2020 Incoming Grad Series: Robin Liu

by Chava Nerenberg, Graduate Programming Assistant
Wednesday, September 23, 2020 9:00 AM

The 2020 Incoming Grad Series continues, featuring backstories and fun facts about 8 students who are part of the entering class at UCSB.

Robin Liu is entering the PhD program in Statistics and Applied Probability, where he plans to study machine learning. Born in Tianjin, China, he moved to the US as a child and completed his Bachelor's degrees in math and computer science at the University of Michigan. Although he has lived in many different cities, Robin considers himself a midwesterner at heart. Read on to learn more about his background, why he chose UCSB, his brief acting career, and some surprising fun facts! 


Robin told us he is often at a loss when people ask where he is from because he is has lived all over the place. He was born in Tianjin, China and his family moved to Boston when he was four years old so that his father could attend graduate school at Boston University. Robin went to elementary school in Boston, middle school in Maine (near Portland), high school in metro Detroit, and college in Ann Arbor. After graduating, he worked as a software developer in Chicago for a financial services company specializing in risk management. His work with large databases of financial transaction data sparked his interest in statistics and his desire to pursue a PhD.

Robin told us that due to his family’s financial difficulties, his father did not complete his PhD program in electrical engineering, opting instead to work to support him and his mother. He feels that working toward a PhD at UCSB carries forward that torch for his family. 


Robin chose UCSB because of its reputation as a leading research university, the impressive departmental faculty, and of course, the location. He likes that his department is relatively small in size, but is currently expanding, which means he will have plenty of individual attention as well as the resources available to a growing department. Finally, he told us that the winters in Chicago are brutal and that the California sunshine will be a good change of pace!  



Robin is broadly interested in the theory of modern machine learning techniques and their algorithmic implementation. He enjoys statistical research both because of its rigorous mathematical foundation as well as the heavy presence of computation and computer simulation. He told us that these two aspects fit his background in both pure math and computer programming. Because of his work experience with financial transactions, he is particularly interested in the challenges of analyzing very high-dimensional data.

Robin also sees a great need for statisticians to guide research in fields such as sociology and social psychology. One of his goals is to advise researchers in these areas on sound statistical methods, estimation techniques, and interpretation of results.



Robin enjoys a wide array of hobbies, including rock climbing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (where he is a blue belt), and classical guitar. You may even catch him slacklining on campus!

During the pandemic he has been catching up on novels (most recently, Blood Meridian) and cartoons (currently, My Hero Academia). He also enjoys podcasts on economics and political culture, as well as a good comedy podcast.

Another fun fact about Robin is that he used to want to become an actor. In Chicago, he was in two stage productions. One was a sketch comedy revue put on by his friends who took classes at the famous Second City theater, home of many comedians appearing on Saturday Night Live. The other was a children’s musical where he got to sing and act for kids and their parents.

Welcome, Robin!

Be sure to subscribe to the GradPost and check back each day until the start of classes for the continuation of our Incoming Grad Series. Up next is Christabel Agyeiwaa, an incoming PhD student in History who is coming to UCSB from Ghana. Christabel will be researching the contributions of African women to the socio-economic development of Africa over time. Check back tomorrow to learn more about her research, her life in Ghana, and her love of dance!