By David LaRocca for the Cornell Chronicle

The Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) awarded its 2021 Distinguished Service Award to Lillian Lee, the Charles Roy Davis Professor in the departments of computer science and information science in the Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, for her extended service to the Transactions of the ACL (TACL), which has become, along with Computational Linguistics, “one of the most influential publication venues in the field.” Lee was appointed Editor-in-Chief of TACL in 2013 and remained in that role until 2019.

At the 59 annual meeting of the ACL, Lee was celebrated as an accomplished and award-winning researcher in natural language processing, especially noted for her contributions to sentiment analysis, semantics, and the intersection of natural language processing (NLP) and social sciences.

Along with this latest prestigious honor, Lee is also a Fellow of the ACL, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI). She received her undergraduate degree at Cornell in math and computer science (1993) and her Ph.D. in computer science at Harvard (1997). Immediately upon earning her doctorate, she joined the faculty of the computer science department at Cornell.

As noted by the awards committee, “her tireless work was essential to all aspects of TACL’s proper and successful functioning. She played a crucial role both in routine day-to-day tasks, as well as a leadership and strategic planning role in defining TACL policies and setting it up for continued future growth.” In the process, she “transformed the journal from its initial stages of development” into the “well-organized operation” it is today.

Lee presented remarks at the conference. She said receiving the award is a “huge honor.” With characteristic generosity, she devoted a lot of her time accepting the award to highlighting all of the people who assisted her during her years with the TACL, including Cindy Robinson, the TACL Steering Committee, fellow Editors-in-Chief, and her graduate students, among others.

Upon the completion of her celebrated six-year tenure as Editor-in-Chief of TACL, members of the ACL wiki shared praise, emphasizing that her “single-minded leadership and persistent hard work on behalf of the journal is, more than any other factor, responsible for its transition from an initial homespun proof-of-concept to an institution with the policies and procedures to permit relatively straightforward transitioning of editorship.”

Her colleagues noted that “no problem was too specific or too general for Lillian to work to solve—she wrote code and performed system administration tasks, drafted many of the journal’s explicit policies on topics large and small, and advocated for important initiatives to the ACL executive board,” even as she also managed the monthly submission process.