Humans of Harker: Disruption

Nikhil Dharmaraj challenges existing academic fields to pave his own way


Devanshi Mehta

“The human experience is timeless, and humans have been trying to understand it and study it for so long. I think with AI, there’s a really unique opportunity to better understand what makes us human, what aspects of our humanity are important, and I think technology can help us do that,” Nikhil Dharmaraj (12) said.

Nikhil Dharmaraj (12) always walks with purpose. With his signature grey backpack, white sweater and classic blue jeans, his pace– faster for the usual second semester senior– emits an aura of gravity. Even so, a light smile decorates his face, and he peacefully waves to those surrounding him.

As the bubbly and quirky kid in middle school, Nikhil chose to study Latin as his second language, despite his friends’ curiosity and mild protests as to whether he was studying a “dead language.” However, after spending his middle school and high school careers embarking on these studies, he has found meaning and purpose through his studies.

“For me, it’s the root of so many things– it’s where we get most of modern philosophy, modern science, modern language,” he said. “Latin might not be spoken, but you can get so much insight by understanding how we communicate. I guess the idea of communication is also very important to me because of speech and debate, and I’ve always understood the power of communication, and language is so critical and central to that.”

Along with this exploration of latin, Nikhil also pursued speech and debate to expand his understanding of the art of communication.

“There’s so much freedom to talk about what you want to talk about, research what you’re interested in. It’s hard to get the opportunity to say what you want to say and get this time that’s dedicated for you to share your message, to share what you are passionate about,” Nikhil said. “It’s another way of making change with my academic skills and it combines all my passions.”

In his sophomore year, his original oratory elaborated on the “power of small,” focusing on America’s obsession with big and with his short stature, combining ideas of masculinity and femininity.

Although Nikhil does not participate in speech and debate anymore, the skills he gained through his time competing with the team has aided him to this day.

“Speech and debate developed my argumentative, writing, speaking skills more than anything else I did ever has,” he said. “Everything to do requires you to think critically, write about problem, [and] make a coherent argument. Public speaking wise, even though I’ve moved on from s&d, i use the public speaking skills all the time.”

More specifically, Nikhil’s interests have shifted to breaking boundaries in a more tangible way: in stepping foot in a field– or rather, the intersection of two fields– that has been largely unexplored in the academic world thus far.

“What I’m really passionate about isn’t pure programming, but I’m interested in how computer science applies to the humanities,” he said. “I’ve always loved Latin, and I’ve always loved the humanities. But, in the Silicon Valley, there’s a really big disconnect between STEM fields and humanities fields. Everyone’s always asking, ‘Are you a STEM person or a Humanities person?’ Recently, I’ve really wanted to combine and merge my passions for these two fields, so I’m interested in how computer science applies to literature, to language, to philosophy, to latin, how it can revolutionize those humanities fields.”

As a senior involved in research, his Mitra paper deals with the same idea– how the history of science influences modern day evolutionary biological thought– which culminated in his paper on “The Evolution of Evolution: Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.”

One of his biggest inspirations for pursuing such an unexplored field comes from Steve Job and his philosophy on the intersection of STEM and humanities.

“Jobs said ‘Apple’s DNA is that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that makes our heart sing,’” Nikhil said. “I came across that, and I’d always been daunted by the idea that I had to choose one of those, one thing to study in college, one thing to do, but the idea that I could fuse those fields was really exciting.”

In the future, the field that Nikhil plans to study is digital humanities: the application of computational tools to study aspects of our humanity previously not understood.

“The human experience is timeless: there’s humanities literature dating back to prehistoric times. Humans have been trying to understand it and study it for so long, and I think with AI, there’s an opportunity to better understand what makes us human, what aspects of our humanity are important, and I think technology can help us do that,” Nikhil said.

As someone breaking the barriers and largely sculpting his own path and future, he hopes to be an icon of disruption in this field.

“I really like the idea of disruption, which is why I’m so interested in the intersection of computer science and humanities,” Nikhil said. “I want to be remembered as a disruptor and someone who challenges existing boundaries.”