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

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

Jessica West, Ph.D. in Sociology

Joining a Team of Global Experts on Hearing Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making the University a Better Place

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

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

What he gained from engaging in governance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah Ontiveros, Ph.D. in History

Looking at Humanitarian Work from a New Angle

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

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

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

Why she chose this internship

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

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

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

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

Advice for Doctoral Students

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

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

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

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

By Sarah Dwyer, Duke Interdisciplinary Studies

Two Perspectives on How Bass Connections Benefits Graduate Students

Bass Connections team in Brazil

In a new video from The Graduate School, two Ph.D. students discuss how participating in a Bass Connections project, The Cost of Opportunity? Higher Education in the Baixada Fluminense, has helped them with their own research.

“I originally conceived of my own research as being a separate project from Bass Connections,” said Gray Kidd, a Ph.D. student in History. “The more that I’ve worked with this project, looking at access to higher education on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, I realize that being involved with this project and then having my own dissertation work, they’re actually coming together in unanticipated but really fascinating ways.”

Stephanie Reist is pursuing a Ph.D. in Romance Studies and a master’s in Public Policy. “As someone who’s interested in romance studies and Portuguese and Latin American culture and public policy, I have very broad interests,” she said. “So picking a dissertation project, I could go anywhere. Bass Connections helped me focus and recognize that I already have this body of knowledge, and now I’m currently participating in a research project that lets me build on that and integrate it into my own research.” Her work looks at center-periphery dynamics, urban belonging, and Black cultural production in Rio’s Baixada Fluminense suburbs.

Kidd noted that his participation has given him valuable experience as an instructor. “Often times it’s not until the fourth, fifth, sixth, or even seventh year that people have the ability to pilot a course and have a trial run with students. I think it’s helped me grow quite a bit in terms of communicating expectations, coming up with research questions, piloting assignments that are a bit different—not research papers, not exams. As a third-year [student], this has given me a set of experiences that others do not have.”

Graduate students play pivotal roles within Bass Connections projects, in which students at all levels collaborate with faculty, postdocs, and outside experts on interdisciplinary research that tackles complex societal challenges. Because the teams include faculty and undergraduates, who are often most familiar with a lecturer-learner model, graduate students often become facilitators who serve as project managers and additional mentors for undergraduate students.

“The ongoing mentoring relationship has been very rewarding,” Reist noted. She won the Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship last year.

For graduate and professional students, benefits of participating in Bass Connections include:

  • Enhancing dissertation or master’s thesis research (see examples)
  • Co-authoring publications
  • Deepening relationships with key faculty
  • Gaining project management experience and opportunities for funding
  • Accessing professional development resources
  • Honing career-enhancing skills to stand out on the job market
  • Networking with colleagues in diverse fields
  • Getting experience mentoring others, particularly undergraduates.

Browse stories from Ph.D. and master’s students on their Bass Connections experiences.

Volunteer Work with Syrian Refugees Deepens Understanding of Sufi Spirituality

Daanish Faruqi

To strengthen his dissertation research on the Sufi spiritual movement, History doctoral student Daanish Faruqi traveled to Jordan and Turkey to help Syrian refugee communities through relief foundations operated by Sufi networks.

He was among 19 Duke students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2016-17 for training beyond their core disciplines. His faculty mentor was Engseng Ho. Recently he shared some reflections on his experience:

Both in Jordan (June and July 2016) and in shorter trips to Turkey (July 2016, and again in December 2016), I did considerable work with the Syrian refugee community under the auspices of SKT Welfare, a charitable organization founded and run by the Sufi spiritual movement that is the subject of my academic research.

During my summer in Amman I worked in SKT’s office as a volunteer teacher, tutoring Syrian refugee students in English and offering administrative support to SKT leadership. The key outcome of this experience was the centrality of the spiritual dimensions of Islam in service of social justice, as an animating dictum behind the organization’s charitable arm. This came full circle in my trips to Turkey, where I participated directly in food aid deployments in Reyhanli, near the Syrian/Turkish border.

What we offered was merely a drop in the bucket of the full needs of these communities, but offering even nominal aid—and realizing the remarkable sophistication of SKT leaders and volunteers that culminated in putting together their aid apparatus, and in vetting and surveying entire communities to establish aid delivery quotas—proved deeply edifying. Again, it made painstakingly clear the intimate connection between this group’s spirituality and commitment to worldly service.

All of this will be central as I pursue my dissertation research. This experience will be crucial in helping better piece together the social and humanitarian dimensions of Islamic spirituality more broadly, and in understanding this movement that forms the basis of my dissertation in particular.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate 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.

See who received these grants for 2017-18, and read about other 2016-17 recipients’ experiences:

Eight Doctoral Students Receive Internships through Versatile Humanists

Eight Duke Ph.D. students have been selected for internships in Summer or Fall 2017 through Versatile Humanists at Duke (VH@Duke), an initiative to prepare Duke doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences for transformative roles in higher education and beyond.

The VH@Duke internship program provides Ph.D. students with exposure to work experiences, organizations and professions relevant to their scholarly interests. The internship experiences are designed to enrich students’ dissertations and further prepare them for both academic and nonacademic jobs. Students can apply for internships at preidentified partner organizations or propose their own internship.

VH@Duke is funded by a three-year Next Generation Ph.D. Implementation Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to internships, VH@Duke also provides opportunities and resources such as innovation grants for curriculum enhancement, collaborative research experiences and one-to-one advising for Ph.D. students.

The application period for the next cycle of VH@Duke internships will open in Fall 2017. Students who are considering proposing their own internships are encouraged to contact Maria LaMonaca Wisdom ( for preliminary feedback.

The 2017 VH@Duke interns are:

BanellaLaura Banella, Romance Studies (Summer)

Banella is interning with the International Society for the Study of Medieval Culture (SISMEL), a nonprofit research and cultural institute located in Florence, Italy. SISMEL’s mission is to promote and support the study of medieval culture. In her role at SISMEL, Banella will help build research and bibliographic databases and organize programs and events.

GoldsmithWilliam Goldsmith, History (Summer)

Goldsmith will be interning with RTI International, an independent nonprofit institute dedicated to improving the human condition by applying interdisciplinary research to complex scientific and social challenges. In his role, Goldsmith will work with RTI’s Innovation Led Economic Growth team, engaging in research, writing and policy analysis.

LazarYael Lazar, Religion (Fall)

Lazar is interning with the National Humanities Center (NHC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advanced study in all areas of the humanities. She will be curating a digital online resource for the NHC’s “Humanities Moments” campaign and helping to support local and national outreach components of the initiative.

NunnNora Nunn, English (Summer)

Nunn is also interning with the National Humanities Center.  She will be working with researchers in the NHC’s Trans-Pacific Teacher-Scholars Program to develop interactive, inquiry-based classroom materials to align with the upcoming commemorations and anniversaries of the American Vietnam War.

SmithNathan Smith, Literature (Summer)

Smith is interning with Mono No Aware, a nonprofit community film organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Mono No Aware’s mission is to build community through the experience of the moving image. In his internship, Smith will be setting up and facilitating film workshops, supporting fundraising activities and creating a film of his own.

StadlerJohn Stadler, Literature (Summer)

Stadler will be interning with The Cupboard Pamphlet, a micropublisher of creative prose based in Littleton, Colorado. In his role at The Cupboard Pamphlet, Stadler will cultivate the publication’s expanding catalogue and engage in research of new literary markets and opportunities.

VenturaRafael Ventura, Philosophy (Fall)

Ventura will be interning with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. During his internship, he will work closely with the museum’s Community Engagement team, supporting outreach efforts through event management, program development and public relations.

YoungAshley Rose Young, History (Summer)

Young will be interning with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. She will be curating an update to one of the museum’s exhibits—Food: Transforming the American Table—and working in the Archives Center.

Originally posted on Versatile Humanists at Duke

Rethinking Regulation: History Student Examines North Carolina Development Policies


The Rethinking Regulation Program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics is an interdisciplinary research, teaching and outreach network exploring the broad terrain of regulatory governance. It focuses on disciplinary and methodological approaches from departments including Law, Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, History, Public Policy, Environmental Sciences, Business and Sociology.

William D. Goldsmithgoldsmith, a Ph.D. Candidate in History, is a Rethinking Regulation Graduate Scholar who has taught an undergraduate course on the history of the modern regulatory state. He is also the 2015 recipient of the Rethinking Regulation Graduate Research Award. This year he presented a paper, “Failures of Co-operative Capitalism in the North Carolina Black Belt,” at the Business History Conference in Portland, Oregon. The paper explored a 1980s policy experiment with a public-private partnership that sought to harness the supply chain needs of an engine manufacturer to stimulate black capital formation and equity-oriented community development.

His dissertation examines the construction and evolution of education and economic development policy in North Carolina from 1960 to 2000 in order to understand how a rural Jim Crow state with the nation’s lowest manufacturing wages and abysmal educational attainment became an emblem of the “New Economy.” His work traces how the civil rights revolution created policy space for the emergence of “education for economic growth” as a central focus of state economic development efforts as well as the uneven implications of such policies for rural areas and economic equality.

Rethinking Regulation Graduate Scholars and Affiliates are graduate students whose research interests align with those of the program in Rethinking Regulation at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and who regularly participate in Rethinking Regulation events. In addition, Graduate Scholars are actively engaged in research projects funded by Rethinking Regulation.

gswgThe Rethinking Regulation Graduate Student Working Group is a forum for Graduate Scholars and Affiliates to collaborate on topics of regulatory governance. The group meets monthly to present research, discuss interdisciplinary regulatory scholarship and analyze contemporary regulatory policy issues.

If you are interested in joining the Rethinking Regulation network, please contact Amber Díaz Pearson. To receive the email newsletter, sign up online. Any graduate students interested in participating in the Working Group meetings should contact Mercy DeMenno.

Originally published in the Rethinking Regulation newsletter

Duke to Convene Year-long Sawyer Seminar on Corporate Rights and International Law


Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to support interdisciplinary scholarship on the nature of the global corporation

From politics to popular culture, the corporation is one of the most critical institutions of the modern era. It’s also one of the most controversial. Do corporations have rights? Are corporations people, societies or even governments? What are their civic, social, ethical and political responsibilities?

Supported by a grant of $175,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Duke University will convene a year-long Sawyer Seminar to wrestle with these complex issues about the global corporation.

“Corporate Rights and International Law: Past, Present, and Future,” will be organized by Rachel Brewster, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Center for International and Comparative Law, and Philip J. Stern, Sally Dalton Robinson Associate Professor of History.

The seminar will bring together an interdisciplinary community of scholars to explore how international, commercial and political rights have shaped corporate power, and consider how corporations should govern, and be governed, in our ever-globalizing world.

Hosted by the Franklin Humanities Institute and the Center for International and Comparative Law, the seminar will galvanize a robust community at Duke and in the wider Research Triangle area of North Carolina. A roundtable in Spring 2017 will convene core faculty for discussion, and the heart of the seminar will take place throughout the 2017-2018 academic year through an ambitious program of meetings and keynote addresses. It will conclude with a day-long roundtable on the intersection of corporate history and the history of human rights, and the effect of both on structuring corporate responsibility and accountability.

Sawyer Seminar awards include support for a postdoctoral fellow and for the dissertation research of two graduate students. Duke will advertise these opportunities in the coming months.

“This seminar exemplifies the capacity of Duke faculty members to imagine compelling humanistic explorations across the divides of disciplines, societies and eras,” said Edward Balleisen, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. “Rachel’s and Phil’s collaboration will spark important dialogues about the pivotal roles of the corporation in the early modern and modern worlds, as well as the salience of the deeper past for contemporary policy-making.”

Duke is the recipient of previous Sawyer Seminar grants, most recently in 2010, which have each made a lasting contribution to the university.

Further information on the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation can be found at

Pen and ink cartoon by Albert Reid depicting American financier J.P. Morgan grasping the Earth in his arms, ca. 1895-1905.

Originally posted on Duke Today

New Faculty Books Explore Topics from Motivation to Fraud


From the hidden logic affecting your motivation to the resilience of Syrian activists and a chancellor’s reflections on changes in health care, Duke writers explore a wide array of topics in their latest books. Duke Today shares a roundup of this season’s latest publications.

Among the authors is Edward J. Balleisen, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and Associate Professor of History and Public Policy. His book, “Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff,” will be published by Princeton University Press next month.

Learn more about this Fall’s new books from Duke faculty.

Immersive Experience in Brazilian Government Informs History Dissertation


Travis Knoll, a Ph.D. student in History at Duke, received a Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant to serve as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia this summer. He focused on issues ranging from Brazil’s internal political scene to the key role the country’s foreign policy plays in the region and beyond. Now back on campus, he shared this update.

The internship itself was not dedicated to my area of research per se. As an unpaid intern, I was tasked with fulfilling many of the functions of a junior officer staff member during a staffing transition this summer. Drafting reports, preparing congressional reports, and note-taking in meetings with Brazilian officials made up the majority of my internship work. I worked on issues ranging from nuclear proliferation liability and biological weapons conventions to reporting on Brazil’s ongoing political transition. I did, however, write two reports dedicated to recent changes in Brazil’s affirmative action policies as well as two key Brazilian congressional reports on discrimination and violence against black youth.

Separately from my department work, I made important contacts in Brasilia’s black movement. Such contacts ranged from religious and cultural leaders to Chamber deputies and diplomats. I also encountered several journals at the University of Brasilia’s (UnB) archives dealing with Brazilian culture and debates around race in the 1970s.

My time in Brasilia helped me connect historical debates with public policy. Both writing policy reports on affirmative action and meeting important public figures has opened up the possibility for focusing less exclusively on the push for affirmative action in Rio de Janeiro state (both in universities and the public sector, approved in 2001). I might instead connect the 2001 initiatives more explicitly to legislation that Brazil’s National Congress would approve a decade later (2012 and 2014). Better knowledge of the legislative process and the legal underpinnings of the national affirmative action laws’ intersection with gender and labor legislation will allow me to elaborate on the connection between women’s, workers’ and racial struggles for equality. Social movement leaders’ denial of the Catholic Church’s role in supporting affirmative action policies, despite evidence they themselves cite to the contrary, has also focused my attention on the controversy (and thus opportunity) that such a link could pose both historiographically and politically.

Finally, with the time my internship allowed me in Brasilia, I presented a quantitative source critique of a black movement oral history project at Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies Research Institute (CEFOR) and talked to Brazilian government officials who benefited from affirmative action policies. Such encounters allow me to better connect my research period during the 1980s to continuing debates in Brazil itself.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to step away from their core research and training to acquire additional 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.

Photo courtesy of Travis Knoll (at right, with other interns at an Embassy-sponsored party)