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7 South Asian Americans Among 23 Gates Cambridge Scholars from the United States

7 South Asian Americans Among 23 Gates Cambridge Scholars from the United States

  • The first cohort of academically outstanding and socially committed youngsters will join around 60 others in May to form the Class of 2022.

Seven South Asian Americans — Nisita Dutta, Anjali Kantharuban, Maya Juman, Nidhi Patel, Samira Patel, Marissa Sumathipala, and Shaffin Siddiqui — are among 23 Gates Cambridge Scholars from the U.S. The first cohort of academically outstanding and socially committed youngsters will join around 60 others in May to form the Gates Cambridge Class of 2022. The U.S. scholars-elect come from 23 universities across the country. Eighteen will pursue PhDs at Cambridge, while five will undertake one-year master’s degrees.

Nisita Dutta will pursue her Ph.D. in Chemistry at St. Catharine’s College, where she will be working to create novel nanobody-drug conjugates to treat pancreatic cancer in an international collaboration between the Cambridge Department of Chemistry and the National Institutes of Health. She has a master’s degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. She wants to use her skills to combine her passions in research, engineering, and medicine to design effective chemotherapy delivery methods that can help alleviate cancer patients’ pain. After receiving her master’s degree, she started medical school at the University of Maryland Medical Scientist Training Program where she continued to expand her interests in “not only patient care, but in teaching, mentoring, and medical education as well.”

Anjali Kantharuban grew up as a first-generation immigrant in California before attending the University of California, Berkeley to study Computer Science and Linguistics. “As a non-standard dialect speaker, I have seen first-hand how globalized communication has intensified pressures to convert to specific languages in exchange for an economic reward,” she says. Her goal is to make natural language processing equally functional for all languages, in all their variations, to prevent a further loss of linguistic and cultural diversity. She will work for her MPhil in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at Churchill College. 

Maya Juman, who grew up in New York City and South India, will pursue her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences at the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Selwyn College. She completed her B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, where she conducted research on South and Southeast Asian mammal biogeography. Upon graduating in 2020, she worked on COVID-19 response at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. “My academic and work experiences have led me to explore the human-wildlife interface where viral spillover occurs.” She is currently on a Fulbright fellowship studying deforestation in Malaysia. Her research employs a One Health approach to modeling anthropogenic drivers of zoonotic emergence from bat populations. “This work will inform solutions to both biodiversity loss and future pandemics, particularly in regions with threatened habitats, high spillover risk, and limited health infrastructure,” she says. 

Nidhi Patel is a senior at Harvard, working on her bachelor’s degree in Government and Neuroscience, which has given her a chance “to explore the effects of violence on human welfare from a political, biological, and social perspective.” At Cambridge University’s Lucy Cavendish College, Patel hopes to build on these experiences and pursue an M.Phil in Development Studies. In her dissertation research, she hopes to better understand how to design and implement social policies that can empower communities impacted by violence in humanitarian crises. “Furthermore, I am enthusiastic about the prospect of working at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights, and Centre for Gender Studies, cutting-edge research networks that bring together a diverse amalgamation of professors, students, and professionals for projects and enriching seminars on topics related to the politics of gender violence, peacebuilding, and health in conflict-affected societies.” 

Samira Patel graduated with an anthropology degree from the University of Chicago armed with a background in social justice and sensitivity to how policies often exclude the most vulnerable people. She has spent the last five years working at the science-policy interface at both the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Center for Space Policy and Strategy. “Wanting to critically examine how the science-policy interface and our digital data infrastructures impact local communities, I came to the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge to conduct ethnographic and science and technology studies (STS) research at the world’s ‘third pole in the Himalayas,” she says. Through my research, she aims to shed light on culturally embedded notions of science and technology and how they can translate into better climate policies. She will be working on a Ph.D. in Polar Studies at Downing College. 

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Growing up, Marissa Sumathipala dreamed of being a professional figure skater. In her sophomore year of high school, she suffered a severe concussion on the ice. Through years of recovery, she found medicine had few treatments for brain injuries. She wanted to change this, sparking her enduring passion for neuroscience research. Her research journey began in high school, working at the Janelia Research Institute. Over five years, she studied how fruit flies make decisions, combining computational and experimental techniques. As an undergraduate at Harvard, she majored in Neuroscience and developed new single-cell technologies at the McCarroll Lab, working to chart the human brain’s molecular composition at an unprecedented resolution. During her Ph.D. in Cambridge’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences, she will investigate the molecular mechanisms that cause ALS and dementia, by developing 3D brain models using stem cells. “Many neurological diseases lack effective treatments, and I hope my research will lay the groundwork for future therapeutics,” she says. Sumathipala will commence her Ph.D. in 2023.

Having been raised a Muslim, Shaffin Siddiqui has always carried in his heart a fascination with the vastness of the Islamic scholarly tradition and the richness of the lived experience of modern Muslims. After graduating from Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas, he pursued an A.B. in History at Princeton University, where his interests in the history of Islam and the practice of medicine converged in research inquiring into the history of medicine in the Muslim world. This culminated in his graduating thesis “which looked at paradigms of health in the late Nation of Islam,” he says. Through his MPhil in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine at Cambridge, he hopes to focus on how a key socio-intellectual class in diasporic Muslim communities, the ulama (traditionally educated Islamic scholars), have engaged modern biomedicine and promoted varied paradigms and practices of health within Western Muslim populations. “These important yet neglected histories will contribute to the project of building critical intellectual bridges between physicians/public-health experts and Muslim leaders like the ulama, with the goal of said enterprise laying not in producing a unilateral relationship between either of these domains but a symbiotic one.”

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