Two Penn fourth-years awarded 2023 Churchill Scholarships

Ryan Jeong and Arnav Lal are in the College of Arts and Sciences.

student Ryan Jeong sitting in a chair and student Arnav Lal standing outside
College of Arts and Sciences fourth-years Ryan Jeong (left) and Arnav Lal are among 16 students selected nationwide to receive a Churchill Scholarship for a year of graduate research study at the University of Cambridge in England.

University of Pennsylvania fourth-years Ryan Jeong and Arnav Lal have each been awarded Churchill Scholarships for a year of graduate research study at the University of Cambridge in England.

Lal, from Greer, South Carolina, and Jeong, from College Station, Texas, are among 16 students selected nationwide who will receive full funding for a one-year master’s degree at Churchill College at Cambridge.

The scholarship is considered one of the most prestigious and competitive international fellowships available to American students planning graduate study in the United Kingdom. Churchill Scholars are chosen from select universities nationwide in the disciplines of science, mathematics, and engineering.

Penn has had 14 Churchill Scholars since the program’s inception in 1963. This is the second year Penn has had two affiliates receive the award in the same year; the other was 2021.

Jeong is majoring in mathematics and minoring in statistics and data science in the College of Arts and Sciences and is submatriculating for a master’s degree in mathematics in the School of Arts & Sciences. He has taken many graduate-level courses in mathematics, statistics, and theoretical computer science.

Jeong is broadly interested in problems at the intersection of mathematics and its cognate disciplines. His work in theoretical deep learning, which studied how curve length changes in expectation when composed with ReLU neural networks at initialization, resulted in a paper published at the 2022 International Conference on Learning Representations. He has also participated in mathematics Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) funded by the National Science Foundation at Brown University, Williams College, and the University of Minnesota, Duluth. He is currently thinking about related problems in theoretical deep learning supervised by professors at Princeton and McGill universities and is continuing work on problems from his REUs. He is also working on problems related to deletion channels and trace reconstruction initiated with Robin Pemantle, Penn’s Merriam Term Professor of Mathematics. His research in graph theory, combinatorics, and probability resulted in five papers which have been submitted for publication in professional mathematics journals. Jeong was awarded Penn’s 2022-23 Richard Garfield Scholarship and the 2022 Undergraduate Math Research Prize. 

At Cambridge, Jeong plans to pursue a master’s degree in mathematical statistics.

Lal is majoring in biophysics, biology, and philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences and pursuing master’s degrees in physics and biology from the School of Arts & Sciences. He is a University Scholar, a College Dean’s Scholar, a recipient of the Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Challenge Award, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Lal has co-authored 13 peer-reviewed articles, six of which he first-authored. He has conducted research at Penn Medicine Fertility Care, mentored by Christos Coutifaris, the Celso-Ramon Garcia Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Perelman School of Medicine, exploring the use of blastocoel fluid to predict embryonic development. Lal also worked in the lab of Paul Planet, Perelman assistant professor of pediatrics and attending physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to develop tools for computationally exploring the evolution of pathogens. As a Penn Global Research Institutes student, Lal helped spearhead a microbial pathogen sequencing project in the Galápagos Islands with the Galápagos Education and Research Alliance, mentored by Michael Weisberg, the Bess W. Heyman President’s Distinguished Professor and chair of Philosophy in the School of Arts & Sciences, in collaboration with Daniel Beiting, associate professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine. Lal was a Wolf Humanities Center Undergraduate Research Fellow for the 2020-2021 Forum on Choice. As a member of Penn’s Project for Philosophy for the Young, Lal mentors high school students through the Ethics Bowl program he helped bring to Philadelphia. Lal also has served as a learning assistant for six courses and is a Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF) research peer advisor.

At Cambridge, Lal plans to pursue a master’s degree in biological sciences.

Lal and Jeong applied for the Churchill Scholarship with assistance from CURF.