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New Faculty Focus: Yiwei Zhang

August 29, 2019



Yiwei Zhang, Assistant Professor of Consumer Science

Hometown: I grew up in Charleston, S.C., but spent the last few years of high school in Columbia, Maryland.

Photo: Yiwei Zhang

Yiwei Zhang

Educational/professional background: BS in Economics and BS in Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; MS and PhD, The Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania

Previous position (title, institution): Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Chicago, Booth School of Business.

How did you get into your field of research? In college, I was really drawn to how economics provides an organizing framework for understanding how and why people (and firms) behave the way they do. Even though it’s not perfect, it’s a really succinct and elegant way of viewing the world.

What attracted you to UW–Madison? I love how collaborative people are across disciplines. A lot of universities claim to be, but UW–Madison is one of the few that truly feels that way.

What was your first visit to campus like? The first time I ever visited campus was actually for a pre-wedding celebration for two good friends! Seeing the Terrace for the first time was magical.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with? That it’s important to understand not just the “how” of doing things, but also the “why.”

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how. Absolutely! Broadly, I study how people make financial decisions and how those decisions affect their well-being. Fortunately (or unfortunately), financial decision-making is pretty universal.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties? It wasn’t until just a few years ago that credit scoring models (like your FICO score) started making a distinction between unpaid medical collections and unpaid non-medical collections on your credit record. It turns out that medical debt is not quite as good a predictor of your “credit-worthiness” as non-medical debt is. In retrospect, this maybe shouldn’t be surprising given how complicated health insurance and medical bills can often be in the U.S. – so much so that people can end up with unpaid medical bills in collections without even being aware of it!

Hobbies/other interests: I enjoy indoor bouldering, traveling, exploring new restaurants and bars, and reading random personal finance forums online.