2020 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Ye Li, School: University of California-Riverside, Anderson Graduate School of Management

Ye Li of the University of California-Riverside is a Poets&Quants Best 40 Under 40 MBA Professor

From the massive amount of Google Scholar citations to the nearly 100 nominations, Ye Li wowed us as much as he has students who have had the luck to see him in action in a classroom. The 36-year-old assistant professor of management at the University of California-Riverside’s Anderson Graduate School of Management has already amassed a foundation of research with more than 2,000 Google Scholar citations. In his research, Li examines why people make decisions. But some of his most influential research and work examines the role emotions play in decision making. One example of his work is how sadness makes people less patient and gratitude makes them more patient.

But what impressed us more than his mountains of research was the feedback current and former students gave, particularly about how much he genuinely and truly cares for those he teaches. “Professor Li truly cares for his students beyond the classroom and encourages us to improve both academically and professionally by teaching us behaviors that would allow us to think rationally and systematically about various consumer-related or professional-related situations,” one nominator said. “He takes an interest in each student’s success and has encouraged me as a student and professional!”

Said another: “He’s a dedicated professor who puts in an immense amount of time making sure his students succeed. He genuinely cares about the content he teaches and he has a passion to pass it on to his students.”

But Li also fosters an environment for learning, other nominators said.

“Professor Li’s lecturing style encourages participation in class, which allows for hearty discussion and creates an engaging class atmosphere,” said another nominator. “This also makes it easy to understand the class concepts. His assignments are effective, and emphasize understanding by asking us to apply real-world examples to class concepts.”

Outside of the classroom, Li says he loves playing strategy board games.

Ye Li

Assistant Professor of Management

University of California-Riverside, A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management

Current age: 36

At current institution since what year? 2012

Education: B.S., California Institute of Technology, Business Economics / Engineering and Applied Science (Double Major), M.B.A., Ph.D., University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Behavioral Science

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Managerial Decision Making (MBA), Judgment and Decision Making (Undergrad), Organizational Behavior (Ph.D.)


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I fell in love with behavioral economics as an undergrad research assistant for Colin Camerer. I had planned to get an economics Ph.D. to study behavioral economics but it turned out that my interests were a better fit for business schools and I ended up following in Colin’s footsteps to the same program at the University of Chicago where he received his Ph.D.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

Broadly speaking, I study the reasons why people make various kinds of decisions, especially ones involving tradeoffs between sooner and later consequences. Some of my most influential work has looked at the role of emotions and cognitive ability at influencing these types of decisions. For example, sadness makes people less patient while gratitude (but not happiness) makes them more patient.

If I weren’t a business school professor… I’d love to try designing a board game or carpentry. Something with a tangible output!

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

Rather than what I think, I looked at my most recent teaching evaluations. Seems that students appreciate that I focus on caring about their success in class and in life (and that I learn all 150 students names within the first couple weeks every quarter I teach). It really helps that I get to teach a subject I’m passionate about and think everyone should learn!

One word that describes my first time teaching: Improvable.

I’m always looking to improve my teaching and keep the examples up to date, so if I let myself, tinkering with my classes can easily swallow up all my time. Of course, the first times I taught the course really did require a lot of adjustment to suit our diverse, unique student body. UCR leads all major U.S. universities in students with Pell Grants and more than half of students are first-generation college-goers, so I consider my efforts to make the class resonate with them time well spent.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Don’t tell the students you don’t have real work experience! (Oh wait, they might read this, too…)

Professor I most admire and why: Too many, for many reasons. An abbreviated list: Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, and Richard Thaler for setting the foundations for the research field that I love. My mentors at UChicago, George Wu, Reid Hastie, and Nicholas Epley. My post-doctoral mentors at Columbia, Eric Johnson and Elke Weber. And so many amazing former winners on this list that I’m deeply humbled to be joining.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

My favorite moments are when students report using class concepts in their lives and jobs… I think even the best students will quickly forget most content from most classes once they’ve graduated, so I especially love to hear from past students years later about the impact I’ve had.

What is most challenging?

Trying to get students to learn the concepts well enough that they can retain them and use them in their future jobs and lives. This is why I put so much emphasis on applying the concepts. Use it or lose it! 

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Inquisitive (I tried to find a synonym for intellectually curious)

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Disengaged

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Strict but fair. I provide a paragraph of individualized feedback on every written assignment and send individualized midterm and pre-final progress reports so students know exactly where they stand.


What are your hobbies?

Strategy Board Games! To steal a line from a colleague, when I’m not studying decision making, I enjoy making them in games. 

How will you spend your summer?

Research, and hopefully back in my office! All my academic conferences for the summer are already cancelled so… =( 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: I’m the travel guide type and tend to pack my vacations full of sightseeing and not just lying on a beach. My favorite destinations have lots of history, sights to see, and (of course) great food to eat. Some more exotic locations include Egypt, Cambodia, Laos, and Brazil.

 Favorite book(s):

Fiction: Catcher in the Rye

Non-Fiction: Decisive, Nudge, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

Black Mirror. I’m a big fan of sci-fi in general because it lets us consider how people might behave in situations humans haven’t encountered, while letting us reflect on what that says about our current world. Black Mirror does a fantastic job of doing this in a future that feels quite within reach.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?

I was a big fan of Indie Rock while in school, but these days, I mostly listen to podcasts and audio books while driving and exercising and classical/instrumental music while working. The Game of Thrones soundtrack is surprisingly good writing music.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… In-person classes! Online classes have their place but discussions just aren’t the same on Zoom. I really hope we revert to normal soon (once it’s safe to do so of course)!

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Considering the long term implications of their decisions, not just for themselves but for humanity and our planet. Incentives seem to be too often geared toward short-term maximization.

I’m grateful for… COVID-19 happening during the internet age. I can’t imagine how bad shelter-in-place was during the Spanish Flu. 

Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say

“He is a hardworking, selfless professor that gives students endless resources and extra guidelines to help us exceed. Every lecture he provides very detailed research and data he has conducted to support every topic.”

“Professor Li has been easily among the top professors I have had the opportunity to study under throughout my academic career. He is dedicated, organized, and passionate about his lectures and his students. It would be my honor to support his nomination for the 40 under 40 profs.”

“Li is the most memorable, engaging, involved, interested, and passionate professor out of my entire undergrad career. Professor Li really showed that he cared about his students, not just as a grade or review score, but as individuals. He gave us feedback that wasn’t a general copy and paste but catering to each of the students. I truly enjoyed his lectures and class on judgment & decision making.”


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