Taking It Outside, Doctoral Students Build Girls’ Science and Leadership Skills

Jacqueline Gerson and Emily Levy

Duke University doctoral students Jacqueline Gerson (Ecology) and Emily Levy (Biology) wanted to increase hands-on science opportunities for young women and other groups that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math.

With fellow Duke students Emily Ury and Alice Carter, they created a free summer program called GALS (Girls on outdoor Adventure for Leadership & Science). High school students who identify as female or gender nonconforming, students of color, and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are welcome to participate.

For the inaugural program in 2017, the founders created a science curriculum and taught eight young women about the scientific method, environmental science, and backpacking. While it was a success, they identified two areas that would strengthen the program: a standardized curriculum, and a humanities component to complement the environmental science focus.

To further this work, Gerson and Levy established a network to enrich the GALS program and received a Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for use in 2017-2018. Their faculty sponsors are Erika Weinthal, Nicolette Cagle, Naomi Kraut, and Megan Mullin.

; learning about evolution via natural selection during GALS 2017

“I can’t stress enough how beneficial the D-SIGN network has been to this program,” said Levy. “I am especially thankful for the time and effort of colleagues outside of the fields of biology and ecology who added a new level of thoughtfulness, intentionality, and depth to our curriculum. The connections we made through our D-SIGN network will continue to strengthen our program and help us accomplish the GALS mission.”

Here are excerpts from their year-end report.

The D-SIGN network helped us fill the two gaps of a standardized curriculum and a humanities component. We worked with a Duke Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Environmental Management student, Katrina Herrera, to overhaul our curriculum. Our lessons are now matched to state and national educational standards, and they include more hands-on and place-based learning activities.

We held four D-SIGN network meetings with Duke graduate students and postdocs from the Sanford School of Public Policy, the Medical Physics Graduate Program, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Economics Department, the University Program in Ecology, the Nicholas School of the Environment, and the Biology Department. Our intellectual breadth allowed us to tackle topics that the original GALS team (comprised of ecologists and biologists) didn’t have the expertise to do. Through these meetings, we created four new lessons and documents that will critically enhance the GALS curriculum.

a 2017 GALS participant studied snail velocity on different substrates for her independent research project

The D-SIGN-supported network created a lesson about Environmental Values and Economics, in which students will learn about different ways in which humans place value on the environment. In this lesson, students first reflect on their own valuation of different aspects of nature. Then, they will each represent stakeholders in a town hall debate about whether to build the Fontana Dam (which was built in the 1940s).

We also created a lesson plan about environmental policy. In this lesson, students will learn how to assess environmental issues, identify those who have power over those issues, and act to effect change in those systems. Students will create a ‘power map’ of a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation, or large farm in which animals are raised in confinement] in North Carolina to identify the people and institutions who can sway the status quo. Students will then write letters to these entities, which will be mailed upon returning to Durham.

The third lesson we produced focuses on the causes of, consequences of, and solutions to environmental justice issues. Students will consider the relevance of environmental justice to their own lives, take on the persona of stakeholders in a North Carolina CAFO to discuss a current instance of environmental justice, and finally take time to reflect on how to fight for environmental justice in their own communities.

GALS instructors during the 2018 instructor training trip

During our last D-SIGN network meeting, we produced a “GALS Instructor Guide for Sensitive Science Topics.” This 8-page document provides instructors with tips for facilitating discussions about topics that may be uncomfortable for some students (e.g., evolution). It also describes the scientific background behind 10 different “sensitive” topics that students asked about last year (e.g., Weather vs. Climate, Extinction & Biodiversity, GMOs).

Funds have also been used to attend diversity trainings, purchase educational materials, and organize a backpacking training weekend for GALS instructors.

About D-SIGN

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to explore beyond disciplinary lines, both in research and coursework. The goal is to enable graduate students to build or extend their networks and to integrate collaborative, cross-school experiences into their programs, thereby increasing the number of individuals whose graduate training reflects Duke’s commitment to interdisciplinarity and knowledge in the service of society.

  • See who else received D-SIGN grants in 2017-2018.

Photos: Jacqueline Gerson and Emily Levy; learning about evolution via natural selection during GALS 2017; a 2017 GALS participant studied snail velocity on different substrates for her independent research project; GALS instructors during the 2018 instructor training trip

Biologist Builds Skills in Coding to Study Deep-sea Marine Animals

Kate Thomas

Kate Thomas, a Ph.D. student in Biology, was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor is Sönke Johnsen. She shared an update:

GSTEG funding allowed me to spend two months working on an interdisciplinary project that was outside the scope of my dissertation research. I wanted to improve my skills in coding and computational modeling, so I proposed to undertake a coding-intensive research project to work with a detailed record of over 30 years of deep-sea observations at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

I was mentored by Steve Haddock (coauthor of the book Practical Computing for Biologists) and Anela Choy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in working with huge datasets using computational tools. I spent two months in residence at MBARI using physical oceanographic data collected at sea to model light levels in the deep ocean and test how these correlate to patterns of animal distributions.

Images courtesy of Kate Thomas

This project expanded the scope of my scientific training and how I think about my future research goals. In addition, it has turned into an ongoing collaboration across three institutions and a long-term effort to understand the variability of midwater light fields and their effects on deep-sea communities.

Thomas graduated this semester and will start a postdoc in August at the Natural History Museum in London.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

Graduate Student Sees Clear Benefits of Observational Oceanography Training in Bermuda

Ryan Peabody

For Ryan Peabody, a master’s student in Earth and Ocean Sciences, a hands-on course at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences provided a vital supplement to his graduate training at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

He sought to learn more about modern observational oceanography, in order to support his research on the linkage between large-scale ocean circulation and ocean productivity.

Peabody was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) for 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. His faculty mentor is Susan Lozier. Recently he shared an update:

I used my GSTEG to travel to Bermuda and take a two-and-a-half-week course on observational oceanography at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). At BIOS, I had the opportunity to learn about the capabilities of modern ocean observing platforms and to gain practical experience working with them in the field. It was a great chance to meet other oceanographers and oceanography students, and learn more about the field methods being developed in the field.

My work at Duke is primarily grounded in analysis of existing data, and I greatly enjoyed sampling in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, a region that I had never been to but plays a key role in my work.

Ryan Peabody and fellow students conduct sampling aboard the RV Atlantic Explorer off the coast of Bermuda

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

  • Read other GSTEG updates.
  • See who received grants for 2018-19.

Photo: Ryan Peabody and fellow BIOS trainees conduct sampling aboard the RV Atlantic Explorer off the coast of Bermuda

Fourteen Duke Graduate Students Receive Training Enhancement Grants

GSTEG recipients

Fourteen Duke University students received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) for 2018-2019 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. Stretching beyond their core disciplinary training, these doctoral students will spend up to one semester acquiring skills, knowledge, or experiences that will enhance the approach to their original research.

Hands-on Training

Patrick Gray

Patrick GrayPh.D. in Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment
Faculty mentor: David W. Johnston

Attend Rutgers University Marine Technology Glider Camp to gain experience using oceanographic gliders and intern with a team experienced in applying artificial intelligence data analysis techniques to ecology, to better design and answer novel questions about the ecology of marine mammals

Gray Kidd

Gray KiddPh.D. in History, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: John D. French

Engage in six weeks of professional training in the production of documentary films in Recife, Brazil, in order to produce a companion piece to dissertation, reach underrepresented publics in field research, and build skills as a public humanist

Christine Ryan

Christine RyanS.J.D. in Law, School of Law
Faculty mentor: Katharine T. Bartlett

Conduct fieldwork to examine the role of international human rights law in access to abortion in Kenya; collaborate with advocacy organizations, policymakers, healthcare workers, and grassroots organizations; assess relevance of international human rights law in tackling obstacles to implementing court judgments and national abortion laws

Weiyi Tang

Weiyi TangPh.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment
Faculty mentor: Nicolas Cassar

Collaborate with Dr. Julie Robidart’s laboratory at National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, to acquire training on how to identify types of diazotrophs in North Atlantic Ocean and explore how the microbial community influences N2 fixation rates, to support research on marine N2 fixation

Internships

Siddharth Kawadiya

Siddharth KawadiyaPh.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering
Faculty mentor: Marc A. Deshusses

Intern at Firmenich in Geneva to learn analytical methods of headspace analysis of reinvented toilets (which are off the grid; without any connections to water, sewer, or electricity), and incorporate the methods into the lab-scale testing of odor elimination capacity of odor-removing pouches

Hillary Smith

Hillary SmithPh.D. in Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment
Faculty mentor: Xavier Basurto

Spend two months as a fellow of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome to learn more about the organization’s role in small-scale fisheries policy, to support dissertation on implementation of FAO’s first global policy instrument for the small-scale fishing sector

Phillip Turner

Phillip TurnerPh.D. in Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment
Faculty mentor: Cindy Lee Van Dover

Develop informational materials in collaboration with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and take part in the 24th Session of the ISA Council in Kingston, Jamaica, in July 2018, to introduce the seabed beneath the Middle Passage as a potential cultural heritage site

Courses

Torang Asadi

Torang AsadiPh.D. in Religion, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: David Morgan

Enroll in human computer interaction and user experience research courses at UC-Berkeley, Coursera, and Stanford in Summer 2018 to learn methods for studying ways in which humans and machines are intertwined in constituting humanity, to support research on healthcare among Iranians in northern California

Christina Bejjani

Christina BejjaniPh.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Tobias Egner

Attend one of two Computational Summer Schools to acquire computational analytic skills, learn how to incorporate novel and innovative themes within human neuroscience research, and network with leading researchers and fellow attendees

Morine Cebert

Morine CebertPh.D. in Nursing, School of Nursing
Faculty mentors: Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda and Eleanor Stevenson

Attend three courses at Odum Institute’s Qualitative Research Summer Intensive at UNC-Chapel Hill in July 2018 and complete online Nurse Certificate Course for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, to support research on reproductive endocrinology care among African-American women

Yanyou Chen

Yanyou ChenPh.D. in Economics, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Christopher Timmins

Take part in week-long Railway Operations module of Railway Executive Development Program at Michigan State University, to learn about such topics as how a rail network is formed and operated, how locomotive and car leasing works, and how carpooling and fleet management is conducted

Zachary Levine

Zach LevinePh.D. in Cultural Anthropology, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Diane M. Nelson

Enroll in plant medicine course at the Jardim Botânico of Rio de Janeiro in Spring 2018 to develop a more rigorous understanding of science-based fundamentals of plant healing, in support of research on Brazil’s state-sanctioned use of ayahuasca

Adrian Linden-High

Adrian Linden-HighPh.D. in Classical Studies, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Mary T. Boatwright

Attend International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) workshop at University of Victoria, Canada, in June 2018, to build skills in using ultra-high-resolution photographic reproductions of cultural heritage objects

Julia Notar

Julia NotarPh.D. in Biology, Arts & Sciences
Faculty mentor: Sönke Johnsen

Take part in two-week Sensory Ecology Course at Lund University, Sweden, in October 2018, to learn about multiple topics in the field of sensory ecology and support dissertation research on visual ecology

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

A January 2018 RFP invited all current Duke graduate students (including master’s, professional, and Ph.D. students) to propose graduate training enhancement activities lasting up to one semester. Proposals were reviewed by a panel of faculty and graduate students from across the university.

See previous recipients (2017-2018 and 2016-2017) and review the 2016-2017 summary report.

Photo, first row: Torang Asadi, Christina Bejjani, Morine Cebert, Yanyou Chen; second row: Patrick Gray, Siddharth Kawadiya, Gray Kidd, Zachary Levine; third row: Adrian Linden-High, Julia Notar, Christine Ryan, Hillary Smith; fourth row: Weiyi Tang, Phillip Turner

Learning New Skills to Study Girls’ Mental and Reproductive Health in Tanzania

Emily Cherenack, GSTEG grant, Femme International

To enhance her dissertation on mental and reproductive health among adolescent girls, Emily Cherenack volunteered with a nonprofit in Tanzania and received specialized training at the University of Miami.

Cherenack, a Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology, was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor is Kathleen Sikkema. She shared an update:

Emily CherenackI spent the summer learning interdisciplinary methods to conduct research on reproductive health among adolescent girls globally and in the United States. For half the summer, I worked with Dr. Adam Carrico at the University of Miami to learn how to use biological markers in research with HIV-positive women. The time I spent in his lab was instrumental in learning more about psychoneuroimmunology and the collection and analysis of biological data from participants and medical charts.

For the other half of the summer, I lived in Moshi, Tanzania and worked with the NGO Femme International, which provides menstrual education and sustainable menstrual solutions to girls in Tanzania and Kenya. With Femme International, I learned how to conduct research on menstruation with adolescent girls in schools and saw how to implement education interventions with girls.

From these experiences, I refined my dissertation, which focuses on mental health and reproductive health among adolescent girls in Tanzania. Funding from the GSTEG grant was essential for me to gain these experiences and work with experts at the University of Miami and in the field in Tanzania to develop an interdisciplinary dissertation that merges the fields of clinical psychology and reproductive health.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

From Hawaii to the Antarctic, Ph.D. Student Works to Protect Endangered Species

Seth Sykora-Bodie

How can marine protected areas be used to reduce habitat degradation and biodiversity loss? Seth Sykora-Bodie, a third-year Ph.D. student in Marine Science and Conservation, took part in the Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey to inform his dissertation on Antarctic resource management and conservation.

Advised by Lisa Campbell and Andrew Read, Sykora-Bodie was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. He shared an update:

Seth Sykora-BodieOver the last several decades, researchers have accumulated a wealth of knowledge indicating that species are disappearing at unprecedented rates. One of the tools we have at our disposal for reversing this trend is setting aside large land- and seascapes for conservation. This is what my research is broadly focused on—understanding how marine protected areas can be used to reduce habitat degradation and biodiversity loss.

Traditionally, these efforts have primarily relied on ecological data such as species richness and abundance for prioritizing conservation sites. As a result, I applied for GSTEG to participate in a large-scale marine mammal survey being conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fishery Service to gain experience in collecting the data that underlies federal conservation and management decisions. The main focus of the survey was the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, where Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the ten largest marine protected areas on the planet and encompasses hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory, is located.

The goal of the research expedition was to collect data on the distribution and abundance of threatened and endangered marine mammals throughout the Hawaiian archipelago to inform regulatory and management decisions. In support of their ongoing management efforts, surveys such as this are important for understanding the current status and trends of highly endangered species such as Hawaiian monk seals and false killer whales.

During my time with the research team, I learned more about survey design and methods, marine mammals acoustics, and even seabird identification. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and significantly improved my understanding of the data, and how it is collected, that underpins much of the work of my dissertation.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

What’s in the Water? Ph.D. Student Studies the Organisms in Large Ships’ Ballast Tanks

Bill Gerhard

Ships fill and empty their ballast tanks as needed for stability. Whenever ballast water is taken on or discharged, aquatic plants and animals go along for the ride, which increases the risk of introducing invasive species.

William Gerhard is a Ph.D. student in Civil & Environmental Engineering. Recently he spent a month at the Danish Hydraulic Institute learning how to incorporate antibiotic resistance genes and pathogens into a global ballast water movement model. This experience will enhance his dissertation research on microbes in the ballast water of large ships, and Gerhard hopes this research will potentially inform policy and regulatory decisions under debate by the United Nations.

Gerhard was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. His faculty mentor is Claudia Gunsch. He shared an update:

With funding from the Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant, I travelled to Singapore for an internship with the Danish Hydraulic Institute (DHI). This company specializes in creating modelling software for hydrologic systems. In addition, DHI operates the only tropical ballast water testing facility in the world. My dissertation focuses on the microbial community of ballast water in large ships, so their expertise in ballast water and modelling proved especially informative to my ongoing work.

During my time at DHI, I was exposed to science and laboratory work in a corporate environment. I assisted their researchers in drafting and testing a protocol that could be used to assess whether their test microbes were representative of the microbes found in Singapore’s natural waters. This protocol is now being examined by other ballast water testing facilities worldwide with the possibility of future adoption to the standard protocol.

Outside of the lab, I was exposed to DHI modelling software, and I learned the best practices for its use from those who wrote the program. This experience was especially valuable as I had minimal experience using the model prior to my time in Singapore. I left with a strong grasp of the program after four weeks, and several contacts to whom I could reach out in the event of future troubles.

The unique opportunity afforded by GSTEG allowed me to explore a potential future career path while also expanding comfort zones within my dissertation research.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

With New Skills in Genetic Analysis, Ph.D. Student Enhances Study of Forest Elephants

Amelia Meier

As a Ph.D. student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, Amelia Meier is focusing her research on forest elephants in Gabon. Recently she set out to learn how to conduct genetic analysis to help identify individual elephants, which will inform her dissertation.

Mentored by John Poulsen, Meier was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. She shared an update:

Photo courtesy of Amelia MeierThrough the kind support of the Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant I was able to receive one-on-one training in genetic analysis at the Institute for Research in Tropical Ecology (IRET) in Gabon. Over fourteen days of training I worked directly with the scientist who developed the Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) panel necessary to identify individual elephants from their dung. After learning the theory behind SNP genotyping, I was trained on how to use and interpret results from DNA sequencing equipment such as a Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine. These skills are critical to my dissertation.

This training has proved SNP analysis a viable method for answering my research questions, which I will now use throughout the rest of my dissertation. Because of the competency I achieved during this training I will be able to conduct all the genetic analyses in country, supporting local capacity, and negating the risk of losing my samples during exportation.

During the training I presented my research to the other scientists at IRET. I was exposed to a wide variety of research being conducted in Gabon by local and international scientists. Hopefully these newly made contacts will evolve into future collaborations.

Poulsen and Meier are among the coauthors on a new paper, “Ecological Consequences of Forest Elephant Declines for Afrotropical Forests,” in Conservation Biology.

About GSTEG

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.