Brown senior awarded prestigious Kanders Churchill Scholarship for science policy
Maddie McCarthy is the first student from Brown to earn the award, which enables graduate study at the University of Cambridge in England.
Brown University senior Maddie McCarthy was named to this year’s Kanders Churchill Scholar cohort — just one of two students nationwide to earn the award. All photos courtesy of Maddie McCarthy.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University senior Maddie McCarthy has been named to the 2024-25 cohort of Kanders Churchill Scholars, a prestigious award that enables graduate research study at the University of Cambridge in England.
The Winston Churchill Foundation’s cohort of 18 scholars comprises 16 Churchill Scholars, who will pursue research in mathematics, science and engineering, and just two Kanders Churchill Scholars — including McCarthy — whose research will focus on the intersection of science and public policy.
The health and human biology concentrator from Barrington, Rhode Island, is Brown’s first Kanders Churchill awardee since the scholarship was created in 2017.
"We are thrilled to see Maddie supported in her continued work at the forefront of rural health care policy, and for the broader recognition of student scholarship in science policy at Brown,” said Joel Simundich, assistant dean of the College for fellowships. “We hope students continue to apply to the Kanders Churchill Scholarship in the years to come."
After earning her bachelor’s degree in May, McCarthy will hop the pond to the United Kingdom, where she will pursue a master of philosophy in public policy with a focus on science and health policy.
The award will cover McCarthy’s full tuition and provides a competitive stipend, travel costs and the chance to apply for a $4,000 special research grant throughout the course of her studies.
“It took a while to sink in — to digest the news and say, ‘This is real, you deserve to be here and you won this award,’” McCarthy said. “It was a super joyful moment. I applied to a couple of scholarships, but I was certainly most excited about Kanders Churchill, because it’s so specific to what I’m interested in. It acknowledges the value of seeing science and policy as inseparable.”
When McCarthy arrived at Brown in 2019, she wasn’t exactly sure what she was interested in. She started her Brown education as a varsity student-athlete, focusing much of her time on skiing, then transitioning to track and field. She was particularly drawn to the University for its health and medicine programs, after witnessing her father undergo cancer treatment from physicians affiliated with Brown — but she had no prior academic exposure to medicine and wasn’t sure if it would be a good fit.
So she did what so many others come to Brown to do: She explored through the Open Curriculum, taking a “process of elimination” approach.
“I asked myself, ‘What are the things that I can do that are the hardest? The things that can allow me to explore and see if I can strike myself out?’” McCarthy said. “But I never struck out — I just kept loving it more.”
McCarthy’s first mentor at Brown was Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine physician and former Brown professor and academic dean who now leads the Yale School of Public Health. McCarthy took a position on Ranney’s research team, focusing on a study that used text message-based interventions to reduce youth peer violence.
During her sophomore year, McCarthy worked with Associate Professor of Surgery Dr. Doreen Wiggins — the same doctor who delivered her as a baby — to develop an educational model designed to give undergraduates exposure to surgical research. McCarthy spent Friday mornings in the operating room, observing Wiggins’ work, and other days participating in the Rhode Island Hospital Ethics Committee as a community member.
McCarthy said her first years at Brown were hard work; she took every mentorship opportunity available, attended office hours “like they were scheduled classes” and sought peer review and tutoring on every assignment she turned in. That helped instill a confidence that would motivate her throughout the rest of her education.
“If I do something that doesn’t quite work out or that I had to abandon, it’s OK, because I have the support and ability to go back to the drawing board,” McCarthy said. “I work as hard as I do and am able to take risks because I have such a community of people to fall back on and catch me at Brown, both professionally and personally.”
Though McCarthy didn’t realize it at the time, the summer after her sophomore year would set the stage for a whirlwind of a collegiate career that would lead to collaborative research at three Ivy League institutions and two visits to Capitol Hill.
Maddie McCarthy, right, works as Dr. Megan Ranney’s research assistant at Yale University, splitting her time between New Haven and Providence. As part of that work, McCarthy attended a U.S. Senate hearing with Ranney last summer.
That summer, she worked at Cornell University in New York City, conducting COVID-19 research and publishing a paper on the ethics of clinical trials. That work led to the opportunity to continue her research in California. McCarthy took a yearlong leave from Brown to accept a salaried position at Stanford University, narrowing her research to focus on disparities, biases and ethics in surgery.
After returning to the East Coast — and with significant help from another mentor, Brown Professor of the Practice of Health Services, Policy and Practice Beth Cameron — McCarthy interned with the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, over the course of which she stepped outside of clinical work to focus more on policy. She also had the opportunity to be part of a U.S. Senate hearing he testified in; it wouldn’t be the last.
Shortly after the end of that summer internship, Ranney invited McCarthy to take on a research assistant role with her at Yale as she completed her studies at Brown, and for the past year, she has split her time between Providence and New Haven, Connecticut. Part of that work included accompanying Ranney to Washington during another Senate testimony.
“That was my second time in a Senate hearing room in six months,” she said. “If you had asked me about the things I would do in 2023, that would not have even been in my purview.”
When she begins her studies at Cambridge in the fall, McCarthy will focus on rural surgical access, particularly in relation to the differences between the U.S. and U.K. health systems. After earning her master of philosophy, she plans to attend medical school and said she’s grateful to begin her studies with graduate-level policy and research skills under her belt.
“I hope to balance my policy work with a medical career — finding a lot of meaning in my relationships with my patients, but also in the practicality of it: Doctors, along with patients and people in our communities, drive important change.”
About the Kanders Churchill Scholarship
Kanders Churchill Scholarships, created in 2017, are awarded from a pool of applicants to the Cambridge master’s program in public policy. For the 16 Churchill Scholarships in mathematics, science and engineering, the foundation received 121 nominations from 75 participating institutions.
Dating back to 1963, the Churchill Scholarship program was established at the request of Sir Winston Churchill as part of the founding of Churchill College. It fulfills his vision of deepening the U.S.–U.K. partnership in order to advance science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic, ensuring future prosperity and security.
Churchill College at the University of Cambridge was established in 1960 as a predominantly science and technology college and the National and Commonwealth memorial to Churchill.
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