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;


    Kato, Takao, and Pian Shu. "Competition and Social Identity in the Workplace: Evidence from a Chinese Textile Firm." Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (forthcoming). (due in November.) 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. Are the 'Best and Brightest' Going into Finance? Skill Development and Career Choice of MIT Graduates

    Pian Shu

    Using detailed data on recipients of bachelor's degrees from MIT between 2006 and 2012, I examine the selection of students going into finance or science and engineering (S&E). I find that academic achievement in college is negatively correlated with a propensity to take a job in finance and positively correlated with a propensity to pursue a graduate degree or taking a job in S&E. This pattern is primarily driven by differences in skill development during college, not by differences in academic qualifications at college entry. In both high school and college, the two groups participate in different activities: students who ultimately choose finance are substantially more likely to be varsity-sports leaders in high school; they are also more likely to join fraternities and sororities, a decision typically made at college entry. Sizable differences in academic performance begin in freshman year and persist throughout college. The 2008 financial crisis, which substantially reduced the availability of entry-level positions in finance, prompted some students with relatively low college-entry qualifications to major in S&E instead of management or economics and/or to improve their academic performance. But there is no evidence that those with top qualifications changed their skill development in response to the crisis. Taken together, the results demonstrate that the preferences and skills of graduates who pursue finance are not comparable to those of graduates who choose a career in S&E.

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


    Shu, Pian. "Are the 'Best and Brightest' Going into Finance? Skill Development and Career Choice of MIT Graduates." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 16-067, December 2015. View Details
  2. Are 'Better' Ideas More Likely to Succeed? An Empirical Analysis of Startup Evaluation

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

    Entrepreneurs face high uncertainty, and often make costly investments in new business ideas without knowing the expected payoff. This paper empirically examines whether ex-ante assessment of early-stage startup ideas can predict their subsequent commercialization. We leverage an entrepreneurship program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in which early-stage venture ideas, presented in the form of succinct standardized summaries, elicit subjective evaluations from a large set of experienced entrepreneurs and executives. Using data on 652 ventures in multiple industry sectors, evaluated over an 8-year period, we find that ideas that elicit more positive evaluations are significantly more likely to ultimately reach commercialization. We further show that these results are driven by venture ideas with documented intellectual capital in research-and-development-intensive sectors, such as life sciences and medical devices. We find no evidence, by contrast, that experts can effectively assess the commercial potential of venture ideas in non-R&D-intensive sectors such as consumer web and enterprise software. Finally, we find that industry-specific and scientific expertise is not critical to experts' collective ability to predict ventures' commercial viability.

    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. View Details