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Liu Yang: It Is Worth The Effort to See The Big World

Among the 39 candidates awarded the 2018 Google PhD Fellowship in North America, Europe, and the Middle East, 8 were Chinese and Liu Yang who graduated in 2013 from Tianjin University’s School of Computer Science and Technology was one of them. The Google PhD student program was established in 2009 to honor outstanding doctoral students in computer science and related disciplines. The Google PhD Fellowship must be submitted by eligible schools (students may not apply directly), and each school can nominate only two doctoral students, leading to fierce competition.

Liu Yang is currently studying for a doctoral degree in natural language processing at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. He earned his master's degree from the Institute of Computational Linguistics, Peking University. He has published 6 papers in top computer conferences such as ACL (Association for Computational Linguistics), EMNLP (Empirical Methods on Natural Language Processing), and AAAI (American Association for Artificial Intelligence) and acts as a peer reviewer for conferences such as ACL, EMNLP,  NAACL (North American Chapter of the ACL), and EACL (European Chapter of the ACL).

Work Hard To Avoid Being Powerless

Liu Yang's father is a university teacher who teaches computer science. Under his father's influence, Liu Yang has had a keen interest in computers since childhood. After entering Tianjin University's School of Computer Science and Technology, Liu Yang worked very hard. “I spent most of my free time studying" Hard work brought a big harvest. For all four years, his academic scores have been among the best of his class.

At the beginning of his senior year, Liu Yang took the path of scientific research and studied under Professor He Ruifang at the Computer Institute. However, it was a trying course. The experiment required him to design algorithms, which obliged him to learn linear algebra and probability theory on his own. To understand English documents, he also had to improve his English. Once it took him three months to write an English thesis that was published on the World Wide Web. In addition to scientific research, Liu Yang also worked as a student reporter and participated in many social groups. “I was spinning around all the time in my college life. Sometimes, people would ask me, why do you exert yourself so much?  I ask myself the same question and the answer is that I want to avoid feeling powerless as much as possible. This precept keeps me moving forward" Liu said.

Man Should Spend Time on Their True Passion

“The world is so big and it poses many unsolved mysteries. I would like to be a part of solving some of them.” Bearing this idea in mind, Liu Yang went abroad to the United Kingdom to further his education. When he was studying for his doctoral degree, however; he felt lost for quite a while since he thought the issue he was working on was meaningless and with no prospect. He had thought about changing his research subject, but was reluctant to give up halfway. “I was in a mess those days.” Liu recalled. Then his mentor Prof. Mirella Lapata learnt about his confusion, he talked to him and asked him to find out where his true passion lay and waste no time on pursuing his dream.

Liu Yang liked reading linguistic books in his spare time. From his perspective, people use languages to communicate with each other every day, and create new vocabulary from time to time. But how are languages structured? How do people process and understand languages? How do people convert their thoughts into language? He commented that there was no sound and clear explanation for these questions yet, and realized that this is where his true interests and passion lay Based on these thoughts, Liu Yang reviewed the current research situation and decided to study the structure of natural language rather than the textual analysis of it. His research intended to enable the computer to look for the abstract of the article, find out the structure of it and express the structure through tree structure. In this way, the computer will gain a better ability to model language and this technology can also be applied to other projects. Although it took Liu Yang a large amount of time to read theses and learn to write papers and do experiments in this area, the result was quite satisfactory and Liu was determined to continue. “I sincerely advise college students to spend time on their true passion.” He said.

Liu Yang is keen on travelling as well. He even set a goal for himself when working on his PhD degree-- to travel all over Europe. “I have seen Paris, Barcelona, Munich and Prague. There are many countries in Europe and every place has its own characteristics. Indeed, the world is big and it is worth our effort to see it.”

By Zhang Yimeng & Song Xuechen

Editors: Yin Wei & Doris Harrington