Pian Shu

Assistant Professor of Business Administration (Leave of Absence)

Pian Shu is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Technology and Operations Management Unit. She teaches the Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development II (FIELD II) course in the MBA required curriculum. She received the Berol Corporation Fellowship from the Harvard Business School in July 2013.


Professor Shu’s research focuses on the empirical analysis of factors that affect innovation and productivity at the micro level. She contributes to the field by taking a labor economics perspective and investigating the decisions of individuals. Her current research examines how talented individuals develop into innovators, the impact of early career choices on long-term productivity, the uncertainty associated with becoming an innovator through entrepreneurship, and the impact of technology and trade shocks on innovation.

A recipient of the Kauffmann Dissertation Fellowship in Entrepreneurship, Professor Shu earned her Ph.D. in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She graduated from Colgate University with a BA in mathematics and mathematical economics.

Journal Articles

  1. Competition and Social Identity in the Workplace: Evidence from a Chinese Textile Firm

    Takao Kato and Pian Shu

    We study the impact of social identity on worker competition by exploiting the well-documented social divide between urban resident workers and rural migrant workers in urban Chinese firms. We analyze data on weekly output, individual characteristics, and coworker composition for all weavers in an urban Chinese textile firm during a 53-week period. The firm adopts relative performance incentives in addition to piece rates to encourage competition in the workplace. We find that social identity has a significant impact on competition: a weaver only competes against coworkers with a different social identity, but not against those sharing her own identity. The results are mainly driven by urban weavers competing aggressively against rural coworkers. Our results highlight the important role of social identity in mitigating or enhancing competition.

    Keywords: social identity; Coworker effect; productivity; Relative performance incentive; Intergroup competition; Competition; Groups and Teams; Performance Productivity; Identity;


    Kato, Takao, and Pian Shu. "Competition and Social Identity in the Workplace: Evidence from a Chinese Textile Firm." Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 131, part A (November 2016): 37–50. View Details
  2. Asset Accumulation and Labor Force Participation of Disability Insurance Applicants

    Pian Shu

    This paper provides empirical evidence of the existence of forward-looking asset-accumulation behavior among disability-insurance applicants, previously examined only in the theoretical literature. Using panel data from the RAND Health and Retirement Study, I show that rejected applicants for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) possess significantly more assets than accepted applicants immediately prior to application and exhibit lower attachment to the labor force. These empirical results are consistent with the theoretical prediction in Diamond and Mirrlees (1978) and Golosov and Tsyvinski (2006) that certain individuals with high unwillingness to work maximize utility by planning in advance for their future disability insurance application. Because the existing empirical literature on disability insurance does not account for this intertemporal channel, it may underestimate the total work-disincentive effect of SSDI.

    Keywords: Disability insurance; asset accumulation; labor force participation; Assets; Behavior; Employment; Insurance; Insurance Industry; United States;


    Shu, Pian. "Asset Accumulation and Labor Force Participation of Disability Insurance Applicants." Journal of Public Economics 129 (September 2015): 26–40. View Details

Working Papers

  1. Foreign Competition and Domestic Innovation: Evidence from U.S. Patents

    David Autor, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, Pian Shu and Gary Pisano

    Manufacturing is the locus of U.S. innovation, accounting for more than three quarters of U.S. corporate patents. The rise of import competition from China has represented a major competitive shock to the sector, which in theory could benefit or stifle innovation. In this paper we empirically examine how rising import competition from China has affected U.S. innovation. We confront two empirical challenges in assessing the impact. We map all U.S. utility patents granted by March 2013 to firm-level data using a novel Internet-based matching algorithm that corrects for a preponderance of false negatives when using firm names alone. And we contend with the fact that patenting is highly concentrated in certain product categories and that this concentration has been shifting over time. Accounting for secular trends in innovative activities, we find that the impact of the change in import exposure on the change in patents produced is strongly negative. It remains so once we add an extensive set of further industry- and firm-level controls. Rising import exposure also reduces global employment, global sales, and global R&D expenditure at the firm level. It would appear that a simple mechanism in which greater foreign competition induces U.S. manufacturing firms to contract their operations along multiple margins of activity goes a long way toward explaining the response of U.S. innovation to the China trade shock.

    Keywords: Patents; Competition; System Shocks; Trade; Innovation and Invention; Manufacturing Industry; China; United States;


    Autor, David, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, Pian Shu, and Gary Pisano. "Foreign Competition and Domestic Innovation: Evidence from U.S. Patents." NBER Working Paper Series, No. 22879, December 2016. View Details
  2. Innovating in Science and Engineering or 'Cashing In' on Wall Street? Evidence on Elite STEM Talent

    Pian Shu

    Using data on MIT bachelor's graduates from 1994 to 2012, this paper empirically examines the extent to which the inflow of elite talent into the financial industry affects the supply of innovators in science and engineering (S&E). I first show that finance does not systematically attract those who are best prepared at college graduation to innovate in S&E sectors. Among graduates who majored in S&E, cumulative GPA strongly and positively predicts long-term patenting; this result is robust to controlling for choices of major and career. In contrast, GPA negatively predicts the probability of taking a first job in finance after college. There is suggestive evidence that S&E and finance value different sets of skills: innovating in S&E calls for in-depth knowledge and/or interest in a specific subject area, whereas finance tends to value a combination of general analytic skills and social skills over academic specialization. I then provide evidence that anticipated career incentives influence students' acquisition of S&E human capital during college. The 2008–2009 financial crisis, which substantially reduced the availability of jobs in finance and led to a worsening labor market in general, prompted some students to major in S&E instead of management or economics and/or to improve their academic performance. This response to the shock is driven by students with below-average academic credentials who were freshmen at the peak of the crisis.

    Keywords: Higher Education; Engineering; Personal Development and Career; Science; Finance;


    Shu, Pian. "Innovating in Science and Engineering or 'Cashing In' on Wall Street? Evidence on Elite STEM Talent." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-067, December 2015. (Revised November 2016.) View Details
  3. Are 'Better' Ideas More Likely to Succeed? An Empirical Analysis of Startup Evaluation

    Erin L. Scott, Pian Shu and Roman M. Lubynsky

    This paper studies the uncertainty associated with screening early stage ventures. Using data on 652 ventures in high-growth industries, we examine whether experienced entrepreneurs, executives, and investors can predict the outcomes of early stage ventures by reading succinct summaries of their business ideas without meeting the founding teams. We find that the predictability of venture outcomes varies with the intensity of research and development (R&D) in the sector. In R&D-intensive sectors, such as life sciences, the ideas that elicit more positive evaluations are significantly more likely to reach commercialization and/or to raise substantial funding; this pattern does not hold for ventures in non-R&D–intensive sectors such as enterprise software. Our results suggest that, despite the many uncertainties associated with innovating at the technological frontier, early stage ventures in R&D-intensive sectors can be screened effectively using information on their non-human capital assets. In contrast, such information is not sufficient to screen ventures in non-R&D-intensive sectors.

    Keywords: Commercialization; Entrepreneurship; Business Startups;


    Scott, Erin L., Pian Shu, and Roman M. Lubynsky. "Are 'Better' Ideas More Likely to Succeed? An Empirical Analysis of Startup Evaluation." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-013, July 2015. (Revised October 2016.) View Details