A round-up of some of the highlights of the second Day of Research.
Gates Cambridge Scholars took part in the second Day of Research last week – a day of panel discussions and presentations on subjects ranging from neuroimaging markers in dementia to the history of the Panama Canal.
The day consisted of 12 oral presentations and discussions about topics such as big data in politics and gender identity. The keynote address on what research looks like beyond the ivory towers was given by Gates Cambridge alumnus Dr Daniel Greenfield . There were panel discussions on Government and Media Influence in Policy, a Historical Perspective on Gender Identity and the Human Machine – Advances in Medical Research and Where We're Headed and interactive discussions on Pharmaceuticals: Access, Ethics and Financing and Big Data in Politics as well as poster presentations.
Those giving oral presentations included Aliya Khalid  who spoke about her PhD research into how mothers influence their daughters’ education in Pakistan. She said more than 60% of adult women are not literate in Pakistan. Studies suggest links between maternal education and maternal decision-making influence whether girls go to school and how they progress through the education system. Aliya’s research is focused on how that happens and what interventions work to ensure girls are educated.
She has adopted a two-pronged theoretical approach which encompasses not only the mother’s education, but the influence of other family members, the local community and broader society. “The onus should not fall solely on mothers,” she said. “We need to be sensitive to the constraints individuals face and the context in which they operate.”
That means not only the constraints placed on them by a patriarchal society and a lack of protection from the state but also the constraint they might place on themselves. It embraces how their contribution is valued – for instance, how doing an unpaid caring role affects how mothers think of themselves.
Aliya will be studying 20 mothers in Punjab whose daughters are aged between 12 and 16. “We need to know where intervention goes wrong and where it works,” she says. “I don’t see mothers as helpless women, but as influential decision makers who have the ability to change their children’s lives in the most difficult circumstances. We need to know what we can do to support mothers who have been educated to pass that on to their daughters.”
From hospital-acquired infection to the history of the Panama Canal
Dr Alex Wood , a clinical PhD student in the Department of Medicine talked about his research into hospital-acquired infections in critically ill patients. He is investigating C5a, a protein released by the body which in health is thought to play a role in mobilising neutrophils (the most abundant white blood cells) to sites of infection. However, when a person is critically ill, (following severe infections or trauma for instance) C5a is activated all over the body and may cause neutrophils to become dysfunctional. This neutrophil dysfunction is thought to be part of the reason patients in intensive care are so vulnerable to infection. Intensive care admissions and hospital-acquired infections can have long-lasting effects on patients – including an increased risk of death, mental illness, respiratory impairment and reduced mobility – sometimes for years after they have been discharged from hospital. Alex’s research investigates how C5a affects neutrophils and causes them to stop working properly. He hopes his work will further our understanding of the innate immune system and help to identify novel targets for immune-modifying drugs in critical illness.
Camilo Ruiz , who is doing an MPhil in Biological Science, spoke about how artificial intelligence techniques might be used to pick the best treatment for patients with cancer. He spoke about how his grandfather had died from leukaemia. The failure of the treatments he was offered made Camilo question whether an approach which took into account the unique aspects of his disease would have been more effective.
Camilo’s research is on Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma, one of the most common forms of cancer in adults. He wants to find out why treatments like chemotherapy work for some people and not for others. He spoke about the different kinds of mutations that cause cancer. Current prognostics are based on factors like age, extranodal sites and the stage of cancer a person has reached, but these fail to account for the unique differences in any cancer. “If we can understand the specific genetic mutations we can better predict what treatments will work,” said Camilo. Cancer databases based on big data on what works for specific mutations can help to personalise treatment and predict best outcomes, he said.
Elijah Mak , who is doing a PhD in Psychiatry, spoke about how neuroimaging is assisting the early identification of dementia. He said once neurodegeneration has set in it can be difficult to stall the process so recent attention has focused on earlier treatment, even before the onset of cognitive problems. Using MRI and other markers he seeks to detect patterns of brain changes to spot the early signs of dementia and to distinguish the various types of the disease.
Callie Vanderwiele  is doing a PhD in Latin American Studies. She described how men in the Alta Verapaz no longer wear indigenous clothing since Guatemala’s most recent genocide and how for women wearing traditional clothing represents a significant political act of resistance because of the discrimination and violence faced by Maya groups. Her research looks at how indigenous weavers and Pan Mayan activists are working to build a Pan Mayan collective heritage and the role that textiles held in museums across the world play in heritage development. She said the research focused both on how museums can re-imagine themselves as revolutionary spaces as well as showing how museum objects collected during colonisation can help to restore the link between past and present.
Other speakers included:
– Annalise Higgins [2016, PhD in History] who talked about how attempts to manage the Panama Canal in World War One and to renegotiate its international status were problematised by intersections between its strategic and commercial significance;
– Leor Zmigrod [2016, PhD in Psychology] who spoke about the cognitive and personality underpinnings of ideologies and individual differences in psychological characteristics that contribute to people's adherence to various ideologies. She suggested that an understanding of the psychology of ideological commitment has the potential to increase tolerance and reduce some of the hostility and polarisation that exist today between members of different ideological groups;
– Naomi Woo [2014, PhD in Music] who spoke about 'the practicality of the impossible' in 20th century piano music;
– Morgan Seag [2016, PhD in Polar Studies] who discussed the integration of women into Antarctic science institutions in the second half of the twentieth century;
– Josh Feinzig [2016, MPhil in Criminology] who talked about his research into prisoner-led councils and deliberative democratic programmes within prisons that attempt to foster a sense of ‘prisoner citizenship’;
– Stephen Kissler [2014, PhD in Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics] who described how mathematics has helped us identify where the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 influenza was introduced, how it spread, who was most responsible for driving its explosive transmission and the implications for future pandemics;
– Gregory Reeves [2014, PhD in Plant Sciences] whose research focuses on how to spread the benefits that some plants derive from a more efficient version of photosynthesis to cereal crops.
*Picture credit: Alex Kong. To watch a short film about the Day of Research with interviews with some speakers click here.
- 2005 PhD Computer Science
- Trinity Hall
(Update: I am now CEO of PetaGene. We tackle challenges in Personalised Medicine, making unwieldy genomic data from sequencers smaller, better and faster, to reduce costs, improve analysis and speed up collaboration.) My PhD research developed models for the physical locality of networks. Locality is fundamentally important for the performance of future computer systems with thousands of processors on a chip, but not much is fundamentally known about it. What is very exciting is that in collaborations with the Brain Mapping Institute, we've also found the theory can explain some mysteries of mammalian neuronal networks and we believe it may help to explain other natural phenomena where physical position matters such as social, epidemic, financial, and traffic networks.
- 2015 PhD Education
- Newnham College
I am a Teaching and Research Associate at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Through my teaching role, I am pursuing work on epistemic justice and the promotion of Southern knowledges (plural) and epistemologies. In this regard, I have co-initiated an international seminar series entitled: 'The politics of knowledge building in education and international development', at the Faculty of Education through which I aim to generate conversations around the politics and hegemonies of global knowledge production in my field.
I completed my Ph.D. on gender, education, and development from the Faculty of Education, the University of Cambridge in 2020. My Ph.D. research focused on women's agency in highly constrained circumstances. I have drawn extensively on the Human Development and Capability Approach in this work.
More recently, my research has focused on social justice and equity in education within the UK context. Acknowledging that children from ethnic minority backgrounds are worst affected by Covid-19, I am engaged in research on the learning experiences of children from ethnic minority families in England. In this regard, I am involved in a project funded through the Cambridge Humanities Research Grants Scheme on the learning experiences of secondary school children from ethnic minority families in England during Covid-19.
I am also a lead researcher with colleagues from the universities of Durham and Newcastle on a British Academy-funded project, 'Bridging the Local and Global: Women’s Spaces and Collectives' with women from ethnic minority families in the UK. This project aims to understand how women from ethnic minority families in England create collective spaces for action and reflection, for themselves and their families. Through this research, we seek to argue that any global understanding of women's efforts needs to seek knowledge from women themselves in their local contexts.
Institute of Management Sciences Peshawar
University of Peshawar
- 2015 PhD Medicine
- Emmanuel College
University of Western Australia
- United States
- 2016 MPhil Biological Science (Sanger Institute)
- King's College
Camilo Ruiz is a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology majoring in Biological Engineering. He has conducted extensive research focusing on translational and high-impact work. Working on a team at the DNA Medicine Institute, Camilo helped to develop a blood diagnostic device capable of shrinking a room’s worth of hospital equipment into a patient’s hand. The device won the $500K Nokia Sensing XChallenge competition and is a finalist for the $10M XPrize. Working on a team at MIT’s Langer Lab, Camilo helped to develop the CellSQZ, a microfluidic device to deliver macromolecules to many cell types. In 2014, the device was named a “Top 10 World Changing Idea” by Scientific American. Overall, Camilo has two main goals. First, he hopes to develop cutting-edge tools that make bioengineering cheaper, faster, and more accessible. Second, he hopes to invent biotechnologies that solve critical problems in health and energy. Through the Gates Cambridge Fellowship, Camilo will pursue an M.Phil. in Biological Science. By developing a strong foundation in machine learning and other computational techniques, he hopes to model, design, and construct biological systems more effectively.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Elijah Foo Keat Mak
- 2013 PhD Psychiatry
- Trinity College
Upon completing my degree in Psychology, I made my first foray into psychiatry by working as a research assistant to at Singapore's National Neuroscience Institute. While administering neuropsychological assessments for dementia patients, I became fascinated by the global challenge to halt the disease. I decided that fighting against neurodegenerative disorders would be my life endeavor. With a MRI research fellowship at University at Buffalo’s Neuroimaging Analysis Center, I am investigating the neural correlates of cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease. It is just so exciting to be part of a respected team at Cambridge, where I aim to improve early and accurate diagnosis of dementia subtypes. Through the utilization of mulitmodal neuroimaging techniques, I will be working with Professor John O'Brien to identify distinctive and signature patterns of cerebral abnormalities associated with specific dementia subtypes.
- United States
- 2014 PhD Latin American Studies
- Newnham College
Born in Utah, I was raised the oldest of six siblings first there and then just outside of Portland, Oregon. "Unschooled" until the age of 16 my foray into traditional education began with a handful of highschool classes, and then a dive into Spanish language, music and biology at the local community college, where I quickly developed a taste for academic work. As a non-traditional student I graduated first with an AAOT in General Studies from Clackamas Community College and then with honors from Pacific University in 2008, where I received a B.A. in Politics and Government. After graduation I lived and worked in the Alta Verapaz of Guatemala where I developed an interest in women's leadership education and the ongoing interactions between globalized western culture, local cultures and the evolution of ancient traditions.
- New Zealand
- 2016 PhD History
- Trinity College
As a historian, I thrive on imagining the past and asking the question ‘why?’. Growing up in New Zealand surrounded by many stunning landscapes, I have developed a strong interest in how people think about the natural world. These interests were inspired and refined by the opportunity to complete a BA in History and Psychology, and a BA(Hons) and MA in History, at the University of Auckland. At Cambridge University, I will be researching intersections between the environment and diplomacy, with a particular focus on interoceanic canals. I am interested in treating international diplomatic treaties as texts which must be considered within their environmental contexts, rather than being mentally sequestered within the confines of diplomatic meeting halls. My previous research has focussed on public perceptions of international diplomacy, notably neutrality and the 1899 Hague Peace Conference, in the late nineteenth century. I have become fascinated by the challenge of trying to understand how people have grappled with ideas about their world and how it functions. Environmental challenges are particularly salient in the present, and I believe that an integral part of working towards international cooperation in addressing environmental challenges is developing historical understanding of how the inherently international challenges presented by the environment have been confronted in diplomatic contexts.
University of Auckland
- 2016 PhD Psychology
- Downing College
A critical question that permeates history and the media of today is how and why people become radicalized. Growing up in the USA, Europe, and the Middle East, I was intimately aware that radicalization can emerge on all sides of conflict and so is not merely a product of a particular ideology or demographic. By combining cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology to study the psychological processes that underlie radicalization to an ideology or group, my PhD will aim to address the gap in our understanding of the cognitive susceptibilities to internalizing a doctrine and a willingness to harm and self-sacrifice for an ideological cause. Through this research, I hope to bring a fresh perspective to questions which have been traditionally only dealt with in the social and political sciences, and thereby to shape interventional and educational programs aimed at identifying vulnerabilities to radicalization. I am excited and honoured to be a part of the Gates Cambridge community.
University of Cambridge
- 2013 MPhil Music Studies
2014 PhD Music
- Clare College
I am a pianist, harpsichordist and conductor studying Performance Studies in the Music Faculty at Cambridge. My current and former research interests have included translation studies, musical transcription, 20th-century French music, musical memory, time, mathematics, and the mind. As a performer, my interests run the gamut from historically informed performance, to experimental/multidisciplinary concert experiences, to promoting works by female composers. I hold a BA in Mathematics&Philosophy from Yale College, and a MMus in Piano Performance from the Yale School of Music. www.naomiwoo.com
- United States
- 2016 PhD Polar Studies at Scott Polar RI
- Girton College
Morgan’s research interests center on science, policy, and social change in international spaces. In broad terms, she is interested in the "human" side of these common spaces: how are they used? by whom? to what end? More specifically, her PhD research at Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute examines scientific institutions in the polar regions, asking how they have evolved to become more gender inclusive over time. Morgan became interested in the polar regions during the austral summers of 2011-12 and 2012-13, when she worked for the US Antarctic Program at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Her PhD research also builds upon undergraduate training in political science at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as early career experiences in cross-cultural communication and science education. Her research is motivated by a belief that in order to create a better world, it is essential to understand how institutions can become more diverse and equitable; and she is driven to share her excitement about the possibilities opened up with a better understanding of our shared global spaces.
University of Pennsylvania
University of Cambridge
- United States
- 2016 MPhil Criminology
- Pembroke College
As an undergraduate studying Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale University, I focused on the intersection of criminal justice and political theory, with a particular emphasis on the intellectual history of punishment and state justifications for mass incarceration. I seek to integrate political and moral philosophy into criminology, in the hopes of imbuing criminal justice policymaking with new theoretical considerations to further the development of alternatives to incarceration across the world. In addition to working on criminal justice reform at the state level, I have served as a city commissioner in New Haven (Connecticut) and co-founded an alternative regional juvenile justice court system grounded in balanced and restorative principles. I believe that to rebuild public trust and reinvigorate civic possibility, American cities must develop restorative criminal justice systems by drawing upon local community values and mores of inclusion. At Cambridge, I seek to continue applying social scientific frameworks to develop new alternative diversionary models, while also considering how criminal justice policy normatively shapes ideas about race and citizenship. I’m honored to be joining the Gates Cambridge community and working with others so deeply committed to social justice and the public good, and I look forward to the friendships and collaborations ahead.
- United States
- 2014 PhD Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics
- King's College
Born and raised at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Castle Rock, Colorado, I completed my Master's degree in Applied Mathematics just a few miles north at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2014. At Cambridge, my PhD research will involve mathematically modelling influenza epidemics, in order to better understand the disease's transmission and to predict which control measures (such as vaccination, travel advisories, and school closures) will most effectively slow or stop an outbreak. I hope that this will ultimately lead to a career in mathematical epidemiology, emphasizing in preventing emerging infectious diseases that cross over from animal to human hosts. In addition to research, I also love to teach mathematics, and I hope to find ways to do so during my time at Cambridge and over the course of my career.
- United States
- 2014 PhD Plant Sciences
- King's College
Experiencing the tragedy of disease, poverty and starvation, both personally and in various countries, has left an indelible passion in me to pursue plant science to make a brighter future for humanity. For my Master’s research, I studied the inheritance of disease resistance and spicy flavor in chile peppers, where I discovered a new gene that inhibits disease resistance, helped sequence the chile pepper genome and broke the world record for "hottest pepper". At Cambridge, I will investigate improving crop productivity by working towards transferring the more efficient C4 photosynthesis into less efficient C3 photosynthetic, yet economically important, crops--notably rice and wheat. Engineering C4 photosynthesis into C3 crops could potentially increase current yields by 50%, while adding greater nitrogen- and water-use efficiency. This would be an incredible solution to global food security and supply! Upon completion of a PhD, I aspire to become a plant breeder.