Scholarship took him from China to doctorate in Uppsala

10 June 2018

Yan Shao recently finished his PhD studies in computational linguistics at the Department of Linguistics and Philology.

Yan Shao was one of the first Chinese students to receive Anders Wall’s scholarship for a Master’s degree at Uppsala University. Back then he knew almost nothing about Sweden. Six years later, he has completed his doctorate and regards Uppsala as his second home.

What was it like to come to Uppsala from Beijing?
– Before I came here I didn’t really know so much about Uppsala, nor Sweden. It was quite an experience for me as Sweden is so different compared to China. I was very lucky to get the scholarship, which supported me to finish my Master’s program and continue as a PhD student.

How did you learn the language?
– I took basic Swedish courses at the university. I think the most challenging part is pronunciation. In terms of vocabulary and grammar, it’s not that hard. Compared to German, I think it’s much easier. It does require some effort, but I’m really interested in different languages and it was a nice learning experience.

When you applied for the scholarship, were you very interested in studying in another part of the world?
–Yes, when I finished my Bachelor’s studies in Beijing I thought it would be nice to study abroad, and that if I stayed in China I wouldn’t learn as much. I’ve learnt a lot in Sweden, both in terms of studies at the university and also outside the university among friends about Swedish culture. I think I will benefit a lot.

Did you know when you came here that you wanted to stay and do a PhD?
– No, I didn’t know. The Master programme was two years and when I finished I thought that maybe I could stay a little bit more. After two years I knew more about the country, my friends, teachers and professors here at the department. I thought it would be nice to do a PhD and since I got the opportunity I thought: Why not?

Your dissertation is about segmenting and tagging texts with computers. How can this be used?
– If we give a piece of text to a computer as a sequence of characters or numbers, it doesn’t really understand it. We need to segment the text into meaningful units and tag them with additional information, so that they can be used to build higher level applications, like machine translation or dialogue systems.

What will you do next?
– I think I will work in industry and very likely I will go back to China. I’ve studied natural language processing and artificial intelligence and I have better opportunities in China. For example, there are a lot of very big high-tech companies.

You have been in Uppsala for six years now. Do you like it here?
– Yes, I like it a lot. It feels like my second home town now. Six years is a short time, just a moment, in human history or for the university, but for humans that is not that short. We don’t have so many six-years-periods in our life and it’s a substantial amount of time. So, the time that I’ve had in Sweden will influence me a lot in my entire life.

Is there anything in particular that you have learnt here in Uppsala besides your studies?
– Yes, to be a little bit more abstract, understanding of life or how to enjoy life. In Sweden, many people try to seek for meaningful life outside of work. For example, they like to travel or stay close to the nature. We should learn from Sweden that life isn’t all about working.
– Also, Sweden is a highly developed country. Now that China is growing very fast, I think we can learn a lot from the Swedish social system and how cities here are organised.

Facts about the Anders Wall scholarship

  • The Anders Wall scholarship is awarded to students from China for undergraduate and graduate education at Uppsala University.
  • All fellowships cover the tuition fee for a program of 1–3 years.
  • The scholarship was first awarded in 2012.
  • Through the Anders Wall scholarship, a total of 90 people have been offered a place to study and 66 have already begun their studies.