Q&A With Dr. Ming Hsu, PhD

Ming Hsu is an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He holds appointments in the Haas School of Business and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. Dr. Hsu’s research involves using neuroscientific and computational tools to understand the biological basis of economic and consumer decision-making, as well as how brain-based methods can be used to generate and validate insights into customers’ thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Prior to joining the faculty at Berkeley, he was assistant professor of economics and neuroscience at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

From an early age, Dr. Hsu’s personal experience provided him with a perspective that recognized the parallels and differences amongst others. Today, his experience has driven him to blend both science and theory in his study to produce progressive and sustainable change in the hopes of building a science that remains relevant in the future. Read more about Dr. Hsu and his work below.

How have your lived experiences influenced your journey to the DEI research you are engaged in?

I moved to the US when I was ten years old. In Arizona, I found that I was the only Asian student in my new elementary school, which was otherwise quite diverse, with sizable contingents of Caucasian, hispanic (mostly Mexican), and African American students. As an outsider, I wasn’t part of any of these groups, but at the same time I was able to move between these groups with surprising ease. I think this is one of the reasons why I have always looked at DEI issues through a comparative lens. Even at that age I could see similarities between how different groups saw and behaved towards each other, with important points of differentiation. Perhaps most importantly, seemingly small differences can be pivotal in how people are perceived and accepted by different groups. It turns out that these are some of the major themes of my research on social behavior in general, and DEI issues in particular.

How have the findings from your research shaped your own perspectives and leadership approach?

The findings from my research have made it much easier for me to discuss and relate to challenges faced by different people. For example, last semester I was part of a documentary about the challenges facing African American women and girls. Now obviously I don’t belong to that particular group, nor do I have have any special insights into the inner lives or experiences of African American women. However, what I was able to do is to provide a map of sorts detailing how stereotypes of African American women differ from stereotypes of many other groups, including African American men. In this way, we were able to speak to not only the qualitative aspects of the lived experiences, but help to quantify, at least partially, the magnitude of the suffering.

How has the DEI field changed since you first started? What has been your favorite development in this work?

One of the really encouraging trends in this area is the way in which researchers from different fields have started to coalesce and talk to each other in ways that didn’t seem true in the past. Topics involving DEI touch so many aspects of people’s lives. Even very related issues can manifest themselves in completely different ways. For example, the discrimination faced by Mexican immigrants have parallels to those faced by previous generations of immigrant groups, but also have many points of difference. The great challenge for us researchers is to understand the common forces uniting these phenomena, but at the same time not lose sight of the individuality of the different experiences. I see a lot of progress in this area, although there is of course more to be done.

What do you want your legacy to be in this field?

I would like to be remembered as someone who contributed to the scientific study and understanding of issues relating to equity and inclusion. Like in any other applied topic such as business or engineering, there has to be a balance between basic science and theory on one hand, and practice on the other. Each is critical for the success of the overall endeavor. With the current energy to promote positive social change, I think it is of the utmost importance for scientists to provide the intellectual foundation to promote lasting and sustainable change. My dream would be to help build a science that is still relevant decades from now, even as the specific elements of the social world has completely changed.

What advice would you want to give your younger self? How would you prepare them for the challenges ahead within this field?

I would tell myself to be optimistic. Just five years ago, I had no idea where my work would take me, never mind that it would profoundly change how I look at the social world.

In your field you’re addressing and challenging barriers that have been fought by generations before you, how do you stay motivated to continue this work and push forward even when you can’t see immediate results?

The fact that we sometimes (indeed I would say often) fail to see immediate results is one of the things that keeps me motivated in this area. As someone who works closely with neuroscientists and other basic science researchers, I’m keenly aware of the importance of building foundational knowledge to produce lasting, sustainable, improvements. Indeed one of the most pressing issues facing research in this area is that it is still difficult to know when real improvements have occurred, or if not, what could have been achieved.

Who is a notable Equity Fluent Leader who inspires you? What are the traits that make them such an effective leader?

I would say President Obama has been the most effective leader when it comes to equity and inclusion, both in terms of changing expectations of what an African American leader can do, and in terms of navigating the treacherous waters and expectations that come with being president.

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.

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