Tsinghua IMAP: Psychology+ Artificial Intelligence of Innovation

Program Overview

The International Master of Applied Psychology Program (IMAP) is an international program committed to training new international psychology talents majoring in Engineering Psychology, especially for those are interested in Ergonomics, Social Psychology and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and User Experience, in line with the development needs of science and technology of China, countries along the Belt and Road and other Western Developed Countries.

Oriented with “practical skills”, IMAP focuses on imparting theory and practice of research related to Engineering Psychology and User Experience to students, developing students’ practical skills, while cultivates students’ ability in psychology, design, data processing and business thinking, etc. As such, it enables students to establish their own practical fields, and cultivate students to become all-round and versatile talents with international vision and professional skills.

Founded in 2020, the program focuses on combining psychology and cutting-edge technologies, including AI, to provide psychologists with cutting-edge technological skills on a global scale. During two to three years of study, students in the IMAP program will receive academic training related to psychology and computer science and have chances to develop their practical skills through various internship opportunities.

Following the trend:

Combining psychology and technology

Zhang Dan, deputy chair and associate professor of the Department of Psychology at Tsinghua University, says the IMAP program is driven mainly by the “great need to combine psychology and technology” in the 21st century global economy.

“For the past three thousand years, people have been using machines as tools,” Zhang said. “But in recent decades, this has changed. Machines have human-like abilities and can have conversations with real humans. We need to know how to train and treat machines … to make them interact with people.” And this is where psychology is an indispensable component of the economic calculus, Zhang explained.

“In this case, psychology is strongly connected to artificial intelligence and other technologies,” he said. “That’s why it’s vital to bring them together and see how we can make a good combination.”

Aiming to provide multidisciplinary academic training around psychology, the IMAP program includes courses from areas, such as applied psychology, computer science, and industrial engineering, under the cooperation of the Department of Psychology and other schools and departments at Tsinghua University.

Apart from taking introductory courses related to psychology, such as psychological statistics and research methods, students can also learn about big data research methods from the Department of Computer Science and Technology, research human aviation factors with the School of Aerospace Engineering, and study human-computer interaction (HCI) and automotive design from the School of Vehicle and Mobility.

With the focus on machine learning and human-computer interaction, IMAP participants “are exposed to different disciplines like the major areas acquired from the society,” said Stephen Ma, a Singaporean student in the IMAP program. He said the unique integration of different disciplinary subjects is what attracted him to the program.

“The uniqueness of our IMAP program is about not only learning psychology but also spreading out to different disciplines so we can help to perfect AI or computer engineering [machine learning],” said Ma.

For instance, he mentioned a course where an HCI program was designed to be responsive to the user’s emotional state. By integrating the psychological side to this program, “it does not just give us a logical response, but also gives us the response based on what you currently feel and tailors to your emotional need,” said Ma. By doing this, Ma and his teammates used psychological knowledge to “aid the programmers or AI developers to make the AI more human-like.”

Students in the program can also team up with students in other schools or departments. Ca-Ryn Wong, a second-year student in the IMAP program, talked about the experience of working with computer science students to design computer-based products.

“With our background in psychology, it’s easier for us to know what is useful and how to research user experience,” said Wong. According to Wong, the courses in psychology and other disciplines allow the students in the IMAP program to “think deeply on how to improve the user experience apart from just the technical part of it.”

More than mere knowledge:

Providing practical chances

Besides academic courses, the IMAP program provides students with substantial practical opportunities. As a program focusing on nurturing students’ practical skills, the IMAP program requires its students to take internships for more than four weeks.

The program has collaborated with companies in related areas, including leading companies such as Intel and Microsoft, as well as local technology companies in China, such as ByteDance, to give students internship opportunities, according to Professor Zhang.

“Many of my classmates and previous cohorts are engaged in internship programs. There are plenty of work opportunities for us,” said Ma. Famous companies such as Microsoft, Huawei, and Tencent are popular internship destinations for students.

Moreover, by combining psychology with other disciplines, the IMAP program provides students with broader choices for future work. “IMAP broadened my horizon in the vocational decision,” said Ma. He underscored how interdisciplinary learning in IMAP has helped him to diversify his job opportunities.

Graduates from the IMAP program will have opportunities not only to work in traditional roles such as HR, marketing, and business management but also to work in technology companies to help AI programmers to implement more human-like products, Ma noted. “I think there are many choices for me to engage in the future,” he said. “I’m currently searching for an opportunity in Microsoft and Huawei. Once I graduate, I will apply for one of these positions.”

Wong said the program had brought various opportunities for her, too. She already has an offer from BYD Co. Ltd to work as a senior researcher. The IMAP program exposes her to a wide range of opportunities in China, “especially when it’s quite tough for foreigners to find a job here,” she said.

Global perspective:

Bridging China and the world

Another motivation for establishing the IMAP program was to nurture talents in related areas for China and the world under the Belt and Road Initiative, according to Professor Zhang. “We are facing challenges and opportunities here during the rapid development of technology, especially in an internet-based country such as China. It’s a perfect starting point to have a program like this in China,” said Zhang.

Students of the IMAP program are provided with chances to learn more about China. For example, they are encouraged to interact and communicate with Chinese students in the Master of Applied Psychology (MAP) program of the same department, through which they can learn more about Chinese culture.

As an international program, the IMAP program is about getting to know not only about China but also about the world. The program now includes students from 17 countries, including Western countries such as the U.S. and Canada and developing countries such as Pakistan and Turkey.

Ma mentioned that students in the program are taking advantage of both Western and Eastern teaching methods, emphasizing the benefits of studying in the IMAP’s active learning environment.

Every student takes a leadership role in the class, and the professor gives a brief recommendation or opinion. To do their presentation for the course and raise a question, students should look through the related papers by themselves. During the active discussion in the classroom, they find their problem, engaging in critical thinking.

“We are not just taking notes and listening to what the professor says,” Ma remarked. He stressed that integrating Western and Eastern learning environments creates a synergy in the classroom.

Looking to the future,

training the master

Technological advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning will soon accelerate, with AI products like ChatGPT, Baidu’s Ernie Bot, and Google’s new AI software changing the way people think about artificial intelligence worldwide.

The development of AI aligns with the objective of this program, Ma said. Wong said computer and human interaction is a thing that cannot be separated these days because they have to evolve constantly according to what is happening in the market.

“For instance, when talking about chatbots that solve customer service issues, it’s mainly about how much people trust a chatbot to solve the problem. In this case, user experience becomes even more important,” Wong said.

The IMAP program allows her to look further into the business value and how the collaboration between psychology and AI will enhance the use of science and technology. “The course helps build a complete overview of what technology can do in an actual scenario,” she said.

According to Professor Zhang, there is an increasing need for professionals with psychological backgrounds and technological skills in the job market. International companies such as BMW and Volkswagen and local internet-based companies, including TikTok, Sina, and Tencent, seek students who know about technology and user experience.

“Not only do we need technology, but we also need to create good user experience,” Zhang said. “People with only a tech background know nothing about human experience and how to optimize it. So, we are confident here. We are already seeing promising skills from our students. Some students are planning to go back to their own country and to do startup companies to bring new direction to their country.”


With next year’s admissions process already underway, the director has high expectations for the incoming class of students. The program is expecting to enroll a group of participants who “have curiosity for new technology, have passion for the future, and be active thinkers about how to change the world,” Zhang said.

Source: Tsinghua Graduate School 

Editor: Guo Lili 

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