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Catz student recognised for outstanding final-year results

Monday 22 February 2021

The University of Cambridge has recognised St Catharine’s student Rachel McKeown (2017, Natural Sciences) for outstanding performance in her final year of undergraduate studies. Rachel has been selected to receive a Winifred Georgina Holgate Pollard Memorial Prize based on her Part II Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (PDN) assessment results, which combined written exams with a research project and viva.

Rachel commented, “Winning the Winifred Georgina Holgate Pollard Memorial Prize was a lovely surprise. My undergraduate experience at Catz was truly incredible and I will be eternally grateful to my Director of Studies Dr Matthew Mason, who went above and beyond for all of his students and was always available for support and guidance.”

Dr Mason added, “We're all very proud of Rachel's achievements, not just in her final year but throughout her career in Cambridge. Rachel has consistently provided inspiration and support to younger students, and has been involved in outreach activities that have helped many others in their academic journey. Not only did she win this very prestigious award, which she very much deserves, but she also won the Physiological Society prize for best undergraduate performance in our department. We look forward to many more successes from Rachel in her PhD years and beyond!"

Established in 2016, the Winifred Georgina Holgate Pollard Memorial Prizes are given by the University to the candidate or candidates who achieve the most outstanding results in each Tripos Part or equivalent. The Prizes are the result of a generous bequest from a former Cambridge student in memory of their mother. Although COVID-19 delayed the running of the prize for some subjects, the College was delighted that undergraduate chemist Pin Yu Chew (2017) was also awarded a Winifred Georgina Holgate Pollard Memorial Prize for her performance last summer.

Of course, the pandemic meant that Rachel was among our students who sat final examinations and graduated in circumstances far removed from what they might have imagined:

“It was a significant and unexpected challenge to have to revise and sit 24-hour papers from my family home in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, during the first national lockdown. That said, I am very family-orientated so it meant a lot to be able to have my family around me – their support never wavered and meant the world to me at what was a really difficult time. I didn’t expect to be miles from Cambridge but I look back fondly on celebrating the end of finals with my parents, and our mini-graduation in the home and garden with a borrowed cap and gown. Though we couldn’t finish our degrees together, I will always keep in touch with my undergraduate friends.”

Pictured: Rachel celebrating graduation at home in South Wales last year (left), and observing cells in the Franze laboratory as part of her PhD research (right).

Since her final year exams, Rachel has been welcomed back to St Catharine’s as part of the Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholars Programme. For her PhD thesis on ‘The Roles and Interactions of Chemical and Mechanical Signals in Nervous System Development’, she has returned to the laboratory of Professor Kristian Franze where she did her undergraduate research project. In fact, Rachel attributes her current research interests to the structure of the Natural Sciences degree:

“The Natural Sciences Tripos is responsible for me gradually falling in love with neuroscience! I was purely interested in cell biology and genetics when I arrived but we are encouraged to cover a wide range of material in the first year and to study some of these areas in ever greater detail in the second and third years. You can shape your degree to fit what you find most engaging and exciting. My research project was focused on nervous system development and I was eager to discover more about these complex processes at PhD level. The Franze lab welcomed me with open arms and is a wonderful environment to be a scientist-in-training, bringing together researchers from a range of biological and physical backgrounds to tackle some of the big open questions in neuroscience.”


Find out more about studying Natural Sciences at St Catharine’s.