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Segal uses power of Rhodes Scholarship to pursue AI

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Dr Brad Segal isn’t just one of the few Jewish people ever to be awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, but he’s off to Oxford University next year to use it to complete a PhD in AI (artificial intelligence) in healthcare.

“Getting this scholarship means a big career transition for me,” said Segal, who is qualified as both a medical doctor and an engineer. “I’ve been doing my internship while researching on the side. I’m doing my community service for nine months next year, and then heading off to Oxford to complete a PhD in AI,” he said. “This scholarship allows me to take what I was almost doing for fun, and makes it my main thing.”

In terms of his PhD, this King David Victory Park alumnus said he would be “working on tools to make sure that the healthcare process is easier for doctors and patients alike. We’re trying to build a chatbot for healthcare, which is where I think I will be spending most of my time, but that can all change when I get there.”

He said he believed one of the main reasons for being awarded the scholarship was “the fact that I was simultaneously doing an MBBCh [Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery] and a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand, where I graduated cum laude”.

He’s believed to be the first Jewish person in about 10 years to have attained a Rhodes Scholarship. The last Jewish Rhodes Scholar was Raphael Chaskalson in 2015. To date, only 17 South African Jews have been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.

Achieving a Rhodes Scholarship is a life-changing opportunity for outstanding young people from around the world to study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. It’s the world’s oldest and most prestigious graduate fellowship since 1903. In the 120 years since the start of the fellowship, about 1 000 graduates from Southern Africa have been awarded this amazing opportunity to study in Oxford’s hallowed halls. Every year, 10 Rhodes Scholarships are awarded overall to graduates in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, and Eswatini.

“We look forward to welcoming Bradley into the Rhodes Scholar community,” Beverley Johnson, the regional manager of Rhodes Trust in South Africa told the SA Jewish Report. “Brad is an outstanding young medical doctor and leader who fulfilled all the selection criteria for the Rhodes Scholarship and interviewed well at both the regional and national selection sessions.”

“Our selection committees were spoilt for choice and had exceptionally strong pools from which to shortlist for regional interviews,” said Ndumiso Luthuli, the national secretary of Rhodes Scholarships in Southern Africa. “The finalists interviewed by the national selection committee were all outstanding, and some tough choices had to be made last Sunday by the South Africa-at-large selectors.

“The scholars selected have studied diverse academic disciplines, ranging from astrophysics to applied mathematics, commerce, to computer science, from law to medicine, from international relations and leadership to neuroscience and biomedical engineering. All are academically gifted and socially committed.

“We’re confident that the 2024 Rhodes Scholars all have the potential to become catalysts for good, young changemakers, who will inspire solutions to the many challenges faced by our post-pandemic society. All have the energy and courage to lead, and are committed to making a positive impact in Southern Africa and beyond. We don’t doubt that they will continue to fight the world’s fight in the 120-year-old tradition of the Rhodes Scholarship.”

The criteria which determined the first Rhodes Scholars are still in use in the selection process today, namely academic excellence; the energy to use talent to the full, such as mastery in areas such as sport, debate, music, dance, theatre, and artistic pursuits; truth; courage; devotion to duty; sympathy for and protection of those who are less fortunate; kindliness; unselfishness; fellowship; moral character; and instincts to lead and take interest in fellow human beings.

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