Duke Ph.D. Students Find Unexpected Benefits in an Unusual Summer

Six students share insights from their 2020 Provost’s Summer Fellowships
Amanda Rossillo.
“This experience looks great on a resume and it’s very fulfilling to apply your narrow research topic to something outside of academia,” said Amanda Rossillo, pictured in her lab.

When COVID hit last spring, many graduate students had to give up their summer plans for teaching, field research and internships. The Provost’s Office quickly pledged support, and Vice Provost Ed Balleisen spearheaded the effort to identify virtual opportunities.

Experiential fellowships with eight host organizations and research assistantships with more than 20 Duke units provided summer funding and career development for all 59 Ph.D. students in need. Every student who responded to Duke’s end-of-summer evaluation would recommend this kind of internship experience to other Ph.D. students.

Kim Bourne.
Kim Bourne chose a part-time fellowship, which she said was “a great way to gain experience in an area outside of my dissertation without hindering my progress.”

Kim Bourne (Civil & Environmental Engineering) got off to a strong start with Duke’s Bass Connections program. “It was incredibly helpful that my host gave me a list of goals at the beginning,” said Bourne, who developed resources for remote and in-person learning. “This experience helped me explore an area I am interested in professionally and is a great addition to my resume as I apply for jobs.”

Zach Levine (Cultural Anthropology) worked on syllabus design and modules for Durham Tech instructor Tom Magrinat’s psychology courses. “It’s very divergent from my dissertation,” said Levine, “but over time I’ve seen how helpful it is to think about other means of storytelling. It’s refreshed the importance for me of moving between different types of genre and tone.”

Four ingredients for natural selection.
A slide from a presentation Amanda Rossillo created for a lesson plan on evolution

Amanda Rossillo (Evolutionary Anthropology) benefited from constructive feedback as she worked with the Triangle Center for Evolutionary Medicine to create a lesson plan on evolution for teachers in North Carolina. “Working with Dr. Meredith Beaulieu as my mentor was an amazing experience,” Rossillo said. “Not only did she help me shape the content of my lesson plan, but more importantly, through this experience I became aware of one of my shortcomings, and my mentor helped me realize that and guided me in the right direction to work on improving.”

Khari Johnson.
Khari Johnson

Khari Johnson (Biomedical Engineering) spent his summer with RTI International to assess how misinformation affects people’s receptivity to health initiatives. Looking back, Johnson highlighted the value of collaborative research. “For me, the biggest takeaway was that you can always find [people with] similar passions in the place you least expected it, and building on those collaborations can be very fruitful.”

Also at RTI, Mavzuna Turaeva (Public Policy and Economics) conducted data analysis, coding and researching for the International Education division. “I think the most useful element [of the fellowship] was exposure to nonacademic literature,” Turaeva reflected. “It turns out there is a huge body of research conducted by economists with Ph.D.s who work in nonacademic institutions, and I don’t think we get enough exposure to that literature during our program.”

Brooks Frederickson.
Brooks Frederickson is currently working on a project for Duke Symphony Orchestra using some of the skills he honed over the summer.

Brooks Frederickson (Music Composition) helped Sō Percussion host its first virtual summer institute for college-aged percussionists and composers. Having developed and delivered an online curriculum, Frederickson said the experience “helped me to gain knowledge of tools and procedures that I immediately put into practice as a Tech TA for the Music Department this semester.” Frederickson thanked Duke “for stepping up in a major way to ensure that the graduate students had opportunities this summer. This internship was a huge lifeline for me.”

Deepening a Partnership with Durham Tech

Eight external organizations (American Historical Association, Durham Tech, Modern Language Association, Museum of Durham History, National Humanities Alliance, National Humanities Center, RTI International, Society for Biblical Literature) served as summer fellowship hosts. Three students worked with Durham Tech faculty, extending a partnership between Duke and the community college.

Through a Humanities Unbounded pilot program begun in 2019, Durham Tech faculty and Duke PhD. students team up over the summer to develop new pedagogical modules for courses at the community college. In the fall, the Ph.D. students help implement the projects.

In the first cohort, Lisa Blair of Durham Tech worked with Patricia Bass (Art, Art History & Visual Studies) to incorporate more Francophone African literature and culture. Marina DelVecchio partnered with Maggie McDowell (English) to redesign courses on American women’s studies and literature.

The 2020 Durham Tech/Duke pairings were Janel Thompson and Pratistha Bhattarai (Literature), Jason Moldoff and Caoimhe Harlock (English), and Tom Magrinat and Zach Levine (Cultural Anthropology).

By Sarah Dwyer, Duke Interdisciplinary Studies

Bass Connections Invites Proposals for Interdisciplinary Project Teams in 2021-2022

Bass Connections teams.

Deadline: December 4, 2020

Bass Connections is now accepting proposals for 2021-2022 projects that engage faculty, undergraduates and graduate/professional students in the interdisciplinary exploration of complex societal challenges. Please see the project proposal guidelines.

The deadline to propose a project is December 4 at 5:00 p.m.

Projects may be proposed in relation to one or more of the five, broad interdisciplinary themes of Bass Connections, or to Bass Connections Open – a channel that invites proposals that align with the model of Bass Connections but otherwise fall outside the parameters of the existing themes. This year, we particularly welcome and encourage projects – proposed to any theme – focused on racial injustice and inequality, systemic racism and social justice. Themes include:

Bring Your Questions to Drop-in Office Hours

Interested faculty, particularly those who have never led a Bass Connections team, are encouraged to contact a Bass Connections theme leader or Laura Howes, Director of Bass Connections. This year, faculty can also discuss potential ideas or ask questions during our Zoom office hours on:

Special Opportunities for 2021-2022

When completing a proposal, faculty may choose to take advantage of the following opportunities. Please note that applying for these opportunities will not increase your project budget, but rather may increase the likelihood that your project will be selected by allowing us to leverage funds designated for a specific purpose. For more information on each opportunity, please see the full project proposal guidelines.

  • Joint proposal for a Bass Connections project and Summer 2021 Data+ project (You may propose a Data+ project linked to a year-long Bass Connections project through the Bass Connections RFP – you do not need to complete a separate application for Data+. However, to align with the Data+ timeline, you must submit your proposal by November 2. We also encourage faculty to link year-long Bass Connections projects to Story+. Faculty wishing to apply to Story+ must also complete the Story+ RFP, also due December 4.)
  • Biodiversity Conservation
  • Ethics
  • Arts
  • Humanities

Learn More

Open Design+ Course Asks Students, How Might We Use the Pandemic to Transform Learning?

Aria Chernik.

Aria Chernik (Associate Professor of the Practice, Social Science Research Institute) will co-lead Open Design+ in Summer Session II. Open Design+ is a new summer program offered through the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and is part of Bass Connections.

This summer, students will work through the open design thinking process to create a prototype in the problem space: In light of COVID-19, how might we transform learning at Duke?

Why is this course a good fit for summer during the pandemic?

Open Design+ teaches students how to ideate, create, test, and iterate impactful solutions to real-world, complex problems. The pandemic, of course, is an example of just this kind of problem. We need to be able to think big and act creatively—and above all with empathy—to find solutions that can propel communities forward. That’s what students will be doing this summer.

Why did you want to teach this course?

This course combines some of my most strongly-held professional and personal interests and passions. It combines student-driven education innovation with the ethics of open source values and design thinking methodologies.

Can you give us an overview of what you’ll be teaching?

Students will use design thinking to develop innovative solutions to complex, real-world problems. This summer, the challenge space is how might we use the experience of COVID-19 to transform learning at Duke?

Working in small, interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students, participants in Open Design+ will gain an understanding of open design, a variation of design thinking that emphasizes the ethical implications of how and what we design.

Students will learn qualitative research skills and conduct extensive interviews with stakeholders in the challenge area, including Duke students, faculty, and administrators to ideate solutions for sustained learning innovation at Duke; they will also learn critical skills and mindsets such as: brainstorming ideas and creating prototypes, testing and iterating solutions, communicating across audiences and media, thinking divergently and convergently, and collaborating and problem-solving in uncertain situations.

How important is collaboration?

Collaboration is absolutely essential. The open design process requires deep and thoughtful collaboration across myriad learning contexts, such as interviewing stakeholders, brainstorming sessions, testing and evaluating prototypes, defining problems, and communicating results. Very little work is done alone. The challenge for us is to create a virtual environment in which the team can collaborate authentically, meaningfully, and frequently, but we are optimistic that we can do this!

What do you hope the students gain from taking this course?

Competencies and mindsets that are critical and applicable across all learning disciplines, careers, and even civic life: listening and creating with empathy, robust collaboration, convergent and divergent thinking, compelling communication across media and audiences, resilience in the face of uncertainty and frustration, creative problem-solving, failing forward, and iterative creation.

Why is social science research so important?

Social science research asks us to reach across disciplines and engage skills ranging from qualitative ethnographic research to quantitative data-driven research. In our increasingly complex world, interdisciplinarity is critical if we are to understand and solve problems that have direct positive social impact.

Originally posted on the Social Science Research Institute website

Sure Signs of Addiction: More Than Just a Feeling

Nicole Schramm-Sapyta.

Whether it’s finishing this season’s fifth box of Girl Scout cookies or binge-watching a Netflix show, it can be easy for the average, healthy person to think they’re developing a problem.

“I can’t believe I just finished another sleeve of Thin Mints, I’m so addicted,” or “Wow, I’m so addicted to Dexter—just finished the seventh season this weekend!” are common phrases overheard in coffee shops and grocery store lines.

However, when addiction researcher Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, PhD, an associate professor of the practice in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, hears these phrases, she knows that these people, more often than not, are not truly addicted. Addiction has a clinical definition: when a person continues to do something despite experiencing major negative consequences. And, she says, this behavior is linked to changes to the brain.

Nicole standing outside.

Schramm-Sapyta’s early laboratory research focused on addiction’s effects on a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, a bundle of nerve cells also known as the brain’s pleasure center. Satisfying experiences—whether in the form of an addictive drug, monetary reward, sexual encounter, or satisfying meal—trigger the release of a type of “feel good” neurotransmitter called dopamine in this pleasure center. But addictive drugs—substances like alcohol, nicotine and opiates—pack an extra-powerful punch, and the brain is flooded and then overwhelmed by large amounts of dopamine. Over time, the brain will counteract this flooding by down-regulating, or removing, the dopamine receptors.

“When someone repeatedly takes an addictive drug, they lose dopamine receptors, and eventually become anhedonic, or unable to feel pleasure,” said Schramm-Sapyta. “The person is no longer able to feel joy from normal life. So, getting a good grade, seeing an old friend, or having a delicious meal doesn’t feel good. And the only way to feel ‘normal’ again is to get high on the drug. When someone progresses to this stage of addiction, they’re not even enjoying the drug anymore. They’re just taking it to feel normal again.”

Other brain regions add to the process. The brain’s “prioritizer,” the prefrontal cortex, decides that getting more of the drug is a top priority, and the amygdala ramps up negative emotions when it doesn’t get it. Along with the nucleus accumbens, these regions work together to change a person’s response to a drug from simply “liking” it to “wanting” it to “needing” it.

The process of moving from enjoyment to needing the drug can take anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on the person’s susceptibility to addiction, according to Schramm-Sapyta. People who already have underlying mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD, are most vulnerable. Women’s brains also tend to become addicted more quickly than men, though more research is needed to better understand this difference.

“We think of addiction as being a biopsychosocial condition,” she said. “When clinicians treat the biological aspect of the condition—usually with medication—they must also remember to look at the psychosocial aspects of a person’s life that led to the addiction in order to truly guide that person towards recovery.”

Addiction in the Lab

Growing up in North Carolina, Schramm-Sapyta began studying chemical engineering as an undergraduate at NC State University but switched her major to biochemistry, following the advice of a family friend, a pharmacologist at Wake Forest University. She did not regret it.

She went on to earn a PhD in pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, and then accepted a postdoctoral associate position in the lab of Danny Winder, PhD, the Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research.

There, she conducted experiments to determine which region of the brain was activated when mice learned how to push a lever and self-administer cocaine. She also began to study addiction and adolescence.

“In the Winder lab, we noticed that it was much easier to observe electrophysiological changes in the nucleus accumbens of adolescent mouse brains than adult mouse brains, which led us to think that might be a mechanism by which adolescents are more vulnerable to addiction than adults,” Schramm-Sapyta said.

After looking deeper, the team came to realize that not all adolescents are more vulnerable to addiction. By studying behavior in mice and rats, the researchers realized that on average, adolescents find drugs of abuse more rewarding and less aversive than adults, but that only some adolescents are more likely to self-administer, or voluntarily take drugs of abuse. The more vulnerable adolescents were more novelty-seeking, less susceptible to the aversive effects of the drugs, and had differences in anxiety levels. For cocaine, less-anxious animals tended to take more, but for alcohol, evidence suggests that more anxious individuals take more.

“Nicole was the first postdoc that I hired in my lab, and I could not have been more fortunate to recruit her,” Winder said. “In those early days of a new lab, having great people around you is key, and Nicole’s enthusiasm, professionalism and intellect all contributed to the foundation of a positive working environment going forward. She did a lot of exciting research in the lab during that time that still influences us today.”

In 2002, Schramm-Sapyta was recruited to Duke University for a postdoctoral research fellowship in the lab of Cynthia Kuhn, PhD, professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, where she continued to study addiction in adolescence.

Another view of Nicole standing outside.

She introduced a concept to the lab known as a “conditioned taste aversion” in which she showed that rats, who normally favor sugar water over regular water, grew to not choose the sugar water over time when it was paired with an injection of an addictive drug.

“They learned to associate the icky feeling brought on by the injection of the drug with the sweet taste,” said Schramm-Sapyta. What’s more, younger rats were less sensitive to the aversive effects of the drug than the older rats. This model has been repeated in a number of animal and human models since then, with all showing that adolescents are less sensitive to the bad feelings of drug or alcohol abuse than adults.

After Schramm-Sapyta left Kuhn’s lab in 2008 to sign on as a faculty member in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) and in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Kuhn continued to use the conditioned test aversion experiment and applied it to current projects studying conditioned nausea.

“She was a terrific addition to the lab,” Kuhn said. “I have been so proud to see her develop these talents, and, in the process, contribute so much to DIBS and to Duke.”

Addiction in Durham

For Schramm-Sapyta, the early lab work fueled a passion to help people in her community suffering from addiction. After moving into a teaching faculty position, she began to look for ways to partner with the Durham community and involve her students in local research projects.

In 2016, she started working with a Duke Bass Connections Brain & Society team to learn more about the opiate epidemic in Durham. In Bass Connections, students and faculty tackle real-world problems as a team through research, creativity, and collaboration with external partners.

To learn more about the local law-enforcement perspective on drug use, Schramm-Sapyta’s Bass Connections team met with members of the Durham Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). CIT members are police officers and other first responders who have received extensive special training to respond to citizens in crisis, often due to underlying behavioral health issues such as addiction or mental illness. More than 950 first responders in Durham have been CIT-trained since 2007.

When Schramm-Sapyta and her students first met with the CIT officers, a one-hour meeting stretched to more than two hours of open, honest discussion. The students asked hard questions and the officers responded with experience, policy information and honesty. The Bass Connections students were very impressed, and sought to spread the word through their project, “Stemming the Opiate Epidemic Through Education and Outreach.” They organized two CIT presentations on campus and three Mental Health First Aid training sessions, the latter completed by more than 100 members of the Duke community.

Schramm-Sapyta and students were encouraged to return and brainstorm with CIT members about ways Duke could support the program. They learned the CIT had lots of data on 9-1-1 calls but no one to analyze it and make it useful to CIT. Schramm-Sapyta connected with Paul Bendich, associate professor of math and Data+ leader at Duke, and that launched the first Data+/CIT project, “Mental Health Interventions by Durham Police.”

Data+, run by the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke, is a 10-week summer research experience for undergraduates interested in exploring new data-driven approaches to complex challenges.

The Data+ team’s first project was to analyze 9-1-1 calls between 2011 and 2016 to determine if there were any patterns related to CIT-tagged calls—and they found them. Behavioral health-related calls typically peak on Wednesdays between 8 a.m. and noon, (“Hump Day is real,” said Schramm-Sapyta), but are sparse on Sunday mornings between 4 and 8 a.m.—information CIT could then use to deploy resources.

Students also looked at the number of CIT calls in different areas of the city. Schramm-Sapyta said, “We found that the poorest areas of our city are the greatest users of CIT services.” That’s good news in that it suggests citizens are familiar with CIT and its services, and the services are going where they are most needed, she pointed out. “It also suggests the need for greater mental health services in these areas, so that crises can be averted.”

In 2017, a second Data+ project looked at whether CIT was helping reduce recidivism, i.e., how often convicted criminals are returning to jail after they have been released. Those identified as having a behavioral health issue are much more likely to return to jail, Schramm-Sapyta noted. This time, data were provided by the Durham County Sheriff’s Office and the Durham County Detention Facility.

“Before CIT existed, recidivism was on the rise in Durham,” Schramm-Sapyta said. “As CIT was first established, and the program began to grow, recidivism leveled off.” In the most recent five years, as CIT and Durham have grown rapidly, and other mental health services at the jail and in the community have increased, recidivism has dropped sharply, she noted.

“This is a fantastic example of the potential for really deep, enduring partnerships between Duke and local institutions and law enforcement in the city and county of Durham,” said Ed Balleisen, PhD, Duke’s Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies, who oversees both DIBS and Bass Connections. “These projects ask significant research questions that can inform decision-making and deploy the creativity of Duke’s faculty and students in partnership with local institutions to carry out that research,” he said. “They present their findings with an eye toward allowing decision-makers to see their world more clearly and have a better sense of what’s working and what isn’t.”

Laylon Williams, the Durham CIT Coordinator for First Responders, said working with Schramm-Sapyta and her students has been a boon for his team.

“Our CIT Leadership Team met her and we all absolutely fell in love with her and the kind of person she is,” said Williams. “Nicole has been actively attending our CIT Leadership Meetings every month and she has helped the CIT Team to analyze our data through the Data+ project and other City and County analysis. She was awarded with our Volunteer of the Year Award in 2018 because she helped us to see the effectiveness of our program through the data analysis. We are so thankful for her and all that she does for our Durham CIT Team and our Durham Community.”

CIT honorees.In 2020, Schramm-Sapyta expanded the project by adding another data set: health records of more than 17,000 people who have migrated through the Durham County Jail and were also seen at Duke Health between 2014-2018. The jail shared names with Duke Health’s Analytic Center of Excellence, which then matched the names to health records but removed identifying information such as names and addresses to keep the data set confidential.

This summer, a new cohort of students in the Data+ program will help Schramm-Sapyta crunch the data to determine connections between mental health diagnoses and returns to jail.

“We want to know if there is anything that Duke, the county, or the jail can do differently to help these people,” she said. “The idea is to see what’s working, what can be improved.”

By Lindsay Key; originally posted on the Duke School of Medicine’s Magnify Magazine. Kathy Neal, DIBS, and Sarah Dwyer, Bass Connections, contributed to this story.

All photography by Joshua Chorman. Chorman is a Video Producer/Director at the Duke School of Medicine, and manages the @dukemdprogram Instagram/Facebook page. 

Lindsay Key is the science writer for the Duke University School of Medicine, and editor of the online storytelling magazine Magnify.

New Summer Program Invites Teams to Apply Design Thinking to Real-world Challenges

Open Design+

Deadline: February 14, 2020

Open De​​​​​​​sign+ is a summer research experience offered during Summer Term II. Working in teams, students will go through the design thinking process, in which they will use qualitative research methods to solve a real-world problem for an assigned client.

This summer marks the first year of this new program. While the program has been modeled after other successful programs at Duke, this is a pilot and the hope is that participating students will help improve the program, viewing this as its own design challenge.

Open Design+ is offered through the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and is part of Bass Connections.

What Is Open Design?

Inspired by open source software and development communities, open design is a variation of design thinking that emphasizes the ethical implications of how and what we design.

Through this program, students will learn skills such as:

  • Empathizing with stakeholders and defining problem areas
  • Brainstorming ideas and creating prototypes
  • Testing solutions and iterating
  • Communicating across audiences and media
  • Thinking divergently and convergently
  • Collaborating and problem-solving in uncertain situations.

How Will the Program Work?

We will select two teams of students to be paired with clients this summer. We will likely have one Duke-based client and one Durham-based client. Each team will include 3-4 undergraduate students and a graduate student. Teams will work collaboratively for 40-hours a week during Summer Term II (June 29-August 7). Members of Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship instructional team will introduce students to the design process through a bootcamp and ongoing learning sessions.

Compensation and Application Information

Undergraduate students will receive a $3,000 stipend for this full-time research experience, out of which they must arrange their own housing. Participants may not accept employment or take classes during the program. Students must be active students at the time of participation.

The priority deadline for all student applications is February 14, 2020. Applications will be evaluated on a rolling basis.

To apply, please use this online application.


For questions, please contact Aria Chernik (aria.chernik@duke.edu) or Kevin Hoch (kevin.hoch@duke.edu).

ABC Thrive Offers Seed Funding to Explore Innovations in Early Childhood Development

ABC Thrive.

Deadlines: February 28, 2020, for letters of intent (strongly encouraged); March 30, 2020, for proposal


ABC Thrive invites seed grant proposals to support the early work of interdisciplinary teams exploring innovations in early childhood development (prenatal to age five). Through this RFP, grants of $20,000 to $40,000 will be awarded to three to four teams for a period of 16 months. At the end of a successful pilot project, seed grantees will be eligible to compete for a larger award of up to $300,000 over two years.

Teams should include Duke faculty from different disciplines/areas of expertise who are working on a common problem related to the goals of ABC Thrive, as described below. Proposals involving international populations must also articulate the implications of the research for prenatal and child well-being in the U.S.

We strongly encourage proposals that include: 1) teams that have not previously collaborated or that are working in an area new to the team; 2) projects that traverse two of the three priority areas listed below; and 3) teams that include community partners.

Please contact us at any point during the application process if you are interested in ideas for potential faculty collaborators and/or community partners, or if you have questions about the scope of this call.

Program Description

Numerous factors affect a child’s growth and development, ranging from genes and biology to family, school, neighborhood and sociopolitical contexts. The purpose of ABC Thrive is to leverage the innovative research, education, clinical care and outreach capabilities of Duke University and Duke Health to promote optimal development in children from prenatal to age five. ABC Thrive will support interdisciplinary teams of experts who will identify, validate and disseminate best practices for use by parents, educators, healthcare providers and community stakeholders to ensure that every child has the best possible start in life.

We are especially interested in projects that address at least one of the following three goal areas:

1 – Prenatal and early childhood health and wellness

  • Identify factors associated with positive prenatal and early childhood outcomes
  • Develop and test new methods or interventions with the potential to: (a) improve prenatal outcomes; (b) improve infants’ and young children’s socioemotional, language, cognitive and/or physical development; and/or (c) promote positive parenting practices
  • Apply validated methods for improving prenatal, early childhood and/or parenting practices and outcomes with new clinical or community populations

2 – Community outreach

  • Leverage existing, or develop new, partnerships to design and test novel interventions
  • Develop strategies to ensure the translation of new discoveries into policy and practice
  • Conduct research that includes participants from a range of ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures
  • Conduct research that includes participants from obstetric, neonatal or pediatric populations with risks for poor fetal, infant and/or child outcomes

3 – Applied technology to achieve scale

  • Develop novel technological approaches to understanding and mitigating multifactorial risks for poor prenatal and early childhood outcomes
  • Use technology to simultaneously disseminate best practices in early childhood development and investigate their impact
  • Adapt established interventions in early childhood development to digital or other technological formats

ABC Thrive is affiliated with Bass Connections and housed in the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. ABC Thrive is codirected by Staci Bilbo, Haley Family Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and Katie Rosanbalm, Senior Research Scientist, Duke Center for Child and Family Policy. For more information: https://bassconnections.duke.edu/content/all-babies-and-children-thrive.

Key Dates

  • Letter of intent (February 28, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. EST): Interested parties are strongly encouraged to submit a brief letter of intent that includes: the problem to be addressed; basic approach to the project; and proposed faculty leaders and community partners. Letters of intent should be emailed to Laura Howes, Director of Bass Connections, at laura.howes@duke.edu and should be no longer than one page (single-spaced, one-inch margins, 11-point font). We will provide feedback on all letters of intent within one week. Letters will also be used to identify any unique expertise that needs to be included on the review panel.
  • Proposal submission deadline (March 30, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. EST): Proposals must be submitted in a single, consolidated Word or PDF document to laura.howes@duke.edu. Responses must meet the character limits noted below – all character counts include spaces.
  • Final selection (April 30, 2020): Please note that it’s possible that the selection committee will reach out to applicants if additional information is needed.
  • Funding period (July 1, 2020 – October 31, 2021): The funding period is intended to allow for a project planning run-in period of a few months to process IRB applications, hire new research assistants, etc.

Proposal Requirements

1 – Project description: What problem will the project address and why does it have significant implications for child well-being? What are the anticipated short-term outcomes from this seed grant, and what are the possible long-term outcomes if you are successful? (3000 characters)

2 – Methodological approach: Describe how the team will operate and conduct the work. What methods will be used? Include information on sample, recruitment, data collection and data analysis. (5000 characters)

3 – Innovative nature of the proposed project: How will this project add something new to our understanding of child well-being and/or to changes in existing policies, programs, care delivery models, etc.? (1000 characters)

4 – Duke team members (at least 2, no more than 5):

  • Please list the name, title, school, department for all PIs.
  • Please list the name, title, school, department for all other Duke team members (faculty, staff, postdocs, graduate students, etc.).
  • What role will each team member play in the project? Have the members of this team worked together in the past? If yes, how is the proposed work a new line of inquiry? What makes the team an interdisciplinary team? (1000 characters)

5 – Actual and Envisaged Community Connections: Describe the nature of external engagement involved in this project, addressing the following points: (1500 characters)

  • Provide the name, title and organization of community partners (if any). Briefly describe the role of the community partner(s) in the research and explain whether any members of the team have prior experience working with the community partner, or whether this is a new collaboration.
  • Whether or not your team already includes external partners, please describe your plans for translating research findings into practice and/or establishing future community partnerships.

6 – Timeline: Provide a timeline in table format for key activities and milestones. The anticipated funding period is July 1, 2020 to October 31, 2021. This period is intended to allow for a project planning run-in period of a few months to process IRB applications, hire new research assistants, etc.

7 – Prospects for external funding: What are potential plans for follow-on external funding in the long-term, including sources? Provide specific funding opportunities, if relevant. (1000 characters)

8 – Budget: Upload a detailed budget (maximum $40,000) including a justification of expenses, in a standard NIH/NSF format. Please also note any other sources of funding that would be applied to this project (e.g., Department or School match, external funds).

Funding may cover reasonable research costs such as graduate students and postdocs, participant payments, materials and supplies. Faculty salaries may only be included for faculty who are 100% externally funded and should not make up more than 25% of the total budget.

9 – PI CVs: Please include a two-page CV for each PI.

10 – Letters of support: If your team has community partners, please include a brief letter of support from those partners.

Submission instructions: Proposals must be submitted to laura.howes@duke.edu by March 30, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. in a single, consolidated Word or PDF document. Responses must meet the character limits noted; character counts include spaces.

Selection Criteria

An interdisciplinary review committee will consider the following criteria when reviewing and scoring applications:

  • Potential impact on early childhood outcomes (including anticipated short- and long-term outcomes)
  • Potential secondary outcomes including opportunities for publications, external funding, impact on community partners and impact on the development of students and faculty
  • Alignment with the goals of ABC Thrive
  • Approach and feasibility
  • Degree of interdisciplinarity

Expectations for Selected Teams

If your proposal is selected for funding, we will request to meet with your team, together with the other seed grantee teams, two to three times during the funding period in order to: 1) help identify and address common challenges across seed grantees; and 2) stay informed about your team’s progress.

In Fall 2021, we will release a call for proposals for the second phase of funding of up to $300,000 over two years. Selections for additional funding will be based on each team’s progress during the seed grant period; potential for the work to be sustained through external funding sources; and the original selection criteria listed above.

Contact Information

For questions about the proposal process or requirements, please contact Laura Howes at laura.howes@duke.edu. For questions about ABC Thrive or to discuss an idea for a proposal, please contact Staci Bilbo at staci.bilbo@duke.edu and/or Katie Rosanbalm at katie.rosanbalm@duke.edu.

Access a PDF version of the RFP. Read about previous ABC Thrive seed grant recipients and a follow-on grant recipient.

Explore Opportunities for Collaborative Research through Bass Connections in 2020-21

Bass Connections students.

Deadline: February 14, 2020

Duke students from all levels and schools are invited to check out the new Bass Connections projects for 2020-2021. Applications open on January 24 and are due on February 14 by 5:00 p.m. All interested students can learn more about new project teams by talking to team leaders at the Bass Connections Fair on January 24.

A university-wide initiative, Bass Connections engages students in collaborative research on complex societal challenges, working alongside faculty from across Duke. Most project teams collaborate with partners outside Duke, including companies, nonprofits, universities, school systems, hospitals and government agencies. Many team members take their research further through grants, theses and other opportunities at Duke and beyond.

Project teams last for two semesters, and some include a summer component. Course credit and summer funding are available.

Browse the 2020-2021 Projects by Theme

Each project team page contains a detailed project description, anticipated outputs, student opportunities, timelines and a list of team leaders.

Create Your Own Path

Need some help planning your Bass Connections pathway? Undergraduates can seek guidance from Duke’s Directors of Academic Engagement, who offer individualized, hour-long advising appointments to guide students through the process of integrating Bass Connections into their academic plans. Graduate students can access a number of resources to guide their pathways, and the professional schools offer tailored advising services to their students. Ph.D. students in the humanities can consult with Duke’s Director of Graduate Student Advising and Engagement in the Humanities.

Students of all levels are also encouraged to reach out to members of the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council, who can answer questions and offer insights about their experiences.

Bring Your Questions to the Bass Connections Fair on January 24

Students of all levels are encouraged to stop by the Bass Connections Fair on Friday, January 24, from 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. in Penn Pavilion. At the fair, students can talk with project team leaders, Bass Connections staff and members of the Student Advisory Council to learn more about new project opportunities and the benefits of participation.

Students can also talk with Directors of Academic Engagement as well as representatives from the Story+, Data+ and Design+ summer programs.

Before You Apply

Take some time to learn how project teams work, review FAQs, explore the benefits of participation and browse stories from students about their Bass Connections experiences.

Applications open on January 24 and are due on February 14 by 5:00 p.m.

Kyle Bradbury on Improving Global Energy Access through Machine Learning and Collaboration

Kyle Bradbury and Bass Connections team members.
Kyle Bradbury (far left) and members of the 2018-19 Bass Connections project team Energy Data Analytics Lab: Energy Infrastructure Map of the World through Satellite Data (Photo: Energy Initiative)

Kyle Bradbury is managing director of the Energy Data Analytics Lab at the Duke University Energy Initiative. Recently, the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke (iiD) asked him to explain what he works on and how he involves students through the Data+ and Bass Connections programs. Here are excerpts from their conversation:

Locating Energy Infrastructure Using Satellite Imagery

My research focuses on how we can make energy systems more affordable, accessible, reliable, and clean using machine learning and data analysis tools. The team that I work with, we’re working on questions around understanding where energy infrastructure is using satellite imagery. One of the challenges in this space is called geographic domain adaptation. If I have an algorithm that’s able to find solar panels in California and I train my algorithm there, how am I able to then use that to find solar panels in Africa, Asia, or Europe? Being able to transfer that can really increase the impact of the research that we’re doing, but it leads to a lot of challenging technical issues.

Energy Access

Another research area that I’ve been working on with other members of the team is looking at how we can use data to address some of the challenges in the energy access space. Right now there are close to a billion people around the world that don’t have access to electricity, but we don’t necessarily know which specific communities lack access, and we don’t always know where the grid infrastructure is that could potentially provide access to electricity.

Student Engagement

iiD has been a fantastic resource, especially with their program Data+. Data+ is a ten-week summer program for undergraduates to deeply engage in a data-focused research project. Over the last few years, we’ve engaged numerous undergraduates to help us with our research. They produced datasets and laid the foundation for dozens of research papers that have been able to answer some of these really challenging questions at the intersection of energy systems and machine learning.

This year, Bradbury is leading a Bass Connections project team, A Wider Lens on Energy: Adapting Deep Learning Techniques to Inform Energy Access Decisions, which builds on the work of last summer’s related Data+ project.

Video by the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke (iiD)