中文版 web

News

Being a “Good Teacher” in His Thirty Years of Teaching: Professor Zhang Wei of Tianjin University

 Campus

During this summer break, Professor Zhang Wei of TJU almost had no rest: preparing lessons, doing scientific research, reviewing papers, and traveling to attend academic conferences. He burns the midnight oil every day. Although in his sixties, Zhang Wei looks hale and hearty. He told reporters: “People who have dreams will not get old.” And his constant aim is to be a good teacher who has ‘ideal beliefs, moral sentiments, solid knowledge and benevolence’. 

Thirty years ago, Zhang Wei graduated from Tianjin University with a Ph.D. degree in Systems Engineering. He stayed on at TJU as a teacher and also majored in Financial Engineering and Computational Experimental Finance. He was one of the first scholars engaged in Financial Engineering education and research in China. Nowadays, he is still engaged at the frontier of teaching and research. He is a Professor in the College of Management and Economics, Doctoral Supervisor and Vice Chairman of the Academic Committee of Tianjin University. He was selected for the “Cross-Century Excellent Talent Support Program” by the Ministry of Education and won the Tianjin May 1st Labor Medal. He has won many awards such as the National Science and Technology Progress Award from the Ministry of Education and the first prize for Outstanding Achievements in Tianjin Social Science. Just like flowers bloom and fall each and return every year, Zhang Wei has contributed to TJU for thirty years. He insists on passing on knowledge to undergraduates and postgraduates, serving as an undergraduate professional supervisor, guiding masters and doctoral students, and guiding students face to face in professional learning and career planning. Over the past five years, he has trained more than 50 students from China and from Europe, Asia and Africa. 

Being a wise guide to students 

Zhang Wei believes that education is the foundation for the future, so we must cultivate future talented students. As a teacher, for the kind of society you want to in the future, you have to cultivate such people for it. The teacher is the enlightener of the human soul, and the students are the “boutique buildings” that the “engineers” have worked hard to build. In Zhang Wei's “Management Research Frontier” class, he always asks the students a question: “What new discoveries have you made this week?” This is a special teaching session that Zhang Wei has set for this course. In the first 15 minutes of the class, the students share important current events, the news and reviews they have read, and the latest research cases. Zhang Wei guides the students to explore the scientific questions behind them and inspire students to think and discover the value of academic research. 

“An example is that the 19th National Congress of CPC pointed out some important tasks for China's social and economic development in the future, so these will have guiding significance and provide inspiration for relevant academic research”, said Zhang Wei. “For the social sciences, practice-driven research is an important factor for development. The relevance of research practice is of great importance. Therefore, it is necessary for students to understand the social significance and values behind academic research.” 

Combining learning and research with social reality enables students to enhance their awareness of the problems and the spirit of criticism, allowing them to pay more attention to society and the broader world, thereby enhancing their sense of social responsibility and cultivating students' feelings of nationalism. “The national sentiment is to foster a larger ideal, not just pay lip service, but to link the lofty ideals of contribution to society with the specific work of the individual.” Zhang Wei stressed. 

In guiding postgraduates, Zhang Wei puts a lot of energy into each student. “I feel that the supervisor is not simply 'a back-up defense', but is proactive” said Zhang Jing, a doctorate student supervised by Professor Zhang Wei. “The supervisor cares about how our research is done, whether there are problems, how the research is progressing, etc., as long as he is free. He also often shares scientific research literature in the group chat and discusses issues with classmates.” At the same time, Zhang Jing showed screenshots of WeChat chat records with the supervisors, many of which are reference literature and discussions about research issues sent to the research group late at night. 

Once Zhang Wei discovered a set of research data and the results which were very different from his colleagues. He told Zhang Jing about his findings. After calculation, it turned out that the basic data in the study had a problem. “The supervisor is always thinking about our research problems, and I really feel that he is more studious than me.” Zhang Jing Said.  

Professor Zhang Wei is one of the top ten teachers in terms of morality and his work ethic in Tianjin, helping students pursue their dreams. As well as being an excellent teacher he is a good friend.  

Zhang Wei said that he was touched by a student’s dream, who successfully achieved a doctorate degree guided by him. After graduation from Tianjin University majoring as an MBA, he wanted to do further study for a doctorate degree. However, Zhang Wei told him that studying for a PhD is different from the training objectives of normal education. The former centers on study and practice while the latter lays stress on independent academic research. But, the student insisted on following his dream. Zhang Wei recalled that his studying for a doctorate degree was his whole life’s ambition, although his family was poor and he was subsidized by others. So, Zhang Wei was touched by his dream and agreed with him to register him for the doctorate program.  

On the day he was admitted into the university, he found Zhang Wei and brought a large volume of books. He asked: “Professor Zhang, can I graduate if I read all these books?’’ Zhang Wei told him: “You should have your own innovative research as it is impossible for you to finish a doctorate degree only by following books.” 

As a result, after the first academic year, the student went to Prof Zhang’s home without entering, but left a long letter before leaving. He said, he was still anxious about studying for a doctorate degree with a weak foundation although he spent a whole year reading the books. After reading the letter, Zhang Wei recalled his original dream as a student. He found the student and suggested he have a rest for three months to think calmly whether the original dream had changed or not. Zhang Wei said, “If you choose to quit after three months, I will agree”. 

Less than three months later, the student was back and was determined to pursue it until graduation. During this process, Zhang Wei guided him in person, in his scientific research from processing scientific data to research direction. Zhang Wei tried his best to help him. 

The hard work paid off. After graduation, he went to a famous security company as a post-doctoral researcher. He then worked in an important job with an American development bank until recently. Then to his delight, he became a professional supervisor in the College of Management and Economics at Tianjin University: teaching students, solving their problems and returning his love to his Alma Mater. 

Zhang Wei said: “I have seen the truth that knowledge changes life and have experienced that happiness and value as a teacher.” Today, some of Zhang’s students have grown up as the elite in many walks of life. Some of them have designed the first stock indexed products and become the backbone of the first separate funded product developments; some are crowned as the ‘King of Enterprise in China’s Foundation’; some have become good teachers in prestigious universities; some have created the largest online consumption financial companies. After decades of effort, Zhang Wei’s students have finally become leadership of the future. 

Now we are in an era of a knowledge explosion where all kinds of new things are emerging one after another. “Any teacher can no longer be a scholar and serve like an encyclopedia, so what we need to do is to keep learning.” Zhang Wei said, “A university teacher should maintain curiosity, stick to lifelong learning, be sensitive to new things, and conduct international cutting-edge scientific research. Only in this way, can he or she keep pace with the times and inspire generations of students.” 

General Secretary Xi Jinping once pointed out in his speech that, “In the past, to give students a bowl of water, the teachers should have a bucket of water. However, now this requirement is not enough--the teachers should have a pool of water.” Zhang Wei strongly agrees: “A university teacher should possess ‘a pool of running water’ to teach scientific research.” 

In 2018, Zhang Wei's research group united with Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Hunan University to form a cross-school as well as an interdisciplinary team, which was chaired by Zhang Wei. This team has undertaken a major project for the National Natural Science Foundation of China: “Financial innovation and risk management under the background of the Internet”. At present, the world's big data and AI technology are developing rapidly, and the state actively proposes to prevent systemic financial risks. Under these conditions, the importance of this research is self-evident. 

Facing the state's major strategic requirements, keeping up with the pace of global development and solving new problems have always been the research direction aims of Zhang Wei and his team.  

In the mid-1990s, after visiting from abroad, Zhang Wei together with his domestic counterparts actively advocated the creation of a “Financial Engineering discipline” to meet the needs of the development of the securities market that China had just established. At the turn of the century, he took the lead in opening up a new research direction of “Computational Experimental Finance” in China by integrating computer science with finance, which won a place for Chinese scholars in the international field. He also hosted many important international conferences and published the first academic monograph in China in the field. 

In 2005, in response to the huge impact of medium and long-term investments on China's economy, Zhang Wei took the lead in conducting real option research in China, translated and published the first domestic translation on the subject and provided important strategic advice for the China Development Bank.  

"Take the lead" and "create"... Such words have appeared many times in the introductions to Professor Zhang Wei. For decades, he has been insisting on scientific research innovation. “Only innovation can produce valuable research results.” According to Zhang Wei, there are two sources of innovation: one is the curiosity of scientists, the other is the drive of practice. Researchers of social sciences should be good at discovering problems from practice, concretizing deeper scientific problems and solving them. 

Zhang Wei's research group has been engaged in Computational Experiment Finance, which combines computer science with finance and uses Multi-Agent Technology to study the laws of financial markets. Zhang Wei believes that "innovation in scientific research is closely related to cross-disciplines, for it often occurs on the boundaries of disciplines. Combining different disciplines together may lead to new research paradigms.” 

Xiong Xiong, the Deputy Director of the College of Management and Economics at Tianjin University, was Zhang Wei’s early student. According to him, one question Professor Zhang often asks is, “So what?”. This simple English short sentence contains a scientific researchers' rational grasp of research value. “Professor Zhang strongly set himself against utilitarian research,” said Xiong Xiong.  

“Engaging in academics cannot be utilitarian. The research should be solid and the results must stand up to scrutiny.” Zhang Jing recalls the scene when Professor Zhang Wei guided her through her thesis. “My supervisor told me to do responsible and valuable research. I have written three theses in the past two years, and they are still being further improved now. It is hoped that the research can be done solidly and the thesis can be published in high level journals,” said Zhang Jing. 

 
By: Wang Lu, Gao Yuan, Qian Congwei
Editors: Sun Xiaofang and Ross Colquhoun