Creating impact through research | SMU Newsroom

SMU’s high quality and rigorous research is internationally-recognised and has contributed significantly to our standing as a premier university. Our research has resulted in knowledge creation, dissemination, and application in ways that are relevant and responsive to the changing needs of individuals, organisations, and societies.

In conjunction with the International Women’s Day 2022, we would like to celebrate the research achievements of our women faculty, and have selected two from among our many outstanding female researchers for this story.

Professor Jiang Jing – School of Computing and Information Systems

Prof Jiang Jing is a respected researcher and academic in natural language processing (NLP), a key subfield of Artificial Intelligence that aims to understand human languages using computational methods. She has investigated broadly on the applied side of NLP, proposing new solutions based on principled machine learning models to problems in a range of areas including information extraction, topic modelling, sentiment analysis, social media analysis, and most recently question answering.

Prof Jiang said, “A central concern that motivated my selection of research problems is that I see a prevalent and pressing need in real-world applications for advanced language technologies to quickly discover trends and patterns and to accurately extract knowledge from the huge amount of textual data surrounding us today. To address this pressing need, I have developed novel solutions to push the state of the art of language technologies.”

A current topic she is researching on is the study of AI models especially for visual and verbal question-answer systems. This is necessary to enable machines to work together with people interactively through natural communications for joint problem solving.

Prof Jiang has published over 100 papers, many in top-tier conferences and journals. This is evidenced by the more than 14,500 citations listed on Google Scholar, corresponding to an H-index of 45, which would be termed as “outstanding”

One example is “Improving Multi-hop Knowledge Base Question Answering by Learning Intermediate Supervision Signals”. Published in 2021, the paper has received twenty times more citations than other similar papers.

This paper deals with the problem of answering questions using knowledge stored in so-called “knowledge graphs”, which store entities such as people and organisations together with their relations such as “X is the CEO of company Y and company Y was acquired by company Z”. Although answering straightforward questions such as “who is the CEO of Google” is relatively easy, when a question is longer and involves multiple relations, such as “who is the founder of the company that was first acquired by Google,” the task becomes much more complex, requiring more computation and producing less accurate results because of the propagated errors through multiple steps of reasoning. From the machine learning standpoint, the major technical challenge here is the lack of supervision signals at intermediate steps.

To address this challenge, Prof Jiang and her team adopt the curriculum learning framework and propose a novel teacher-student approach for the multi-hop knowledge base question answering task. In their approach, the student network aims to find the correct answer to the question, while the teacher network tries to learn intermediate supervision signals for improving the reasoning capacity of the student network. The main novelty lies in the design of the teacher network, where we utilise both forward and backward reasoning to enhance the learning of intermediate entity distributions. By considering bidirectional reasoning, the teacher network can produce more reliable intermediate supervision signals, which can alleviate the issue of spurious reasoning. Extensive experiments on three benchmark datasets have demonstrated the effectiveness of our approach on the Knowledge Base Question Answering task.

She has also chaired and spoken at various academic conferences, such as being a keynote speaker at the International Conference on Computational Linguistics and Intelligent Text Processing in 2018.

In a global study by Stanford University in 2020, Prof Jiang was recognised as among the top 2% of scientists in the world in the field of Artificial Intelligence & Image Processing.

Her other accolades include:

  • 2021 Singapore 100 Women in Tech List
  • ECIR 2021 Test of Time Award at the 2021 European Conference on Information Retrieval (ECIR) for her co-authored paper titled “Comparing Twitter and Traditional Media Using Topic Models,” published at ECIR 2011.
  • WSDM 2020 Test of Time Award at the 2020 ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM) for her co-authored paper titled “TwitterRank: Finding topic-sensitive influential Twitters,” published at WSDM 2010.
  • Lee Kuan Yew Fellowship for Research Excellence, Singapore Management University, 2020.
  • Lee Kong Chian Fellowship, Singapore Management University, 2017.

Besides her teaching responsibilities, Prof Jiang was Deputy Director of the Living Analytics Research Centre (LARC) conducting research on large-scale data analytics to support Singapore’s Smart Nation initiatives. She is currently Director of the Artificial Intelligence & Data Science Cluster of the School of Computing and Information Systems.

At LARC, Prof Jiang and her team focused on social sensing and question answering. Some of the research projects include:

(1) Developing several question answering algorithms which achieved state-of-the-art performance on benchmark datasets. Papers documenting these algorithms have also received many citations.

(2) Collaborating with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) to study sentiments observed in Singapore’s online social media space. Studies done included the analysis of online sentiments after Prime Minister’s National Day Rally Speech and analysis of Singapore online users’ social media consumption patterns to help IPS study online falsehoods.

(3) Working with the Municipal Services Office (MSO) to study the feasibility of using online social media to gather citizen feedback in real time.

(4) Working with Professor Paulin Straughan on an AISG 100 Experiment project that tries to use AI to predict dating preferences. This is in collaboration with a Singapore-based company providing dating services in the region.

“Looking ahead, I plan to continue my research in a few directions that I believe will push the frontiers of NLP. A promising direction to enhance AI’s capabilities to communicate and collaborate with humans is multimodal interactions, combining vision, speech, text and other modalities of communication channels to enable human-like interactions between machines and humans. Our understanding of fusing different modalities of signals for reasoning and prediction such as answering questions expressed in language based on information contained in images is still highly limited, despite the progress made in recent years. Another fundamentally important direction is to develop explainable NLP and AI models, which is critical for identifying limitations with existing deep learning models and injecting higher-level intelligence into AI,” Prof Jiang added.

Associate Professor Angela Leung – School of Social Sciences

Dr. Angela Leung is Associate Professor of Psychology at the Singapore Management University. Her publications have appeared in top-tier journals including American Psychologist, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Journal of Environmental Psychology.

“My research is motivated by the goal of transforming complex, contradictory, and challenging issues into opportunities so that people and society can thrive. As a psychologist, I deeply embrace the belief that our mindset is a powerful lens through which to see the world. The problem is not the problem, but the way we see the problem. This belief can have profound impacts on our psychological and physical wellness. My programme of research seeks to enrich understanding of how our mindset or mental frame makes sense of personal and societal challenges, and the downstream differential consequences of being impaired versus enriched by the accompanying conflicts and tensions. I truly believe in the saying “with challenges comes opportunities” and I exemplify this belief in my life and research pursuits.”

“I started working on this exciting topic by studying how people’s intercultural contact or multicultural exposure can offer opportunities for inspiring creativity amidst the challenge of culture shock. More recently, I seek to bring this research to the next level by examining how paradox management can benefit career-motherhood enrichment, social innovation, mixed emotion regulation, perspective-taking, and tension coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond examining these conflicting and challenging experiences of individuals, a societal challenge addressed in my research is climate change and sustainability. I am keen to enrich the climate change literature with a cultural psychological perspective. For example, my research showed how espousing a cosmopolitan or global orientation can promote environmental consciousness. With my collaborator, we have just embarked on a new line of research to examine how to promote a higher public acceptance towards alternative proteins, such as cultured meat and plant-based proteins, as these novel foods present an invaluable opportunity to achieve more sustainable and potentially healthier food consumption.”

A recent piece of her research is “Research on climate change in social psychology publications: A systematic review” published in the Asian Journal of Social Psychology in 2021. This paper systematically reviewed 130 studies on climate change or global warming published in social psychological journals. Although social psychologists have contributed to climate change and sustainability research, the review identified some important gaps in this literature.

These gaps include weak presence of authors and data from non-Western, developing, and non-democratic societies, lack of cross-cultural comparisons, reliance on young samples recruited from online data collection platforms, and over-emphasis on individual processes (as opposed to societal and institutional factors).

“Given the underrepresentation of Asian and more diverse populations, one important gap to fill is to promote more cross-cultural understanding of how people react to and interpret climate change. According to report published in 2020, the Asia Pacific region alone accounts for more than half of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to the rest of the world, Asia Pacific has the highest growth rate of carbon missions between 2008 and 2018.”

“It is a pressing agenda for climate change research to broaden the data pool. This is a global crisis that requires collaborative initiatives from different countries in the world, such as the Paris Agreement. In addition, we need to understand not only the individuals’ psychological processes, but also the influence of the sociocultural and institutional contexts, to manage this global societal challenge.”

Prof Leung is the director of her research lab, MC3 Lab (Motivated Cognition, Culture, and Creativity Lab), and she also mentors her PhD, masters, and undergraduate thesis students to carry out empirical research of their interest. Members of her research team have prolific publication records and have won numerous research awards and external grants.

She is the Lee Kong Chian Fellow in 2020-21, 2019-20 and 2017-18 and the Lee Foundation Fellow for Research Excellence in 2009-10. She has received the Seisoh Sukemune/Bruce Bain Encouragement of Early Career Research Award (International Council of Psychologists, 2013), the Award for Research Excellence (Singapore Management University, 2009), and the first honourable mention for the Otto Klineberg Intercultural and International Relations Prize (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, 2009).

Prof Leung has been awarded several external grants as co-PI, including the MOE Tier 2 Grant (2021), Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment’s SG Eco Fund (2021), MOE Tertiary Education Research Fund (2021), and the Chinese Arts and Culture Research Grant Scheme under the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (2020).

Prof Leung has edited two books on the psychological science of culture: Cultural processes: A social psychological perspective published by the Cambridge University Press in 2010 and Handbook of culture and creativity: Basic processes and applied innovations published by the Oxford University Press in 2018.

She is currently Associate Editor of the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Asian Journal of Social Psychology. Since last year, Prof Leung and two other editors of the Asian Journal of Social Psychology started a brand-new initiative called AJSP Editors Podcast. Available for subscription on Castos, Google, and Spotify, this podcast series aims to introduce publications in the journal and offer insights regarding the conduct and publication of social psychological research to the global community freely.

Prof Leung has also contributed actively to the research community by co-organising conferences and workshops, and serving in the programme boards, programme committees, steering committees, and editorial boards of many top-tier and leading conferences and journals. For example, she has delivered a keynote speech about the cultural psychology of sustainable living to the Chinese Psychology Conference in 2021 and invited talks at the Academy of Management Meeting in 2018 and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference in 2019.

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