intellectual challenges.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? Guiding but not indoctrinating. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and he will be hungry again tomorrow; teach him to catch a fish, and he will be richer all his life.” Students will forget most of the specific knowledge learned in college, but what stays is the way of thinking.
Specifically, I encourage students to think about the counterfactual – alternative scenarios that could have happened given different conditions, and to engage in both sides of the debate. I believe that, in most situations, if someone cannot intelligently argue for both sides, they don’t understand the issue well enough to argue for either.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Exciting.
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: There are too many myths about b-school teaching: e.g., professors should put on a show and students are overly demanding. In fact, substance and sincerity matter more. Moreover, your authority comes more from your words and your behavior, not your age, gender, or looks.
Professor I most admire and why: There are so many professors that I truly admire and look up to, but I can’t help but point to a professor that I’ve known for a long time – my father, an accomplished professor of Earth Science. He was born in an impoverished village in China, during a period known as the “three years of great famine.” Due to malnutrition, my father was frail in his childhood and unsuitable for farming. As a result, he had the fortune to go to school, while his siblings stayed on the farm.
After the Cultural Revolution, China resumed the National Entrance Exam to College in 1977, with an overall admission rate of merely 5%. This exam forever changed my father’s fate. He tested into a top-notch university, went to a city for the first time in his life, and later became a well-known geologist through excellent research and teaching. Despite many hardships in life, my father stayed resilient and optimistic. As he always says, “there are more solutions than problems.” He is also the reason why I am committed to my job as a teacher and a scholar. Through him, I see how education can be life-changing for those who need it the most.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I am now pursuing two strands of research in political economy. The first strand is the politics of technology. I study the complex interactions between the state and digital platforms. I have published several papers on the topic, and I am now working on a book manuscript about China’s e-commerce market. I find that online trading platforms are not simply exchange platforms, but private providers of institutions that fill gaps in public governance. The second strand examines how the rise of China affects global economic relations, for example, how the global value chain in China channels political effects, how the pursuit of data sovereignty affects China’s external economic relations, and the reasons behind foreign multinationals’ lawsuits in China.
TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Business students are very forward-looking.
What is most challenging? Keeping students engaged the week before spring break – they are so distracted… But I can’t blame them. I was the same.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Gritty.
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Entitled.
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Fair.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? Playing video games (mostly RPGs). I particularly like games with historical and cultural elements. The last game I finished was “Assassin’s Creed: Origins,” in which I explored (through my avatar) ancient Egypt around the end of the Ptolemaic period. I slid down the pyramids, helped Cleopatra, and observed the tragic burning of Alexandria. These vivid illustrations of historical events make me think that the future of education may benefit from gamification.
How will you spend your summer? If everything goes according to plan, I will be giving birth to a baby in the summer. My partner and I are excited but also a little scared of all the forced changes to our daily routines. I will probably spend the summer learning to parent. Maybe I will wash my face in the morning with baby wipes just to save time. One thing I know for sure is that I will kick my partner and wake him up to take care of the baby every night. I hope he’s ready for it. No shirking!
Favorite place(s) to vacation: Shanghai and Changsha, where my partner and I grew up. Also southern Spain, where there is a historic blending of different cultures and religions that produced exquisite treasures of civilization.
Favorite book(s): The World of Yesterday, Nudge, Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, The Three-body Problem.
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? Hard to pick THE favorite movie, but one of my favorites is the Indian movie “3 Idiots.” A stinging satire of the education system and social norms, it brings out both laughter and tears. I especially love the movie’s idealistic tone (in the face of crippling hardships) and find it inspiring.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? C-pop that connects me with my cultural roots and younger self.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… widening access to students from the bottom of the pyramid and encouraging entrepreneurship for social impact.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… understanding politics. Dani Rodrik once said, “when globalization collides with domestic politics, the smart money bets on politics.” Many recent events, especially the ongoing war in Ukraine, demonstrate how politics deeply shape the business landscape.
I’m grateful for… My family, friends, students, and globalization. Globalization has alleviated poverty, spurred innovation, and promoted peace. It has also allowed millions like myself to pursue our intellectual curiosity at a higher stage.
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