At this time of year, most Harvard seniors are worrying about job interviews or graduate school applications, but not Dhruva Bhat and Julius Bright Ross.
The two seniors don’t have to fret about their immediate futures because they’ll be spending the next two years studying in the United Kingdom, Bhat as a Rhodes Scholar and Bright Ross as a Marshall Scholar.
An Eliot House resident and economics concentrator, Bhat received the scholarship from his native India, and plans to spend his time at Oxford University working on a master’s degree in development studies.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” he said, of receiving the scholarship. “It’s still very exciting every time someone congratulates me on it.”
Bhat said the two-year development studies program will complement his undergraduate work in economics by incorporating other perspectives, including history, politics, and social anthropology, pointed toward his goal of working in international development.
“Whether that will be in research, as I’ve been doing — I’ve done economics research the past two summers — or as a practitioner of some kind … will depend on what I’m exposed to in the next two years and what opportunities open up,” he said.
Bhat’s interest in development, he said, stems in part from growing up in India, where he saw firsthand how even small investments could drastically alter lives.
“There are so many people living in circumstances that are unimaginable for many people in the West, and that are, honestly, unnecessarily dire,” he said. “We know the solutions to some of these problems, and if we don’t we should be working to find them, but sometimes it’s just a question of policies that are designed properly to make sure the solutions reach the people who need them.”
His four years at Harvard, Bhat said, played an instrumental role in setting the stage for his future.
“There are three things about Harvard that helped prepare me for the next two years,” he said. “One was the academics. I really enjoyed the economics classes I’ve taken, and the research I’ve done has been incredible, and has definitely influenced my interest in development.”
A former president of the Harvard College Debating Union, Bhat also said his time on the debate team was useful preparation not only for the Rhodes interview process, but for making connections with other students.
“Harvard also just instills the sense of having empathy for people, as well as the sense that you’re meant to do something greater than self-interested things for the rest of your life,” Bhat said. “I think all those things will set a very good stage for me going forward.”
Julius Bright Ross
For Bright Ross, receiving a Marshall Scholarship came as something of a surprise.
A resident of Adams House, Bright Ross was initially on the wait-list for the scholarship, and was told he would likely know if he would be moved up by late November. When that deadline came and went, he assumed it simply wasn’t meant to be.
“But apparently they sometimes have an extra scholarship, and they assign them to the different regions,” he said. “They found some additional money for a scholarship in the Boston region, so I’m really excited about the next two years.”
He hopes to use those guaranteed two years, with a further year of funding, to pursue a Ph.D. in zoology at Oxford. He plans to become a conservationist.
“I’m really excited about the project I’ll be working on. I’d be looking at the CO2 flux in forest soils and the effect badgers have on it in the U.K.,” he said. “It turns out badgers eat a tremendous amount of earthworms, and earthworms have a huge impact on the CO2 retention rate of soils.”
At present, he said, it’s not entirely clear whether worms increase or decrease the amount of CO2 that soil can sequester, because current evidence points in both directions.
“On one hand, they lithify organic carbon, which binds it up in the soil, suggesting they may play a role in storing carbon,” he said. “But they also turn the soil over and expose more of it to bacterial action, so that could be releasing carbon, so part of my research would be to figure out which way the CO2 is going.”
Though part of his interest in conservation work can be chalked up to his early experiences growing up on Easter Island, Bright Ross said it wasn’t until he arrived at Harvard that he understood how studying biology could drive that work.
“I was initially thinking about environmental science or policy,” the integrative biology concentrator said. “But when I got here I realized just how amazing it is to study natural systems and how integral understanding them is to repairing them.”
Coming to Harvard “has given me opportunities I never thought I would have. I’ve been able to see how ecosystems work around the world. I’ve received funding to study in the Dominican Republic, to do research in Panama, and I just completed my thesis on deer ecology in northern Italy. I even had a class that included a field trip to Costa Rica over spring break.
“Those opportunities have encouraged me to work hard to do what I want to do … I think if anything would have prepared me for the next two to three years, [Harvard] did.”