Meet The Women Of The Blockchain: Dr Gina C Pieters, Lecturer at the Economics Department at the University of Chicago
“I take my role as an educator and a mentor seriously and try to bring balance into the conversation about cryptocurrencies and blockchains. I have volunteered my time to local organizations to explain cryptocurrencies and blockchain to their members. People think that most Bitcoin investors are young Millennials, but there are a substantial number of retired folks interested as well. I personally think it’s great for people to get involved in this space as long as they have a clear understanding of the risk involved. I also encounter people who think that cryptocurrencies are only used by criminals and should be banned because they have no redeeming economic value: another false narrative I try to correct.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Gina C. Pieters. Dr. Pieters is a Lecturer at the Economics Department at the University of Chicago, and an honorary Research Fellow at the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance at the University of Cambridge. She has been conducting research into cryptocurrencies and DLT since 2014, and has presented on the topic in Central Banks and academic conferences around the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve lived in South Africa, New Zealand, and now the USA. I graduated from high school in Los Angeles during the dot-com crash, and got my undergraduate degree in physics at UC Santa Cruz (across the hill from Silicon valley). Given these experiences, it’s probably not too surprising that interest is the impact of technology systems across international markets.
I ultimately got my PhD in Economics studying pricing behavior across countries. In 2012 I moved to South Texas, where I soon encountered international students who were telling me stories about how they were using Bitcoin. I got curious.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
One project I’m working on shows that we can use Bitcoin prices to detect manipulation of exchange rates. In another, I’m examining the extent that various countries are involved in cryptocurrency markets. None of my findings will surprise people who have been in this space for a while, but it does allow me to puncture both the extremes of hype and fear-mongering we sometimes encounter.
I’ve also recently completed a report with the CCAF (Centre for Alternative Finance) with a large group of co-authors. We each brought our particular experience to the table to try and find a systematic why to analyze and categorize DLT systems. It was a great learning experience.
Recently, I’ve begun sending out tweet-storms summarizing academic papers in the cryptocurrency/DLT space. That’s been a blast, and interesting to do. Academics papers tend to be pretty dense and written for the in-crowd, so moving it into a public-education space has been really fun.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why? What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
I’ve grouped 4 things into broad categories, rather than 5 specific items. The primary thing that simultaneously excites and worries me is the ability to connect people around the world without government regulation, censorship or intermediation by a monopoly company. Assassination contracts on Auger are bad. The ability for political refugees to upload their wealth without intervention from a bad government is good.
I am also very excited to see the new wave of entrepreneurship and business models emerging from DLT technology and what that implies for global development. I am worried that there is too much hype, and only superficial understanding of both the benefits and costs of DLT which could cause entrepreneurship to crash and cause businesses and investors to retreat from this space.
I’m really looking forward to seeing the next wave of improvements to improve scalability of DLT. I am concerned that the trade-off will be increased centralization in subtle aspects of the DLT system in ways that people don’t appreciate until the system is fully adopted and embedded.
I am both looking forward to, and am concerned about, the disruption to the financial industry that DLT and cryptocurrencies could represent. There are many artificial monopolies and inefficiencies in the financial industry, and getting rid of those would benefit any economy. I am concerned that some of the things that people mistakenly think of as inefficiencies are actually rules put into place protect the economy, and the consumers who deal with the financial system. I don’t think anyone has a good plan yet on how to update the protective rules once you have a truly decentralized system in place.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I take my role as an educator and a mentor seriously and try to bring balance into the conversation about cryptocurrencies and blockchains.
I have volunteered my time to local organizations to explain cryptocurrencies and blockchain to their members. People think that most Bitcoin investors are young Millennials, but there are a substantial number of retired folks interested as well. I personally think it’s great for people to get involved in this space as long as they have a clear understanding of the risk involved. I also encounter people who think that cryptocurrencies are only used by criminals and should be banned because they have no redeeming economic value: another false narrative I try to correct.
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
Get comfortable with applied math and data analysis. There are a lot of people who can talk, but knowing how to parse data and equations is still a surprisingly rare skill. There is a false belief that these skills are something you have or don’t have: that is false. You develop these skills over time and with practice. By the way: I very intentionally state the importance of applied math. Many math courses are not well taught or structured — they emphasize an easy-to-grade paint-by-numbers approach. Find a class that applies math to something.
Research is a long-haul, iterative process. You will spend months working on a research paper. For it to count as a research paper, it needs to be something nobody has done or asked before — — there is no answer key to make sure you have found the true answer. It’s a lot of fun, but you also need to be very good about structuring your time, and not being afraid to make mistakes and show other people you work to get feedback.
Know your strengths and skills, and be flexible in applying them. In particular, look where people with your skills are NOT, and see if there is anything there for you to do.