Yu earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1984 from Peking University, and went on to graduate studies in statistics at Berkeley, earning a masters degree in 1987 and a Ph.D. in 1990. After postdoctoral studies at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and an assistant professorship at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, she returned to Berkeley as a faculty member in 1993, was tenured in 1997, and became Chancellor's Professor in 2006. She also worked at Bell Labs from 1998 to 2000, while on leave from Berkeley, and has held visiting positions at several other universities. She chaired the statistics department at Berkeley from 2009 to 2012, and since 2012 is president-elect of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics.
Yu is a fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the IEEE, the American Statistical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences. In 2012, she was the Tukey Lecturer of the Bernoulli Society for Mathematical Statistics and Probability.
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- Newly elected members, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, April 2013, retrieved 2013-04-24.