Westlake News PEOPLE

Yinghao Yang: Always Prepared for the Next Move

09, 2023

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It was the last round of round-robin in the scientific reality and talent show The Brain, and the Water team still hadn’t managed to score.

Everyone was holding their breath for the last move, as it was  14-year-old Yinghao Yang’s turn. And he scored three times within 5 minutes.

Yang became an overnight sensation on The Brain.

The show aired in March 2018, around the time when Westlake University received the approval of the Ministry of Education of China and started to recruit Ph.D. students. After careful consideration, President Yigong Shi, who was one of the judges on The Brain, decided to extend an offer to the youth for a spot in a Ph.D. program at Westlake.

In 2022, Westlake University gained approval to admit undergraduates. The now 18-year-old Yang happened to be graduating from high school. After two rounds of exams and the gaokao, Yang made it into Westlake four years ahead of time.

To many, he aced it again.

He Won an International Competition

Back in 2017, Yang was halfway through his junior high school education. He was not a top student and steadily ranked around 100th among his peers at Wenlan High School, one of the best in Hangzhou.

Unlike his peers, Yang started planning his study early on.

But competing in The Brain wasn’t part of the plan. Unbeknownst to his parents, he signed up online.

Yang followed the first four seasons of The Brain and evaluated himself according to the game. He was good at math and memorization. Though he only started competing in the Mathematics Olympiad in the last two years of elementary school, he quickly made it to the top echelon, winning the first prize of the Hua Luogeng National Mathematics Invitational Competition and the first prize of the Hope National Mathematics Invitational Competition.

More than 100,000 teenagers signed up for tryouts, but after rounds and rounds of screening, only 100 were selected to participate in the show. Yang became one of the chosen few.

The rest is history. He ranked 1st in overall strength, and joined the Chinese team to defeat a Japanese champion and win the international competition.

He shined in the international competition. Both Robert Desimone, member of the US National Academy of Sciences and director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research of MIT, and Yigong Shi, resident of Westlake University, saw his potential. Both tried to recruit Yang on the scene.

Yang went viral overnight.

Many would think that Yang wanted to be seen and valued, but to him, the best part was hanging out with those college students after the show.

“They opened so many doors for me. I didn’t know studying could happen in different ways,” Yang said.

He Made it to the National Olympiad in Informatics

Yang became a member of the National Olympiad in Informatics, or NOI, in his first year of junior high school.

Though he was already one semester behind because of participating in The Brain, Yang still chose to prepare for NOI in the last year of junior high school. He wasn’t the first to start in NOI, but made rapid progress. He won the first prize in the provincial competition before he graduated.

With an award that guaranteed offers from top universities, he continued his education as a senior high student at Hangzhou No. 2 Middle School.

Joining one of the top three high schools in Hangzhou, Yang barely attended regular classes in the first year. He quickly joined the school NOI team and spent most of his time in training camps. Though he didn’t make the cut for the national NOI team, Yang still took home two first prizes in the Zhejiang Provincial Division.

Those, plus the award won in the last year of junior high school, meant Yang had pulled off a hat –trick in the NOI.

With one hand in the Math Olympiad and the other in NOI, Yang prepared himself for research in artificial intelligence.

He Plays the Keyboard and Does Vocals

Logically speaking, after failing to make the national NOI team, it would be time to go back to class. But Yang couldn’t stand still, so he became the president of the music club.

In his second year of high school, he held a "Blue Dot Band Special Session" in the school auditorium with the Blue Dot Music Club, the Student Union, hip-hop club, photography club, and Spark Media. He was not only the host and a performer, but also one of the organizers.

Yang started practicing the piano as a child and soon passed the test for the highest level. Out of all his childhood interests, music is the one that has remained. These days, he still plays the keyboard and does vocals in the band.

In his second year of high school, the music club organized the school's singing contest. From event planning and program brainstorming to inviting judges, each task was more complex than the performance itself. They also collaborated with several associations to make an original music video titled "Departing Tomorrow", wishing good luck to the senior students who would soon take the college entrance examination.

If not for the love of music, it would have been hard for Yang and his friends to persevere.

From his performance on The Brain to his admission to Westlake University, Yang has been labeled a genius. But each move represents an evaluated choice of inward exploration.

Thanks to this exploration, he spent six months being filmed for The Brain, rehearsing logic, deduction, observation, and memorization time and time again. He pushed his own envelope.

Thanks to this exploration, he confirmed his passion. Recently, Yang chose Prof. Yue Zhang from the AI branch of the School of Engineering as his undergraduate academic advisor and decided to go in the direction of computers and artificial intelligence. Zhang's research focuses on natural language processing. Yang and his new advisor have already met several times to discuss how to give a computer the same framework for thinking found in the human brain.

But not all efforts lead to success. He trained for NOI, failed to make it to the national team, and failed to score high in the academic examination. When he became the president of the music club, his academic performance was not impressive. Others only notice his extraordinary talent, but the significant improvement in his grades in the last year of high school was largely due to his perseverance and self-discipline.

Like his team leader Yuyan Wang said in The Brain, it might seem like Yang did everything with ease, but what he really did was do everything right.

A so-called genius is only a person who is always preparing for the next move.