SAMSI Graduate Student Profile: Wen “Jenny” Shi

Wen “Jenny” Shi is a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) in the Statistics and Research Operations Department. She is a graduate fellow at SAMSI this year.

Wen Shi hiking with her father

Wen “Jenny” Shi with her father.

Jenny was born and raised in Wuhan, China, the capital of the province where the Three Gorges Dam, one of the largest hydroelectric power stations in the world is located. Jenny’s parents separated and her mother moved to the United States when she was 9-years-old. At first, Jenny’s father was reluctant to have her follow her mother, but he agreed that Jenny would have better scholastic opportunities in the United States and finally let her apply for immigration in 2000. It took about four years to get her green card because it was held up after the events of 9-11. While she was waiting to come to the United States, she started studying finance in China, and thought that she was going to work in the field of business.

Right before her 20th birthday, Jenny moved to the United States and entered Peralta Colleges in Northern California. Her major took a turn after meeting an incredible mathematics teacher, Salvador Garcia, who noticed her talent in mathematics and encouraged her to consider mathematics as a major. Instead of making her take the final exam, Salvador gave Jenny a book on the history of mathematics to read and let her keep the book as a gift. “I realized how fascinating the world of mathematics is and that studying math can make me truly happy,” said Jenny.

Jenny Shi and her mom and brother

Wen “Jenny” Shi at her graduation with her mother, Lily and her brother, Lewis.

After two years in Peralta Colleges, she transferred to the University of California at Berkeley (Cal) as a math major with focus on pure mathematics. Jenny treasured the opportunity of studying at Cal very much. In fact, she tried to maximize her education there by taking as many classes as she could, at both undergraduate and graduate levels. She had her mind set on pursuing graduate study in mathematical sciences. A Ph.D. program in mathematics was her top choice. However, after realizing the extreme competitive nature of pure mathematics and a wealth of career options with a graduate degree in statistics, Jenny decided to apply for the statistics Ph.D. program at UNC in 2009.

Jenny Shi and Mac

Jenny with her dog, Max.

In the following year, Jenny moved across country and became a Tar Heel. Her dearest companion, Mac, her German Shepherd/Golden Retriever mix, also made the move with her. Mac and Jenny love running in the neighborhood in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, hiking in the woods around the Triangle region, and swimming in Jordan Lake in summer time.

At UNC, Jenny works with Professor Jan Hannig in the Department of Statistics & Operations Research and Professor Corbin Jones in the Department of Biology. Her research interest focuses on fiducial inference and statistical applications to biology and genomics. She is participating in the Dependence in Evolutionary Models working group at SAMSI and working on stochastic modeling of gene expressions with phylogenetic dependency. “I am learning a lot from the biologists, statisticians, and mathematicians in the group. There are many intelligent minds bringing interesting questions and great ideas to the table,” noted Jenny, “I am really glad that Chris, the postdoctoral fellow at SAMSI who is a bioinformatician, is leading the group. He has been very organized. He makes sure that throughout every meeting that people get something good out of it.”

Jenny has asked many questions and learned a lot from the other people in her working group. She is going to present her project later this spring.

Jenny has also been attending the graduate school classes at SAMSI. “I think these classes are challenging to teach because the instructor has to teach a diverse class. There are graduate students, postdocs, junior faculty members, and people from industry; there are biologists, mathematicians, statisticians, and MD. Ph.D. students.” She also noted that the instructors are making great effort to ensure that the lecture materials are useful and graspable to the majority of the class.

Jenny is applying for graduation this summer. She is leaning towards staying in academia but is open to a teaching and research role, or going into industry.

Jenny loves to cook and bake when she is not at school or hiking with Mac.

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