In early September, Dr. Jinjing Li, a graduate of our PhD programme in 2011, returned to his alma mater. He was accompanying his wife, Jasmin Kientzel, who was here to (successfully) defend her PhD thesis. This smart couple now lives in Canberra, Australia, so it’s a rare honour to welcome them back to Maastricht. Dr. Mindel van de Laar spoke to Jinjing about the new life he’s started on the other side of the world, and his activities outside of research.
Jinjing, can you tell us what your current work is; what does your workday look like? How does the PhD topic/experience relate to your current job, and what did you encounter as new challenges?
I am a research fellow at the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM), University of Canberra. My main research interest is policy modelling and evaluation using microsimulation techniques, with a particular focus on topics relating to the consequence of ageing, income inequality, and the distributional effects of public policies.
My current work involves research, teaching and consultancy projects. I am working on both generic economics research and on a number of government projects related to microsimulation model development. My PhD was in microsimulation so it is highly related to my current job. Compared with the PhD time, juggling different deadlines at work are much more difficult as there are many ongoing projects with competing deadlines and financial responsibilities.
You were always the ‘whizzkid’ in the class. If we needed advice on econometrics, software or programming, we always relied on you. Clearly, your search for new knowledge did not stop after obtaining your degree. Besides starting your career at NATSEM, you also completed a Master’s in Artificial Intelligence. Can you explain what the Master’s is about, and in what ways it complements your skills?
I pursued another study in the field of computer science (artificial intelligence track) for two reasons. First, quantitative modelling and data science has become more important in all scientific fields. Social science relies on econometric techniques, while in the field of computer science data analysis techniques are more diverse. I am interested in how different techniques were applied to some of the most interesting topics today (such as artificial intelligence).
Second, microsimulation is an interdisciplinary field and its implementations can be quite technical. While I use Stata/SAS/R in my daily work, I am interested in learning more about how computer science professionals implement their models – both the technical methods and the way of managing the development. I have been interested in developing my own analytic tools and the Master’s enabled me to gain further technical skills in this area.
Having walked around our new building, talking to old and new friends, what is specifically interesting or surprising for you, being back in Maastricht?
The new building is great, there’s so much more space compared to Keizer Karelplein 19. The ‘cube’ design is unique, and it’s great to have the students back in the building. Yet the cubes are also noisy. I imagine the building will be more decorated over the upcoming weeks. I do miss the location of the old building though. Walking to La Place, my favourite restaurant, now takes so much longer!