Graduate student, Ishan Kalburge

Ishan Kalburge, a member of the Class of 2023, is one of 26 American students to be awarded the prestigious 2024 Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

Established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship provides full funding for around 80 exceptional applicants from countries outside the UK to undertake a postgraduate degree at the University of Cambridge.

“There is no greater privilege than to study at Cambridge with full support from the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which will give me access to a vibrant and diverse community of global leaders that can enrich my scholarship, leadership, and personal life,” Kalburge says.

Kalburge will pursue a PhD in engineering with Máté Lengyel, a professor in Cambridge’s Computational and Biological Learning Lab, using probabilistic deep learning to investigate how humans form internal representations of uncertainty during decision-making.

Kalburge’s academic interests took root during his high school years. He recalls making a routine of asking his grandfather to recite the Indian prime minister’s full name every morning, an exercise meant to keep his grandfather’s mind active. The more time Kalburge spent taking care of his grandfather, the more curious he became about the complexities of his grandfather’s behavior. When his grandfather was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he was driven to search for ways to help him.

At Hopkins, Kalburge sought further understanding by pursuing a triple major in biomedical engineering, applied mathematics, and economics. Through this interdisciplinary course of study, he learned to approach human behavior through the unique lens of neuroeconomics, a field that aims to uncover the neural basis of decision-making. He conducted neuroeconomics research with Vikram Chib, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, combining methods from behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience to study how psychiatric interventions can reverse the effects of physical fatigue.

“Ishan’s work ethic and intellectual curiosity make him a true stand out,” says Chib. “During my time working with him I’ve seen how he is able to quickly learn new ideas and synthesize them into novel approaches for tackling scientific questions. I’m excited to see him carry this on as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.”

Kalburge also pursued neuroeconomics research at Caltech, where he developed a model to explain why humans sometimes act in bursts. These experiences, he says, sparked his interest in using computational neuroscience to examine how decision-making is implemented in the brain. He decided to pursue research at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, modeling human decision-making under uncertainty—a subject he’ll continue studying while at Cambridge.

“We live in an uncertain world, so naturally we want to understand how the brain accounts for this uncertainty during decision-making processes,” he explains. “Understanding uncertainty is not only important for having a better understanding of the brain in health and disease, but also in developing better artificial intelligence systems that are more trustworthy and can replicate human-level inference at human-level energy costs.”

Throughout his undergraduate career, Kalburge served on the board of the Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering Society, most recently as its president. He also worked as a teaching assistant in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, eventually becoming the head teaching assistant for Intermediate Probability and Statistics. His interests stretch beyond STEM, however, and despite his rigorous triple major and research commitments, he found time to serve as news and features editor for the Johns Hopkins News-Letter and play piano for the Hopkins Jazz Band.

This excerpt was sourced from the Hub.