the Gates Cambridge
Class of 2018

Photo: Sir Cam

Photo: Sir Cam

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is the University of Cambridge's most prestigious scholarship programme for international postgraduate students.

Funded through a $210 million donation by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the largest ever single donation to a UK university, around 90 scholars are selected each year from a pool of the most academically outstanding applicants to the University.

The Scholarship also places an emphasis on selecting those with a proven interest in improving the lives of others by helping address the numerous challenges we face locally, regionally and globally.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University and Chair of the Trustees of Gates Cambridge, said: “The Gates Cambridge scholarships are a perfect fit with the mission of the University – to make a real and significant contribution to society. They attract some of the best students from all over the world and from the most diverse backgrounds, and sustain a global network of leaders who will integrate the university’s values into everything they do. The class of 2018, including bright scholars from 28 nationalities, is a perfect example of the commitment to excellence and to leadership in the service of society that Gates Cambridge scholars exemplify.”

The 2018 cohort has just been announced. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and the subjects they will study include anthrax in cattle, Native American Archaeology, the science of flavonoids and the value of hope for refugee communities.

Food security in Kenya

Valentina Ndolo developed a passion for infectious disease research as an undergraduate in Biochemistry at the University of Nairobi. Since graduating, she has worked on malaria immunology at the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme, on influenza surveillance with the US Army Medical Research Unit and on finding a vaccine for malaria for her master's thesis.

She has also founded the STEMing Africa Initiative to advocate for the active inclusion of women in STEM by supporting talented female graduates in STEM to secure scholarships for advanced degrees at leading universities worldwide. The initiative has won funding from UNESCO and the Forum for African Women Educationalists among others. At Cambridge, Valentina will do a PhD in Veterinary Medicine, studying the occurrence patterns in Kenya of anthrax, a life-threatening infection commonly found in animals. 

She says: "Anthrax threatens food security and the economic productivity of Kenya. My study will apply mathematical modelling to develop risk maps to guide the activities of the government and other stakeholders involved in the control of anthrax in Kenya."

Rediscovering Native American sites

Devlin Gandy is a Native archaeologist, rock climber and documentary photographer from California. He has spent the past eight years working with Native Californians, remapping Native places in an increasingly urbanised landscape. Much of his work has focused on the landscape he grew up in, part of the traditional territory of the Ventureño Chumash and Fernandeño/Tataviam. His research focuses on mapping, relearning and rediscovering Native sites.

He says: “Many Native groups practise a spatial conception of history, meaning that where things happened is often more important than when. Often, places are intricately interwoven into culture, oral narratives, personal and group identity and spirituality. Unfortunately, the locations of many places were lost through the colonial period - but records from elders in the late 19th and early 20th century survive. It’s from these records that I draw to help Native communities remap and relearn their traditional knowledge and territory.”

Devlin, who will do a PhD in Archaeology, is studying Paleoindian rock art in the Western Great Basin of the United States. As a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, he seeks to use archaeology to empower Native communities. He says: "American archaeology has a long tradition of creating and controlling Native American history and identity - leaving a legacy of intergenerational trauma tied to the field. At the same time, I’ve seen the potential of archaeological research guided by Native communities to strengthen and rebuild ancestral knowledge and validating tribal history."

Refugees and the value of hope

Erin Williamson's first in-depth experience of academic research was certainly eventful. For her master’s degree she chose to research a Pentecostal Church in Appalachia whose services involved the handling of poisonous snakes, such as rattlesnakes. During her time researching the church a pastor died from a snake bite and she had a ringside seat at the fall-out, which included national press coverage and a Grand Jury case.

For her PhD in Social Anthropology she will begin an ethnographic study of time and the value of hope among refugees and asylum seekers of Syrian origin. She says: “It is by focusing on the values of hope and the ideal good life that I expect some insight can be gained which situates refugees not as political nor as suffering strangers, but as morally evaluative humans distinctly and deeply informed by their unique cultural experiences.”

Erin, who set up a course on refugees at her university in the aftermath of Donald Trump's travel ban on refugees, adds: “So much of the discussion about refugees is focused on identity or resources, on the country taking the refugees and on aid. They are painted as something to be feared or as victims, as someone to save. But refugee status is only temporary. It is not an identity that lasts, although it is difficult to escape the label. I am interested in this transitional phase when the past is too painful to think about, the present is uncertain and the future is cannot be contemplated - and how humans navigate that.”

The science of flavonoids

While he has been an undergraduate Vaithish Velazhahan won two major scholarships for his research into how flavonoids -  a diverse group of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in almost all fruits and vegetables - protect human health. He says: "We know that flavonoids are good against cancer and other illnesses, but we are not using all their beneficial properties because we do not understand the mechanisms by which they work at a molecular level. This can help us create new drugs which work more efficiently." So far he has discovered two such mechanisms.

His PhD in Biological Science will take that research one step further: he will use electron cryo-microscopy to try to understand the structures of key membrane proteins called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that help cells communicate with an organism's environment. Vaithish says: "More than 40 percent of all commercially available drugs target these proteins, so it is very important to understand their structures to design new drugs to treat a variety of human diseases." 

In addition Vaithish has set up his own non-profit, WE SAVE. It works in India and its focus is on teaching school children about the importance of vaccination programmes and working in collaboration with medical doctors in India. The organisation is now working on creating a mobile app to connect doctors better with patients who need access to healthcare urgently. "The aim is to create a network of doctors who can share the burden of treating people," says Vaithish.

Disruptive kinships in Argentine cinema

Andrea Aramburu Villavisencio first developed an interest in visual studies as a teenager when she began to formulate questions regarding  the implications of the film industry for developing countries in Latin America. Her PhD in Latin American Studies will examine the complex interactions between disruptive kinships, affect and aesthetics in the feature films of Argentinian filmmakers Lucrecia Martel and Milagros Mumenthaler.

She says: "I am especially interested in asking how these films open up a broader critique concerning how we live together." For the last three years she has been actively engaged in several film projects, co-writing the script for the 2015 film El disfraz equivocado, which won the national short film contest in Peru and was shown at the Short Film Corner in Cannes.

Still from El disfraz equivocado

Still from El disfraz equivocado

Her long-term aim is to return to Peru to help build up film studies as an academic discipline and cultural practice there. There are currently no film studies programmes in Peru. Andrea wants both to enlarge the understanding of film and to support the development of the Peruvian film industry.

The role of invention in scientific progress

Sharad Pandian has always been fascinated by the history of science and decided to major in Physics at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. However, he soon realised that the issues he was interested in, for instance, what impact science's history of discarded theories should have on our attitudes toward our current best theories, were being asked in the Philosophy department. 

While pursuing a degree in Physics and Philosophy, he undertook several research projects to further explore these questions, diving into sub-fields like the history of astronomy, seismology in the 20th century, and the shift from Newtonian to Einsteinian physics.  He says: "I am particularly interested in how developments in mathematical techniques, the invention of instruments, metaphysical speculation, and the discovery of facts in neighbouring fields came together to produce scientific progress and understanding."

While he was an undergraduate, Sharad founded a Philosophy Society, helped run TEDxNTU and co-founded NTU World of Wisdom, a student-run think tank. He also served as the first General Secretary of the university's diversity club, NTU Kaleidoscope. At Cambridge Sharad will pursue an MPhil in History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science, Technology and Medicine.

Community and impact

As Rebecca Saunderson, Co-Chair of the Gates Cambridge Alumni Association, said: "I was blown away by being surrounded by passionate, inspiring people. Every moment was full of intellectual stimulation. I made incredible friendships. Gates Cambridge is a very special community with a broad focus. I am sure the class of 2018 will have an exceptional experience at Cambridge and beyond as part of the Gates Cambridge community.”

New Scholars bond at orientation in the UK’s Lake District in September before arriving in Cambridge to study.

New Scholars bond at orientation in the UK’s Lake District in September before arriving in Cambridge to study.

From the outset, the emphasis at Gates Cambridge is on community and Scholars not only make lasting friendships, but also link up across disciplines to work on research, social enterprises and other projects.

Professor Barry Everitt, Provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust, said: “We are delighted with the exceptional quality of applications for the Gates Cambridge programme for 2018 entry. The Trust has selected 92 excellent Scholars from a wide range of backgrounds to pursue their graduate studies at Cambridge and we very much look forward to welcoming them to Cambridge and the Gates Cambridge community in October.”