Tell us about your focus of study. What inspired you to pursue it?
My area of study is environmental economics and policy. My dissertation focuses on the economic analysis of water pollution control, where I study the cost and benefits of various types of water pollutions, including nutrient pollution in surface water and lead pollution in drinking water. I am interested in this topic because I hope to contribute to policy solutions for environmental pollutions, and it is important to understand the cost and benefits of such environmental policies.
What drew you to the LBJ School?
I came to Austin because of my family. I did not expect to go to LBJ, but coming here became the best thing that happened in my graduate school. I met my amazing mentor, Dr. Sheila Olmstead, and also learned a lot from our faculty members such as Dr. Victoria Rodriguez, Dr. Chandler Stolp, Dr. Paul von Hippel, Dr. Andrew Waxman and Dr. Raissa Fabregas. The course requirements of the Ph.D. program in LBJ guaranteed we would have a solid understanding of the theory and methodology for our study, but also allowed us the flexibility to take courses outside of LBJ. I benefited from the flexibility and took courses from the economics department and the engineering department.
What is your favorite memory from your time here earning your degree?
My favorite memory is talking with my peers in our cubicles. We have a supportive environment in the Ph.D. group. Besides the formal events, we also organize informal nuts-and-bolts [gatherings] for professional development, practice defense and practice job talks among Ph.D. students. Because research can be solidary, peer support is essential to surviving graduate school.
What class or experience left the biggest impression on you?
Dr. Sheila Olmstead’s Economics of Water and Sanitation course. It was one of the first courses I took at LBJ. She covers a list of great journal articles on issues relate to the economics of water and sanitation of both developing and developed countries. I still use the reading list of her class for reference five years after taking the class. She also provides discussion questions before the class as a guide for reading the papers. Her approach makes economics papers a lot more accessible.
What is the most unexpected (non-pandemic) thing that happened to you during your time at LBJ?
My mother-in-law passed away from cancer in my third year. With the support from my advisor and the school, I was fortunate enough to spend three months back in China to help take care of her. I appreciate all the support during that rough time.
You experienced a massive shift to your school experience over the course of the last year. What did you discover about yourself during this time?
I am more resilient than I thought and have a great support from family, friends and committee members. I gave birth to my baby girl, Luna, at the beginning of the pandemic, and we have been staying at home for over a year now. When I had her, I had just received the main dataset for my job market paper. With my mom and my husband’s help and my committee’s support, I ran the analysis and wrote my job market paper in four months, applied to over 30 jobs and landed two offers. I did not think I can do all of the things at the same time, but I was fortunate that I received a lot of help and survived the job market.
Tell us about your next steps.
I will join the Center of Business and Public Policy at the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign as a postdoc researcher. I will be working with some of the best economists on issues related to the environment and health.
What is your advice to the incoming class?
Take advantage of what LBJ School and UT Austin offers. We have world-class professors who care about students and could offer you tons of helpful advice. Do not be afraid to reach out for help. We also have a supportive group of peers in the Ph.D. program who can be your natural collaborators. Also, plan your dissertation early and always have a plan B in case Plan A does not work out. I waited too long for a dataset that came through three years later. I could have written my dissertation years ago if I hadn't waited for my Plan A dataset.
What else would you like us to know about you?
I received a lot of help from my family, friends, and professors during my Ph.D. in LBJ and I don’t think I can graduate without any of them. I especially want to thank my parents and my spouse for supporting me; my letter writers, Dr. Sheila Olmstead, Dr. Andrew Waxman, Dr. Raissa Fabregas and Dr. Yusuke Kuwayama from UMBC; and my friends Xue, Eun Young, Francisca, Selena, Cale, Ana, Ashlyn, Mark, Regina and many others for the support during this rough job market.
#LBJClassof2021: @tracyzhj graduates tomorrow with her Ph.D. in public policy, focused on environmental economics and policy. We're thrilled for her next chapter at @giesbusiness' Center for Business & Public Policy. Congratulations Jiameng! https://t.co/rKuqf8mjVL #UTGrad21 pic.twitter.com/gd6d34qj66— The LBJ School (@TheLBJSchool) May 21, 2021