Making the Most of Duke on the Road to the Ph.D.

Three students share opportunities that strengthened their doctoral education
Doctoral students.
Hannah Ontiveros (far left) poses with Bass Connections colleagues Imani Mosley and Charles Thompson; Edgar Virgüez cheers on the football team with his daughter and wife; Jessica West celebrates her successful dissertation defense

Jessica West, Ph.D. in Sociology

Joining a Team of Global Experts on Hearing Loss

Jessica West Jessica West.studies the health and well-being of individuals with disabilities. She is particularly interested in the experiences of people with hearing loss, as she herself has worn hearing aids since the age of 17.

West’s dissertation, “Stress Proliferation and Disability over the Life Course,” is organized into two chapters that address questions regarding stress proliferation and disability using data from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal, nationally representative sample of U.S. adults over the age of 50 and their spouses.

How she got involved with a working group on hearing loss stigma

“During the second year of my Ph.D. program, I reached out to Dr. Debara Tucci, an otolaryngologist at Duke. I was interested in meeting her because in addition to her fantastic basic science research, some of her clinical research focused on addressing barriers to hearing health care.

“In 2019, The Lancet Commission on Hearing Loss (LCHL) was formed to identify ways to reduce the global burden of hearing loss. Dr. Tucci invited me to participate in the inaugural meeting. Once the Commission realized they needed a stronger focus on stigma, Dr. Tucci asked me to become part of the stigma working group, which is co-led by Dr. Laura Nyblade (RTI) and Dr. Howard Francis (Chair of the Department of Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences at Duke).

Researchers pose for a group photo.
Jessica West (fourth from right) at the inaugural meeting of the LCHL in October 2019

“The RTI team is part of this working group and has several tasks. First, we are conducting an extensive literature review of past evidence on the stigma related to hearing loss and hearing-related assistive devices. Second, we have been tasked with creating a framework for thinking about hearing loss stigma. Finally, we are creating a survey that will be fielded in two countries to generate a more current understanding of hearing loss stigma.

“Through the LCHL, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with world experts in hearing loss whose work I have read and cited throughout my doctoral training. Joining the RTI team has introduced me to Dr. Nyblade, who has extensive expertise in stigma and discrimination, especially surrounding HIV and AIDS. In some of her past work, Dr. Nyblade has developed, tested, and standardized a tool for measuring stigma. Working with Dr. Nyblade has shown me ways in which academic research can be translated into public health interventions.”

Edgar Virgüez, Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences & Policy

Making the University a Better Place

Edgar.Edgar Virgüez is an energy systems engineer promoting a rapid and cost-efficient energy transition toward a decarbonized electric power system. His research integrates methods from operations research, geospatial analysis and environmental economics. At Duke, he has received several of the most prestigious awards for graduate students, including the Graduate School Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Forever Duke Student Leadership Award.

Virgüez has served on numerous boards and committees across the university. He took part in The Graduate School’s Emerging Leaders Institute, where graduate students and postdocs work in teams to improve Duke’s campus environment, a Bass Connections project (read his reflection) and many other interdisciplinary endeavors. Expecting to graduate later this year, he has accepted a postdoctoral position at Stanford University.

What he gained from engaging in governance

“For the last few years I have served on the resources committee of the Board of Trustees. Through that experience, President Price invited me to be part of the search committee for the new executive vice president. I learned about the most pressing challenges for higher education, and how to engage in the decision-making process to prepare the university to confront these challenges.

“I have worked with eight of the eleven vice presidents that we have. Through our interactions I have learned so much from them. They have answered my questions and shared their wisdom and expertise. My dream is to become a university president, and they gave me so much insight, information and passion for continuing this path.

Edgar presenting at a meeting.
Edgar Virgüez speaks on a panel of Cross Scholars at the Association of American Colleges & Universities 2020 Annual Meeting.

“I’ve also made the most of my Duke experience by actively participating in the Graduate and Professional Student Government, where I have served since 2017. For example, last fall, I introduced a resolution to remove the GRE as a mandatory requirement. Engaging students, admissions officers and members of The Graduate School taught me how to tailor a proposal that reflects multiple perspectives. The final product received approval from the student government. I believe it provides a platform for student advocacy efforts to remove some of the barriers that prevent Duke from being a more inclusive and diverse place.

Edgar, Vincent Price, Temis
Edgar and his wife Temis with President Vincent E. Price

“I hope to return to Duke one day. This place has become a home for us. My wife [Temis Coral Castellanos, MEM ’19] finished her master’s degree here. We had our first baby at Duke Hospital. This place provided so many resources for us that it changed our lives forever.

“While our experience at Duke has been defining, this does not mean that everybody else’s experience has been as positive. There are things to improve. Rather than sitting down and being passive, we have been actively trying to change the university. We want Duke to be a place where everybody can thrive regardless of where they were born or how they self-identify. Even if you don’t have the resources to apply for the standardized exams, or you face multiple barriers to entry, you should have a chance to be part of the Duke family.”

Hannah Ontiveros, Ph.D. in History

Looking at Humanitarian Work from a New Angle

Hannah.Hannah Ontiveros studies the history of women in the 20th century. Last summer, while working on her dissertation about American humanitarian responses to the Korean War, she took on two research projects for CWS Durham. This branch of Church World Service supports immigrant and refugee new arrivals in the Triangle area.

Through a Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant she designed herself, Ontiveros explored strategies for fundraising and community outreach, and conducted interviews with congregational partners and CWS staff. From her research, she crafted reports on her findings and recommended strategies for shaping future programs.

Ontiveros also served as a Story+ graduate mentor and a Bass Connections project coordinator (read her reflection).

Why she chose this internship

“I specifically wanted to work for a progressive faith-based organization, because those are the kinds of institutions I write about in my dissertation. I knew that understanding how these organizations operate on a practical, local, contemporary basis would strengthen my historical analysis of how they operated in the 1950s. Conversely, I wanted to bring my historical research on these organizations to bear on present-day operations.

CWS logo.“CWS was a great fit. The organization’s emergency relief efforts crop up a lot in my dissertation; CWS Durham operates locally and works in grievously under-served communities; and the organization’s focus on refugee resettlement and advocacy addresses a timely problem with roots in the historical period that I study.

“My work with CWS showed me how such organizations continue to operate 70 years later. As part of my research for CWS, I interrogated how donors and volunteers articulate their duty to serving refugee populations. I address the same kinds of questions about duty and motivation in my research. In both cases I found similar answers, demonstrating narratives of deservingness, civic duty and care that run across 70 years. It demonstrated to me the ongoing necessity of studying how and why humanitarianism operates, and how it functions in American society.

“My research for CWS required me to use methods outside and beyond the historical and archival ones I’m accustomed to. I had the opportunity to conduct interviews, to engage philanthropic studies literature, and to utilize some qualitative and quantitative research methods on congregations’ mission statements. Through my research I pushed myself to think in a more interdisciplinary way.”

Advice for Doctoral Students

“Make connections with people outside of your home discipline because they can often provide perspectives or other connections that you might not otherwise be able to access. The benefit of these connections may not be immediate – it may take a few months or years, but they are still worth fostering.” – Jessica West

“Push yourself to find an internship that’s as far outside of your direct area of inquiry as you can. This will help you develop an understanding of broad implications of your research and of your skillset. It will also expand your employment prospects, both in adding a diverse c.v. line and in pushing your research and writing skills into new environments. Also, don’t be afraid to send that introductory email to a potential internship host.” – Hannah Ontiveros

“Use the interdisciplinary initiatives that we have at Duke. There is a tool from The Graduate School called Duke OPTIONS to quickly identify all of the resources that we have here. Anything that you could dream of, there is a possibility that we have a resource related to that.” – Edgar Virgüez

Congratulations to all of the 2021 Ph.D. recipients! Current students, learn more about making the most of Duke this summer and beyond.

By Sarah Dwyer, Duke Interdisciplinary Studies

New Faculty Collaborations Flourish in a Challenging Year

Images of Duke buildings in a collage.

Last January, ten groups of Duke faculty looked forward to beginning work on their 2020 Intellectual Community Planning Grants (ICPG). The COVID-19 pandemic interfered with their plans, but the groups succeeded in making strides and will continue to pursue their goals this year. Here are brief updates.

Transformative Learning: A Shared Intellectual Interest across the University

Cori Crane (lead), Deb Reisinger (lead), Joan Clifford (lead), Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, Alessandra Dinin, Jennifer Hill, David Malone, Liliana Paredes, Melissa Simmermeyer

Screenshot and collage.
Left: “Shifting Perspectives“ blog series; right: collage from art therapy workshop, “Who am I as a learner?“

This group’s aim was to explore transformative learning in undergraduate education in the members’ disciplines and across units. Members met monthly to discuss selected readings, including Patricia Cranton’s book “Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning: A Guide to Theory and Practice.” Three meetings were held in person before the pandemic caused the remainder to take place virtually. For two of the meetings, outside speakers were invited to share their scholarship. In February, Dr. Stacey Johnson (Vanderbilt) spoke on perspective transformation among language learners of minoritized communities and gave a keynote at the Duke Language Symposium. In October, Dr. Richard Kiely (Cornell) met with the group twice and gave a public talk.

Inspired by Cranton’s discussion of arts-based activities as stimulus for reflection, members participated in a summer workshop by the Art Therapy Institute of NC. The group also began a blog series, “Shifting Perspectives,” and posted an Introduction, When Teachers Are Learners and Reclaiming and Reframing the Disrupted Year of Learning.

Bridging Social Determinants of Health with Clinical Extensions of Care for Vulnerable Populations

Donald H. Taylor (lead), Ebony Boulware, Nadine Barrett, Carolyn Barnes, Rosa Guarda-Gonzalez

Advertisement for Misinformation and Mistrust symposium
The Misinformation and Mistrust symposium took place on October 2, 2020.

ICPG funds supported two virtual symposia to facilitate discourse around the social determinants of health and key issues to bridge with community partners.

A research symposium, A Call to Action: Identifying Next Steps to Address Biomedical, Health Care, and Social Drivers of COVID-19 Disparities, attracted 1,296 attendees and provided a venue for discussion among a mix of faculty from the School of Medicine, Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) and the social sciences. The second symposium, Misinformation and Mistrust: COVID-19 Conversations on Race and Gender Equity, engaged 325 participants.

The group’s symposia planning led to a U54 supplement to an NIH grant that was submitted through a shared vision of a project on adequate COVID testing in key areas of underserved populations.

Human Rights Futures

James Chappel (lead), Kathi Weeks, Robin Kirk, Adam Rosenblatt, Liliana Paredes, Marion Quirici, Jen Ansley, Emily Stewart

Liat Ben-Moshe.
The Human Rights Futures group invited Liat Ben-Moshe to talk about her new book, “Decarcerating Disability: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition.” The online event will take place on February 17.

To begin thinking about the future of the Duke Human Rights Center (DHRC), this group held numerous meetings with graduate students, undergraduates, and faculty members who are interested in this topic. They came up with ideas for house courses and other initiatives that ended up being stalled due to the pandemic, but the discussions helped inform their vision of how to proceed.

As the DHRC deepens its collaboration with the Health Humanities Lab and the Disability and Access Initiative, ICPG funds will support a speaker and two workshops for students about disability, human rights and the university in Spring 2021. The grant also gave members some intellectual space to imagine the parameters of a FOCUS cluster, Envisioning Human Rights, and allowed for Robin Kirk to bring in guest speakers and facilitators to her course on fiction, futurism and human rights.

Housing and Health: A Multisector Community-driven Approach to Achieving Health Equity

Donna J. Biederman (lead), Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda, Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Daniel Richter, Jennifer (Kate) Hoffman, Don Bradley, Donald H. Taylor, Lorraine C. Taylor, Ashanti Brown

Zoom screenshot
Screenshot from one of the group’s virtual meetings

The group was able to hold two planning meetings with administrators from the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) in July and November. Participants agreed that a more strategic approach to research involving DHA would be needed before engaging residents. The pandemic also caused scheduling difficulties with the group’s second community partner, El Centro Hispano. The group’s current plan is to give a presentation at an upcoming LATIN-19 (Latinx Advocacy Team & Interdisciplinary Network for COVID-19) meeting to ask for volunteers to participate and provide community expert feedback on housing and health issues among the Latinx community.

North Carolina Saltwater Intrusion and Sea Level Rise

Justin Wright (lead), Emily Bernhardt, Nathaniel Chaney, Jean-Christophe Domec, Jennifer Swenson, Ryan Emanuel, Marcelo Ardon

The working group following their meeting
Members of the working group following a meeting

The primary goal of this project was to bring together scientists from across the state whose research focuses on the implications of sea level rise and salt water intrusion on natural ecosystems. The group hosted a workshop in February 2020, which was attended by faculty, postdocs, and graduate students from Duke, North Carolina State University, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service. Members presented their findings and approaches, identified key knowledge gaps and explored how bringing together different disciplines could lead to productive new approaches.

For many people, the workshop marked the first time meeting new colleagues and hearing about existing datasets and novel applications. This interaction kick-started several collaborative efforts. To date, the group has submitted one grant proposal and is completing a second proposal. Members continue to use a Google Group for sharing ideas for future proposals and collaborations.

Light-based Methods in Neuroscience and Biology

Eva Naumann (lead), Roarke Horstmeyer, Jenna McHenry, John Pearson, Junjie Yao, Stefano Di Talia, Mike Tadross

Using all optical neural activity monitoring and manipulating in the translucent zebrafish
Using all optical neural activity monitoring and manipulating in the translucent zebrafish

This group aimed to cross-pollinate ideas among neuroscientists, engineers and data scientists. Members took part in an in-person kickoff meeting but had to postpone their plans to host seminars and discussions. Virtual meetings helped forge stronger contacts between the group members, and faculty have already initiated three new collaborations.

Entity Resolution with Applications to Public Policy and Business

Victor Bennett (lead), Rebecca Steorts (lead), David Banks, Ines Black, Sharique Hasan, Jerry Reiter

Diagram from Rebecca Steorts’ webpage on selected research and software

Based on implementation of the novel Entity Resolution algorithm developed by Rebecca Steorts, the group spent time getting the code required to run the process up and running on Duke infrastructure. Master’s student Davis Berlind was able to run the process on some real-world data used to measure automation in the U.S. economy. With advising, he was also able to provide reports comparing the performance of the routine to other routines on these data. To further the collaboration, Victor Bennett took a training course to learn Spark, the multiprocessor parallel processing system on which Steorts’ code was implemented. The performance on the real-world data was less than expected, which was helpful to learn – the group concluded that their collaboration has a lot to contribute by improving the algorithm’s performance on commonly used data in business and public policy research.

Developing a Neuroethics and Theological Studies Network

Patrick Smith (lead), Brett McCarty (lead), Farr Curlin, Warren Kinghorn

Zoom meeting screenshot.
“Linking Social Justice and Brain Injury Through Theology” panelists at the 2020 International Neuroethics Society conference

In lieu of an on-campus gathering, this group began by spending a day on Zoom workshopping a coauthored manifesto and ideas for articles and grants. Patrick Smith has been in dialogue with the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences about a series of public conversations they are developing to catalyze work toward a science of social harmony and everyday morality. Brett McCarty engaged with Deborah Jenson to explore ideas. An unexpected fruit of the group’s efforts has been a growing network of national and international collaboration. The grant allowed the group to bring together international scholars working on questions regarding the intersection of theology and neuroethics, which led to Smith’s participation on a panel, “Linking Social Justice and Brain Injury Through Theology,” at the 2020 International Neuroethics Society Annual Meeting. “The grant allowed my research trajectory to take up important discussions at the intersection of theology, neuroethics, and social justice,” said Smith.

Duke SciReg Center: Science in Regulation, Law, and Public Policy

Pate Skene (lead), Michael B. Waitzkin, Jeff Ward, Jonathan Wiener, Mark Borsuk, Kate Konschnik, Lori Bennear, Sarah Rispin Sedlak

This group began with a planning meeting for the core group of faculty. With help from a summer research student, Sophie Mouros, the group conducted a survey of centers and courses at other universities that address the intersection of science and technology with regulation, law and policy. Members then conducted phone interviews with leaders of relevant centers and courses. Learning that most of those offerings are narrowly focused, they concluded that educating Duke faculty and students on the range and depth of the federal regulation of science – and on their ability to participate in that process – could position Duke to play a leadership role in this area.

Opioid Detection Technologies and Their Application to Addressing Various Aspects of the Opioid Crisis

Michael Gehm (lead), Jason Amsden, Nabarun Dasgupta, Jeffrey Glass, Joel Greenberg, Rachel Greenberg, Sonia Grego, Andrew Muzyk

The group was able to hold an in-person kickoff meeting and three information-sharing meetings where the members introduced their connections to the theme. Application-area experts from medicine and public health discussed the detection needs in their areas while the engineering experts discussed the capabilities of their detection modalities. Since a core aspect of this project was to transport scientific equipment to Texas in order to acquire baseline opioid signatures with the group’s detection equipment, and since many faculty were overwhelmed with COVID-related activities, all members agreed that activity should be suspended for the duration of the pandemic.

About Intellectual Community Planning Grants

A key goal of the Together Duke academic strategic plan is to invest in faculty as scholars and leaders of the university’s intellectual communities. To foster collaboration around new and emerging areas of interest, Intellectual Community Planning Grants are available to groups of faculty. Learn more, read about the 2019 recipients and see all Together Duke initiatives.