Beginning this fall, Anthony Wilder Wohns will be pursuing a Ph.D. in statistics at University of Oxford in England.
The Rhodes Scholar program may well be the most famous fellowship out there. And it’s likely the oldest — the first class of Rhodes Scholars entered University of Oxford in England in 1904.
Since then, many Rhodes Scholars have gone on to have notable careers, including Sen. Cory Booker, former Supreme Court Justice David Souter, MSNBC television host Rachel Maddow and Cyrus Habib, Washington’s current lieutenant governor.
This year’s American class, which will begin study at Oxford in October of this year, boasts 32 Rhodes Scholars from across the country — out of a pool of 2,500 who sought the prize. One of this year’s scholars, Anthony Wilder Wohns, 23, hails from Tacoma.
What does it take to land the fellowship? It’s a two-stage process. First, applicants need the endorsement of their college or university. Wohns, who graduated from Harvard University in 2016, sought the school’s endorsement via three letters of recommendation and three essays. Once he received Harvard’s endorsement, he joined a competitive field of 882 other students. From there, he submitted an application to the American Rhodes Trust, including another essay and eight letters of recommendation.
His application went to the regional committee, which covers Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Montana and Idaho. In November, each regional committee invites the strongest finalist candidates for interviews in front of a panel of judges, including former Rhodes Scholars. Each of the 16 regional committees then chooses two winners.
Wohns, who studied human evolutionary biology and computer science at Harvard and is currently reading for a M.A. in biological anthropology at the University of Cambridge, says he was drawn to the Rhodes Scholarship because of the unique criteria it rewards. “The [Rhodes] Trust aims to cultivate individuals who apply their talents in novel ways,” he says.
That criteria was written in the will of Cecil Rhodes, who established the Trust. Beyond the initial requirement of academic excellence, Rhodes Scholars should show ambition, teamwork, leadership and be “committed to make a strong difference for good in the world, be concerned for the welfare of others, and be conscious of inequities.”
This focus, in particular, drew Wohns to the award. “I hope to pursue a career that is multidisciplinary in nature, involving both research and public advocacy, so it seemed to be a natural fit for me,” he says.
The scholarship covers all expenses for two, three or sometimes four years of study at Oxford. Beginning this fall, Wohns will be pursuing a Ph.D. in statistics with Gil McVean, a professor and director of Oxford’s Big Data Institute. Wohns says he’ll use this course of study to continue to pursue his interest in computational genetics.
“I’m interested in genetics because it reveals humanity’s origins, underlies disease risk, and, as our ability to manipulate genes increases, it challenges our conceptions of what it means to be human,” Wohns says. “As a scientist who can separate fact from hyperbole and as a person who cares deeply about the productive application of scientific theory, I will be able to contribute an important voice to this conversation.”
Wohns says he isn’t sure yet whether he’ll fulfill this role as a biomedical researcher or in some other capacity, but “the Rhodes Scholarship will give me the opportunity to determine my path.”
Jolly good fellowship
Rhodes Scholar award: The Rhodes Trust pays all for two or three years — and sometimes four — at University of Oxford, provides a stipend to cover necessary expenses while in residence in Oxford as well as during vacations, and transportation to and from England. The total value of the Scholarship averages approximately $68,000 per year, and up to as much as $250,000 for Scholars who remain at Oxford for four years in certain departments.
Timing: Each year, Rhodes Scholar applications are typically available in July, with winners announced in November for attendance the following October.