Bringing Social Science Research to the Public

2016 November 18: The "Measure of Everyday Life" taping at WNCU on the campus of North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC.

Brian Southwell has spent his professional life dedicated to telling stories of the human condition. In particular, he’s focused on making scientific research relatable.

“I’ve been attracted to finding ways social science research can inform the broader public discourse and be useful in finding a way to translate work that happens in the public arena,” he said. “I’ve realized scientists and researchers often struggle to inform people of what they do. Translating their work is very important because social scientists study the everyday life of humanity.”

To help increase the understanding of social science in the future, Southwell, an adjunct professor in Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), teaches students how to analyze, decode and share research that affects public attitudes and policies. But they don’t write stories. Instead, they produce radio segments for both local and global audiences.

With Southwell’s guidance, these students tackle topics to peel back the layers of how different societal groups relate. They hope this knowledge will positively impact social relationships and activities.

Southwell hosts “The Measure of Everyday Life,” a radio show broadcast on North Carolina Central University’s WNCU 90.7 FM station. It’s dedicated to interviewing social scientists about the human condition.

To ensure the public has a greater knowledge of science in the future, Southwell is using his radio and podcast class to groom the next generation of social science communicators.

This is a class where students learn to talk about social science in a way that [Southwell] does on his show. I think we’ll see students producing short pieces that may well end up on the show. I hope all sorts of new ways of bringing social science insights to the public will emerge. —Tom Nechyba, Director, SSRI

Set up like a workshop, the course has 10 enrolled students. Southwell said he begins the class by introducing students to classic theories on the role social science plays in policymaking. They have open discussions about unconventional ways of connecting the public to social science, including podcasting, and students master technical editing skills by using free or low-cost editing software.

During the class, students produce several 4-to-7-minute stories on individual topics. For example, undergraduate class participant Jesse Remedios produced the podcast on reducing North Carolina’s high school dropout rate. He spoke with several state high schools, gathering advice and tips on helping students stay enrolled.

2016 November 18: The "Measure of Everyday Life" taping at WNCU on the campus of North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC.

Two other students, McCall Wells and Lou Kendaru, collaborated on a story about votership among white women in the most recent presidential election. “We worked to push aside our disagreements with the voters to identify the logic behind their votes,” Kendaru said. “We used it as an opportunity to truly understand the support for the Trump presidency rather than just pretend we understood it.”

Students also learn how to talk with people and handle unfamiliar and unforeseen situations while working on stories, Remedios said, while they sharpen their research skills.

Southwell also teaches students how to use straightforward language that allows the public to understand the importance and impact of social science research, Kendaru said.

I get very frustrated with academia being in the Ivory Tower and not being very accessible. This class and these stories are things that normalize conversations about the world we live in. And, we’re having them in a language that is accessible to most people. That’s important. Lou Kendaru

For his students, Southwell is much more than a professor they see only in the classroom. He’s an approachable mentor—an instructor who takes time to get to know his students individually and unearth their goals and dreams.

“Dr. Southwell supports us all. He pays attention to our individual goals and tries to think through ways to help connect us to the next step,” Kendaru said. “We’ve all had conversations with him about where we see ourselves in five to 10 years.”

It’s not enough to simply give students the technical skills needed to produce compelling stories, Southwell said. Aspiring social science communicators can benefit from networking and internship opportunities, as well.

Consequently, as part of the course, he brings in professional communicators, such as David Crabtree from WRAL and Susan Davis from WUNC, to answer questions.

Several students, including Remedios, Wells and Kendaru, also accepted internship positions to work alongside station staff on “The Measure of Everyday Life.” These opportunities are invaluable, Remedios said, because it gives students a head start on their careers with actual work experience instead of only classroom learning.

This class is good preparation for the students to get out of their comfort zones and ask good questions. It helps them recognize they’re not the absolute expert in all areas. They learn to be humble in asking insightful questions. It’s a good skill to have whether for podcasts, shows or for life. —Brian Southwell

The Social Science Radio Workshop is a Bass Connections in Education & Human Development course.

Excerpted from Sharing the Sounds of Science, originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of GIST by the Duke Social Science Research Institute (SSRI)

Philosophy Student Explores Healthcare Ethics, Political Disagreement

Aaron Ancell, Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy, coauthored a paper that was published this month in Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics.

The paper, “How to Allow Conscientious Objections in Medicine While Protecting Patient Rights,” challenges those who propose an outright ban on conscientious objections in medicine, arguing that many conscientious objections must be permitted simply because they fall within the range of freedom doctors have to define the scope of their own practices. The latter half of the paper proposes a framework for permitting certain conscientious objections while mitigating the unjust burdens that such objections often impose on patients.

Ancell’s dissertation examines the nature and normative implications of political disagreement, and seeks to develop a normative theory of democracy that is responsive to many of the most troubling features of contemporary politics, such as polarization and the so-called “culture wars.”

In his capacity as a Rethinking Regulation Graduate Fellow, he is interested primarily in questions about the democratic legitimacy of regulatory governance and the appropriate roles of experts, businesses and “the people” in regulatory processes. The Rethinking Regulation Program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics fosters interdisciplinary scholarship, teaching and engagement on the design and performance of regulatory systems across a broad range of policy arenas.

Ancell is also a Graduate Research Student in the Moral Attitudes and Decision-making Lab and a member of a new Bass Connections project aimed at combating political polarization by teaching people to ask better questions.

All students can apply for Bass Connections project teams by February 17. Many teams offer project management opportunities for graduate and professional students.

Originally published in the newsletter of the Rethinking Regulation Program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics

Explore the 2017-2018 Bass Connections Projects

Bass Connections projects

Duke students from all levels and schools are invited to preview the new Bass Connections projects for 2017-2018. Applications will open on January 24 and run through February 17 at 5:00 p.m.

Bass Connections bridges the classroom and the real world, giving students a chance to roll up their sleeves and tackle complex societal challenges alongside faculty from across Duke. Working in interdisciplinary research teams, students at all levels collaborate with faculty, postdocs and outside experts on cutting-edge research that spans subjects and borders.

Most Bass Connections project teams engage with community partners outside Duke, including private companies, nonprofits, universities, school systems, hospitals and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

Forty-three projects across five themes will be offered in the 2017-2018 academic year. Most of these interdisciplinary teams last for two semesters; some have a summer component. Course credit and summer funding are available.

See the 2017-2018 projects by theme:

Through this intensive research experience, students and faculty work as a team to make a real-world impact. Each project team page contains a full project descriptions, anticipated outcomes, student opportunities, timelines and faculty team leaders.

Join Us at the Bass Connections Fair on January 24

Stop by the annual Bass Connections Fair on Tuesday, January 24 from 2:30 to 5:30 in the Energy Hub (first floor of Gross Hall).

Students of all levels can learn more about the Bass Connections project teams for 2017-2018 by talking with faculty team leaders and theme representatives. Tasty food and drinks will be available. Cohosted by the Energy Initiative.

Bass Connections Fair

Meet with an Advisor

For each student, discovering and developing a pathway through Bass Connections will be an individualized experience. Undergraduates can benefit from the guidance of 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 careers. Graduate students can access a number of resources to guide their pathways, and the professional schools offer tailored services to professional students.

Members of the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council are another resource for interested students.

Learn More

  • Check out examples of alumni who are pursuing further studies or working in a field related to their Bass Connections projects.

Seed Funding Grows into a New Grant for Research Team Studying Slums


More than a billion people live in slums worldwide, but major policy initiatives have mostly ignored them. With that number of residents on the rise, one Bass Connections team has spent the last two years exploring why slums are rapidly expanding around the developing world and what this could mean for both political and social networks.

The project, led by Robert O. Keohane Professor of Political Science Erik Wibbels and Edgar T. Thompson Professor of Public Policy Anirudh Krishna, explored the makeup of slums in Bangalore, India, in an effort to understand the slums and the people who must call them home. Witnessing a surprising diversity in terms of physical features, history and legal status, the team developed a methodology for identifying slums and slum types in an effort to organize their insights.

In summer 2015, team members traveled to Bangalore and conducted thousands of surveys of residents in an attempt to identify the formal and informal community leaders. Their goal was to analyze the relationship between local community leadership and government services provided to the residents. Using the survey data as well as field observations and satellite images, the team categorized a typology of slums and the factors that led to their development and perpetuation.

Recently, Wibbels and Krishna were awarded a grant from the Omidyar Network to continue their work studying the slums of Bangalore. The Network, which invests in entrepreneurs who share their commitment to advancing social good, are building on the initial seed funding from Bass Connections.

With this grant, the project will be able to continue their work with renewed energy. Their efforts will include:

  • Using geospatial imagery to identify location of settlements, classify them across different categories, understand their evolution and key characteristics like population and infrastructure
  • Exploring the different types of slums and how do their profiles differ based on various factors like land ownership/ household income/ education levels/ housing quality
  • Discovering whether formal recognition and individual property titles make a difference to the residents’ socioeconomic conditions and to their prospects for upward mobility, and if so, how
  • Identifying the characteristics of property markets within slum settlements, including factors like how people determine price, how they finance it, rental contracts and whether any of this is formally registered in government offices.

With slums so overlooked, Wibbels, Krishna and their team are conducting important work exploring the ways these settlements function and what social and political implications they have. The new funding from Omidyar Network ensures that this important research that started with Bass Connections seed funding can grow and continue to produce valuable insights with the potential to help communities in need.

Originally posted on the Duke Social Science Research Institute website.

As Brazil Expands Access to Higher Education, What Are the Impacts?


About a decade ago, the political party in power in Brazil launched a massive initiative to make high-quality, affordable university degrees accessible to students from low-income families. This past summer, the president of that party faced impeachment, and Brazil’s economy was on the brink of collapse.

A group of eight students on a Duke-sponsored research visit had front row seats as the drama played out. The students spent three weeks in the Baixada Fluminense, a low-income district on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, interviewing university students, their parents and faculty at the Multidisciplinary Institute of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro. Their goal was to learn more about the impact of higher education on communities where few people continue studying beyond high school.


Bass Connections and Duke’s Global Brazil Humanities Lab collaborated to make the research trip possible with additional support from the Duke Brazil Initiative. Led by Duke history professor John French, along with Katya Wesolowski, a visiting professor of cultural anthropology, the mix of undergraduate and graduate students gathered data through one-on-one interviews expected to generate a variety of projects.

Nearly 30 Duke students applied to the Bass Connections course that required students to be at least somewhat conversant in Portuguese and French. The intent was to select only five or six students, but upon seeing the skill sets and interest among the applicants— statistics, higher education, classics, learning a second language—French increased the number he had planned to accept.

“We’re really glad we did,” French said. “So many good people had applied, and it would be a shame not to try to do this trip in a more ambitious way.”

The international study opportunity differed from traditional research excursions, in which students know their research framework before embarking, or study-abroad opportunities that allow time for visiting tourist attractions. Duke senior and economics major John Victor Alencar, who is turning his Baixada experience into an independent study project, expected to gather more quantitative data. Instead, the emphasis was on qualitative material.

“It almost felt like we were exchange students,” Alencar said. “We were immersed in the local university politics and everything else going on in the country, which is at a pivotal moment in Brazil’s history. It was impactful to be there when there was so much change going on.”

Before taking off for Brazil, the students in the group learned about the culture and history of Brazil’s higher education system. Brazil’s public universities are of much higher caliber than private schools, many of which are more akin to for-profit colleges in the U.S. Though public universities always have been tuition-free, historically only the financially well-off attend because public universities are located far from rural, low-income areas, and the public transportation system is not geared toward bringing people from the outskirts of town into the city center.


While the benefit of a high-quality university degree in the U.S. might be that it changes a student’s world view or opens more career doors, in Brazil the impact is more like a badge that elevates its holder from the rest of society. In Brazil, for instance, those with a college degree can’t be held in a common jail if arrested.

The Brazilian government initiative that began in 2006 included opening universities in rural areas and providing scholarships so that more students could step away from an income-earning role while they are students. Though the number of students enrolled in public universities has tripled in the past decade, still only about 3,500 of the 400,000 young people in the Baixada who have finished high school attend a public university.

“There’s a lot of debate about whether the initiative is worthwhile,” French said. “There are policy questions that are precisely what we wanted to talk about. Is it a waste of money on students who don’t complete the course because they have to work or they don’t have what it takes to be successful? In the context of the economic crisis and austerity measures, should the government lower investment in this initiative? Or would restricting opportunity be detrimental? Is there a cost to not offering opportunity? This is a debate that will go on for a long time.”

And Duke students will be part of it.

French and Wesolowski taught their students the art of conducting interviews and taking field notes, then set them loose to gather data. All told, the students conducted 27 interviews, plus another 10 hours of video interviews, including four Brazilian students with their parents.

Alencar, who was interested in the impact higher education would have in low-income communities and the different conceptions economists have on the best strategy for developing an education system, said the best part of the trip was the connections he made with the Brazilian students and the deeper understanding he gained about the challenges they must overcome to pursue a degree.

“They’re so inspiring,” he said. “They’re on the frontlines, fighting for their rights in this difficult moment in Brazil’s history. Their research and the fields they’ve chosen, they’re looking to give back to their community.”

“The trip ignited my passion for Brazil,” he continued. “It made me realize I want to either work in Brazil or work on issues that impact Brazil and Latin America.”

French said the bonds formed between the Brazilian and Duke students intrigued him.

“It was almost like a laboratory of how students of mostly different backgrounds came together and merged as a group. They became quite tight,” he said. “That doesn’t sound like a research finding, but it is. How do you do collaborative work across international boundaries and create something egalitarian, unmarked by boundaries of ‘us’ and ‘them’? That’s something researchers try to achieve, and we feel really good about it.”

Since returning, each student has met individually with French to debrief and talk about next steps. Some students are working on short films about their experience that will be posted on the Global Brazil Lab website. Others are working up grant proposals. The Southeastern Council for Latin American Studies will meet in the Triangle in March 2017, offering an opportunity for students to deliver academic papers on their experience.

A few students are working on an exhibit to be displayed in the Franklin Humanities Institute. One group is working on a 20-minute film about the experience that will debut in February when some of the Brazilian students and faculty come to Duke for a two-day conference to keep the collaboration alive, followed immediately by a wider conference on developments in Brazil.

Gray Kidd, who is French’s co-instructor of the Bass Connections course, said that the course deliverables—in lieu of, say, a final paper—reflect a project in which “everyone brings their personal strengths and interests to the table.”

Kidd said the Bass course and research trip met his goal of looking at different models for interdisciplinary study. “We wanted to put something together that generated a great deal of energy and was outside of the traditional course format,” he said. “We’ve been successful. Personalized pathways of research have emerged from this.”

Originally published in GIST, the magazine of the Duke Social Science Research Institute.

In a Region Bypassed by the Global Economy, There Are Hopeful Signs


From shuttered textile mills and furniture factories to dormant tobacco fields, the traditional industries of North Carolina’s Appalachian region have drastically declined.

But new areas have emerged, says Lukas Brun of Duke’s Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness, who set out to show that the Appalachian economy is more than a tale of decline: “There are great stories that are not being told.”

An Innovative Approach to Analyzing the State’s Economy

A global value chain refers to all the people and activities involved in creating a product or service. Researchers typically apply the global value chain framework, created by Duke sociology professor Gary Gereffi, for international development purposes. Back in 2006, Gereffi and Stacey Frederick worked with undergraduates to apply the framework at the state level, resulting in the North Carolina in the Global Economy website. Their research and visualizations illustrate how the state compares with others and the rest of the world in seven industries.

“It was an exciting way to involve undergraduates in research, which is rarely done in universities.”

Noting that the website was getting a lot of use, Gereffi and Brun focused their first Bass Connections team in 2013-14 on updating the site with new data. “It was an exciting way to involve undergraduates in research, which is rarely done in universities,” Brun said.

Adding Defense and Aerospace to the Picture

Continuing in 2014-15, Brun and Gereffi worked with a new group of students to add defense and aerospace to the seven industries.

“By using a global value chain approach, the team was able to isolate the areas in which the state had strengths and in which they lacked support,” said Shelley Wu ’17. “This comprehensive process allowed us to present a well-rounded analysis and come up with specific recommendations for action and upgrading on a policy or legislative level.”

“It was really fulfilling to see the research process through from start to finish.”

Hannah McCracken ’16 noted that the team presented its outputs to North Carolina stakeholders and members of the Duke community: “It was really fulfilling to see the research process through from start to finish.”

Understanding a Regional Economy

In 2015-16, a new Bass Connections team focused on using the value chain framework in one part of the state. “The framework hadn’t been applied to a region before,” Brun noted, “and we wanted to understand what industries were taking root in a disadvantaged rural area. We picked Appalachia because the traditional industries of North Carolina—furniture, tobacco, textiles—all had a historic presence in the region, but had largely gone away. And we had connections with people at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina who were interested in better understanding the economy of that region.”

“There are new and exciting stories about the Appalachian economy that are not being told.”

The partnership guided the team to focus on the beverage and automotive industries and made introductions to the Department of Commerce and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“Our goal was to show that there are new and exciting stories about the Appalachian economy that are not being told,” said Brun. “The story on the beverage side is the craft brewing industry centered in Asheville and surrounding counties. The next wave is going to be craft distilleries. In the automotive industry, North Carolina punches above our weight in heavy duty trucks. Volvo, Mack, Freightliner…all have headquarters or a big presence here, and part of the supply chain is in the Appalachia region. We also have the leading manufacturer of ambulances and custom vehicles for emergency services.”


“The framework gave me the tools and the perspective I needed to fully understand how rural economic development in a state like North Carolina is connected to the technology-intensive global trucking industry,” said Shruti Rao ’18. “Through interviews with manufacturing plant directors, industry specialists and direct exchange with the Appalachian Regional Commission, I was able to learn the importance of using a holistic perspective such as global value chains when approaching economic development.” She developed her own Program II major focused on global value chains.

Presenting Research to Policymakers

In the fall the team produced industry reports and websites, and presented their findings to senior staff in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. “I think it’s those experiences for undergraduates that really makes their research and scholarship at Duke have new relevance,” said Brun. “It’s pretty neat to be an undergrad talking about a research project that you’re doing with faculty to members of the North Carolina congressional delegation.”

“The work I was doing will impact people’s lives.”

“Bass Connections was the most academically fulfilling experience of my four years at Duke,” said Bryan Dinner ’16. “I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with world-renowned scholars on economic development policies for rural Appalachian North Carolina. The work I was doing will impact people’s lives.”


This summer Dinner gave a talk to prospective Duke students in his home state of Arizona. “Bryan said he spent most of the time on Bass Connections, and to hear him say that this was his culminating experience underscores the value of engaged scholarship,” said Brun.

“You have this output that has resonance in both the research community and society at large.”

For Brun, it’s rewarding to witness students “turning on a light and realizing what the purpose of a university in society can be. What we were trying to do with our Bass Connections project is to demonstrate how the educational and research goals of a university can be aligned. Suddenly you have this output that has resonance in both the research community and society at large. That’s a great experience for both students and instructors to have.”

In the spring the team focused on turning their research reports into papers for academic journals. Rao submitted an article to Rural and Community Development, and Dinner and Brun are finalizing a submission to Rural Studies.

Learn More

By Sarah Dwyer; originally posted on Duke Today. Images courtesy of Duke Social Science Research Institute (1-Madeleine Roberts, Shruti Rao, Lukas Brun, Bryan Dinner and Laura Baker; 2-Melissa Piana and Shruti Rao; 3-Bryan Dinner)

Duke-Brazil Collaboration Explores the Cost of Opportunity in Higher Education

John French

Professor of History John French, Global Brazil Lab co-director and Bass Connections team leader, talks about the immersive experience of taking Duke students to the Baixada Fluminense on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

Duke undergraduates and graduate students were able to collaborate with Brazilian students as they tackled the issue of accessible college education for Brazil’s poorest populations.

In this video by Eric Barstow of the Franklin Humanities Institute, French is joined by Katya Wesolowski and Adair Necalli as they discuss their collaboration.

Read a related article in the Chronicle and learn more about this Bass Connections project team, The Cost of Opportunity? Higher Education in the Baixada Fluminense.

Faculty Receive Bass Connections Awards to Develop Courses


Bass Connections has awarded four course development funds to groups of Duke faculty members whose pedagogical ideas will expand interdisciplinary curricular options for undergraduates as well as graduate and professional students.

This Spring an RFP invited Duke faculty, departments or schools to organize new courses or modify existing ones that align with one or more of the Bass Connections themes and are multidisciplinary, open to students at different levels and/or ask questions of societal importance. Such courses will augment theme leaders’ efforts to enrich the curricular pathways available to undergraduate and graduate students.

Managing Networks     

Submitted by Lisa Keister with Susan Alberts, Christopher Bail, Jonathon Cummings, James Moody, Martin Ruef

  • Faculty affiliations: Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (Biology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Sociology, Markets and Management Certificate Program); Fuqua School of Business; Nicholas School of the Environment (Marine Science and Conservation); Center for Population Health & Aging; Duke Institute for Brain Sciences; Duke Network Analysis Center; Duke Population Research Institute
  • Bass Connections theme: Information, Society & Culture

Networks are pervasive in the social, economic, political and natural worlds. Network data and methods – and concurrently our ability to conceptualize and analyze networks – have expanded dramatically in recent years, and Duke is a central location in which this research is being conducted. This course is about the role that networks play in organizations. It will involve multiple faculty from across schools, invite outside experts to provide guest lectures and include project-based assignments. Graduate students and post-docs from various disciplines will participate as assistants and project leaders.

Engineering and Anthropology of Biomedical Engineering (BME) Design in Uganda

Submitted by William Reichert and Kearsley Stewart

Dr. Reichert established the Duke-Makerere University in Kampala (MUK) BME Partnership in coordination with Duke BME, Duke Global Health Institute, Pratt School of Engineering, the Provost’s Office and the Duke Africa Initiative. The goal of this course is to integrate the design and anthropological elements of the Duke-MUK experience into a single course offered to both BME and global health undergraduate and graduate students. It will proceed pedagogically as a design class superimposed with the relevant anthropology of working directly with students in Uganda.

History of Global Health

Submitted by Nicole Barnes and Margaret Humphreys

  • Faculty affiliations: Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (History); School of Medicine; Duke Global Health Institute
  • Bass Connections theme: Global Health

The history of global health contains valuable perspectives for thinking through current health challenges. The course begins with the development of ancient medicine in Europe and China, and continues into the rise of biomedicine in the 19th and 20th centuries. It addresses particular diseases as case studies through which to explore important themes in global health history, and traces global circulations of people and commodities to show how international agencies, charities and governing bodies have spread both disease and the means to fight it.

Integrating Environmental Science and Policy

Submitted by Lori Bennear and Patrick Halpin

  • Faculty affiliations: Nicholas School of the Environment (Environmental Economics and Policy, Marine Science and Conservation); Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (Economics); Sanford School of Public Policy; Energy Initiative; Science & Society
  • Bass Connections theme: Energy

Environmental challenges are inherently multidisciplinary, drawing upon principles from ecology, earth sciences, biochemistry, economics, political science and ethics. Employing in-depth case studies, this course will explore the complex interactions that characterize current environmental problems. Course objectives include: exposing students to interdisciplinary approaches to environmental science and policy; allowing students to develop analytic tools to address environmental issues; and fostering collaborative group-based analytic experiences consistent with real-world environmental problem solving.

Faculty recipients of these course development funds will be invited to share their experiences at a luncheon or dinner at the end of year.

Learn how to get involved with Bass Connections.