Budding Bioethicist Wins Gates Fellowship

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As a seventh grader, Alix Rogers C’07 got drawn to bioethics after learning about the cloned sheep, Dolly. A lively debate ensued in her science class, for and against cloning. She was hooked.

Almost 10 years later, Rogers, a philosophy and health-and-societies double major, is looking forward to continuing her studies this fall in the United Kingdom, after winning a Gates Cambridge Fellowship in February. She will pursue a master’s degree in Cambridge University’s History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science, Technology and Medicine program. She is among 48 U.S. winners of the annual Gates scholarship, which was begun by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2001.

More than the Rhodes and Marshall fellowships, which also also involve study in the UK, the Gates emphasizes a close match between candidates and the academic programs available at Cambridge. “It is expected that your choice of program for graduate school makes sense in terms of what you’ve done as an undergraduate,” says Dr. Arthur Casciato, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. “The program that Alix is in is especially snug.”

More than the science itself, Rogers is interested in bioethics from a policy perspective. “The United States has really lagged behind in regulation of human tissue,” she says. At Cambridge she hopes to learn from the British/European model, “with the idea that I can take what I learn from there and apply it to the U.S. sphere.” Cambridge’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, which is partly publicly funded, “is one reason I particularly want to go there,” she says.

Rogers credits the mentorship of Penn faculty members for paving the way to this opportunity. “I was able to intern this summer with Dr. [Jonathan] Moreno, [the Silfen University Professor and professor of medical ethics and of history and sociology of science], and actually get some pieces published in stem-cell research,” she says. Rogers is also a research assistant to Dr. Arthur Caplan, the Hart Professor of Bioethics, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and director of the Center for Bioethics.

Rogers’ win pushes Penn’s tally of Gates awards up to 14. “We’ve been doing it for seven years, and I think we’ve averaged two a year,” says Casciato of CURF, which helps students with fellowship applications. “There’s a real sense that the Gates is going to be the Rhodes of the 21st century. The logic is clear: Rhodes is to Oxford as Gates is to Cambridge. That’s where they’re trying to get, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t get there.”

Rogers says her goal is to be in a position to influence public policy. “So often there are these emerging bio-technologies and there is no precedent about what should be done,” she says. “I want to be part of that dialogue.” Now she has a head start. 

—Yashas Vaidya C’09

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