Postdoctoral Fellow Li Gen: Serving Society Through Mental Health Research

After earning his PhD in 2021 from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Psychology, Li Gen joined the team of Brian Hall, Professor of Global Public Health at NYU Shanghai, as a postdoctoral fellow. For him, the choice was not only about working in an ideal research atmosphere but a way to put his ideas into practice by applying mental health research findings to real social problems.

Now halfway through his postdoctoral journey, Li Gen has been involved in several studies, conducted in-depth research on the mental health status of the Chinese public and participated in the design, implementation, and evaluation of localized mental health interventions. Recently, he shared with us his postdoctoral experience and research progress.


What attracted you to the postdoctoral program at NYU Shanghai?

My doctoral research focused more on the basic study of psychopathologies. As I worked more closely with my research participants, I gradually realized that in order to enhance the social impact and help more people, I needed to consider not only breakthroughs at the scientific level but also the application of my research. That’s why I turned to applied research.

I learned that Professor Brian Hall and his team had been working on the localization of digital mental health interventions developed in Western countries, which was my research interest. By the time I was about to graduate, I wanted to gain further academic skills through postdoctoral training, and Professor Hall happened to be building his own research team at NYU Shanghai. We hit it off immediately.

NYU Shanghai offers a broad platform for international academic communication and has close cooperation with other top universities in China. That creates ideal conditions for localized mental health studies in the Chinese context. In addition, the fusion of Chinese and Western cultures and the university’s inclusive atmosphere makes it an ideal workplace. 


How has your postdoctoral research experience been? What have you gained from it?

I do enjoy my time here as a postdoctoral fellow. The flexible workflow has enabled me to concentrate on my projects.

I had a great experience working with Professor Hall, who has always been supportive and encouraged me to speak up for help. The open, honest and egalitarian atmosphere has benefited me greatly and will influence the way I work with others in the future.

Professor Hall has offered me academic support and introduced many international research opportunities to me. In terms of research design and implementation, he always patiently explains the details and the rationales for each phase. He has given me support at every step along the way, from editing my research plan and draft papers to advising on grant applications.

My communication and coordination skills have improved. I took the role of a coordinator in many of the projects in which I communicated Professor Hall's ideas with our collaborators and coordinated from there. I have also gained mentoring experience by guiding undergraduate students at NYU Shanghai in different research projects. I know this will be helpful for my future career.


NYU Shanghai Center for Global Health Equity was established over the summer. How is it benefiting your team?

We aim to build a resource platform to better connect our university, other Chinese universities, and NYU’s global network. Every member will have access to shared resources to explore their research questions, exchange ideas, and design study projects together. Thanks to the shared research interests and complementary research skills of the members, the center will further collaborate across campuses and disciplinary areas.

I have gained opportunities to take part in international research collaborations thanks to the platform provided by the center. In a global study on the pandemic, I had the opportunity to work with some of the most prestigious scholars in the field of mental health, and received their direct guidance and opinions. This was a very rare and valuable experience for me.


Could you introduce the projects you’re working on?

Currently, we’re collaborating with the University of Macau on the localization of a digital mental health intervention to address depression among Chinese college students. The eight-week intervention tool was designed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Our team worked on the localization of the content and the promotion of the intervention. Through this study, we hope to understand the effectiveness of this intervention approach for students with symptoms of depression and the feasibility of scaling it up as a school-based service system in Chinese universities.

In addition, we have conducted research on the mental health impact of COVID-19. During the Shanghai lockdown earlier this year, we surveyed residents about their mental health status, such as whether they experienced anxiety, depression, and loneliness and then we examined potential social correlates, such as living spaces and social networks. Our team has also been in a global longitudinal survey on the mental health outcomes since the outbreak of the pandemic to understand the impact of COVID-19, based on a more diverse and representative sample.

Given my background in basic research, I am planning to add more psychopathological components to my research plan to further explore the psycho-behavioral mechanisms of the interventions. I think this research direction has great potential.