Rice graduate student wins Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Rice University’s Brett Gutstein is one of 35 American students awarded a 2018 Gates Cambridge Scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Cambridge in England. Gutstein, a Houstonian, obtained his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science from Rice last year and will complete his master’s degree in computer science this May.

Brett Gutstein is one of 40 American students awarded a 2018 Gates Cambridge Scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Cambridge in England.

Brett Gutstein is one of 35 American students awarded a 2018 Gates Cambridge Scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Cambridge in England.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship, established with a donation of $210 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge, is given to only 1 percent of approximately 5,000 applicants for the prestigious program each year. Gutstein is the second Rice graduate student to receive this honor.

The scholarship recognizes students of outstanding academic merit and leadership potential from every country of the world — other than the United Kingdom — who are committed to serving their communities and who have obtained admission to the University of Cambridge. Gutstein was already intimately familiar with Cambridge, having spent his junior year there in a special exchange program between Rice and Trinity College.

“Brett was the recipient of the highly competitive internal fellowship at Rice, Abraham-Broad Exchange Program,” said Danika Brown, director of curriculum and fellowships at Rice’s Center for Civic Leadership. “Brett was and remains an exceptional ambassador for the program, and for study in the U.K. more generally.”

Gutstein applied to Cambridge for a Ph.D. last summer upon graduation. He had already begun work on a fifth-year research master’s degree with Alan Cox, Rice professor of computer science, when he entered the exhaustive application process for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which includes a round of in-person interviews at the Gates Foundation in Seattle. “There are a lot of moving parts in a Cambridge Ph.D. application, as you have to be accepted by a department, then a college, then find a source of funding,” Gutstein said.

At Cambridge, Gutstein will be returning to his previous research group, which focuses on architectural computer security. “It’s a technical field concerned with securing information and computing resources at the lowest levels of a computer, like the hardware and the software operating system,” Gutstein said. “I’m excited to pursue a Ph.D. in that field because besides being technically interesting, it also has a significant positive impact on society.”

That sort of optimistic outlook is one of the qualities sought after by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship foundation when selecting its recipients, who represent 39 universities across 19 states this year. The stated aim of the program is to build a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others. To that end, it seeks students in possession of outstanding intellectual ability, leadership potential and a commitment to improving the lives of others.

Gutstein’s ultimate goal is to use applied computer science in support of humanitarian and societal issues, including protecting the environment, defending human rights, improving global health and effectively regulating technology. “I believe computing is a powerful and liberating tool that, if applied properly, can continue to make an enormous positive impact on our world,” he said. “As a Gates Scholar and doctoral student at Cambridge, I hope to develop my technical expertise and work on impactful projects for the common good.”

During his time as an undergraduate at Rice, Gutstein was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and was heavily involved with Lovett College and various on-campus organizations, including HackRice and a cappella group Nocturnal, the latter of which he served as president. “At Rice, I grew tremendously as a leader and a person,” Gutstein said. “I’m still at the beginning of my career as a leader, and I’m honored that the Gates Trust saw potential in me.”

For a complete list of the 2018 Gates Cambridge Scholars, visit gatescambridge.org/our-scholars/new-scholars.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.