Student Studies Humanity through Art and Medicine:
In recent months, a Storrs-based version of the wildly popular Humans of New York blog—which shares the stories of strangers through photographs accompanied by short captions—has gained the attention of members of the UConn community. But readers of the Humans of UConn Facebook and Tumblr accounts may be surprised to learn that the student behind this project spends his days in upper-level biology and clinical research courses.
The blog’s sole manager is senior honors student Jay Lin ’15 (CLAS), a molecular and cell biology major and psychology minor with aspirations to attend medical school. His scholarly fascination with the human body and how humans operate sparked an interest in how humans interact socially, which is what attracted him to the concept of Humans of New York.
He hopes that his interpretation of the blog addresses what he noticed on campus: That members of the UConn community do not get a chance to engage with each other throughout the day because they are engrossed with their busy schedules.
“We like to discriminate and categorize. That’s human nature,” Lin says. “I think going through Humans of New York, when I read it, I really got a deeper sense of people. I think it’s an exploration of people’s lives.”
While Lin finds the academic and artistic sides of his life to be very different entities, he recognizes that both play on some of his fundamental interests. These include understanding humans and the world around him and the desire to celebrate the lives of people, whether it is the strangers he meets through Humans of UConn or the people he interacts with as a biology student, teaching assistant, and medical researcher.
“In general I’m a curious person. I like to find out about the world around me,” Lin says.
The Path to Patient Care
Lin, who moved to the United States from China at the age of six, says that he had trouble with reading and writing English during his early schooling. He found that math and science were naturally easier for him to digest because they operated on the universal language of numbers. Lin also credits his preference for expressing thoughts through film production and photographs to his aversion of reading and writing at such a young age.
Other early experiences set Lin on the path toward medicine. In high school, he volunteered as a patient escort for Backus Hospital in Norwich, Conn. Lin says he enjoyed the small moments talking to patients and their interactions.
As a freshman at UConn, Lin became enamored with biology after taking Principles of Biology with Assistant Professor-in-Residence Thomas Abbot. Lin says that the course “explained the phenomena in our body and in our cells” in a way he never thought of before.
“I think it gave me a greater appreciation of the human body and all biological processes,” he says.
Lin’s interest in medicine was strengthened by his involvement in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology’s Clinical Research Laboratory honors course, in which he worked with patients at Connecticut Children’s Hospital in Hartford, and conducted an independent research project on how factors like socioeconomic status and eating habits affect obesity in children.According to Lin, this involvement in undergraduate research gave him a better understanding of what kinds of medicine interest him. He says that his ideal fields are primary care, internal medicine, and emergency care because of the variety of patients that practitioners in those fields interact with on a daily basis.
“I want to spend a vast majority of my time talking to patients and seeing what’s wrong with them and how I can use my science background to make them better. That’s what draws me to medicine,” Lin said.
Creating Social Media
Lin says that the purely medical side of treating patients appealed to him because it is analytical and changes within patients can be observed. While he says that he wants to spend a “vast majority of time looking at the human body,” he also says that he appreciates the human mind and being able to effectively communicate with people.
Lin uses knowledge from psychology classes like Sensation and Perception, in which he studied visual system and how humans interpret images in their brains, when he takes pictures for Humans of UConn.
“[That class] got me thinking about how we perceive images and I think that drove a lot of what I do in photography,” Lin said. “If you look at how the brain works, we’re not that complicated, we’re very logical beings.”
Like working with medical patients, Humans of UConn is another avenue for Lin to engage the social side of his personality. Lin’s goal for the blog is to post one picture a day, so he always carries around his camera and is ready to take pictures of whoever looks like they have an interesting story to share.
The social aspect of this blog has been received well by the student community. Currently, the Humans of UConn Facebook page has over 5,000 likes, and each post receives interactions from students of all types across campus.
Lin is unsure what will happen to Humans of UConn once he graduates. Recently, he finished applying to medical schools across the Northeast and says that he ideally would like to continue his education at UConn’s School of Medicine. But no matter what lies ahead in his career, he says that he wants to continue to pursue his interests in science and art that celebrate the lives of people.
“Art has a way of carrying ideas,” he says. “I think that we as humans thrive off of this artistic fuel and I want to contribute my own work throughout my life.”
By: Reid DiRenzo ’15 (CLAS)