By Yash Pershad
As one of 16 U.S. students to win the 2019-20 Churchill Scholarship on Jan. 10, biomedical computation major Cindy Liu ’19 will spend a year at the University of Cambridge in England pursuing a master’s degree in computer science.
Following her master’s degree, Liu will take a gap year in Europe before applying to medical school, with the ultimate goal of pursuing an M.D. Ph.D to become a physician-scientist. During the gap year, she wants to gain experience in research and continue her academic studies; through the Churchill Scholarship, she will get a mix of both.
While in England, she will take computer science classes and work on a research project to apply machine learning techniques to a wide range of biomedical datasets. The work uses data from the European Union’s PROPAG-AGEING project, a collaboration between nine different universities in Europe that aims to find new molecular signatures for early diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.
The Churchill Scholarship was established in the 1950s to enable Americans scholars to study at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge. Since 1980, 16 Stanford students have been awarded the Churchill Scholarship. Stanford mathematical statistics major Anne Thomas ’18 won the award last year. Liu’s scholarship marks the fifth year in a row that a female Stanford student has earned the prestigious award.
Liu said she wanted to spend her gap year in England because she did not get a chance to study abroad at Oxford during her Stanford career. In winter and spring of her junior year, she attended information sessions, essay writing workshops and interview preparation sessions at the Bechtel International Center.
“The Bechtel International Center is amazing because they really allow students to feel that they have the capacity to get these scholarships that may seem out of reach,” Liu said.
Liu said her interest in the intersection of computer science and biology stemmed from math programming competitions early in high school, followed by biomedical research in her junior year. She chose Stanford’s biomedical computation major because of her dual interest in medicine and computational methods.
“The smaller size of the biomedical computation major combined with the technical computer science background provided a perfect mix for me,” Liu said.
At Stanford, she worked in Stephen Skirboll’s and Karl Deisseroth’s labs. With Skirboll’s group, she worked on factors affecting cancer stem cell growth. Starting in her junior year, she analyzed gene expression in three-dimensional samples under Deisseroth’s supervision, even publishing her work in Science magazine in July 2018.
Liu told The Daily that, aside from academics at Cambridge, she is most looking forward to traveling during her year in Europe.
“I’ve never been to Europe before, so I’m excited to travel around Europe,” Liu said. “I am going to explore the great art scene in England.”
Contact Yash Pershad at ypershad ‘at’ stanford.edu.
A previous version of this article misidentified the previous winner of the scholarship. The Daily regrets this error.