Thursday, December 4, 2014

Final Post

For a class that does not take attendance, I am surprised with myself that I actually came to every lecture. In previous semesters, especially freshmen and sophomore year, I missed many classes, most likely because I felt that it was not worth while. But with this class, I started attending routinely because I really enjoyed the first lecture (third lecture for you because I joined late). The atmosphere was very different from the norm. Despite the small number of students, I felt that I was being taught something. A lot of the things you said made me think, "wow, I never thought of it like that." And it was evident that you truly care about our learning experience. Through the lectures, discussions, Excel homework, blogging posts, and other miscellaneous means, I was able to learn concepts of Economics with a unique but valuable perspective.

At first I was worried about the blogging since I feel that I am a horrible writer. I dreaded writing essays ever since middle school. It is usually tough for me to formulate my thoughts and make them flow. I would sometimes spend several hours on these posts, but most of that time, I was thinking about what to write and how to start writing about it. After that obstacle, it was a bit easier. Despite the difficulty, this was actually my favorite part of the course because I was pushed to make connections between my real life experiences and the economics behind it. If a professor were to just teach me topics like transfer pricing and the Shapiro Stiglitz model with definitions and graphs, there is no way I would recall the material several weeks from now, but bringing it to a personal level in these blog posts really helps with absorbing the concepts.
Furthermore, I really enjoyed the structure of the class and the fact that it was discussion-oriented. Although I never talked, I felt engaged in the topics discussed and I was able to absorb a lot of information aside from days when I did not get much sleep the night before. You may have seen some "glazed" looks from me those times (I apologize for that). Moreover, the reason why I did not chime in as much as other students is because I either felt that I could not relate or was too shy to contribute. There were multiple times when I had wanted to but remained silent because I have a fear of being wrong in front of people even in the most trivial situations. This is due to a somewhat traumatic experience that happened in the past, but I am getting better! And hopefully I will continue to do so in the midst of searching for full-time jobs.
Concerning the Excel homework, I admit, for the first couple, I rushed through them and ended up not fully grasping the material. Thus, for the next several ones, I committed to reading everything that was written and watching any videos that came along with it. The videos themselves were a good supplement to understanding the concepts. I do not think I have spent more than an hour or two on average for the homework. There were of course a couple questions that held me back but I eventually got them after reading your explanations more in detail.

Reflecting on my overall performance, there was definitely a lot of room to have done better--on exams especially. For the first midterm, I did not anticipate one of the questions and was thus completely unprepared. It was the same way for the second midterm also because I really thought you were going to ask one certain essay question but it ended up being something else. However, all these things were my fault. And in terms of improvement, I honestly do not really have anything. I always have believed the expression "you get out what you put in." Thus, I feel like I am the one who needs the improvement.  

Thank you for your lenient deadlines and your thoughtful teachings.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Personal Reputation

A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. - Jeff Bezos (CEO of

Personal reputation is one of the most important assets a person has, and while intangible, can play a major role in influencing the happenings in one's life. Reputations are formed over a period of time based on past performances or actions. It is important to also note how fragile they are. One egregious mistake can possibly ruin a person's reputation for a long while, sometimes forever. One example of this that comes to mind is Tom Cruise, a star of many blockbuster films. He lost all credibility when he began publicly campaigning for the Church of Scientology. His embarrassing behavior on an episode of Oprah has solidified his reputation as, some would say, crazy and idiotic. In other instances, a private track record of poor decisions can become uncovered. Just recently, Stephen Collins, who played a preacher and upright father on the former hit show "7th Heaven," was accused of child molestation after a leaked taped confession. I believe it's safe to say that the general rule is that bad reputations form very quickly and are harder to change, whereas a respectable reputation takes longer to establish and is easier to lose.

And now in regards to my own life, here is yet another story concerning my hotel job...but I would like to think that I developed a distinct reputation with my supervisors and the manager. Ever since the first day of work, I made sure to put my best effort with anything I did. Some duties of desk clerks include interacting with customers but there are also some behind-the-scenes logistical works such as writing out parking permit numbers on the clipboard, writing guest names/room numbers/departure dates on a revolving tree to visibly see who is in the hotel, and checking to see if there are two keys available for each room, and then rekeying the rooms that don't have enough keys. Most student workers tend to overlook these tasks because supervisors really don't stress the completion of them. However, being the overachiever I am, as soon as my shift started, I got them done right away. Another role a student worker has is setting up breakfast at 6am, and then cleaning it up at 9am. My manager has told me multiple times how I am the best at the job. This is because I always restocked items, cleaned the refrigerator, and wiped down the microwave, which are otherwise usually forgotten tasks. My manager also said how some students arrive about 5 to 10 minutes late or sometimes not at all, so he commended me for never being late in addition to my, some would way, overachieving attitude (assuming a positive connotation). With that said, another way I built up my reputation is through my punctuality. Within the first year of working, I was never once late. Some days I showed up an hour earlier at my supervisor's request because the hotel was extremely busy. Other days, I came in on days I was not even scheduled to work, because my supervisor ended up having to go home sick. My manager always called me first in these types of situations. Punctuality is actually a personal reputation I have amongst my friends and teachers also. Whether it be getting a ride, picking someone up, or walking into class, tardiness is never an issue. Furthermore, after my biannual work evaluations, my manager told me how I have a "contagious" or "infectious" smile. Supervisors have also told me that they have never seen me not smiling and that I bring a "cheery atmosphere." In terms of enhancing my reputation, I am not sure what more I could have done, because I felt that I gave my maximal effort, but of course there were times when it was hard to keep this up on days when I was not feeling well physically or even emotionally. To reflect on occasions where I wanted to stray from my usual behavior, I can recall a few times--especially one time when I felt very nauseous just an hour into my shift with four hours left to go. I was put in a dilemma because it was a busy night with a lot of check-ins, but also I was not sure if I would function to my best ability. Nonetheless, my supervisor saw that my face was turning very pale and sent me home right away. I felt horrible for doing so but it was obviously necessary. The supervisor definitely did not want me to vomit in front of a guest...then who knows...the reputation for the hotel may have been ruined right then and there. Another time when I was tempted to stray from my usual behavior was whenever I worked under the supervisor who did not know what he was doing I am not sure if you recall me talking about him in previous blog posts, but this supervisor was notorious for not doing what he was told. In addition to that, I forgot to mention how whenever there were multiple check-ins at once, he would just sit at his desk and I would have to ask him to help even though the fact of busy-ness was so blatant. Also, he would tell me to do ridiculous things like go out to the parking lot and check if any of the meters were bagged for the hotel. But with my reputation, I just did what I was told, but maybe with a less cheery attitude. Yet, I am not sure if he orders me to do these things because I indeed have a reputation for assisting the supervisors in any way I can. Lastly, I can remember one time when I abandoned my reputation for personal gain. I have been working here for over a year and half now, and a few months ago, my friends spontaneously wanted to go on a road trip to Chicago over the weekend (okay, maybe it's not much a road trip). However, I had a six hour day shift during that time. My friends kept pressuring me to talk to my manager and take it off and saying how he "owes" me since I came in on days when I was not scheduled. I was very reluctant at first but I ended up shooting him an email with the unreasonable request. And literally within the hour, he approved the request and told me to have a great time! Regardless of how they form, reputations are strong in persuading or having an impact on an individual's behavior.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Trilateral Principal-Agent Model

The central idea behind the principal-agent model is that the principal is too busy to do a given job and thus hires an agent. However, being too busy also means that the principal cannot monitor the agent perfectly (otherwise their would be some transaction costs involved). In this relationship, we face the problem of the existence of asymmetric information, which comes as adverse selection and moral hazard. In class we learned that adverse selection is hidden knowledge and moral hazard is hidden action. If the principal and agent had the same objective function, these two problems would of course not exist. The bilateral principal-agent model may seem too abstract to be useful, and so realistically, it's more like a trilateral model. The agent has to content with the best interest of their client as well as the best interest of their employer.

A time I recall where I had to "serve both masters" such as a client and an employer would be at my hotel job. I answer to two principals: the guests and my manager.   It would not just be me in these types of situations but other student workers as well--even supervisors, so I will refer to us generally as the employees.  

Many disagreements arise because of our rates. Our rack rates start at $122. However there are discounts for those who have students that attend the university, are students themselves, are part of the Alumni Association, or are faculty/staff. Whenever we, as the employees, had to quote this rack rate, the common response comes with a tone of surprise and usually unhappiness. When the guests make their reservations via phone or in person, right off the bat, we would usually ask them whether they have a student who goes here or whether they are an alumni. If they say yes, we bring the rates down no problem. We do this because there were so many instances when people would complain and ask for a lower rate, so we wanted to save ourselves from that verbal hassle. So then we would quote people at $112 (rate for students and family of students) at initial inquiry and thus we rarely use the rack rate. We tend to sympathize with the guests and realize that we are indeed overpriced. However, my manager recently sent an email to all supervisors/students that sales have decreased since last year. He also stressed how if guests receive these certain discounts, they must prove it in some way. For example, if the guest is a student/family of a student, there needs to be an iCard or UIN involved or if they are an alumni, they need an official Alumni Association card.
Obviously customers have the objective of wanting to get the most quality room with the cheapest rate. My manager, after being aware of the decrease in sales, has been concentrating more on increasing the sales. We can infer that the two principals would not see eye to eye on what counts for good performance on the agent. Thus, the employees often struggle with whether to keep the customers happy or our manager happy.  

After that email, I stopped quoting the discounted rate. However, I have noticed that supervisors were often times still doing it when my boss is not around, which are times after check-in every weekday and all day of the weekends. Since our manager is rarely around during the check-in process, we still never check for iCards or Alumni Association cards even after the enforcement in the email.   So I guess we can see some moral hazard in that due to the agent's hidden action. But honestly, it usually depends on the guest. When they are rude or inpatient, we tend to be more strict and follow the manager's rules. And then the rare times my boss is here, we have to satisfy his interests so we do what we are told which then becomes less beneficial for the customers because they could have saved ten bucks.

I'm not sure if these issues could ever get resolved due to some people's nature of stinginess or frugality. There is also that lack of interaction between the two principals. So I believe there is no one way to settle it. The goal for us employees is to try and satisfy the customers' needs when the manager is gone and then satisfy the manager's needs when he is here. Obviously, since we are instinctively paying more attention to the customer, this will probably not help the manager with his objective to increase sales.

It's also interesting that the supervisors are supposed to monitor the students as one of their roles but we end up being on the same team nonetheless, and the manager is just totally unaware. We don't have any incentives correlating with how much effort we would put in to help him achieve his goal anyways, so as long as we follow his rules in his sight, we will still get paid our hourly wage.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Group Conflict

Disclaimer: I will use initials of any people described in this post.

Within the workplace, I can see conflict arise due to various reasons.  Many of the greatest highs and lows stem from our relationships with others.  Interpersonal strife can block progress and waste time.

In a previous blog post about team success, I mentioned how there is a supervisor named G at the campus hotel I work at who is notorious for not doing his job correctly or at all: counting the cash register, checking the registration cards, balancing the sales, etc.  Recently there was a case of a missing gift basket for a guest who never checked in and none of the employees would own up to it, when clearly someone from the hotel had taken it.  Eventually, it was discovered that one of my supervisors, L, had actually taken it home.  After deliberating, the manager decided not to fire him despite the drama he caused because he was indeed a good worker.  

This in turn led to other supervisors to naturally not like G and even L, who they actually liked before.  Others tend to simply not talk to them whatsoever. And so the group dynamic was quite unpleasant because of this incident also.  Therefore, there was much lack of communication from shift to shift, causing important information concerning lost items in the rooms, laundry needing to be sent out, or late check-outs, to become lost on the way.  This reminds me of the popular game of "Telephone" if you are familiar with it.  Anyways, you would think that these supervisors, who are all much above 40 years of age, would not be this immature about the situation.

After recognizing the cause of such problems, a month ago, the manager, W, decided to have a meeting with the supervisors.  From word of mouth, I heard that W basically told them they needed to not have such conflicts hinder the hotel's management.

Of course, it's not just the supervisors who make mistakes.  So do the students--myself of course included.  This is when the problem concerning mixed personalities. A, who is a fellow student co-worker, is very introverted.  When a problem arises, she tend to cover it up and relied on the supervisors to eventually find it and fix it.

At check-in, when students ask the guests for a credit card to authorize, they are supposed to swipe that card in the computer system in addition to the authorization.  This is done so that when guests check out without returning to the front desk, we have that card on file to charge.  Students forget sometimes, which is fine, but then they need to ask the guests to come back to the front desk to swipe it.  I believe A felt uncomfortable with that fact so she never did so.  At the time, we were not exactly sure who was creating the problem but a couple others and I witnessed it to be her.  This was probably the reason why the manager enforced the rule for employees to initial the registration cards whenever they checked anyone in.  While there is nothing wrong with being an introvert, it is quite hard to communicate to someone without talking to them.  Thus the extroverts of our group had to somehow deal with her and vice versa.

In contrast, there is one supervisor, who thinks she is the boss and just yells at workers like A.  She hardly lets students check guests in even when it would be more successful if she let them.  If a person lets their ego dominate, then the group can suffer.  I honestly do not think she has made improvements with this, and I am also not sure if the manager is aware of it, but the rest of the students are much well aware.

Overall, I feel that because of conflicting personalities, group conflicts can arise.  Like I said in the post mentioned above that I wrote a month ago, team members must agree on who will do particular jobs, how schedules will be set and adhered to, and what skilled need to be developed.  However, conflicts like these can ultimately be beneficial too because when a team encounters collisions, they have to go through the process of learning and acquiring the skills to help them overcome that problem if it arises again.  It requires leadership to stay focused on the goal which everyone is working towards.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Team Production vs Individual Production

Jonathan Haidt's "How to Get Rich to Share the Marbles" discusses how people are more likely to be willing to share their excess wealth with those who do not have an abundance if there is an indication of an equal contribution.  However, there are many times when people feel like they are doing separate tasks or more work and therefore, believe that their individual efforts should earn them a greater proportion of the reward.  Specifically, Haidt states that people do not feel entitled to shares by the "mere existence of inequality."  

An example that could coincide with this situation would concern the experience of living with my roommates.  I roomed with one of them my freshman and sophomore year.  I lived with another the summer after.  And the third I lived with my junior year.  So it is pretty neat to be living with all three of them under the same roof.  We get along most of the times, but when any inner resentment arises, it's about cleaning and cooking.

On weeks when we are all generally free, we try to set aside Thursday nights for our "roomie dinners."  We attempt to split up the work equally.  In this post, I'll refer to my roommates by their initials, R, Y, and H.  This may seem a little systematic but we all have different roles in the dinner creation.  Y, who has a car, usually gets the ingredients, and of course, we split the total.  H usually makes the dinner since she is the best cook out of all us.  R and I clean the dishes at the end or accompany H when she needs help.  This is done so that everyone feels that they are contributing and feels worthy of eating the food.  When all of us do our parts to help make the dinner, then we can all eat without feelings of bitterness.  And we hope to do this in the most efficient way possible.

There were a couple instances when some roommates did not follow through with their tasks, yet still felt that they rightfully deserved to eat the food.  For example, one time, Y was asked by her friend if she needed anything from Walmart, and thus, she gave the friend a grocery list and then he delivered it to our apartment as a generous favor.  With that in mind, you would assume that she would help out in other aspects such as cooking or cleaning, but she did not and did not feel at all apologetic for her lack of assistance.  I'm not sure how the others felt, but I definitely felt a little bitter.

Despite the silly and trivial example, we can learn a lot about teamwork.  Teamwork can be beneficial due to the division of labor effects, meaning two can produce more than twice the one.  In my case, one could accomplish the entire work, if necessary.  Sometimes, teamwork is crucial because specialized skill is required and not one person has all these required skills.  Thus, we would say that teamwork arises from the comparative advantage of the members.  We know that H is a better cook so she has that skill.  Although anyone can clean, I feel that R and I are the most time-efficient.  And obviously Y has privilege of owning a car for driving to the grocery store.

There is also the matter of fairness and what constitutes it.  It is easy to see what is entailed when work displays a horizontal division of the effort and each contributes the same share.  However, it is a bit more difficult to identify when members are not equally proficient.  Then there is the question whether fairness demands equal output, equal effort, or maybe a combination of the two.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Managing Future Income Risk

Having had immigrated from South Korea, my parents' had limited means of earning income, so they, as well as many other South Korean parents, decided to run a dry cleaning business. I do have an older sister who graduated with economics at Indiana University but because of our ten year age gap, I wasn't able to watch first-hand as she went through the process of choosing a major and finding a job. It is definitely a huge concern about how my decisions I make now will impact my future in regards to reducing my income risk. My choice to attend a good engineering school was partially motivated by my desire to get a professional job with a high salary so that my parents could retire early and to build financial security. I know that graduating with a degree in the college of engineering could alleviate some of that income risk.  
By huge surprise, I actually got accepted in the College of Engineering with a computer science major. Honestly, being the naive high schooler I was, it was unaware to me how difficult CS classes would be. The reason why I chose this major was simply because of CodeAcademy. I found it fun to complete the tasks and therefore I developed a huge interest in coding. Also, there was the fact that computer scientists are in high demand and Microsoft, Google, and Apple recruited many students from this school. Working at a company like this would easily help me fulfill my goal of my parents' early retirement in no time.
However after completing my first semester of difficult CS and math classes, my academic status already put me at probation. This was probably due to a combination of the countless hours of machine problems, homework, lack of time management, and too many distractions. After the first semester, I was already contemplating switching to a different major but my parents stressed to me how I needed to work harder and reminded me how I would definitely get offered a job right after I graduate. Thus, even though I hated my major, I stuck with it. I was actually off probation for a semester...but then I was back on it. And this time around my GPA was so low that I was on the verge of getting kicked out from the university, which really would put me at risk in the future. But after talking to my advisor, I was graciously given the chance to stay at U of I but I had to switch to a different college. And thus, here I am in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The reason why I chose economics as a new major was because it was too late to get into the College of Business with Accountancy, which was my original interest. So majoring in economics had to suffice in order for me to graduate on time, not have to pay more tuition and put myself more in debt. However, having taken several other economics courses, I've developed more enthusiasm for this major. Also with intention of reducing my income risk, I decided to concentrate in public health by taking some community health classes to set myself apart from other economics majors. My sister had informed me how health care administration was a good field to go into. Other approaches I took to manage income risk include internships and networking. By leveraging the people network through family members, I could vastly increase my chances of a good first job. It was disappointing to have lost so much money my freshmen and sophomore years from the engineering tuition rate which is quite a bit more than other colleges. This could have saved my family a couple thousand dollars in loans and reduced some income risk in the future. However, better late than never right?

Even as a senior, I still cannot give a precise answer when people ask me what I plan to do after college. Yet, I believe that everyone will figure out their way at some point. Another approach may even be to go to graduate school, but before that, I would definitely evaluate the benefits and risks.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Illinibucks is a concept that would permit students to have control over their personal priorities on campus.  Due to the overwhelming amount of individuals at this school, it is difficult to live with the highest convenience.  Many university functions are on a first come first serve or seniority basis.  If UIUC were to provide an allocation of Illinibucks, students would most likely utilize them for registering for classes, finding the closest parking spots, or choosing a room for next year's housing.

Personally, I would spend them to be guaranteed a quiet area to study--especially during exam seasons.  I can't say how many times I have walked inside a library at nighttime and walked around aimlessly for a good period of time looking for a secluded place to get some work done.  From experience, it seems that the busiest times are Sunday evenings.  I admit, I am one of those procrastinators so those are my prime times to study.  Furthermore, being someone who cannot study in their own dorm room or apartment, it truly is a difficult task to find somewhere peaceful and quiet with a desk and an outlet to keep my laptop charged.  Realizing the scarcity of good study spots on campus, I usually have to resort to staying at home tempted by the comfiness of my bed or the box of Oreos in the kitchen cabinet.

Often, I had thought about a hypothetical process of reserving study spaces according to, maybe, the time of our exams or the difficulty levels of the classes.  However, the usage of Illinibucks may just be as effective.  Let's assume that at the beginning of every semester, student were given 50 Illinibucks arbitrary to who was using them, meaning that students could give each other some of their own.  I believe a reasonable price to secure yourself a study spot would be 5-10 Illinibucks depending on the quality of the space—such as level of sound, accessibly to an outlet, lighting, etc.  Libraries, union lounges, or classrooms, should reserve a set number of seats—maybe 3-5 at each building—where Illinibucks could be spent.  The 5-10 Illinibucks would be the transfer price for any students who would use these reserved seats.

If the administered prices were to be too low, then these seats are similar to the free seats because then there will not be enough seats to be offered.  Students may come during the busier study times believing that they could spend their Illinibucks to guarantee themselves seats but encounter the opposite.  For these libraries, the union, or the classroom buildings, it will be presented meaningless to reserve seats, and as a result, they will be released to the public.  On the contrary, if the prices were to be higher, then more students would be unwilling to utilize their Illinibucks and choose to save them as a last resort.  Then, the seats are most likely to stay vacant, which is merely a waste.

I'd imagine the most amount of Illinibucks being spent during final exams.  Of course buildings tend to open up more rooms during this time, but the atmosphere might not be what the students prefer.  For example, in previous semesters, when I searched for a study spot at Ikenberry Commons, I could not find one despite two huge multipurpose rooms being made public.  If there were spots, it'd be next to other people and I personally prefer my own table/desk.  Therefore with Illinibucks in effect and the reserved study spots being at the optimal transfer price, I feel that I would never waste time searching for prime study spots ever again.