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Dr. Zhao received her B.A. in Journalism from Fudan University, M.Phil. in Journalism from Hong Kong Baptist University, and Ph.D. in communication from the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Zhao's research examines how individuals and organizations use social media to consume, share, and network information related to crises and health. She uses computational and quantitative methods to investigate the mechanisms, dynamics, and impacts of crisis and health communication, with a particular emphasis on marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by these events. As a methodologist, Dr. Zhao has expertise in a range of computational techniques, such as AI-driven large language models (LLMs), machine learning, and social network modeling. She has also developed tools like TLSA, designed to assist communication scholars in applying computational analysis with minimal programming background.

Her major research projects as the leading investigator include:

  • Automated extraction of constructs such as emotions using AI and machine learning

  • Information/misinformation networks on social media 

  • Crisis/health information consumption, social media message effects 

  • TikTok and risk behaviors like e-cigarette and alcohol use

Dr. Zhao's work has been published in top-ranked scholarly journals in communication, including Communication Monographs, New Media & Society, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Computers in Human Behavior, Journal of Public Relations Research among others. Dr. Zhao's work has garnered global recognition, evidenced by numerous awards such as three ICA Top Papers between 2017 and 2020, an NCA Top Paper in 2023, an AEJMC Research Award from 2021 to 2022, a General Research Fund (GRF) from the Hong Kong government in 2020, and an Insight Development Grant from the Canadian government for 2022-24. Dr. Zhao's interdisciplinary collaboration with computer scientists has led to her work being featured in leading CS conferences such as EMNLP (Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing) and ICME (International Conference on Multimedia and Expo).

Graduate students: I work with graduate students with solid training in computational or quantitative methods. Interested candidates should review my publications for potential alignment in research interests and then email me their qualifications and research ideas.



University of Maryland, College Park

Ph.D. in Communication 

Dissertation: Boomerang Effects in Belief and Attitude Change. 

Dissertation Committee: Edward L. Fink (chair),

Xiaoli Nan, Dale J. Hample, Laura M. Stapleton, Leah Waks 


Hong Kong Baptist University

M.Phil. in Journalism

Thesis: Spiral of Silence and Public Opinion Expression in China (advised by Yu HUANG) 


Fudan University

B.A. in Journalism, with the highest distinction 


External Grants

2022-24 Co-PI

           Insight Development Grant, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada

           “Best practices for disaster evacuation in Canada: A mixed-method approach to governmental evacuation communication in the Abbotsford flood emergency” (PI: Fang, S. Co-PIs: Zhao, X., & You, L.)

           Amount: $75,000

           Status: Funded

2021-22  Leading PI

           AEJMC, Mass Communication and Society Division

           “An ecological approach to ICT-enabled disaster support network in multiethnic communities

          Amount: $10,000

          Status: Funded

2021  Leading PI

           National Science Foundation (NSF), Decision, Risk and Management Sciences (DRMS)

           “Collaborative proposal: Convergence in a complex emergency information environment”

          Amount: $581,587

          Status: Declined


2020   Single PI

           Early Career Scheme of General Research Grant, Hong Kong Research Grant Council

          “Social media convergence during emergencies: Hong Kong people’s information choices, perceptions, and actions given multi-platform emergency communication” (No.: 22610120)

         Amount: $50,207 (HK$389,124)

         Status: Funded and returned in 2020 due to the change of institution.

Internal Grants

2023   Leading PI

           Junior Faculty Development Award, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

           “Developing Deep-Learning-Based Prediction Models for E-Cigarette Use Among Minority Youth” 

           Amount: $10,000

           Status: Funded

2021-22  Single PI

           Hussman School of Journalism and Media, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

           "Digital media convergence during emergencies: How people react to multiplatform pandemic communication from organizations"

           Amount: $5,000

           Status: Completed


2019-20  Single PI

               Faculty Research Grant, HKBU School of Communication.

               “Automatically classifying discrete emotions in crises and disasters combining deep learning and graphic models using crowdsourcing data”

               Amount: $7,640 (HK$ 60,000)

               Status: Completed


Top Faculty Papers, Health Comm Division, 109th  Annual Conference of National Communication Association (NCA), National Harbor, MD, 2023.
Research Award, Mass Communication and Society Division, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), 2021-2022
Top Faculty Papers, Public Relations Division, 70th Annual Conference of International Communication Association (ICA), Golden Coast, 2020.

Top Faculty Papers, Information System Division, 68th Annual Conference of International Communication Association (ICA), Prague, 2018.

Faculty Performance Award for Young Researcher, Hong Kong Baptist University, 2020.

Top Four Student Papers, Public Relations Division, 67th Annual Conference of International Communication Association (ICA), San Diego, 2017.


$6,000, The Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Students Abroad, 2016-2017.


$5,000 & $3,000, Research Fellowship, University of Maryland, 2012 & 2013.


$3,000 US-China Education Trust Scholarship, Washington D.C., 2010.


HK$10,000 Commercial Radio 50th Anniversary Scholarship, Hong Kong Baptist University, 2010.


HK$120,000 MPhil Fellowship, Hong Kong Baptist University, 2009-2011.


RMB 5,000 & 3,000 People’s Scholarship (1st and 2nd Prize), Fudan University, China, 2006 & 2007.

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