Senior selected to be Rhodes Scholar

Jennifer Lai ’11, Course 20 and 21M, will be heading to Oxford next year to study Immunology

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Jennifer Lai, a senior majoring in biological engineering and music and theater arts and an accomplished pianist, is one of 32 American students chosen for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship.
Turner K. Bohlen

Jennifer I. Lai ’11 is MIT’s latest Rhodes scholar, joining an elite group of 43 MIT alumni.

“I was honestly in shock, and still am. I don’t think it has quite hit me yet,” said Lai, a double major in biological engineering (Course 20) and music and theater arts (Course 21M). “First, I called my mom at home. I think she was really confused as to why I was so calm because I was in disbelief and was certain I was kidding her. Finally, she realized that I wasn’t kidding, and I think at that point, she was more excited than I was.”

Lai will be heading off to the University of Oxford to study Immunology next year. “First, I’m really excited about studying Immunology, which I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time. Second, I think that going to Oxford, and meeting and playing music with others who have such diverse interests will be a really great and broadening experience,” Lai said.

To become a Rhodes scholar, Lai had to submit multiple letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and be endorsed by MIT. “The application process is tough, but it really forces you to determine what it is that you want to do. For me, it’s just solidified my future goals, which is the most rewarding part of the process,” Lai said. “The interview was tough, and there are definitely some questions that you wouldn’t expect, but the point is to be yourself.”

Lai is a piano performance major through the Emerson Fellowship Program and is involved with the MIT Chamber Music Society. Her piano-playing talents have led her to playing with the Boston Pops.

Lai has also done several UROPs with Course 20. Her first UROP was with the Wittrup Lab studying how a protein invokes the immune response; she used yeast to determine which proteins would generate a stronger immune response. Lai’s most recent UROP was with the Fraenkel Lab studying gene regulation of glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer.

In addition to being a Rhodes Scholar, Lai is a Burchard Scholar and a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.