Faculty Can Propose Interdisciplinary Data+ Projects for Summer 2018


Deadline: November 1, 2017

Data+ is offered through the Information Initiative at Duke and is part of the Bass Connections Information, Society & Culture theme.


Data+ is a ten-week summer research experience that welcomes Duke undergraduates interested in exploring new data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges.

Students join small project teams, working alongside other teams in a communal environment. They learn how to marshal, analyze and visualize data, while gaining broad exposure to the modern world of data science. In Summer 2017 there were 25 such teams, and they all worked together in Gross Hall, sitting in dedicated workspace provided by the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD), the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), the Energy Initiative and the Foundry. Each undergraduate participant receives a $5,000 stipend. Each summer Data+ runs from mid-May until the end of July. As the communal atmosphere is essential for student success, please note that Data+ projects only run during these ten weeks, and that all student participants are required to contribute full-time efforts (no employment, no other classes).

This is a call-for-proposals for faculty-sponsored Data+ projects in the Summer 2018 edition of Data+. We are especially interested in proposals that involve a partner from outside the academy, or a faculty member from a different discipline. We also encourage proposals that involve previously untested ideas or unanalyzed datasets, and we hope that the Data+ team can make a contribution with important proof-of-principle work that may lead to more substantial faculty work and/or connections in the future. We also welcome proposals that will lead to the undergraduates creating tools that might be used in the classroom or that might facilitate community engagement with data and data-driven questions.

Proposals should be emailed to Kathy Peterson by November 1, 2017.

If you would like help in developing your proposal, please contact Paul Bendich.

Proposal Specifics

Please limit your proposal to three pages. Every proposal will be different, but here are some issues that would be good to address in separate sections. It’s also probably best to begin with a short background description for general context.

Project Goals

Give a description of the goals for the summer project. If possible, this should come in three parts:

  • An entirely reachable goal that you fully expect the students to achieve: this could be an answer to a question, an exploration of a hypothesis, things of that nature. It would be best to give time-based specifics here: for example, by week 3 they should have learned X and produced Y, by week 6 they should extend this to Z, and so forth.
  • A tangible product the students will create in the course of their research, which ideally will be of use both to further researchers at the university and to the students as something they can show off to future employers or graduate schools. This could be, for example, a good piece of well-commented software, a visualization device or a detailed curation of previously raw data.
  • A more outrageous goal that you would be quite (pleasantly!) surprised to see the students achieve, along with a plan for them to build a potential roadmap toward that goal. For example, this goal might only be reachable if you had data that you currently do not have, and the students might build a speculative roadmap toward acquiring that data (write a mock grant, a mock IRB application and so forth).

Dataset Description

Please give a brief description of the dataset(s) you wish to have the undergraduate students work with. You should make sure to cover the following points:

  • What the data are about: A high-level description
  • What’s actually in the dataset: A lower-level description
  • Access issues: What is the plan to ensure that the students will be able to access the data before the beginning of Data+?
  • Privacy/ownership issues: Are there data sensitivity issues at play? Is an IRB protocol needed, and if so, what is the plan to obtain one? If the dataset is owned by an outside party, how will a data use agreement (DUA) be negotiated?

Partner Description

Some of the best Data+ projects have a partner from outside of the university, or at least from outside the traditionally academic parts of the university. This might be someone who is invested in the data or the questions, and to whom the students will in essence “deliver a product.” Ideally, this partner will be able to come to campus two or three times during the summer to hear updates from your students and provide feedback. If this paradigm makes sense in your project, please give:

  • A short description of the partner
  • A short description of their interest in the problem
  • An estimate about how much funding the partner might be able to contribute
  • A plan for stude­­­nt-partner engagement
    • Name and title of main point-of-contact
    • How often and in what context they might meet with the students

Day-to-day Mentoring

Day-to-day faculty involvement in Data+ is not expected. Instead, each Data+ project has a mentor, usually a graduate student or postdoc, who is on hand to give the student team more focused guidance. The time commitment tends to be 5-7 hours per week, and funding is generally available to cover this person’s time.

  • If you would like to involve a student or postdoc from your own group, please give this person’s name and contact information.
  • If you would like us to provide a mentor, please list skills you would like this person to have.

Software Needs

Please describe what types of software the students will need to complete the summer project. Bear in mind that much of their work will take place on their laptops, but that there are of course many remote login options.

Skills Needed

In order to help our recruiting efforts, please list skills that students will need to make reasonable progress on this project. You may want to divide these up into essential and desirable. Bear in mind that you have 2-3 students working together in your group, and your group will itself be in a working environment with around 15 other groups, and so they will be motivated and able to learn skills from each other.

Not a Slippery Slope: Duke SLED Will Help Assess Surgical Residents’ Performance

Data+ SLED team

This summer, General Surgery Resident Dr. Shanna Sprinkle is leading a team of Duke undergraduates in building a new educational database for Duke Surgery’s residency programs. The database will enable program directors to evaluate key performance metrics for residents and will serve as a valuable tool for surgical education research.

“In order to improve resident education and perform more rigorous surgical education research, we need better data warehousing, improved data visualization, and more advanced application of education analytics,” says Dr. Sprinkle.

Dr. Sprinkle has partnered with Data+, a 10-week summer research program for undergraduates interested in using data analysis and visualization to overcome interdisciplinary challenges. Sponsored by Bass Connections, the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD), the Social Science Research Institute, the departments of Mathematics and Statistical Science and MEDx, this year’s Data+ program includes 25 interdisciplinary data projects.

Students on Dr. Sprinkle’s project, “Building the Duke SLED (Surgery Longitudinal Education Database),” will aggregate resident performance data, including operative case logs, exam scores and research publications, and design a user-friendly data dashboard with visualizations and statistical summaries. In addition to enhancing educational research, the project aims to provide program directors with a useful tool to predict resident performance and intervene when individual- and program-level issues arise.

The project brings together Surabhi Beriwal, a rising senior and Math major, Vivian Qi, a rising junior and Biomedical Engineering major and project manager Katherine King, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Community and Family Health.

Surabhi and Vivian recently visited the Duke Surgical Education and Activities Laboratory, observed cases in the operating room and participated in simulated surgical skills training to better understand the surgical education metrics they will analyze.

The Department of Surgery partially sponsored the project as part of ongoing initiatives by the Duke Surgery Education Research Group.

Originally posted on the Duke Surgery website. Learn about all of the Data+ 2017 project teams’ results at the Data+ poster session on Friday, July 28, at 2:00 p.m. on the first floor of Gross Hall.

Image (clockwise from top left): Duke undergraduates Vivian Qi and Surabhi Beriwal practice tying surgical knots; Shanna Sprinkle, MD, General Surgery Resident; Beriwal and Qi

Interdisciplinary Research Teams to Present Results at Bass Connections Showcase

Join the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council for a special year-end showcase event and reception on Thursday, April 20, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Come learn more about Bass Connections and find out what these research teams of faculty, grad students, undergrads and community partners have accomplished this year.


Reception and poster session begin


Students from five project teams will present lightning talks:


Bass Connections leaders will recognize this year’s student award recipients:


Reception and poster session continue


Free parking is available in the Blue Zone accessed from the Towerview Road traffic circle. Please contact us if you require other parking arrangements.


Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology (GCB), Duke Council on Race and Ethnicity (DCORE), Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS), Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, Energy Initiative, Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI), Information Initiative at Duke (iiD), Kenan Institute for Ethics, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Social Science Research Institute (SSRI)


Engineering Doctoral Student Teaches Undergraduates about the Power of Data Science

Chris Tralie wasn’t even working with big data when he came to Duke as a graduate student. But a movement gaining steam here in 2013 helped him realize he had the technical skillset to reveal structures and patterns where others saw chaos—or nothing.

“There were people working on Big Data problems in various departments when I first got to campus,” said Tralie, a doctoral candidate in electrical & computer engineering (ECE) and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. “Then the Information Initiative at Duke launched. It was brilliant because it brought everyone together and let them learn from each other’s work. There was real and sudden excitement in the air.”

Tralie found his niche while learning about topology with John Harer, a professor of mathematics with a secondary appointment in ECE. The class boiled down to understanding the “shape” of data. Tralie thought, “Why can’t we do this with music?”

Tralie designed a program that analyzes many different musical parameters of a song and mathematically reduces each time point into 3D space. The resulting shape can help determine which genre of music a song belongs to and can even recognize covers of songs by other bands.

“Nobody thought you could do that, because of the differences in vocals and instruments,” said Tralie.

Tralie took his own academic journey and used it to turn other Duke students on to big data—creating a “Data Expedition” using his method for visualizing songs as a fun and approachable way to teach undergraduates how to design data-crunching algorithms.

Data Expeditions and Data+ both benefit our undergraduates by making technical subjects more relevant and exciting, but they’re also professional development opportunities for our graduate students.

Data Expeditions are projects proposed and taught by graduate students within the context of an existing undergraduate course. “Data Expeditions and Data+ both benefit our undergraduates by making technical subjects more relevant and exciting, but they’re also professional development opportunities for our graduate students,” said Robert Calderbank, director of iiD, which sponsors both programs. “Industry and academia both need people who can lead projects and manage multidisciplinary teams, so these experiences can provide a competitive advantage for Duke graduates.”

“The Data Expeditions were really useful for me growing as a mentor,” said Tralie. “I got to work with really talented students who were still learning the basics and yet had amazing new ideas that I could learn from too. Those skills will translate to my future career, where I hope to be a faculty member advising graduate students of my own someday in engineering or applied math.”

He also developed a new course for graduate students about using data analytics on video recognition challenges, like tracking heartbeats from video clips. Tralie’s own promising work in that arena can potentially add another element to an app developed to recognize signs of autism by another of his advisors, Guillermo Sapiro, the Edmund T. Pratt, Jr. School Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

After defending his dissertation this spring, Tralie plans to stay in academia, at least in part because he loves the teaching experiences he has had while at Duke.

“Mentoring and teaching forces me to explain my work in simple terms, which raises my own understanding of it,” said Tralie. “Plus the students all end up going out and doing their own interesting things, which they can later teach me about in return. They’re like my eyes and ears out there in the fast developing world of Big Data.”


By Ken Kingery; originally posted on the Pratt School of Engineering website

Photo: Chris Tralie with advisors John Harer (Math) and Guillermo Sapiro (ECE)

Data+ Projects Now Open for Student Applications


Deadline: February 20, 2017

Data+ is a 10-week summer research experience that welcomes Duke undergraduates interested in exploring new data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges. Students join small project teams, working alongside other teams in a communal environment. They learn how to marshal, analyze, and visualize data, while gaining broad exposure to the modern world of data science. Data+ is part of the Bass Connections in Information, Society & Culture theme.

Participants will receive a $5,000 stipend, out of which they must arrange their own housing and travel. Funding and infrastructure support are provided by a wide range of departments, schools, and initiatives from across Duke University, as well as by outside industry and community partners. Participants may not accept employment or take classes during the program.

For some projects, human subjects research training may be required and will be provided in advance. With each project, we have attempted to list potential majors and/or interests that might be best suited for the project, but these should not be seen as requirements in any way. Quantitative STEM majors like mathematics, computer science, statistics, and electrical engineering are relevant to all.

For the Application, Please Submit:

  • Cover letter
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Transcript
  • Contact information for two references (note no letters are desired)
  • One paragraph (per project chosen) about how you can contribute to the project
  • And anything else requested in the program description

Browse the current projects, choose three you’re interested in, and send in your application. The program runs from May 22 until July 28, 2017. The application deadline is Feb. 20, 2017, but we will evaluate applications on a rolling basis. The first round of offers will go out January 25 and the second will go out February 25. For any questions, contact Paul Bendich.

Projects for Summer 2017

Data Viz for Long-term Ecological Research and Curricula

Electricity Access in Developing Countries from Aerial Imagery

Mapping the Ocean Floor

Open Data for Tobacco Retailer Mapping

Open Source Spatial Visualization for Public Health Intelligence

Marriage and Statistics through Space and Time

Visualizing Suffering: Tracking Photojournalism and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Nutrition Dependent Growth in the Laboratory Rat

Quantifying Rare Diseases in Duke Health System

Quantifying Phenotypic Evolution during Tumor Growth

Validating a Topic Model that Predicts Pancreatic Cancer from Latent Structures in the Electronic Medical Record

Visualizing Real Time Data from Mobile Health Technologies

Ghost Bikes

Building a Duke SLED (Duke Surgery Longitudinal Education Database)

Comparing the Exploration of Academic Majors at Duke

Quantified Feminism and the Bechdel Test

Controlled Substance Monitoring Visualization

Classification of Vascular Anomalies

Energy Initiative Offers Seed Funding


Deadline: January 16, 2017

The Energy Research Seed Fund provides a financial head start for new multi-disciplinary, collaborative research teams, enabling Duke investigators to produce critical preliminary results that have a high likelihood of obtaining future external funding.

Learn how to apply.

About the Energy Research Seed Fund

The fourth annual round of awards is co-funded by the Duke University Energy Initiative, the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, the Pratt School of Engineering, and the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD). The maximum award per project is $40,000, although awards may be smaller than this amount, based upon review of selected proposals. The project performance period is 12 months, and we anticipate funding approximately six to seven proposals.

Projects must engage at least two Duke faculty members representing different disciplines, schools, or departments, and preference will be given to new interdisciplinary collaborations of investigators across Duke. Proposed projects that include investigators from multiple schools within the University are especially encouraged. Proposals will be reviewed based on the quality of proposed research and potential to leverage seed grants to secure external funding.

Topics of Emphasis for 2017

  • Energy Data Analytics – With co-funding from the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD), this year’s Seed Fund places special emphasis on research topics related to energy data analytics, including those that integrate big data applications, machine learning techniques, or the broader intersection of energy and advanced computation.
  • Data+ – Special consideration will be given to proposals involving energy data analytics that integrate or lead to the development of a Data+ project as a component of the research. Data+ is a ten-week summer research experience that welcomes Duke undergraduate teams interested in exploring new data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges. Learn more about Data+ and its separate proposal process.
  • Bass Connections – The Energy Initiative is also interested funding a research project on an energy-related topic that integrates the core elements of Bass Connections. Specifically, the scope of research would be cross-disciplinary in nature and the project would be supported by a team composed of one or more graduate and undergraduate students. Learn more about Bass Connections.
  • Other areas – Co-funding is also available from the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering for energy research involving their respective faculty. Other potential areas of interest include energy materials, energy access and inequality, energy decision-making and behavior, energy efficiency, grid security, advanced alternative fuels and renewables, and the nexus of energy with other strategic resources (water, food). Research oriented toward solutions, rather than solely problem identification, is especially encouraged.

Data+ Team Digs into National Transgender Discrimination Survey


A team of students in the Duke Data+ program learned about analyzing big data sets over the summer, but they also learned a few things about discrimination and public policy.

“I never thought I would be able to work on a project that intersects my personal and academic interests, and Data+ allowed me to do that,” said Parker Foe, a senior in mathematics and Spanish at Smith College and member of the Data+ research group that ran new analyses of the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey.

Structured as a 10-week summer program, Data+ is a research experience that brings students together in small groups to learn how to marshal, analyze and visualize data.

The discrimination survey the Duke students worked on had produced the largest dataset on transgender and gender nonconforming experience anywhere in the world by surveying 6,456 transgender and gender non-conforming respondents across the U.S., the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands from 2008 to 2009. The results are available online at “Injustice at Every Turn.”

“We wanted to look at things that weren’t present in the report released by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, to see if we could find new insights,” said Tony Li, a senior majoring in math and music at Cornell University.

The 70-question survey measured the levels of discrimination faced in relation to a broad range of factors including race, class, employment, education, medical care, as well as asking about public accommodations, rates of incarceration and police violence, homelessness, and documentation status.

“We’ve looked at the relationships between several variables in the survey that we felt were most important,” Li said. “For instance, if there was any relationship between domestic violence and the likelihood one would experience harassment in a medical survey? “

The students also sought to make the data relevant to North Carolina’s current political situation. “Our team isolated the responses that detail discrimination faced by North Carolina respondents and we are presently testing that dataset for statistical significance,” said Cole Rizki, a PhD candidate in the Literature program at Duke who was the project manager for the team.

“The visualizations are interactive,” said Rizki. “It really makes it clear the types of discrimination that we’re grappling with as trans and gender nonconforming people.” The tableau data visualizations they built can be seen here: public accommodation, employment, and housing discrimination.

The team found that 2 out of every 5 North Carolina transgender and gender nonconforming residents delayed transition processes due to employment discrimination, while another 2 out of 3 hid their gender status or transition at work due to discrimination. Nearly 1 in 5 transgender and gender nonconforming college student respondents in North Carolina were not allowed gender appropriate housing based on their gender identification at the time of survey.

The team was able to turn this knowledge into action when the hot topic of House Bill 2’s impact on the transgender community came up in Raleigh.

“We were able to informally speak to some legislators to give some data-driven insight on the context of the political climate in North Carolina, and were able to present what we found in our in-depth analysis of the survey,” said Madelaine Katz, a member of the Data+ team who graduated from Duke in the spring with a degree in global health and cultural anthropology.

This expansive body of data has been not only a research project, but also a personal learning experience for Li.

“I have learned a great deal about the transgender community and the various issues transgender and gender nonconforming people face,” Li said. “I had previously been unaware of these topics, as I had never heard about transgender individuals anywhere but on the news, and I had yet to meet any transgender people.”

Two members of the research team know these issues firsthand. “I’ve experienced employment discrimination with past employers and have lost a job due to my transgender identification,” Rizki said.

“I’ve had to change classes due to being called my birth name repeatedly by my teachers,” Parker Foe said. “Being called my birth name can open me up to scrutiny and harassment, especially since it does not align with my masculine appearance. Being trans is hard.”

“We recently partnered with ACLU of NC,” Katz said. “They have specific themes they want us to analyze, so we’ve honed in on their specific needs for things they could use: discrimination in public accommodations, employment, housing, and things of that nature.”

Dr. Ara Wilson, associate professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies, was the faculty sponsor of the project.

Madelaine Katz credited the structure of Data+ for helping her comprehension of data to grow.

“I am someone who came into this program with very little statistical and data science background,” Katz said, “but both through my work and the collaborative nature of the program, I have a brand new frame of understanding when it comes to tackling research questions with data science.”

Cole Rizki says that the group would like to raise awareness of the results of the survey and garner easier understanding of the discrimination faced by the trans- and gender nonconforming community. Interested parties can contact him at cole.rizki@duke.edu to learn more.

This year, the National Center for Transgender Equality will release results from the U.S. Trans Survey (2015), a follow-up survey with over 27,000 adult respondents. The results from the 2015 survey will become the definitive dataset on trans experience. Preliminary results detailing harassment of transgender people in bathrooms and the effects of avoiding bathrooms  are available online.

By Eric O’Neal; originally posted on Duke Today

Submit a Project Proposal for Data+


Deadline: November 20, 2016

Data+ is a ten-week summer research experience for Duke undergraduates and master’s students interested in exploring new data-driven approaches to interdisciplinary challenges. Students join small teams and work alongside other teams in a communal environment. They learn how to marshal, analyze and visualize data, while gaining broad exposure to the field of data science.

Submit a project proposal by November 20, 2016, to be considered for the Summer 2017 Data+ program.

Data+ is sponsored by Bass Connections, the Information Initiative at Duke, the Social Science Research Institute, the departments of Mathematics and Statistical Science, MEDx, and the Vice Provost for Research. Other Duke sponsors in 2016 included Duke Health, Sanford School of Public Policy, Parking and Transportation, Development and Alumni Affairs, Duke Network Analysis Center, Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, Professor Peter Lange, and the departments of Biology, Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, and Computer Science. Government funding comes from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Outside funding comes from Geometric Data Analytics, Inc., Sankofa, Inc., and RTI International. Community partnerships, data and interesting problems come from the Durham Neighborhood Compass, the North Carolina Justice Center, and the National Center for Gender Equality, the Smithsonian, Public Opinion Strategies, touringplans.com, the Triad Health Network, University of North Carolina–Greensboro, and the Dean of Academic Affairs.