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Liam Knight AC ’23J and Vivien Qiao ’23: Goldwater Scholars

News of Note


Published May 10, 2022

There’s no wrong way to begin a career in STEM.

Mathematics and statistics major Liam Knight AC ’23J and biochemistry and engineering double major Vivien Qiao ’23 arrived at Smith via very different paths but have one exciting thing in common: they’ve both been awarded prestigious Goldwater scholarships

Recognizing outstanding undergraduate students in STEM fields, the scholarship—which grants winners up to $7,500 for college expenses—was awarded to only 417 applicants this year out of a pool of more than 5,000.

“I’ve always been interested in medicine,” says Qiao, who has wanted to be a doctor since she was a child. “I want to have a strong relationship with patients—to be someone they can trust.”

With plans to complete a combined M.D./Ph.D. program in biomedical sciences, Qiao is especially interested in translational research for targeted cancer treatments. “Coming to college and taking lab classes made me realize how much I love research,” she explains. “That helped me discover the interdisciplinary career of physician-scientist.”

While obtaining a Goldwater scholarship is a tremendous honor, Qiao says it’s also helped stave off imposter syndrome. “It’s a sign of support from people I don’t even know,” she says. “Knowing that so many people believe in the path I am on means the world to me.”

Knight, an Ada Comstock scholar, has similar thoughts. “It’s definitely a boost,” he says. “It’s pretty neat to know that even given how abstract my research is, other members of the scientific community can see that it is exciting.”

Arriving at Smith after traveling for several years has given Knight a unique perspective. “Having had a lot of different experiences before coming to Smith allowed me to consider other career paths,” he says. “It gives me even more confidence in knowing that this is what I want to do.” Knight plans on obtaining a Ph.D. in mathematics, conducting research in topology and teaching at the university level.

It was at Smith, Knight notes, that he discovered his fascination with topology—a geometry-adjacent field focused on spatial relations. “I enjoy thinking visually,” he says. “It’s a field of math that allows for a lot of pictures, so I liked it instantly.”

Smith’s continued success with Goldwater scholarships points to the college’s strong STEM curricula. “It also really speaks to the commitment of our faculty and Science Center staff to supporting our students,” says Andrew Dausch, assistant director of fellowships and postgraduate scholarships. “The relationships students build with faculty are one of the most important factors in the development of a successful fellowships candidacy.”

Knight and Qiao both agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. Sarah Moore, associate professor of engineering, introduced Qiao to research and has become a mentor.

“I remember emailing her as a first year, and she sent me some papers her lab had published,” Qiao reflects. “I had so many questions, but she met with me, explained everything in layman’s terms and invited me to sit in on some group discussions.”

For Knight, two mathematics and statistics professors have been instrumental in shaping his Smith career—Patricia Cahn ’06, Phyllis Cohen Rappaport ’68 New Century Term Assistant Professor, and associate professor and Candice Price, who received a 2022 Sherrerd award. “I am incredibly lucky to have had their support,” he reflects. “I genuinely could not have done this without them.”

The basis of both Goldwater scholars’ interests is an innate curiosity and desire to make a difference. “If you want to see change,” Qiao says, “you have to be part of it.”

Liam Knight AC ’23J and Vivien Qiao ’23. Photograph by Jeff Baker