NYU Shanghai Grants First Tenure Awards to Neuroscience, Physics Faculty Members

NYU Shanghai granted its first-ever academic tenure this winter to two faculty members, Associate Professor of Neural and Cognitive Sciences Tian Xing and Associate Professor of Physics Tim Byrnes. Tian and Byrnes are NYU Shanghai’s first-ever “home grown” professors, having been first hired as assistant professors and completed the rigorous tenure assessment process to achieve the rank of associate professor with tenure. Assistant Professor of Physics Pilkyung Moon also received approval of his tenure application earlier this week, and will become associate professor with tenure in September 2022.


“Tian Xing, Tim Byrnes, and Pilkyung Moon are beginning to gain international recognition in their respective disciplines of Neuroscience and Physics, and their academic record suggests that they are well on their way to fulfilling the promise they showed when they first joined NYU Shanghai. I warmly congratulate all of them on their achievement,” said Provost Joanna Waley-Cohen.


Academic tenure at a university grants a professor an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or in extraordinary circumstances. In common with other research universities in the United States, NYU Shanghai’s tenure review process evaluates a faculty member’s full body of work across six years, including publications, grants and awards, other indicators of scholarly achievement, quality of teaching, quality of student mentorship, and contributions to a variety of university programs and initiatives. Tenure review committees also request detailed evaluations from five or six leading international scholars from outside NYU in each faculty member’s field, which helps ensure that a tenure candidate meets or exceeds the highest international standards. The resulting report is reviewed by a committee of senior scholars from across the NYU Global Network, and all tenure decisions must be approved by both the NYU Shanghai Vice Chancellor and the NYU Provost.


Tian Xing: Advancing Neuroscience Across Disciplinary Boundaries


Associate Professor of Neural and Cognitive Sciences Tian Xing joined NYU Shanghai in January 2015 after serving for six years as a Postdoctoral Fellow at NYU, where he worked closely with David Poeppel, Professor of Neuroscience at NYU and Director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics.


Although NYU Shanghai was only two years old at the time, Tian says that the university’s clear role as a bridge between the U.S. and China convinced him it was the ideal place to teach and conduct his research on the cognitive neural mechanisms of human speech and language, including the motor control and perceptual interactions related to language formation. In the last seven years, Tian's research team has grown gradually from a single member – himself -- to a team of nearly 20 people, including postdoctoral researchers, doctoral candidates, and undergraduate students.


Tian has been a key member of the NYU-ECNU (East China Normal University) Institute of Brain and Cognitive Science at NYU Shanghai, where he has collaborated closely with neuroscientists at both universities, particularly ECNU Professor of Psychology Cai Qing. Tian credits NYU Shanghai’s special relationship to its founding partner universities with solving a major issue faced by scientists in almost every field around the globe – finding colleagues who share research interests, but who have complementary disciplinary backgrounds, research directions, and techniques.


With start-up funding, site selection, and equipment procurement from NYU Shanghai – Tian and Cai were able to establish the Speech, Language and Neuroscience Group (SLANG) to conduct interdisciplinary research. Tian also helped build the NYU Shanghai-ECNU Joint Graduate Training Program (NET) for local doctoral and masters students, which together with the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Science and the NYU Center for Neural Science helped SLANG recruit a talented and diverse team of young researchers. In 2019, Tian was named a Young Changjiang Scholar by the Chinese Ministry of Education in 2019. He currently serves on four journal editorial boards and is a reviewer for both the National Science Foundations in both the United States and China.


Tian said he is looking forward to finding new ways to raise the level of both his own research and the university’s academic achievements.  


“I feel a deep connection to NYU Shanghai,” Tian says. “NYU Shanghai gave me the freedom to set my own research goals and to pursue them without distractions. With tenure as a new beginning, I hope I can promote broader and more valuable teaching and research achievements in the vibrant and opportunity-rich environment at NYU Shanghai.”


Tim Byrnes: Pushing Physics into New Frontiers


Associate Professor of Physics Tim Byrnes also joined NYU Shanghai in spring 2015, arriving at the university after spending more than 10 years conducting research in quantum information as an assistant professor and postdoctoral researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Information Science and as a researcher at the University of Tokyo.


Byrnes says he was drawn to NYU Shanghai’s unique blend of the international, world-class academic resources provided by NYU and new opportunities for research breakthroughs in quantum information technology enabled by China’s booming development. The university had also just established the NYU-ECNU Institute of Physics at NYU Shanghai in 2014. The new institute’s focus on theoretical and experimental research in the frontier areas of laser spectroscopy, quantum matter, quantum information, and precision measurements also closely aligned with Byrnes' research interests.


Byrnes knew that he wanted to start an experimental quantum technology lab to delve into questions at the frontiers of physics -- including quantum information technology, condensed matter physics, and AMO (atomic, molecular, and optical) physics -- but he wasn't sure if he could get support for the idea. “Setting up an experimental lab is… not something that can be done by one person with just a pen and paper and a computer. It's a long, costly, complicated process,” Byrnes said.


But just one year later, physics institute member and director of ECNU’s State Key Laboratory of Precision Spectroscopy Wu Jian helped Byrnes to establish the brand new Quantum Technology Laboratory within the key lab. Over the course of the quantum lab’s six-year history, Byrnes’ research has attracted students and postdoctoral researchers to Shanghai from all over the world, and he has guided a large number of young researchers in collaborations with several of the world's top physicists.


Byrnes attributes his lab and his team’s ability to flourish in part to close institutional collaborations with NYU and ECNU that are unique to NYU Shanghai, as well as to NYU Shanghai’s can-do approach to the thorny and often unprecedented problems that can bog down innovative research.  


“It's great to work in an environment like NYU Shanghai, where when there's a problem, people will sit down with me to seek a solution together,” Byrnes said. “There’s no shortage of people that I felt I could ask for guidance or inspiration. There are a lot of people here who are genuinely interested in learning about different kinds of disciplines, and because we are a relatively small school, you can talk to people from different research backgrounds quite easily.”


With the support of the university community and the security provided by his tenure award, Byrnes says he feels confident that his and his team’s work will be able to work toward groundbreaking new ideas about the nature of the world around us and how human society can harness those properties to improve our world.


“What I really want to do is to make huge scientific breakthroughs that will change the face of society, humanity and the world. That's what we are trying to do in my lab.”