Sameer Gupta ’10 has been named a winner of the Churchill Scholarship, granting him a full ride to the University of Cambridge in recognition of his scientific achievements.
Gupta learned in mid-January that he had been awarded the scholarship — granted to only 14 college students across the country each year — to study as a postgraduate at Cambridge in the fall. An anthropology major, Gupta said he intends to study computational biology at Cambridge, where the Churchill program seeks students with exceptional backgrounds in the sciences, mathematics and engineering.
Gupta’s sister, Monique — who attended the Georgia Institute of Technology — also won the scholarship six years ago, making the Guptas the first brother-sister pair to win the scholarship since the 1959 inception of the Winston Churchill Foundation, which sponsors the award.
“[The Churchill Fellowship] couldn’t have picked a better person for the scholarship,” said Kate Dailinger, associate director for the Yale Office for UK and Irish Fellowships and an advisor for the Office of Fellowship Programs.
Gupta said Cambridge’s Master’s of Philosophy in computational biology would be a good opportunity for him to develop analytical techniques and computational approaches to analysis, while studying human genetic variation. During the first two terms of the program, he said, he will take courses in statistical genetics. During the third portion, from May to July, he will do laboratory research. For his research term, he said, he has already contacted a lab at the University of Oxford’s Center for Genetics and Global Health that studies population genetics research of diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.
Peter Patrikis, the executive director of the Winston Churchill Foundation, said the panel of scholars who reviewed the applications looked for exceptional talent, outstanding achievement, an important research record and an intangible, personal spark. Patrikis said six different academics in different fields read 83 applications and Gupta was one of 22 finalists.
“He was fabulous in every single possible way,” Patrikis said.
Gupta first applied through the Yale Office for UK and Irish Fellowships, Dailinger said, and was selected by the office’s faculty committee as one of its two annual nominees for the fellowship.
“It’s a very prestigious scholarship for scientists and mathematicians, so we’re just delighted to have a Yale scholar,” Dailinger said. “Cambridge is a lively community, and I’m sure they will enjoy having him.”
The last Yale student to receive the scholarship was Joanne Maddis ’06, a biology major, Dailinger said.
Gupta — who is the undergraduate president of Phi Beta Kappa’s Yale chapter and publisher of Yale Scientific Magazine — traveled in 2008 to the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, where he studied the relationship between genetic variation in a particular gene and hair structure. And last year, he won the Goldwater Scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Congress, part of which he used to stay in New Haven this past summer to do research and start taking flying lessons
As a junior, Gupta won the Hart Lyman Prize — a Yale College award for excellence in character and intellectual achievement — and he has published papers in the American Journal of Human Genetics and the Journal of Comparative Human Biology.
He began conducting research on population genetics in 2007 at the Yale School of Medicine in genetics professor Kenneth Kidd’s lab. There, he studied global variation in a gene that has been associated with brain and spinal cord defects, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. His current research explores whether variants of another gene are associated with adverse reactions to breath cancer treatment.
Kidd, Gupta said, was very flexible in allowing him to explore different projects. Gupta said strong support from mentors, faculty members and advisers was instrumental in his attainment of the scholarship.
“It’s much less about students’ capacity and much more about the support they receive,” Gupta said.
Gupta said he became interested in genetics in high school, through a history project in which he genetically analyzed remains dating to 800 C.E. to learn about events that led to the settling of the Americas.
After Cambridge, Gupta said, he plans to attend medical school to study causes of disease, and hopes eventually to work as a researcher in the Office of Public Health Genomics at the Centers for Disease Control. He said he thinks human genetic variation research can generate new strategies for early diagnosis, prevention and effective treatment of disease.
Gupta once spent a four-day stint in Cambridge visiting his sister when she did her postgraduate scholarship, studying genetics — and now, he said, he looks forward to returning to the university.
“I had a blast,” he said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity.”