About Catthi

Our February PBK Member Spotlight, Catthi Ly, has been recently named a Gates Cambridge Scholar. She is the first U.S. recipient at UC Irvine in four years. She is a 2021 graduate who double-majored in Human Biology and Anthropology and received a minor in History and Philosophy of Science.

A University of California Regents’ Scholar, Campuswide Honors Collegium Ambassador, and junior inductee of Phi Beta Kappa during her time at UCI, Catthi chose to major in both Human Biology and Anthropology because she knew she wanted to study not only medicine but also the social structures that make health care accessible. She pursued research projects across disciplines as an undergraduate. Under Dr. Lauren Ross in the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, Catthi studied into the use of analogy in scientific communication while, in her work as an undergraduate researcher and junior specialist at the Jefferson Chen Neurosurgery Lab at UCI Medical Center, she researched genomic sequencing of normal pressure hydrocephalus and the effectiveness of physician-led support groups. Applying insights about community organizing gleaned from her work under Dr. Teresa Neighbors with the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative, Catthi served as Student Director at UCI’s Global Health Research, Education, and Translation (GHREAT), and led community-based participatory research on the experiences of uninsured families during the COVID-19 pandemic, work which she continues as alumni advisor.

A highly decorated student, Ly won Campuswide Honors McWilliams Renaissance Award, given to two graduating Campuswide Honors students demonstrating expertise and excellence in a variety of academic fields; the Academic Excellence in Anthropology award, given to the top ten graduating
seniors in the department; the Distinguished Anteater Award, given to eighteen UC Irvine students who demonstrate academic excellence and service; and she was named a Semi-Finalist for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program in 2021 to conduct breast cancer research at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Ly plans to earn a Master of Philosophy degree in Health, Medicine, and Society within the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge during the 2022-23 academic year. In highly interdisciplinary work, she will pursue her studies under renowned experts in philosophy of health like Dr. Stephen John and highly regarded anthropologists Dr. Ignacia Arteaga and Dr. Maryon McDonald. In
her time as a Gates-Cambridge Scholar, Ly says, “I’m interested in studying uncertainty in cancer medicine, so I want to investigate philosophical implications of novel drug treatments that don’t reliably treat patients, and I want to look into questions of whether those medications should be considered a medical right. I’m also very interested to study the anthropological and philosophical implications of the treatment of pain and questions of how we improve empathy among caregivers.”

“As an American whose focus is health equity,” Catthi adds, “working in a system with universal health care will also be very influential for me. I am excited to see what can be implemented here and how their system handles diversity and diverse populations and issues of inequity with immigrant groups from a cultural perspective.”



1)  If we ask one of your friends to describe you, what would they say?

My friends (for the most part) appreciate my enthusiasm and my curiosity. In my time at UCI, I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who are passionate about different things from neuroengineering to Italian opera to game theory to law. I love asking my friends questions and seeing how excited they get over topics that I otherwise would have no knowledge of. The friends that I’ve made in my time here have painted how I see the world and have really instilled this love of learning that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

2)  What life events or personal mentorships, if any, directed you to the field of study you have chosen for your future endeavors?

My first mentor in life was my uncle, who was a general and vascular surgeon in Orange County. His clinic was the first place where I clearly saw the interaction between medicine and society. Many of his patients were either uninsured and underinsured, and I saw how devastating inaccessibility to healthcare can be for many families. When I came to UCI as a pre-med, I also was set on understanding the social factors that influence health outcomes. At UCI, I’ve been privileged to have been mentored by many professors who have been really influential in cultivating my academic and research interests. I specifically would like to thank professors such as Dr. Andrea Nicholas, my Human Biology professor, Dr. Daniel Parker, faculty advisor for GHREAT, Dr. Jefferson Chen, my PI in the Department of Neurosurgery, Dr. Teresa Neighbors, director of the Deconstructing Diversity Initiative, and Drs. Cailin O’Connor and Lauren Ross, two of my mentors in the Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science.

3)  Did you ever seek information and advice from the SOP advising team? If so, what type of advice were you seeking and what was your experience with them?

I am beyond grateful for the guidance the SOP advising team has given me. Scholarships like the Gates-Cambridge require a lot of soul searching, and I’ve always felt that I am sort of an academic loose cannon because I have so many varied interests. SOP has been invaluable in helping me articulate my passions and motivations in a way that is digestible to a larger audience. Applying to scholarships such as the Gates-Cambridge often feels so overwhelming, but SOP was with me through the process, and made me feel like it was a tangible goal.

To learn more about SOP and the resources available to high-achieving students visit our website.