Humans of Harker: Diving deep for understanding

Betsy Tian strives to build an open-minded environment

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Nicole Tian

“A large part of how I grow, especially when I’m interacting with other people, is through being a good listener. I like being a listener, too; I’ve learned a lot from listening to other people. Listening seems really simple, but you can contribute a lot to someone else by just being a good listener, whether it’s support or learning from them,” Betsy Tian (12) said.

As president of the research club, avid researcher and book-lover, it’s no wonder that Betsy Tian (12) loves learning. In fact, “loves” isn’t even a strong enough word to encompass her unconditional push for understanding and knowledge, and not just in her strongest field of physics, but also in art history and in the world of books. Since embarking on her research journey in eighth grade, Betsy has both reconnected with the world of art through art history projects and reading and solidified her interest in the sciences, especially physics.

“It’s so interesting to be able to use science or equations or theory to model the world and be able to predict what’s happening around me or understand how everything works,” Betsy said. “I like physics most out of all the sciences because it really addresses how things work fundamentally compared to maybe chemistry [or] biology, which sort of build on physics.”

From astrophysics research relating to the evolution of Jupiter to art history research on modernist painter Aaron Douglas, Betsy has had her fair share of research experience, and she brings that same energy to all her academic endeavors. Younger sister Nicole Tian (11) describes her as not only caring, but also curious and thoughtful. 

“She’s very good at thinking through things, and I feel like sometimes I jump to conclusions and Betsy is very good at stopping and doing things [in a] very detailed [way],” Nicole said. “Instead of just being like, ‘Oh, it’s fine if I don’t understand this,’ she really wants to get to know about things and understand why they happen, and her curiosity extends throughout everything.”

Beyond the classrooms and laboratories, Betsy carries the same eagerness for expanding her knowledge. When reading books, for example, Betsy likes looking into the book’s context and the author’s background to understand the book itself, and, as a self-identified introvert, she also sees literature as a means of gaining experience and a more nuanced understanding of people and the world around them. 

“I like reading people’s different stories, especially when stories are well crafted and there [are] characters who are very well crafted and interesting. It introduces me to new perspectives, and it makes me more empathetic to different points of view,” Betsy said. “I personally also love reading for writing styles of authors. Sometimes, if I read a sentence that I really like, it’ll make me really happy.”

In addition to reading, other small parts of life easily spark joy for Betsy, may it be enjoying clear blue skies, flowers in nature or spending time with family and friends. 

“[I love] the feeling of being able to share a conversation, or share food with [my family],” Betsy said. “It could just be a small moment when someone says something funny, and we all start laughing. I’ll keep that with me for the rest of the day, or the next couple of days.”

Close friend Michelle Si (12) notes that despite Betsy’s calm and quiet demeanor, she holds steadfast confidence in herself, which she has seen grow over the past few years as Betsy has continued to express herself and refine her opinions. 

“In general, we have this tendency to think people who are quiet don’t have super strong opinions, which is wrong,” Michelle said. “Once you really get to know her, you can see that she has these really, really well-developed views on the world, and I think anyone who knows her has grown intellectually because of her.”

Likewise, adviser and speech and debate teacher Scott Odekirk, who described his initial impression of Betsy as someone who is “kind, engaged, [and] serious about the things she cares about,” has seen her grow since freshman year in her confidence.

“She’s come to realize that she has power, she has the capacity to do things in the world, and as that’s happened, she’s gotten more and more comfortable with being herself and doing things and pushing hard for the things she wants in life,” Odekirk said.

In discussions at home, Nicole describes Betsy as a “mediator,” using her strengths in empathy to promote understanding to resolve conflict. 

“At home, she’s a very good mediator,” Nicole said. “She’s very good at thinking through multiple sides of an argument, so instead of jumping to conclusions, she provides a lot of thought into whatever we’re discussing.” 

Whether at home with family or at school with peers and teachers, Betsy strives to help others in seeing different perspectives. 

“Her goal is not to change your mind but to give you a more well-rounded understanding of people, like how she does with everything else,” Michelle said. “I felt a change in myself for trying to admire people for the good things and to look at people objectively; she definitely was the biggest player in that shift.”

Her own flexibility attracts her to other like-minded people who are willing to discuss topics from different points of view. 

“A large part of how I grow, especially when I’m interacting with other people, is through being a good listener. I like being a listener, too; I’ve learned a lot from listening to other people,” Betsy said. “Listening seems really simple, but you can contribute a lot to someone else by just being a good listener, whether it’s support or learning from them.”

Ultimately, Betsy hopes to be remembered as someone who instills into other people confidence and the motivation to improve themselves, no matter how small. 

“I hope when people think of being with me, they feel like they were able to very genuinely just be themselves,” Betsy said. “If I were to have a conversation with someone and brought up a point of view that was interesting to them, then maybe that person would think it’s good to look at things from different perspectives and be more open-minded.”