Skyler Xie

Place of study and ideas: Skyler Xie will have access to the Turing offices in the British Library

A PhD student at Warwick Business School has been accepted on to the highly competitive Turing Enrichment Scheme at The Alan Turing Institute - the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence.  

The Enrichment Scheme offers Skyler Xie the opportunity to conduct research in conjunction with The Alan Turing Institute. The scheme has also granted Skyler a funding package of approximately £12,000, fostering his PhD research agenda and collaborations with both Turing fellows and other researchers within the Turing network.

Enhancing quantitative modelling with complex data

Skyler will be affiliated with the Finance and Economics Group at the Turing Institute, where he will further develop his research into quantitative modelling for economic and behavioural data, particularly for complex panel data 

Skyler explained: “The complexity of modern datasets is that they often have multiple dimensions of variables and are updated frequently over time. For example, consider the transaction data from a global bank or an international company, which records numerous variables like price, product, volume, and perhaps other market indicators many times per day.  

Similarly, transport and telecommunications data contain extensive details about direction, destination, duration, and type of data transferred.” 

The objective of Skyler’s research is to enhance quantitative models that can handle this complexity and provide valuable insights into the underlying economic and behavioural phenomena. To achieve this goal, the doctoral student is combining econometrics with machine learning techniques to improve both the reliability and robustness of the models.

Addressing empirical questions through rigorous analysis 

Building on collaborations with industrial companies and non-profit organisations, Skyler is investigating the dynamics of behaviour and decision-making processes within these entities 

In doing so, he has sought to answer several key questions: How do individual-level behaviours influence organisational performance? How can the performance of frontline workers be enhanced in a competitive setting? And what are the consequences of unequal productivity distribution among workers in the labour market? 

In his current research, Skyler has used large-scale transaction data, encompassing more than 15 million longitudinal observations of frontline workers in the industrial market. Building on the multi-dimensional and time series structure of the data, the key step is to develop robust inference models that can help to investigate the dynamic behaviours of frontline workers over time. 

Providing actionable insights

Through econometric modelling and machine learning simulations, Skyler’s analysis revealed that high-performing workers not only strengthen overall organisational performance but also continually fuel their own motivation to attain superior results.

Interestingly, the results show that what truly impacts other workers in the organisation is the frequency with which different individuals rise to the top. A dynamic leadership based on a frequent turnover of high achievers rather than on a single dominant individual can effectively lift the performance of the entire team. 

However, promotion is not without its downsides. When frontline workers reach peak performance, they often fall into the paradox of ‘exploration versus replication. These workers, especially those who have recently experienced being at the top, tend to adopt a more conservative approach, choosing to replicate what has previously worked for them.  

At the other end of the scale, Skyler's recent research shows that low-performing workers can 'nudge' their peers to improve. This is attributed to the phenomenon of ‘last-place aversion’, where individuals strive to avoid being at the bottom. 

“The incentive for workers in organisations isn’t always monetary reward,” Skyler explained.

“Rather than dismissing or overlooking low performers, companies should focus on enhancing their performance. Their progress can have a significant effect on improving the performance of their peers.”

The doctoral programmes offered by Warwick Business School provide an environment for students to flourish and develop as independent researchers. 

The University of Warwick is one of the founding partners of The Alan Turing Institute.