Four of the best and brightest bound for Cambridge

10 April 2013

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation established the scholarships in 2010 through a donation of US$210m to Cambridge.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation established the scholarships in 2010 through a donation of US$210m to Cambridge.

A doctor conducting the world's first at-home trials of artificial pancreases in pregnant women, a development scholar hoping to alleviate multi-dimensional poverty and social inequality, an environmental lawyer passionate about including civil society in World Trade Organisation decisions and a law scholar equipping developing countries' transition to democracy have been awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarships - the only four given to Australians, and the only two awarded globally in the field of law.

The prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarships are given to outstanding applicants from countries outside the UK to pursue full-time postgraduate study in any subject offered at the University of Cambridge, with the goal of building a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others.

Zoe Stewart, a current Master of Public Health student, current political economy student Hosna Jahan and Sydney Law School alumni Catherine Gascoigne and Andrew McLeod will now travel to the University of Cambridge to undertake their PhDs.

"I congratulate our four outstanding Gates Cambridge scholars. They have demonstrated outstanding intellectual ability, leadership and a commitment to improving the lives of others," says Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney.

"This is one of the most prestigious international scholarships in the world, and I wish them every success in their further studies at Cambridge."

"The fact that all four of the scholarships awarded to Australians went to University of Sydney students and alumni reflects our commitment to producing leaders in all areas of research who make a real difference to complex problems all over the world."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation established the scholarships in 2010 through a donation of US$210m to Cambridge, the largest ever single donation to a UK university. Fifty-one scholarships have been awarded this year from a pool of 3500 applicants.

For Zoe Stewart, who will conduct the world's first at-home trials of artificial pancreases in pregnant women with diabetes, Cambridge will provide unprecedented opportunities for her research.

"Going to Cambridge gives me the opportunity to make a difference in an area I really care about. Because it's a highly specialised field, I wouldn't have been able to conduct this research in Australia," she says.

Diabetes is the most common medical condition affecting pregnant women, with negative outcomes for both mother and baby including birth complications, stillbirth and miscarriage, as well as higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and cholesterol and liver problems later in life.

"At the moment treatment of pregnant women with insulin is suboptimal, with women spending up to half of their day with sugars outside the normal range. The artificial pancreas has the potential to remedy this issue."

"I'm hoping to return to Australia after my studies in Cambridge to apply what I've learned and improve women's health."

Stewart is also a board director at Family Planning Victoria, and has spoken widely on the importance of building youth sexual health literacy as Australian Youth Representative for International Planned Parenthood Federation, including at a UN Commission on Population and Development in New York.

For Catherine Gascoigne, who completed a combined Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and Bachelor of Laws (Honours) at the University of Sydney, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship will allow her to explore ways of promoting development, particularly in the third world, by better including civil society in the decisions of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"The WTO relies on civil society to highlight certain areas in which its decisions affect particular parts of the third world, but at times also doesn't do enough to include it in decision making," Gascoigne says.

"There is a real need to ensure the benefits of trade don't take place at the cost of other important non-trade values. It's also quite an overlooked area of law which is considered a bit niche and a bit peripheral. I think it could be highlighted as more central in people's thinking."

After graduating, Gascoigne volunteered as a legal intern in a remote and impoverished Indigenous town in Western Australia. She later took a leave of absence from working in an international commercial law firm based in Sydney to study a Bachelor of Civil Law at the University of Oxford. Following her studies at Cambridge, Gascoigne hopes to return to Australia to pursue a career in academia.

The third Australian scholarship holder is Andrew McLeod, who graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and a Bachelor of Science (Advanced) (Honours).

Thanks to his Gates Cambridge Scholarship, McLeod will undertake a PhD in constitutional law, focusing on the scope and limits of executive power in common law countries including Australia, the UK and the US.

"I'll be investigating the concept of inherent executive power, the notion that the executive branch has certain powers that it can exercise unilaterally on account of the special position it occupies in a system of government," McLeod says.

The poorly understood area of constitutional law has particularly significance in Australia, where the recent High Court decisions on the school chaplaincy program in 2011 and the constitutionality of stimulus payments in 2009 have signalled a fundamentally different approach to how the power of the executive branch is defined.

"It also holds great importance to emerging democracies, where establishing a clear definition of executive power is critical to protecting new constitutional settlements," McLeod says.

McLeod has already worked in Zimbabwe as an ad hoc constitutional adviser to cabinet ministers and is currently involved in a project to equip the emerging leaders of civil society in Myanmar with the constitutional tools needed to transition to democracy.

He says his background in science has given him an enormous advantage in his legal studies: "More than anything else, science gave me a way of thinking about the world and approaching problems analytically and with rigour. Scientific training forces you to carefully quarantine each part of an issue, analyse it and then put the puzzle back together."

The Gates Cambridge scholarship will add to an already impressive list of academic prizes and scholarships - McLeod is currently based in Oxford reading for a Bachelor of Civil Law thanks to the Peter Cameron Oxford Scholarship.

After completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge, McLeod hopes to combine his academic interests with practice as a barrister and craft a career in constitutional reform, continuing his work in developing countries.

Hosna Jahan, who won the University of Sydney's fourth Gates Cambridge Scholarship, is inspired by her experiences living in both Australia and in the developing world.

An international student hailing from Bangladesh, Jahan travelled to Australia at the age of 15 to complete her education.

"My constant travel between the two worlds made me interested in the field of development," she says. "My study in Political Economy at the University of Sydney taught me that it is not 'tragic' to not have access to one's basic rights; it is in fact 'unjust' to be denied of that right."

Upon completing her Master of Philosophy in Development Studies at the University of Cambridge, Jahan hopes to return to Bangladesh to work with state policymakers and NGOs in the country's developing policy sector to alleviate multi-dimensional poverty.

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