Dr. Tian holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Beijing University, an M.S. in Cartography and Remote Sensing from Chinese Academy of Sciences, a second M.S. in Computer Science from George Mason University, and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. from the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. After completion of her PhD, she studied with Bob Axelrod as a postdoc in the Ford School of Public Policy. Her professional experiences include working as an assistant research professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing, China), research fellow at the International Center for Science and High Technology/United Nations Industrial Organization (Trieste, Italy), and software engineer for VERITAS Software (Reston, VA).
Her doctorate dissertation “From Vulnerability to Sustainability: Rural Development in the Poyang Lake Region of China amid Institutional Changes and Flood Hazards,” supervised by Dan Brown, applies the science of complexity to study the human-environment system around Poyang Lake. The study integrates social, economic, political, and environmental perspectives, and focuses on the interactions between individual households and their social and environmental settings to explain rural development at the aggregate level and variations of well-being between rural households and across places. It includes four major analyses: (i) a regional-scale assessment of well-being, (ii) an in-depth analysis of underlying causes of household well-being, (iii) an analysis of the mechanism underlying spatial patterns and temporal changes in agricultural land use, and (iv) an analysis of land rental markets and rural development policies. Combining agent-based modeling with GIS and empirical analysis of social surveys and interviews, these analyses generated a number of important insights into (i) how polices may effectively promote social and economic development and mitigate flood impacts at the same time, (ii) why polices need to be sensitive to social and environmental heterogeneity, and how policies should vary across places, and (iii) how rural households can increase their overall well-being under environmental and social-economic-political changes. Her dissertation work was supported by several fellowships including a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship.
She has broad interests in human cognition, development, land use and land cover change, human-environment systems, and complex adaptive systems in general.
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