NYU Shanghai Sends First Post-Doctoral Associate to NYU Research Showcase

At the showcase
Apr 25 2019

NYU Shanghai hit another milestone this spring when it sent its first post-doctoral associate to the NYU Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Research Showcase in New York City on April 24.

Zhang Linmin, a post-doctoral associate working in the NYU-ECNU Institute of Brain and Cognitive Science at NYU Shanghai, presented her research on formal semantics and psycho-/neuro-linguistics. The showcase is NYU’s premiere doctoral research event of the year, featuring presentations from eight of the university network’s top scholars. This will be the first time NYU Shanghai has sent a candidate to the showcase since the university started its graduate and postdoctoral programs.


Zhang has been conducting research at NYU Shanghai since January 2018, focusing on the ways humans compose and decipher language and compose sentences, especially language meanings encoded in natural language. At the showcase, she presented her findings on the order of composing complex sentences. The presentation focused on sentences like “Mary is taller than exactly two boys.” and how number information combines with other information in a complex sentence.

Zhang uses linguistics, neuroscience, and even computer science, to explore how people understand language and the world around them, said her adviser and NYU Shanghai Assistant Professor of Neural and Cognitive Sciences Tian Xing. This uniquely interdisciplinary approach made her a strong candidate to represent NYU Shanghai at the showcase, Tian said.

“Her research is impressive in the case that she combined a lot of different areas of knowledge and approaches to address this highly important and relevant question for why we work as human beings and how we can understand the world,” Tian said.

One goal of Zhang’s research on how humans form and understand language is to apply the findings to computers, to create artificial intelligence models that better understand language and can think as humans.

Zhang was chosen to represent the campus from a field of 25 NYU Shanghai post-doctoral fellows, said Assistant Dean of Graduate and Advanced Education Eric Mao. “Our graduate and post-doc population has been steadily growing over the years and now seemed like a nice point in time to highlight the exceptional research being done by these groups,” he said.

Since the university’s first year, NYU Shanghai’s post-doc ranks have grown from an average of two candidates to a pool of 20-25 per year, with even more expected to join in the coming years.  

Zhang has a long history with NYU, having received her Ph.D. in linguistics from NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science in 2016.  Since arriving in Shanghai, Zhang has taught an undergraduate seminar on natural language meanings that draws from theoretical linguistics, cognitive neuroscience, and computer science.

With a background in both neuroscience and linguistics, Zhang had the perfect combination of skills to join the institute and aid it in its research, Tian said. “In this program, we form a team that consists of a lot of computer scientists and cognitive neuroscientists,” Tian said. “We were short of one key person that understands linguistics and neuroscience, and it was natural for me to think of her.”

Zhang said she is excited to share her research and experience with the NYU global community. The showcase, she said, will be a good chance to talk with more academics and the public about the work at the institute and the importance of linguistics in understanding the world.

“I hope that my participation at the showcase shows that we are doing exciting research at NYU Shanghai,” Zhang said. “I want to let people know that some really small fields like formal semantics are doing exciting things that will shed light on other things, like for cognitive neuroscience and how to build machine models so that computers can reason through our language like we do.”