You Yiting ’24: I Don’t Want to Run the Rat Race

Some friends might describe You Yiting ’24 as “weird.” While most students choose one academic track, at NYU Shanghai she has enjoyed it all: science, humanities, and social sciences. It was almost halfway through her college career that she finally decided to major in Computer Science while pursuing two minors in humanities and science and society. 

But that’s not the only thing about You Yiting that sets her apart from her peers. While many seniors are meticulously polishing up their resumes and updating their LinkedIn profiles with each internship under their belt, she has committed to a different routine: reading for two or three hours a day, regularly chronicling her “random thoughts” in lengthy blog entries, traveling, and seeking out her professors for philosophical conversations. 

In today’s world, where “elitism” has increasingly negative connotations, You Yiting defines the type of “elite” that NYU Shanghai takes pride in cultivating. She navigated her university years, taking full advantage of all the resources the University provides while focusing on shaping her own identity in the face of uncertainty, anxiety, and competition. 

A liberal arts education was well suited for You, who says she’s enjoyed the small class size, diverse cultural environment, and caring teachers at NYU Shanghai. From the start, her curiosity in the technological underpinnings of daily life drew her to computer science, as the problem-solving prowess of coding piqued her interest. But she didn’t naturally excel at the subject, and that led her to wonder: What other options lay before her?

Many of her classmates were leaning toward Business and Finance, leading to a seemingly straightforward career trajectory. Her own path remained less defined. You pondered larger existential questions about the meaning of her university experience. “Is life, perchance, not a single-track train, but a meandering journey with pauses and diversions?” she mused.

You Yiting in a rain room, an art installation in Sharjah, where she traveled before she studied away in Abu Dhabi in 2022.


NYU Shanghai professors helped her along her wandering, wondering path. Clinical Associate Professor of Writing Chen Lin was one. After taking Chen’s Writing as Inquiry (WAI) course in her first year, You sought him out for regular discussions on not just class content, but also books and reflections on life. She was so taken with Professor Chen’s comparative perspective that she took another two courses with him in Global China Studies (GCS) and at one point even considered claiming GCS as a major.

Chen and You Yiting discussing life over a cup of tea


During the first semester of her junior year, You studied away in Abu Dhabi, where she enrolled in an interdisciplinary course, Progress in Science, which inspired her future pursuits. Steered by Professor Kevin Coffey, the course offered a window into historical scholarly discourses and disputes and enlightened her about two new developing areas of study– the Philosophy of Science and Science and Technology Studies (STS). After reading the foundational classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, You realized that STS brings together her wide array of interests.  

You continued to seek out mentorship from faculty as she embarked on a journey contemplating classics in the spatial realm, featuring human-machine interactions such as Human-Machine Reconfiguration. She and Clinical Associate Professor of History L. Bican Polat met every other week to read and discuss the classics together, while Associate Professor of Philosophy, Brad Weslake exposed You to different philosophical perspectives and helped her find her own interests. 

In her senior year, You joined a small AI x Philosophy interdisciplinary reading group composed of a few professors - including Professor Weslake - and fellow students from diverse fields such as philosophy, interactive media arts, computer science, and neuroscience.

You Yiting was invited to Changzhou, the hometown of her friend Kathy Deng Kexin ’24 (left)


You’s travel experiences spanning seven countries while studying away at NYU Abu Dhabi and New York inspired her to pursue independent research as well. Professor Polat mentored her as she traveled to Yunnan to conduct ethnographic research among digital nomads, part of her independent study on technology, lifestyle, freedom, leisure, and postmodern fluidity. This provided her with an unconventional approach to understanding different industries.


You Yiting traveled in the Cocora Valley in Columbia, with classmates at Abu Dhabi, in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, and in Jerash and Wadi Rum at Jordan (clock-wise)


The generosity of the professors You reached out to help her as she explored her academic interests. “I wasn't aware of the available options until I was exposed to so many tracks through professors' candid sharing and exchange opportunities,” she says.

It wasn’t just an academic path that You forged at NYU Shanghai. She also explored how volunteering and social engagement could enrich her life. She joined the PEER pen pal program, forging a bond with high school students in underdeveloped towns around China, listening to their life stories and offering advice. She volunteered with Stepping Stones, tutoring migrant children English while sharing with them her own interests in philosophy and technology. She also recently began teaching English to NYU Shanghai cafeteria staff through a new program organized by Community Engaged Learning (CEL). 

“Volunteering has allowed me to step out of the role of the learner, prompting me to deliberate how education should be conducted,” You reflected. “It made me witness various possibilities of life, further entrenching my belief that the purpose of education is to assist every individual in exploring and realizing their potential.

Left and middle: with students in Project E run by PEER, a non-profit organization  Right: with cafeteria staff Ms Wang whom she taught English through CEL’s program

After four years of exploration at NYU Shanghai, You feels her quest allowed her to find her way through the fog. Upon graduation, You Yiting will pursue a Master of Science and Technology Studies (STS) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). And then? “I would love to do academia in the future - it would be ideal if I could make ‘thinking’ itself a full-time job,” she says. “But I don’t reject other options. I'm trying to integrate thinking with life experience. Whatever it takes to find the right direction for you is good, but I know it won't be easy.”