Collaboration at SSRI


Working together, sharing ideas and accomplishing great research

Q: An EHD Bass Connections team took the ResearchMobile (ReMo) to South Carolina over winter break. Can anyone use the ReMo?

A: The ResearchMobile has really been one of the hidden treasures at SSRI, and we’d love to make a push for it to be utilized more. It’s part of our Interdisciplinary Behavioral Research Center (IBRC), which is directed by Mark Leary. Mark and his team will work with anyone who is interested—it really is a very easy process, and you don’t have to already be affiliated with SSRI. The South Carolina excursion was a brilliant idea by Alexandra Cooper who directs our education and training programs, and it was the first time the ResearchMobile has left North Carolina. I hope that story opens people’s imaginations for how this resource could enhance research at Duke. It can be rapidly deployed but it can also be employed for research at schools or in outlying communities with people who ordinarily would not come to a research facility. The upcoming election, for instance, might provide fascinating ways of utilizing the ResearchMobile across the state, but it could even be used locally on different parts of the Duke Campus.

Q: Bass Connections teams are in public schools through neuroscience-based health curriculum and guiding professional development for classroom and ESL teachers. Why is it important that Duke undergraduates bring their research to local public schools?

A: It’s one of those wonderful win-win scenarios that we love to find. So many Duke students are genuinely interested in contributing to the community, and, together with the faculty, they have enormous intellectual capital to employ. Our community has real needs in the education space, and so bringing those needs together with research and engagement at Duke can improve our community, enhance education at Duke and advance research all at the same time. The key to making it all work is to make sure that the schools themselves become real partners, and that is what these projects have so successfully accomplished.

Q: Wilkie Wilson and Dr. Cynthia Kuhn’s neuroscience Bass Connections team is an example of a social science and medical science collaboration, much like economist Joe Hotz and Dr. Kristin Newby’s partnership. What other kinds of collaborations between SSRI and the medical campus do you envision?

A: The potential for increased collaboration between social science and medicine is almost limitless. With the Social Science Challenge and the Duke Colloquium on Data and Medicine, we are discovering areas for potential collaboration that we could not have envisioned at the outset. Through mechanisms like the Data+ program in iiD and the Bass Connections Program, we now have ready ways for students to become involved in emerging projects.

Q: For graduate students interested in data, what tools and resources are available at SSRI?

A: The Protected Research Data Network—or PRDN—at SSRI is less than two years old, but we are already counting users in the hundreds. Many researchers—including undergraduates and graduate students—are finding it to be a convenient way to work with sensitive data in a secure way, and many data providers are seeing it as the most secure way for them to share data with researchers. Our staff, led by Rachel Franke, is eager to help anyone with sensitive data needs that can be accommodated in the PRDN. Our staff can also help researchers navigate the larger research computing infrastructure at Duke, and you can access that expertise by stopping by our help desk in the Connection at SSRI. It’s the place to get help with questions on research software and a variety of research methods. So lots of resourcess are available—just come to SSRI in Gross Hall and ask!

Tom Nechyba
Director, SSRI

Originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of GIST by the Duke Social Science Research Institute (SSRI)

Bass Connections Students Report on Education Research


Undergraduates are at the heart of research for Bass Connections, and it is through their diligence and collaborative spirit that there was tremendous work done, Professor Thomas Nechyba said Wednesday night during the Education and Human Development Bass Connections showcase.

Hosted by the Social Science Research Institute, EHDxTalks covered both local and international projects, and topics ranged from education and nutrition at Duke to focuses on the psychological implications of transitional housing. Each of the 12 EHD Bass Connections teams presented five minute TEDx-style talks highlighting their discoveries, and their hopes for further research.

Brigid Burroughs, Jennifer Ling, Camila Vargas and Jaslyn Zhang explored gender discrepancies between men and women studying in STEM fields at Duke. Beginning with data analysis done by the National Girls’ Collaborative Project, the team tracked how men and women differently handled academic obstacles.

“After selecting majors, women are 50 percent more likely than men to switch out of a STEM major, even when controlling for academic ability. So clearly, the issue of a homogenous population among STEM majors is a systemic one,” Burroughs said.

The students said they wanted to continue their research and conduct experiments that would lead to recommendations.  “We hope to see how different types of active learning affects self-efficacy, peer interaction and motivation in the classroom, and how these perceptions of learning affect gender,” Ling said.

In their project, Nikita Gawande and Saumya Jain study slums in Bangalore to help start filling in large gaps in scholarly knowledge about poverty in the developing world.  The students use surveys to learn about the lives of people there and to develop policy recommendations on poverty, health, education, housing and other issues.

“We’re working on a methodology to classify slums into distinct types. Our hope is that by clustering slums on their physical features, it will be easier to discover what underlying factors are most important in shaping different trajectories of development over time,” Jain said.

“Eventually, our hope is that these types will help NGOs and governments come up with more specific and targeted policy interventions.”

Another team researched music therapy and autism in elementary schools. Giselle Graham and Xin Tong Lim’s project called “Voices Together” evaluated how music therapy can help overcome communication and social interaction deficits in children diagnosed with autism.

“Voices Together uses rhythm, tempo, and dynamics of music as a medium to implement therapeutic strategies focused on helping individuals with autism reach specific goals,” Graham said.

Serving as a culminating event to recognize student and faculty research, EHDxTalks became a platform for teams to share their achievements.

“Bass Connections is what happens at the intersection between higher education at Duke, interdisciplinary [research], and knowledge in the service of society,” Nechyba said.

Originally published on the DukeToday website.

Duke Students and Faculty Team Up with Refugee Youth for Citizenship Lab


Every year, the United States resettles between 50,000 and 80,000 refugees. North Carolina ranks tenth in the country for the number of refugees it takes in, and in the past three years, more than 2,500 refugees from countries such as Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan have settled in the Raleigh-Durham area. They face the daily challenges of adjusting to new environments, cultures and languages while struggling to navigate access to resources, jobs, education and social support.

Citizenship Lab is a Bass Connections project team that’s developing ways for these refugees, particularly middle school and high school youth, to engage in civic participation in Durham. Comprised of Duke faculty, graduate students and undergraduates, the team partners with 30 refugee youth.

The project set out to “encourage refugees to be more active participants in their communities,” says Elizabeth Tsui, a team member of the Citizenship Lab and a junior biology major at Duke.

“What we’re trying to help them achieve,” adds another member of the team, doctoral student Alexandra Oprea, “are the tools to have power or efficacy in their community.” She says that the project also aims to help them prepare for the future, such as careers or college. But even beyond that, she hopes that the Citizenship Lab can prepare them “for being members of a community that can vote, that can protest, that can participate and shape the community according to their needs.”

What we’re trying to help them achieve are the tools to have power or efficacy in their community, on the one hand, to be able to do well in school to prepare for a future career, hopefully college-readiness. And on the other hand, to prepare for being members of a community that can vote, that can protest, that can participate and shape the community according to their needs.

In addition to helping the refugees integrate into their new environment, members of the Citizenship Lab team are exploring the impact the program has on the civic participation of migrant youth and the broader relationship between social science research engagement and citizenship. This work is animated by a cluster of questions:

  • What civic traditions and practices do refugee youth bring with them and how are they deployed in the United States?
  • When popular forms of American civic participation—e.g., voting and volunteering—are not immediately viable for refugees, what new civic forms may be possible?
  • What is the relationship between problem-centered social science research and citizenship?
  • How do we measure the effectiveness of teaching citizenship via this pragmatic social science research method?

This work doesn’t come without challenges. Team member Reed McLaurin, a sophomore public policy major, talks about the initial difficulty of trying to bridge the chasm between himself and refugee students who have been thrust into a new world. Finding common ground when the two sides are separated by culture, language and life experiences can be elusive. But he points out how rewarding it can be when that gap is closed: “One girl in particular that I was doing a lot of my work with was very quiet and reserved. But after several weeks she said, ‘I’m really going to miss you and I can’t wait for next week.’ That was the first week that I really had affirmation from her that she was seeing this as more than just a tool to enhance her future. It was a real friendship.”

Watch the video, learn more about Citizenship Lab: Civic Participation of Refugee Youth in Durham and find out how to get involved in Bass Connections. Additional support for this project is provided by the Silver Family Kenan Institute for Ethics Fund in Support of Bass Connections.

Save the Date for EHDx Talks

Bass Connections Team

The Education and Human Development Bass Connections theme invites you to save the date for EHDx Talks on April 13, 2016.

Students from each EHD Bass Connections team will present a five minute talk on his or her team’s work. The event will start at 5:30 p.m. at the Nasher Museum of Art.

A reception and poster session, also at the Nasher, will immediately follow the talks with a reception starting at 7 p.m. All are welcome, including students, staff, faculty and other guests.

The culminating event celebrates the achievement of students who have been working on interdisciplinary research teams within the EHD Bass Connections theme and provides an opportunity for students to discuss the research projects and their work.

“We heard from students that they wanted more opportunities to present their work and that they were looking for some type of culminating event that would recognize and highlight their achievements throughout the year,” said EHD Theme Administrator Cecily Hardaway.

“We were happy to create this opportunity, so that students have a sense of accomplishment and can share their work with other Bass teams and the Duke community more broadly.”

EHD Bass studentsThe first in what will hopefully become an annual event, the EHDx Talks are an opportunity for students to present their own work while also networking with peers and learning more about the other research projects hosted by EHD Bass Connections.

“We hope that students and faculty across teams will connect and help to foster and enhance the EHD Bass Connections community,” said Hardaway.

Students interested in Bass Connections are especially encouraged to attend as they will have the opportunity to learn about ongoing research, see how teams interact with one another on projects, and discover how different academic disciplines contribute to the EHD Bass Connections experience.

As Hardaway explained, “Duke students will have a chance to see what Bass Connections in Human Development and Education is all about and get a better understanding of the types of opportunities that are available. We hope that students, who are not already on EHD Bass teams, will be encouraged to apply in the future.”

Originally published on the Social Science Research Institute website