Humans of Harker: Amy Jin explores intersecting fields


Rose Guan

“If you see a problem around you, it’s important to question and inquire into how you can address this issue if you’re interested in it,” Amy Jin (12) said. “I did a small home research project where I was looking around my backyard and I noticed some weird spots on my tangerine tree in my backyard, and so I did some research, and I realized that plant diseases and blights are really impacting the agricultural sector and the economy and that professionals still rely on naked-eye observation, so it can be pretty inaccurate. I kind of turned to computer science — as I often do in my research projects — and tried to think of a way to apply what I knew to address this problem, so I developed a machine learning algorithm that automatically classifies and detects plant diseases. So that was just like a fun thing that I did one break.”

by Rose Guan, Wingspan senior staff writer and designer

Sixth graders are not a common sight at the upper school’s annual Research Symposium; you’re more likely to see high school students presenting posters about their research at the event. But when Amy Jin (12) attended the symposium in sixth grade, soon after first starting at Harker, her experience sparked an interest in research that persists today.

“It was really cool, to see other students apply, for example, their computer science knowledge to address a real-world problem and try to make an impact in that way,” Amy said.

People who don’t know Amy might label her a ‘STEM person’: the stereotypical upper school student with a passion for science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

It’s true that STEM is a large part of Amy’s high school life. She’s the president of Women in STEM (WiSTEM) club, co-editor-in-chief of the upper school’s science research magazine, Harker Horizon, and involved in her own research. But beyond those four fields, Amy is also keenly interested in aspects of STEM that the casual observer might not immediately see, like the ethics of implementing new advances.

“If you ask someone about my interests, they’d probably first resort to STEM. That’s not uncommon considering Harker’s really strong STEM program, but a lot of people don’t know that I’m also really interested in a wide variety of fields, like philosophy and ethics, and I really like to explore and try new things—I’m not just a ‘STEM person,’” Amy said. “Over the summer, I developed a greater interest in philosophy and different ways to view emerging technologies, such as looking at self-driving cars and asking whether or not those automated cars are entitled to make the same decisions as exposed in the trolley problem.”

As the president of WiSTEM, Amy now helps to organize the annual Research Symposium, the very event that inspired her formative interest in science research. WiSTEM club adviser Anita Chetty noticed her commitment early on, coming to see her as one of the most dedicated members of the organization.

“She has this sense of grace. She’s not a loud person,” Chetty said. “She will listen to everyone, and then in one or two sentences, she’ll be able to offer a great solution or will sort of let the rest of the group see a new direction or look at something in a way that no one else had thought about while they were all talking. If you want something done, you give it to Amy, and you know it’s going to be done—and done well.”

Many of Amy’s science research projects in high school have featured artificial intelligence, or AI, a constantly developing field that she believes will require future scientists to understand the complex philosophical issues that arise when considering higher-level science.

“Looking at, for example, artificial intelligence, especially smart machines and how those challenge our conventional perception of human consciousness and cognition, looking at workplace automation and seeing how that goes against our typical view of work—I feel like it’s really interdisciplinary, and eventually it will necessitate a lot of cross-disciplinary discourse among philosophers, scientists, policy makers,” Amy said. “There’s really no answers to the questions that are being debated nowadays, so it’s really collaborating across disciplines and fields that will achieve this middle ground or settle at a moral conclusion.”

Amy also plays the violin in the upper school’s orchestra, an aspect of her life that has little to do with STEM. She posts covers of popular songs, like “How Far I’ll Go” from the 2016 film “Moana”, on YouTube.

“She’s one of those people who doesn’t brag about what they do,” her friend Amy Dunphy (12) said. “She doesn’t talk about all the incredible things that she’s done, and I really respect that. She just works really hard, and she does so well, and she’s really dedicated to everything: violin, science, all of it.”

“Dedicated” is a word that Amy’s friends and teachers echo, highlighting her commitment. Emily Chen (12) describes Amy too as “earnest, empathetic, thoughtful and probing.”

“She is extremely dedicated to everything that she does, whether that’s her research or the friendships that she maintains with people,” Emily said. “It’s this kind of innate determination and love for the things and the people around her that I really admire about her, and she has just been an invaluable friend to me all throughout high school.”

In researching AI, Amy’s work might not directly affect the lives of others; it’s by nature a step removed from the final result. Even so, Amy’s determination to improve the world keeps her going.

“A lot of what drives me is my desire to positively impact the world and serve the community around me, even if it’s not directly,” Amy said. “Oftentimes, [with] my research projects, there’s no real direct application or immediate effect that arises from it, but I still feel fulfilled knowing that what I’ve done has the potential to have a certain impact, and knowing that I have dedicated myself to a goal and worked toward it makes me feel satisfied.”