Elphinstone grad selected for Rhodes scholarship

Clare Lyle

The Rhodes Scholarship is an old and prestigious international scholarship program. Ninety-five outstanding young women and men are awarded the scholarship each year from 64 countries worldwide. 

This year, one of them is Elphinstone Secondary School graduate Clare Lyle. The scholarship allows her to study at the University of Oxford – an academic’s dream. Lyle is currently in her final year of studying Mathematics and Computer Science at McGill University. 

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It’s not easy to snag a Rhodes. The applicant must demonstrate rigorous academic qualities, be of an age between 19 and 25, show brilliant references and give a personal interview. Lyle already had a step up since she had previously been chosen as a Loran Scholar. The Loran Award is a comprehensive undergraduate award for character, service and leadership that Lyle had earned in 2014 while still a Grade 12 student. 

She notes that Elphin-stone was “a fantastic community for sports and music.” She was active on sports teams, particularly basketball, and in the school bands where she tried out many different woodwind instruments.

But her first love was science. “I’ve wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember,” Lyle said, “but at the start of university I wasn’t sure which branch of science I wanted to specialize in.” 

At first she studied McGill’s basic science requirements, taking courses in chemistry, physics and mathematics in her first semester. “I hated doing labs,” she said. “I got an ‘F’ on the results section of my first chemistry lab, where we only had to measure water, but loved the problem-solving aspects of math and computer science. When the time came to choose my major, the choice was easy!” 

The chosen Rhodes Scholars may pursue any full-time postgraduate degree offered by the University of Oxford for two to three years with paid tuition, a maintenance stipend and flights to and from Oxford. Lyle has already had some contact with Oxford because she spent last summer there as a policy intern at the Future of Humanity Institute, researching government regulations regarding artificial intelligence. Recently she had a chance to share her research into theoretical machine learning with Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan who visited McGill’s Reasoning and Learning Lab. 

“I’ve always been fascinated by the way that mathematics is able to capture relationships between concepts that one might not have initially expected,” she said, “and many open problems in computer science are very mathematical in flavour, with a vast array of potential applications.” 

With this in mind she is still determining her specialty while preparing her application for a DPhil at Oxford. “Ultimately I’d like to work on problems that develop stronger theoretical foundations in machine learning,” she said. 

Lyle could be the Sunshine Coast’s first Rhodes Scholar; she is definitely the first from McGill University to be chosen in this particular field of computer science.

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