Brown University Student Awarded Kanders Churchill Scholarship for Science Policy

Maddie McCarthy, a senior at Brown University, has been selected as a Kanders Churchill Scholar for the 2024-25 academic year. This distinguished honor allows her to pursue graduate research at the University of Cambridge in England.

The Winston Churchill Foundation’s 18 scholars include 16 Churchill Scholars who will do research in mathematics, science, and engineering, and two Kanders Churchill Scholars, including McCarthy, who will study the interface of science and public policy.

The health and human biology concentrator from Barrington, Rhode Island, is Brown’s first Kanders Churchill recipient since the prize was established 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.”

McCarthy will travel to the United Kingdom to pursue a master of philosophy in public policy with an emphasis on science and health policy after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in May.

“ 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. ” – MADDIE MCCARTHY (Class of 2024)

McCarthy will receive full tuition, a competitive stipend, travel expenses, and the opportunity to apply for a $4,000 special research grant throughout her study.

“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.”

McCarthy was unsure of her interests when she first arrived at Brown in 2019. She began her Brown education as a varsity student-athlete, focusing mostly on skiing before transferring to track and field. She was particularly drawn to the University’s health and medicine departments after seeing her father receive cancer treatment from Brown physicians — but she had no prior academic experience with medicine and was unsure if it would be a good fit.

She studied the Open Curriculum using a “process of elimination” method, as many others have done at Brown.

“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 initial mentor at Brown was Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine physician and former Brown professor and dean who now chairs the Yale School of Public Health. McCarthy joined Ranney’s research team, working on a study that used text message-based interventions to reduce juvenile peer violence.

McCarthy collaborated with Associate Professor of Surgery Dr. Doreen Wiggins, who delivered her as a newborn, to create an educational paradigm for undergraduates interested in surgical research. McCarthy spent Friday mornings in the operating room, observing Wiggins’ work, and other days working on the Rhode Island Hospital Ethics Committee as a community member.

McCarthy described her early years at Brown as challenging; she took advantage of every mentorship option available, attended office hours “like they were scheduled classes,” and sought peer review and coaching on every task she submitted. That boosted her confidence, which would serve her well for the rest of her studies.

“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.”

McCarthy had no idea at the time that the summer after her sophomore year would pave the way for a hectic academic career that would include joint research at three Ivy League institutions and two trips to Capitol Hill.

She spent the summer at Cornell University in New York City, conducting COVID-19 research and producing a paper on clinical trial ethics. That work resulted in the opportunity to continue her studies in California. McCarthy took a year off from Brown to accept a salaried post at Stanford University, focusing her research on inequities, biases, and ethics in surgery.

McCarthy interned with the Office of the United States Surgeon General after returning to the East Coast, with significant assistance from another mentor, Brown Professor of the Practice of Health Services, Policy, and Practice Beth Cameron. During her time there, she shifted her focus from clinical work to policy. She also got the opportunity to participate in a United States Senate hearing when he testified; it would not be the last.

Shortly after the completion of that summer internship, Ranney encouraged McCarthy to join her at Yale as a research assistant while she finished her studies at Brown, and she has spent the last year dividing her time between Providence and New Haven, Connecticut. Part of that effort involved accompanying Ranney to Washington for 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.”

McCarthy’s studies at Cambridge will begin in the fall, with an emphasis on rural surgical access, notably the discrepancies between the US and UK health systems. She intends to enter medical school after getting her master of philosophy, and she is pleased to have graduate-level policy and research skills to help her get started.

“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.”

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