Penn senior wins Churchill research scholarship


Sarah Foster will pursue her passion for science at Cambridge




The add/drop period tends to be a time of scaling down on that fifth credit or maybe even an extra minor, but for Sarah Foster, one, even two majors, have just never been enough.

A College senior and Vagelos Scholar in Molecular Life Sciences, Foster will complete her triple major this semester and go on to research at the University of Cambridge after graduation as one of 14 American students who received the Winston Churchill Scholarship in 2014.

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The scholarship offers students with a passion for science the opportunity to conduct research at Cambridge. Fisher was attracted to the program because it provided her the opportunity to familiarize herself further with the field of biophysics — one of her majors, among biochemistry and physics — before pursuing her PhD.

The chance to study abroad and “experience the different academic culture of Cambridge,” also piqued her interest.

Before applying for the scholarship, Foster reached out to a professor at Cambridge who was conducting research in the field of biophysics.

“Luckily he didn’t think I was crazy and responded to my email,” Foster said. She and Dr. Kristian Franze skyped and discussed her joining his research staff. She looks forward to learning more about using optical techniques to investigate mechanical signaling in the nervous system as part of Franze’s staff.

Foster didn’t set out to be a triple major, and certainly didn’t expect to choose physics as one of her fields of study coming to college.

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“When I first came to Penn, I didn’t really like physics at all,” she said. In high school, she hadn’t particularly liked the field but developed a love for it in her classes as an undergraduate.

“My interests have kind of evolved throughout my time at Penn,” she said. She found herself increasingly drawn to the field of biophysics, which she described as the “application of physical tools and ways of thinking to solve biological problems.”

Foster won the Barry Goldwater Scholarship in 2013, a program that commends 300 aspiring scientists each year for their commitment to research. The Churchill Scholarship is even more selective.

“I thought I didn’t stand an icicle’s chance in hell of getting it,” Foster said.

Her research advisor, biology professor Brian Gregory, and Associate Director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Cheryl Shipman were less surprised.

“She has what I call ‘appropriate humility,‘” Shipman said. “She has confidence in her own abilities, but is also aware of how much more there is for her to learn.”

Gregory recalled when she first walked into his lab four years ago. “I could tell just from meeting her that even as a freshman she was very intelligent and had an obvious love for science,” he said. Through the Vagelos program, Foster has been able to work in the lab while at Penn, including during summers.

“In a way, I have come to expect her to win these awards because she is an extraordinary undergraduate and researcher,” Gregory added. “I couldn’t be happier that she chose to do work in my lab four years ago.”

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