Two talented graduates from The Australian National University (ANU) who are helping to fight infectious diseases and neurodegeneration are heading to Oxford University having just won prestigious Rhodes Scholarships.

Sai Campbell and Max Kirkby are among three Australia-at-Large Rhodes Scholars for 2023 elected by a committee chaired by Justice Michelle Gordon of the High Court of Australia.

The two will join eight other ANU graduates elected as Rhodes Scholars over the last four years – the highest number from any Australian university over that period.

From left: Dr James Leigh, Justice Michelle Gordon, Max Kirkby and Sai Campbell. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

Rhodes Scholarships are postgraduate awards, which commenced in 1903 under the will of the late Cecil John Rhodes. The prestigious award recognises outstanding students and enables them to study for a minimum of two years at the University of Oxford.

Scholars are selected on the basis of academic and intellectual excellence; integrity of character; energy to make a difference; and capacity for leadership.

Campbell, who was born in Thailand, completed honours in epidemiology at ANU. Her research examined public health interventions in the COVID-19 pandemic. She is deeply committed to improving the accessibility of tertiary education for students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

At Oxford, Campbell intends to study emergency infectious disease response, where equity and epidemiology interlink, under the supervision of colleagues from Oxford and the World Health Organization.

Kirkby is a Tuckwell Scholar at ANU, where he has just completed his honours in immunology. A passionate researcher with several publications, he holds active research appointments at the ANU John Curtin School of Medical Research and the University of Sydney, having previously worked at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne. He has also been deeply interested in First Nations health, volunteering and working in the Northern Territory and the ACT.

At Oxford, Kirkby intends to pursue clinical neurosciences, where he will work to understand the nature of information processing during neurodegenerative disease. He is committed to finding a cure for neurodegeneration.

The third Australia-at-Large Rhodes Scholar is Dr James Leigh, a junior doctor from Western Australia who studied at Curtin University with a passion for medical research, health policy, and innovation to improve healthcare accessibility in rural and remote Australia.

Leigh established and led one of Australia’s largest student-led research collaborations, STRIVE WA, and has worked on evidence-based policy in the fields of climate health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and remote WA food insecurity.

At Oxford, Leigh plans to study a Master’s in Science in Applied Digital Health followed by a Doctor in Philosophy in surgical sciences, researching remote patient monitoring and predictive analytics to provide healthcare for post-operative patients in rural areas.

Professor Peter Kanowski from ANU and the National Secretary for the Rhodes Scholarships in Australia said: “Rhodes Scholarships are for candidates who are not just academically outstanding, but also demonstrate leadership potential, community service, and the energy to make a difference.

“It’s wonderful to see these characteristics so strongly evident in the three Australia-at-Large Scholars-Elect, as well as the six other Scholars-Elect from around Australia.”

Up to nine Rhodes Scholars can be elected across Australia each year, with more than 500 elected since 1903.

Contact the media team

James Giggacher

Associate Director, Media and Communications


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