The Value of Time Away from the Bench

Rossie Clark-Cotton

By Rossie Clark-Cotton, Fifth-year Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Cell Biology, Duke University

I love graduate school. I use genetics and cell biology to study the mechanisms by which cells change their shape in response to chemical cues. In any given day, I might delete a gene to learn more about its function, make time-lapse movies of growing cells, analyze patterns of protein localization, teach a new technique to an undergraduate student, discuss a paper with my advisor, or summarize data into a presentation for a departmental seminar. It’s slow and detailed work, but it’s also a good fit for my personality.

It’s also extremely hard. There are many reasons for this, but I want to highlight two. First, graduate students in the biomedical sciences encounter lots and lots of failure. Biological systems are notoriously variable, and so some experiments never work consistently. Those that do work must be repeated several times before we can be confident of a result. And, of course, sometimes we discover, after lots of time at the bench, that our hypothesis was incorrect. That’s a useful outcome, but it rarely leads to a publication, which we all need to graduate. Complicating this further, during our first few years in graduate school, most of us are surrounded by people whose skills are far more advanced than our own – experienced lab technicians, senior graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and, of course, our own advisors. The fitful nature of progress in science, coupled with our junior status, can shatter our self-confidence and lead us to wonder if getting a Ph.D. was really a good idea after all. And the slow pace of the work (and often, the example of our mentors and lab mates) can lead us to feel that we need to be constantly at the bench.

Last spring, I found an opportunity that sounded interesting: spend three hours a day learning about a new topic for one or two weeks over the summer through Duke’s new Summer Doctoral Academy initiative. I’d long been curious about science policy, and I thought that understanding how policymakers make decisions about science (including funding) might be valuable, especially if I stay in academia. I’d considered taking a class, but I was hesitant to commit to an entire semester-long course outside my specific discipline. I thought a Doctoral Academy class might be a low-risk way to try out something new: it would meet for only three hours a day, which would leave me plenty of time in the lab. Importantly, my advisor supports my exploring topics that I find interesting or otherwise valuable, even if they aren’t directly related to my thesis research. So I signed up for two classes – “Science Policy” during the first week and “Effective Presentations” during the second.

The courses themselves were great: I got a solid introduction to each topic, insight into resources at Duke if I want to explore anything more deeply, and a larger professional and social network (including both course instructors and other graduate students). But the best value was one I could not have predicted: the Doctoral Academy allowed me, for a few hours, to step away from the bench and its demands to see how much I’ve developed intellectually as a graduate student. I was gratified to recognize those nebulous-sounding “transferable skills” in critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication in my class participation. My focus on my dissertation research had made it impossible for me to notice how much I had gained. For perhaps the first time, I began to see the value of the Ph.D. outside of the very narrow contribution that I hope to make to the scientific literature.

Far from being a distraction from my work, my experience with the Doctoral Academy has clarified the value of graduate school and increased my enthusiasm for it. I would encourage any Ph.D. student who is curious about a course to participate. You will certainly learn something about a new topic, but you might also, like me, learn something new about yourself.

Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) 2017-2018 Report

Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) grantees

Background

Together Duke, the university’s 2017 strategic plan, includes a goal to provide a transformative educational experience for all students and sets forth increased opportunities for graduate and professional school students to prepare for a wide array of career options.

Duke’s Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) program supports doctoral and master’s students to stretch beyond their core disciplinary training and deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories. Through this internal funding mechanism, students are encouraged to propose an experience that would enhance or expand their training (e.g., an internship, training workshop, or hands-on learning opportunity not available within their program or at Duke).

Proposals require endorsement from the student’s primary faculty mentor, and a clear explanation of how the experience will broaden the applicant’s intellectual perspective and potentially impact his or her dissertation research or capstone project. The proposed experience may last for up to one full semester; most take place during the summer. All current graduate students (including master’s, professional, and Ph.D. students) in any program at Duke University are eligible to apply. All internships, work, and services proposed must be performed outside of Duke (i.e., may not be work for Duke).

This grant program began in 2016-2017; for information about the first cohort, please see the 2016-2017 GSTEG report.

Applicant Pool

For the 2017-2018 academic year, a January 2017 RFP invited all current Duke graduate students to propose training enhancement activities lasting up to one semester. We received 58 proposals, which were reviewed by an ad hoc committee convened by the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies with representation from faculty, institute directors, and graduate students, representing all divisions of knowledge.

Among the applicants, there were 47 Ph.D. students, 9 master’s students, 1 M.D. student, and 1 Th.D. student. Together they represented Arts & Sciences (29 students), Nicholas School of the Environment (10), Sanford School of Public Policy (4), and School of Nursing (4) as well as the Divinity School, School of Medicine, and Pratt School of Engineering (1 each); the remaining 8 applicants came from various interdisciplinary graduate programs.

2017-2018 GSTEG Recipients

Eighteen students received 2017-2018 GSTEG grants. The majority (15) were Ph.D. students, with 2 master’s students and 1 Th.D. student. They came from Arts & Sciences (7), Nicholas (5), and Divinity, Medicine, Nursing, Pratt, and Sanford (1 each); 1 student was in the Global Health master’s program based in the Duke Global Health Institute. The average award was $2,225.

Student Program Proposed Use of GSTEG Faculty Mentor
ARTS & SCIENCES            
Sarah (Sally) Bornbusch Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology Work at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab to learn how to assess antibiotic resistance in bacterial microbiomes of nonhuman primates, to inform dissertation on relationship between primate gut microbiomes and host health Christine Drea
Lok Chan Ph.D. in Philosophy Take part in Udacity Machine Learning Program to develop skills needed to produce a web-based application for logic education and, through practice, a deeper understanding of philosophical differences between Bayesian and Frequentist statistical methods, which will inform dissertation on learning and testing through lenses of philosophy and statistics Kevin Hoover
Emily Cherenack Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology Volunteer with Femme International to implement reproductive health intervention for adolescent girls in Tanzania, and receive training from Dr. Adam Carrico at University of Miami on how to use biological measures in research with women, which will further ability to conduct research on reproductive and sexual health among adolescent girls in Tanzania Kathleen Sikkema
William Cioffi Ph.D. in Ecology Attend course at University of Utah on stable isotope biogeochemistry and ecology, which will support dissertation proposal to use baleen from fin whales to reconstruct individual life histories and assess changes in foraging ecology, reproduction and stress Andrew Read
Stephanie Manning M.A. in Digital Art History Attend course at Sotheby’s Art Institute on finance and art markets to deepen understanding of the art market industry, including financial aspects behind valuing and appraising art, to prepare for career as specialized art consultant or investment analyst Sheila Dillon
Kate Thomas Ph.D. in Biology Conduct coding-intensive research at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, drawing on its database of millions of deep-sea animal sightings, to inform research on vision and bioluminescence in deep-sea cephalopods Sönke Johnsen
Jillian Wisse Ph.D. in Ecology Learn a novel analysis technique (liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry for blubber analysis) at National Institute of Standards and Technology, to support a preliminary analysis using remote blubber biopsy samples from pilot whales Douglas Nowacek
DIVINITY SCHOOL
Dustin Benac Th.D. in Theology Attend Qualitative Research Methods Intensive Seminar at University of North Carolina’s Odum Institute for training in qualitative data collection and interpretation, to be applied to a pilot study examining patterns of connection among five church-related educational institutions in Pacific Northwest Craig Dykstra
SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
Bria Moore Ph.D. in Medical Physics Attend course on radiation emergency medicine at Oak Ridge Associated Universities to learn practical aspects of handling contaminated patients in a hospital setting, which will improve ability to communicate effectively with medical professionals in emergency situations Terry Yoshizumi
NICHOLAS SCHOOL OF THE ENVIRONMENT
Amelia Meier Ph.D. in Environment Train at Institute for Research in Tropical Ecology in Gabon to learn genetic analysis methods necessary to identify individual forest elephants, which will inform dissertation on elephant tracking in Gabon John Poulsen
Kirsten Overdahl Ph.D. in Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Purchase software licenses for cheminformatic programs Schrodinger and Py Mol, which are required for a UNC course on research in pharmaceutical sciences, which will inform dissertation on chemical pollutant structure/occurrence and biological effects P. Lee Ferguson
Ryan Peabody Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences [later decided to graduate with M.S. degree] Take course at Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences on modern observational oceanography with a focus on carbon and nutrient sampling, to support research employing oceanographic data, satellite remote sensing data and models to examine linkage of large-scale ocean circulation and ocean productivity Susan Lozier
Seth Sykora-Bodie Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation Participate in Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey to inform dissertation on comprehensive approaches to Antarctic resource management and conservation Lisa Campbell and Andrew Read
Anna Wade Ph.D. in Environment Train at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in use of silicon-32, a radioisotope serving as a novel dating tool for environmental processes, which will support dissertation research on legacy sediment Daniel Richter
SCHOOL OF NURSING
Allison Lewinski Ph.D. in Nursing Attend course at University College London on applying principles of behavior change in behavioral research interventions, which will help in characterizing social interaction and support among individuals with type-2 diabetes who engage with one another in a computer-mediated environment Allison Vorderstrasse (formerly of the School of Nursing)
PRATT SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING
William Gerhard Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering Intern with Danish Hydraulic Institute in Singapore to incorporate antibiotic resistance genes and pathogens into a global ballast water movement model, which will support dissertation research and potentially inform policy and regulatory decisions under debate by the United Nations Claudia Gunsch
SANFORD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY
Mercy DeMenno Ph.D. in Public Policy Gain hands-on experience interning with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development conducting research related to the theory and practice of effective regulatory governance in the financial sector Frederick Mayer
DUKE GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE
Sophie Galson M.S. in Global Health Take part in residential immersive Swahili course at The Training Centre for Development Cooperation in Eastern and Southern Africa in Tanzania, to support research project on hypertension in emergency department of Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center Catherine Staton

Types of Grant Activities and Examples of Impact

Hands-on Training

Assessing Antibiotic Resistance to Understand How Wild and Captive Lemurs Stay Healthy

Sally Bornbusch spent a summer with the Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences learning how to assess antibiotic resistance in bacterial microbiomes of non-human primates such as lemurs. This experience will inform her dissertation on the relationship between primate gut microbiomes and host health.

Sally BornbuschI learned laboratory skills (e.g., qPCR) necessary to assess the presence of 86 known antibiotic resistance genes in the gut and armpit microbiomes of multiple lemur species. I was also able to spend a portion of the summer collecting lemur microbiome samples both from lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center and, with the help of collaborators, from wild lemurs in Madagascar. With my newly acquired analysis skills, I will be able to characterize antibiotic resistance in these invaluable samples, a novel research project that greatly enhances my dissertation research.

Sally Bornbusch, Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology

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

Amelia Meier researches forest elephants in Gabon. She set out to learn how to conduct genetic analysis to help identify individual elephants, which will inform her dissertation.

I was able to receive one-on-one training in genetic analysis at the Institute for Research in Tropical Ecology in Gabon. Over 14 days 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.

Amelia Meier, Ph.D. in Environment

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

How can marine protected areas be used to reduce habitat degradation and biodiversity loss? Seth Sykora-Bodie took part in the Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey to inform his dissertation on Antarctic resource management and conservation.

Seth Sykora-BodieI 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. 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.

Seth Sykora-Bodie, Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation

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

Kate Thomas conducted research at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, drawing on its database of millions of deep-sea animal sightings, to inform her work on vision and bioluminescence in deep-sea cephalopods. She will be a postdoctoral fellow at the Natural History Museum in London.

Kate ThomasI spent two months 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.

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.

Kate Thomas, Ph.D. in Biology

What’s in the Soil? Student Heads to IsoCamp to Learn New Skills for Analyzing Forests

Anna Wade attended the University of Utah’s two-week IsoCamp, which trains Ph.D. students and postdocs how to use stable isotopes to model environmental and ecological processes, to enhance her dissertation research on lead (Pb) in southeastern forest soils.

Equipment[I learned] how to use a ThermoElectron isotope ratio mass spectrometer, how to collect and prepare environmental samples, and how to use isotope-mixing models to interpret the results. Because of this training experience, I’ll have a much better grasp of how to use stable isotopes of Pb to delineate between natural and contaminant sources of lead. The tools and connections will provide solid groundwork for my isotopic research.

Anna Wade, Ph.D. in Environment

A Deep Dive into Blubber Samples Yields a Novel Method to Study Whales

Jillian Wisse studies a species of pilot whale that dives especially deep. To learn more about how they relate to their environment, she sought specialized training at the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston.

Hollings Marine LaboratoryI worked with a leading endocrine researcher to learn hormone extraction and tandem mass spectrometry. With her guidance, I developed a novel analysis method, which will allow scientists to conduct more efficient and comprehensive hormone analyses of these tissue samples, aiding efforts to understand the behavior and physiology of these difficult-to-access animals.

Jillian Wisse, Ph.D. in Ecology

Internships

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

To enhance her dissertation on mental and reproductive health among adolescent girls in Tanzania, Emily Cherenack volunteered with a nonprofit and received specialized training on biological markers.

Emily CherenackFor 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. For the other half, I lived in Moshi, Tanzania, and worked with the NGO Femme International. I learned how to conduct research on menstruation with adolescent girls in schools and saw how to implement education interventions with girls.

GSTEG was essential for me to gain these experiences and work with experts and in the field to develop an interdisciplinary dissertation that merges the fields of clinical psychology and reproductive health.

Emily Cherenack, Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology

Research Residency with the OECD Provides Hands-on Experience with Regulatory Policymaking

Mercy DeMenno completed a three-month research residency at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, where she worked with the Directorate for Public Governance in the Regulatory Policy Division.

Mercy DeMennoI undertook a wonderful experiential learning and collaborative research experience in 2017, which enabled me to contribute to the theory and practice of effective regulatory governance.

The Regulatory Policy Division’s portfolio covers a range of regulatory governance issues, and the Division has developed key competencies in several areas germane to my dissertation research—including stakeholder participation in rulemaking, regulatory impact assessment, and international regulatory co-operation—making it an ideal place to work at the intersection of the theory and practice of effective regulatory governance as a doctoral student. The GSTEG experience contributed to my envisaged academic and professional trajectory by improving my research, leadership, and communication skills; enhancing the quality and impact of my dissertation; and embedding me in a network of critical importance to my post-degree job search.

Mercy DeMenno, Ph.D. in Public Policy

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

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 spent a month in Singapore for an internship with the Danish Hydraulic Institute (DHI), where he learned how to incorporate antibiotic resistance genes and pathogens into a global ballast water movement model.

William GerhardThis company specializes in creating modeling 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 modeling proved especially informative to my ongoing work. The unique opportunity afforded by GSTEG allowed me to explore a potential future career path while also expanding comfort zones within my dissertation research.

William Gerhard, Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering

Courses

An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Patterns of Connection in the Practice of Faith

Dustin Benac wanted to enhance his training in theology and organizational theory by integrating qualitative data collection and interpretation into his research. A summer course at UNC’s Odum Institute for Research in Social Science proved timely, and he went on to apply this new knowledge to a study examining patterns of connection among five church-related educational institutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Dustin BenacThe impact extends well beyond this single course. I have since worked with colleagues from across the university to consider approaches to visually depict the preliminary findings from my qualitative research. I will present a paper at the Pacific Northwest American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting and have a book review coming out in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies.

The opportunity to receive supplemental training has deepened my knowledge, vastly expanded my network, and equipped me to engage and support a wider range of research from across the university. While the specific methods training and research experiences will certainly inform the scope and content of my dissertation, I anticipate the range of relationships and experiences that have followed will have the most significant impact on my development as a scholar.

Dustin Benac, Th.D. in Theology

Machine Learning Techniques Help Philosopher Build an App for Logic Education

Lok Chan is writing a dissertation on learning and testing through the lenses of philosophy and statistics. To develop the skills he needed to produce a web-based application for logic education, he enrolled in Udacity’s Machine Learning Nanodegree Program.

Lok Chan's logic app exampleWhat I learned has had a tremendous impact on both my interest as a researcher and as an educator. This program provides practice-oriented training in various machine learning techniques, such as supervised learning, reinforcement learning, and convolutional neural networks. Using these techniques, I have made substantial improvement to the logic education application I have previously developed.

Initially, my application could only generate logic problems in a purely random manner. With machine learning techniques, however, I have devised a model in which a student’s response could be used as a basis for generating a problem that addresses her particular strengths and weaknesses.

Lok Chan, Ph.D. in Philosophy

Ecology Doctoral Student Analyzes Whales’ Baleen to Reconstruct the Story of a Species

What can a fin whale’s feeding apparatus tell us about that animal? William Cioffi took a summer course on stable isotope ecology to support his dissertation on using baleen from fin whales to reconstruct individual life histories and assess changes in foraging ecology, reproduction, and stress.

William CioffiBaleen whales are named for the keratin plates that comprise their feeding apparatus. These plates grow continuously throughout an animal’s life. By repeatedly sampling for stable isotope analysis along the growth axis of an individual plate, a time series can be generated that provides information about foraging and migratory behavior that might have been occurring when that part of the plate was growing. These data provide a window into the past for populations that may no longer exist, but for which baleen plates have been archived in museums or other collections.

Most exciting about this course was the opportunity to discuss ideas and challenges with other students and instructors who had all spent a great deal of time thinking about these issues. The participants included those studying vertebrates, geology, botany, and even forensic science.

William Cioffi, Ph.D. in Ecology

From Durham to Moshi, New Skills Strengthen Research on Hypertension and Emergency Care

Sophie Galson has been collaborating on a research project on hypertension in the emergency department of Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in Moshi, Tanzania. To build her language skills and strengthen her contribution to this ongoing work, she enrolled in a residential immersive Swahili course at The Training Centre for Development Cooperation in Eastern and Southern Africa (TCDC).

Sophie GalsonI have greatly enjoyed learning the language and culture, and the weekly tutoring sessions have helped greatly to accelerate this progress. The TCDC course was a perfect capstone experience and I was able to start at an intermediate level due to the tutoring.

This grant has also had effects beyond myself. Our team has been motivated by my experience to slowly start to incorporate more Swahili into our weekly meetings. I am thrilled to be staying at Duke and will be starting this summer as an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Emergency Medicine!

Sophie Galson, M.S. in Global Health

Delving into Behavior Change to Help Improve Health Outcomes in Adults with Diabetes

To inform her work on social interaction among individuals with type-2 diabetes who engage with one another in a computer-mediated environment, Allison Lewinski took part in a week-long course at the University College London Centre for Behaviour Change.

Allison LewinskiThis course expanded my knowledge about all the components to consider when designing behavior change interventions! I obtained insight into what behaviors to select and target in an intervention and what factors to consider when developing an intervention. I interacted with individuals from a variety of backgrounds who were also interested in developing interventions focused on changing behaviors. Overall, this course better prepared me for the postdoctoral position I recently started in health services research at the Durham Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Allison Lewinski, Ph.D. in Nursing

Summer Course Provides an Immersive Exploration of the Value of Art

In preparation for a career as a specialized art consultant or investment analyst, Stephanie Manning took a summer course at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London to deepen her understanding of the art market industry.

Stephanie ManningThis experience has forever changed the way I view art. I have always considered the intrinsic value when viewing art, and now I push deeper into my thoughts on the financial value of the work to consider how much others would be willing to pay for it, and the value I place on the emotional response I gather from the work.

Through this experience, I was able to better understand the valuation and appraisal of art and the cultural heritage of Sotheby’s art auctions. Being able to personally interact with gallery curators and to visit some of the most prestigious and historic museums in London allowed me to experience how art professionals interact with the art they showcase and preserve, and how intertwined and complex the cultural and financial values are in the art of appraisal.

Stephanie Manning, M.A. in Digital Art History

Training in Radiation Emergency Medicine Prepares Student for Role in Patient Care

Bria Moore enriched her training by attending a course on radiation emergency medicine at Oak Ridge Associated Universities. Learning about the practical aspects of handling contaminated patients in a hospital setting will improve her ability to communicate effectively with medical professionals in emergency situations.

Bria MooreThis experience was invaluable. The opportunity to work hand in hand with experienced emergency medicine physicians, nurse practitioners, and general physicians in an emergency room setup was amazing. As one of only two physicists in the room, I enjoyed the chance to determine my niche in patient care for radiological events.

I left Oak Ridge with a new confidence in my abilities to meld well in an emergency room, and a broad network of friends and colleagues in a variety of medical fields that I hope will be valuable resources later in my career.

Bria Moore, Ph.D. in Medical Physics

Graduate Student Sees Clear Benefits of Observational Oceanography Training in Bermuda

Ryan Peabody sought to learn more about modern observational oceanography to support his research on the linkage between large-scale ocean circulation and ocean productivity. A hands-on course at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences provided a vital supplement to his graduate training.

Ryan Peabody and fellow studentsI 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.

Ryan Peabody, M.S. in Earth and Ocean Sciences

Research Materials

Molecular Modeling Techniques Aid Exploration of Environmental Contamination

Kirsten Overdahl’s work explores the occurrences and biological effects of emerging environmental contaminants in indoor environments. To further her dissertation research, she sought to purchase software to implement machine learning-based molecular modeling to predict chemical behaviors.

Kirsten OverdahlI spent Fall 2017 in the Molecular Modeling Lab in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at UNC-Chapel Hill three times per week, training on the modeling techniques that we have since begun to implement in our laboratory. We spent Spring 2018 exploring how we could successfully implement public-domain programs; while we can do many things with these programs, we elected to purchase Schrodinger’s Materials Science Suite. This program will allow us to generate all possible 3-dimensional conformers of the 2-dimensional molecular structures we are able to identify in our search for emerging environmental contaminants.

Kirsten Overdahl, Ph.D. in Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health

Looking Ahead

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. We received 36 proposals for the third GSTEG cohort. Proposals were reviewed by a panel of faculty and graduate students from across the university.

Fourteen students received GSTEG grants for use in 2018-2019. Their graduate programs are housed in Arts & Sciences (7 students), Nicholas School of the Environment (4), School of Law (1), School of Nursing (1), and Pratt School of Engineering (1). Thirteen are Ph.D. students; one student is pursuing her S.J.D. The average award was $3,254. Recipients will report on their activities by June 30, 2019.

Student Program Proposed Use of GSTEG Faculty Mentor
ARTS & SCIENCES
Torang Asadi Ph.D. in Religion 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 David Morgan
Christina Bejjani Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience 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 Tobias Egner
Yanyou Chen Ph.D. in Economics 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 Christopher Timmins
Gray Kidd Ph.D. in History 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 John D. French
Zachary Levine Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology 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 Diane M. Nelson
Adrian Linden-High Ph.D. in Classical Studies 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 Mary T. Boatwright
Julia Notar Ph.D. in Biology 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 Sönke Johnsen
SCHOOL OF LAW
Christine Ryan S.J.D. in Law 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 Katharine T. Bartlett
NICHOLAS SCHOOL OF THE ENVIRONMENT
Patrick Gray Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation 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 David W. Johnston
Hillary Smith Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation 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 Xavier Basurto
Weiyi Tang Ph.D. in Earth and Ocean Sciences 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 Nicolas Cassar
Phillip Turner Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation 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 Cindy Lee Van Dover
SCHOOL OF NURSING
Morine Cebert Ph.D. in Nursing 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 Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda and Eleanor Stevenson
PRATT SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING
Siddharth Kawadiya Ph.D in Civil and Environmental Engineering 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 Marc A. Deshusses

Learn More

The next RFP will be released in early 2019. All current Duke graduate students may propose graduate training enhancement activities lasting up to one semester, for use during the 2019-2020 academic year. If you have any questions, please contact the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies (216 Allen Building, 919-684-1964, interdisciplinary@duke.edu).

Training in Radiation Emergency Medicine Prepares Student for Role in Patient Care

Bria Moore

Bria Moore, a Ph.D. student in Medical Physics, enriched her training by attending a course on radiation emergency medicine at Oak Ridge Associated Universities. Learning about the practical aspects of handling contaminated patients in a hospital setting will improve her ability to communicate effectively with medical professionals in emergency situations.

Moore 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 Terry Yoshizumi. She shared this update:

Bria Moore and classmates at Oak RidgeI attended a Radiation Emergency Medicine course at Oak Ridge’s Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site. This experience was invaluable. I got the chance to participate in a detailed radiation emergency simulation.

The opportunity to work hand in hand with experienced emergency medicine physicians, nurse practitioners and general physicians in an emergency room set-up was amazing. As one of only two physicists in the room, I enjoyed the chance to determine my niche in patient care for radiological events.

Beyond the hands-on experience, I got the chance to learn of historical radiation events and response strategies. I also got a chance to hear some physician concerns in treating radioactive patients. In the classroom, I had the chance to refer to another expert in this arena for advice on useful analogies and ways to effectively communicate.

I left Oak Ridge with a new confidence in my abilities to meld well in an emergency room, and a broad network of friends and colleagues in a variety of medical fields that I hope will be valuable resources later in my career.

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 from this year’s grantees.
  • See who received grants for 2018-19.

From Durham to Moshi, New Skills Strengthen Research on Hypertension and Emergency Care

Sophie Galson and colleagues

As a master’s student at the Duke Global Health Institute, Dr. Sophie Galson has been collaborating on a research project on hypertension in the emergency department of Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in Moshi, Tanzania. To build her language skills and strengthen her contribution to this ongoing work, she enrolled in a residential immersive Swahili course at The Training Centre for Development Cooperation in Eastern and Southern Africa (TCDC).

Galson 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 Catherine Staton. Now back at Duke, she shared an update:

Sophie Galson and colleaguesAs a current Global Health Emergency Medicine Fellow, I recently returned to the U.S. after completing seven months of fieldwork in Moshi, Tanzania, where I was studying non-communicable diseases in the Emergency Department under the mentorship of Dr. Catherine Staton and Dr. John Stanifer.

In addition to working clinically in the Duke Emergency Department, I published “Epidemiology of hypertension in Northern Tanzania: A community-based mixed-methods study” in BMJ OPEN earlier this year. I also just defended my master’s thesis at the Duke Global Health Institute on the burden of hypertension in the emergency department and linkage to care in Moshi, Tanzania.

Sophie GalsonIn April, I presented my thesis work at the European Cardiology Congress (Europrevent) conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and was awarded best oral poster presentation. In the next year I plan to write three to four additional manuscripts based on my thesis project. I also currently mentor one Tanzanian master’s student (Catherine Agustine) on research methods. A basic knowledge of Swahili was crucial to my success in integrating into the research collaboration in Tanzania and analyzing my qualitative results.

I have greatly enjoyed learning the KiSwahili language and Tanzanian culture throughout my time in Tanzania, and the weekly tutoring sessions have helped greatly to accelerate this process. The MS TCDC course was a perfect capstone experience and I was able to start at an intermediate level due to the tutoring. This grant has also had effects beyond myself. Our team has been motivated by my experience to slowly start to incorporate more Swahili into our weekly meetings.

I am thrilled to be staying at Duke and will be starting this July as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Emergency Medicine!

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 from this year’s grantees.
  • See who received grants for 2018-19.

Center for Genomic and Computational Biology Offers Core Facilities Vouchers

Duke GCB Core Facilities

Deadline: April 13, 2018

The School of Medicine (SOM) departments, institutes, and centers oversee a wide range of research core facilities. To enable investigators to access these services for exciting new studies that are not yet externally funded, the Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology (GCB) is pleased to announce the 2018 Spring SOM Core Facility Voucher Program. This joint program with the SOM, the Office of the Provost, and Duke Research Computing/Office of Information Technology will offer vouchers in amounts ranging from $500 to $10,000 redeemable for provision of services at SOM core facilities/shared resources. The sources of funding are from the SOM and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.

All data or resource-generating core facilities/shared resources that provide services open to faculty members on a fee-for-service basis are eligible for participation in this program. No more than two facilities can be included in a single proposal. Research Computing may be included as a third facility if utilizing data storage space in conjunction with data collected from another core facility.

The list of eligible core facilities can be found on the Core Research Facilities web page.

Important dates for the 2018 Spring SOM Core Facility Voucher Program:

  • Submission Open: March 15, 2018
  • Submission Close: April 13, 2018
  • Voucher Start: July 1, 2018
  • Voucher End: June 30, 2019

Vouchers in any category of research will be awarded to faculty at the Assistant, Associate, or Professor level with primary appointments in SOM or Campus departments:

  • SOM Faculty: SOM faculty will be eligible for awards made from SOM funds.
  • Campus Faculty: Faculty outside the SOM will be eligible for awards made from Office of the Vice Provost for Research funds. Proposals with Campus faculty as co-PI with SOM faculty will be eligible for SOM funds.
  • All Faculty: Investigators previously awarded a voucher are eligible to apply for and receive a new voucher if the work proposed is significantly and scientifically distinct from previous awards.

Complete applications will include a one-page proposal describing the research question to be investigated, rationale, proposed plan, and justification for amount requested (11 pt. font, 0.5” margins), and a brief letter from the core facility director attesting to the availability of the proposed technical service. Applications are limited to one per investigator, and only new applications will be considered.

SOM utilizes the MyResearchProposal online application software to submit applications. To apply:

  • Visit http://bit.ly/myresearchproposal, click on “Create New User” (or log in if you already have an account). Proposals must be submitted under the Principal Investigator’s name. Enter access code “SOM” and select the “SOM Core Facility Voucher Program Fall 2017” funding opportunity and follow the instructions.

For any questions concerning MyResearchProposal passwords or system issues, please contact myresearchproposal@duke.edu or call 919-668-4774.

Email any questions you may have to jennifer.foreman@duke.edu.

Christopher Plowe Will Be the Next Director of the Duke Global Health Institute

Chris Plowe

Dr. Christopher Plowe, the founding director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine and a leading expert on malaria elimination, has been named director of the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI). He will start in January.

Plowe succeeds Dr. Michael Merson, who stepped down June 30 after leading the institute since it was launched in 2006.

“Chris Plowe is a star in the global health field,” said Sally Kornbluth, Duke’s provost and Jo Rae Wright University Professor. “He is a visionary scholar and researcher who has already created a world-class institute from the ground up. Chris’s experience in building and growing collaborations across campus, and with partners around the world, will help Duke and DGHI realize our ambitions for the future.”

Added Kornbluth: “I am grateful to Mary Story and the search committee for leading such a thorough and thoughtful process, to Randy Kramer for his leadership of DGHI through this transition and, of course, to Mike Merson for making Duke a leader in global health over the past decade.”

Plowe is also the Frank M. Calia MD Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1995. He leads a clinical translational malaria research program, with molecular parasitology and clinical vaccinology facilities in Baltimore and field sites in Mali, Malawi and Myanmar. His work includes genomic epidemiology, immunology, international research ethics, HIV-malaria interactions, and clinical trials of drugs and vaccines.

He has also had a long-time commitment to training scientists and building research capacity in tropical countries.

“Global health is one of Duke Health’s strategic priorities, and I’m excited about the opportunity to partner with Chris to connect with the world to improve health globally,” said A. Eugene Washington, MD, chancellor for health affairs and president and CEO of the Duke University Health System. “He is an internationally renowned expert whose distinguished achievements in clinical fieldwork, research and education make him a perfect fit for Duke at this time of transformative change in health and health care.”

Plowe grew up in South Dakota, the son of an Episcopal priest.

“My dad had a burning ambition to do missionary work in Africa as a younger man, but a heart condition prevented him from doing so. Maybe the way my career has turned out has been partly about fulfilling a dream that he could not realize,” Plowe said in a 2015 interview.

Plowe earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Cornell University and entered Cornell’s medical school in the early 1980s intending to focus on psychiatry or surgery. But a lecture about public health led him to work on malaria and typhoid fever in Indonesia. Then, while doing elective field research in Kenya, Plowe said he “got hooked on malaria” and the biology of the disease.

He received an MD from Cornell in 1986, completed internship and residency and served as chief resident in internal medicine at St. Luke’s Hospital/Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and earned a master’s of public health in tropical medicine at Columbia University’s School of Public Health. He was a clinical and research fellow in the National Institutes of Health’s Laboratory of Malaria Research and a clinical infectious diseases fellow at Johns Hopkins University.

In the early 1990s, while working at the NIH, Plowe helped establish a field program in Mali with leading malaria researchers and developed blood-spot markers to detect malaria drug resistance. He later tested malaria vaccines there.

More recently, Plowe has devoted much of his research time to fieldwork in Myanmar. There, he helped identify a surveillance marker for resistance, and with his wife, University of Maryland malariologist Myaing Myaing Nyunt MD PhD MPH, became involved in the country’s national malaria elimination program. That work was supported by grants from NIH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nyunt directs a multidisciplinary research and training program in Myanmar, and will join Plowe at Duke.

“The School of Medicine is thrilled with the recruitment of Chris to lead the DGHI and Myaing as a faculty member in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine,” said Mary E. Klotman, MD, dean of the Duke University School of Medicine and vice chancellor for health affairs. “Chris’s career-long commitment to public health and his own work in malaria will bring an exciting new chapter to the DGHI and build on what Mike Merson has so brilliantly led for the last 11 years.”

Mary Story, professor of community & family medicine and global health, chaired the faculty search committee that recommended Plowe for the DGHI directorship.

“The search committee was highly impressed with Chris Plowe’s accomplishments and his commitment to advancing DGHI’s strong and unique focus on education, research and engagement,” said Story, who is also associate director for academic programs at DGHI.  “He is the ideal person to take DGHI to the next level of greatness.”

Since its founding in 2006, DGHI became a well-established, interdisciplinary institute that drew faculty from medicine and nursing, anthropology, psychology, public policy, engineering, environmental sciences and other fields to conduct research on real-world problems and implement solutions both locally and around the world.

“The incredible people, the culture of interdisciplinary collaboration and the resources dedicated to global health at DGHI and across Duke University make this a dream job for someone who wants to have an impact on global public health,” said Plowe, who will also be a member of the School of Medicine’s infectious diseases faculty.

Plowe’s honors include ASTMH’s Bailey K. Ashford Medal for Distinguished Work in Tropical Medicine, election to the American Society for Clinical Investigation, a Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award, appointment as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator in Patient-Oriented Research, and the American College of Physicians Award for Outstanding Work in Science as Related to Medicine. He has advised the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Medicine, and has published more than 160 papers.

The parents of three grown children, Plowe and Nyunt enjoy riding their Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Originally posted on Duke Today. To hear insights from Mike Merson, founding director of the Duke Global Health Institute, join us for a conversation at the Forum for Scholars and Publics on October 6.

Stretching beyond Their Disciplines, Graduate Students Gain New Perspectives

GSTEG

Last year 19 Duke graduate students received 2016-2017 Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. The disciplinary homes of these students ranged from engineering, environment and biology to history, theology and medicine.

A key feature of Together Duke, the university’s new academic strategic plan, GSTEG allows graduate students to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories. Stretching beyond their core disciplinary training, these doctoral and master’s students acquired skills, knowledge and field experiences that widened their intellectual networks and enhanced their original research.

Explore the links to below to learn more about the recipients’ experiences with hands-on training, internships, workshops, courses and community engagement.

Hands-on Training

Nanotechnology at Los Alamos

Zhiqin Huang (Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering) spent half a year at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Exposure to the lab’s cutting-edge facilities and other resources amplified her dissertation research on novel nanostructures that can generate extremely low-energy and ultrafast plasmonic switches.

The main purpose of the visit was to learn optics-related experiment techniques. Based on the rich resources, I even built a new pump-probe system independently and did a group of experiments using newly fabricated samples and obtained primary results. Furthermore, I attended several forums related to nanooptics as well as invaluable seminars. Through discussions with some talented experts in the field of my research, I gained a much better understanding on both theory and experiments.

Coastal Wetlands

Fateme Yousefi Lalimi (Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Nicholas School of the Environment) visited Dr. Andrea D’Alpaos’s lab at the University of Padova and conducted fieldwork in the Venice Lagoon, in order to strengthen her dissertation on coastal wetlands.

I was able to extend a hydrodynamic model of coastal wetlands to larger scales with the use of robust numerical modeling techniques. Visiting and working in Venice marshes expanded my observational perspective beyond the study sites I was familiar with in North Carolina and Virginia. Besides the academic training and research aspect of this experience, I could extend my professional network and scientific collaborations with leading scientists in my field. I am currently working on a scientific paper that is the result of my trip.

A Closer Look at Stormwater

Mark River (Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment) works in the Duke University Wetland Center. For his dissertation research on how phosphorus is transported by particles in stormwater, he tapped into the resources at Virginia Tech’s National Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology Infrastructure (NanoEarth).

I traveled to Virginia Tech and learned hands-on transmission electron microscopy on two different instruments, which I had no exposure to previously. Using the data I obtained in the two full days at Virginia Tech, I am working towards a nice publication that I would not otherwise have the data for.

A Social Science Angle on Coral Restoration

What do managers of coral reefs need to know about coral restoration methods before they start new restoration projects? Elizabeth Shaver (Ph.D. in Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment) set out to answer this question in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Nature Conservancy.

In the process of creating and implementing the survey, I learned valuable skills in the social sciences that I otherwise would not have obtained in my graduate work, including training on the wording of surveys, the Institutional Review Board process and pre-testing, to name a few. And the NOAA workshop I attended was a small and selective group of practitioners and scientists that I was only able to attend because of my role in this project. This workshop provided countless networking opportunities that I have since used to develop a postdoctoral proposal on coral restoration.

Sticky Business of Underwater Adhesive

Zoie Diana (Master of Environmental Management, Nicholas School of the Environment) went to the Okeanos Research Laboratory at Clemson University to probe for chitin in the decorator worm (Diopatra cuprea) tube and underwater adhesive. This training furthered her understanding of conserved molecular mechanisms in invertebrate bioadhesive and structure and informed her thesis, “Learning to Glue Underwater: Inspiration from the Decorator Worm.”

Internships

Brazilian Governance

Travis Knoll (Ph.D. in History, Arts & Sciences) served as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia. 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.

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.

Sufi Spirituality and Social Justice

To strengthen his dissertation research on the Sufi spiritual movement and commitment to social justice, Daanish Faruqi (Ph.D. in History, Arts & Sciences) traveled to Jordan and Turkey to help Syrian refugee communities through relief foundations operated by Sufi networks.

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. It made painstakingly clear the intimate connection between this group’s spirituality and commitment to worldly service. 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.

British Art and Poetry

Christopher Catanese (Ph.D. in English, Arts & Sciences) interned at the North Carolina Museum of Art to contribute to the exhibition “History and Mystery: British Old Masters, 1550-1850,” which provided experience within two departments of a major public arts organization and informed his research on 18th– and early 19th-century British poetry.

Workshops

Capitalism, Slavery and Freedom

Alisha Hines (Ph.D. in History and African & African American Studies, Arts & Sciences) attended the History of Capitalism Workshop at Cornell University. She learned about technical content areas such as statistics, accounting and economic theory in order to apply quantitative methods and techniques to her study of slavery and freedom in the middle Mississippi River Valley.

The workshop was quite useful to me because I use steamboat company records in my research and I now feel more confident reading ledgers and account books, and can ask new questions about the hiring practices, for example, of steamboat captains and how they might have assessed the risk of employing enslaved men and women in river work. In addition, I was able to learn more about mapping techniques I can use to chart patterns of mobility of black women in the Mississippi River Valley.

Modeling and Data Analysis for Biology

Eight months before defending her dissertation on the effects of genetic variation on signaling dynamics, Selcan Aydin (Ph.D. in Biology, Arts & Sciences) spent two weeks in the Computational Synthetic Biology Track of the Quantitative Biology (Qbio) Summer School at the University of California, San Diego. She built skills needed for the modeling and data analysis challenges of her research.

The group project was very helpful in gaining hands-on mathematical modeling experience where I had the chance to interact with computational biologists. This allowed me to improve my collaboration and scientific communication skills in addition to the scientific knowledge I have gained in computational and mathematical modeling.

Big Data and a Bird Migration Route

Danica Schaffer-Smith (Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment) participated in a week-long workshop on environmental data analytics in Boulder, Colorado, offered by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The technical knowledge she gained will inform her dissertation on spatiotemporal variability of inland waterbodies along the Pacific flyway. More than a billion birds use this flyway every year as a north-south migration route.

Participating in the workshop assisted me in developing new modeling and computing skills, including an emphasis on big data and integrating diverse datasets in a unified analysis framework. The tutorials on Bayesian data analysis and spatiotemporal data analysis have proven to be directly applicable for my own work and I am currently using these methods in two chapters of my dissertation.

Environmental Genomics

Tess Leuthner (Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment, Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program), attended the Environmental Genomics training program at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

I gained the knowledge to create, manage and analyze genomics datasets, but I also met new colleagues and collaborators. I continue to communicate and collaborate with scientists and peers that I met during this course.

Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics

Brenna R. Forester (Ph.D. in Environment, Nicholas School of the Environment) participated in two workshops hosted by the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) in Knoxville and a workshop on conservation genomics in Montana, to inform her dissertation research in the emerging field of landscape genomics.

I learned skills that have allowed me to be a more effective collaborator, and have better prepared me for the postdoctoral position I have just started at Colorado State University.

Courses

Printmaking and Suffering

Stephanie Gehring Ladd (Ph.D. in Religion, Arts & Sciences) took a printmaking course at UNC Chapel Hill to gain insight into the process of intaglio printmaking. This experience enhanced her observational powers in writing about prints and informed her dissertation on attention to suffering in the work of Simone Weil and Käthe Kollwitz.

Professor Brian Garner was fantastic to work with. He let me custom-tailor a course within his Introduction to Intaglio, so that I was able to focus on the intaglio printmaking techniques most used by the artist I am studying, Käthe Kollwitz. I learned an enormous amount about how her work was done.

Singapore’s Urbanization

Nathan Bullock (Ph.D. in Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Arts & Sciences) spent a semester taking courses at the Yale School of Architecture to inform the application of architectural theory to his dissertation on contemporary Singapore.

Seeing how students learn about architecture in a professional program was eye-opening in comparison to the approach taken by humanists in an art history department. I was most struck by how deep the divide really was between theory and practice. This experience will certainly change how I interact with and write about the architects I study in my dissertation research.

Marketing and Philosophy

Adela Deanova (Ph.D. in Philosophy, Arts & Sciences) completed a series of online courses in digital marketing in order to contribute to Project Vox, a digital initiative that recovers the lost voices of female philosophers in the early modern era.

The experience proved to be very valuable for me, not only because I learned about leading-edge business marketing practices in theory, but also because it allowed me to apply the theoretical insights to three practical projects: the Capstone Project for the Digital Marketing certification; the user experience strategy for Project Vox; and the Story+ project for RTI International.

Christian Engagement with Architecture

Joelle A. Hathaway (Th.D., Divinity School) took a photography course at Durham Tech and conducted fieldwork in England. Her aim was to compile a portfolio of high-resolution images of religious art and architecture and conduct interviews about contemporary art in Anglican cathedrals, which will inform her dissertation about Christian practices of engagement with architecture and built environments.

I presented a paper at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion based on the interviews and research I did at Salisbury Cathedral. I have two other paper proposals submitted for other academic conferences, also on cathedrals from my trip. I could spend the next decade researching and unraveling the different threads I uncovered through this experience!

Community Engagement

Empowering Young People to Become Healthy Adults

Banafsheh Sharif-Askary (M.D., School of Medicine) established the Health, Advocacy and Readiness for Teens (HART) program with partners Bull City Fit and Healthy Lifestyles. The program equips young people with tools and resources to help them lead healthier lives and learn behaviors that will continue into adulthood.

The Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant was a crucial component of starting HART and ensuring that we had the necessary resources to serve our teens. Personally, HART has challenged us to be more flexible, thoughtful and accountable and we believe that these qualities will better equip us to be high-quality patient-oriented clinicians.

Art and Community Self-help

Jung E. Choi (Ph.D. in Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Arts & Sciences) traveled to Singapore to nurture community self-help in deprived urban neighborhoods and to inform her dissertation on the intersection of art, technology and space. Since then, Choi received her Ph.D. and completed the Graduate Certificate in Information Science + Studies.

I organized 12 different meet-ups among artists, community members and visitors and had opportunities to discuss various ways to enhance the understanding of the neighborhood and find better ways to engage with the environment involving art. Through this project, as a curator/scholar, I was able to understand the practical issues of curation that involve ongoing conversations among community members as well as the integrated approach to art and life.

Learn More

See which students received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants for 2017-2018 and what they plan to do.

In late 2017 or early 2018 an RFP will invite all current Duke graduate students (including master’s, professional and Ph.D. students) to propose graduate training enhancement activities lasting up to one semester, for use during the 2018-2019 academic year.

Medical Student Helps Empower Teens to Make a Healthy Transition to Adulthood

Banafsheh Sharif-Askary and friends, HART Program

Duke School of Medicine student Banafsheh Sharif-Askary received a grant to start the Health, Advocacy and Readiness for Teens (HART) program with partners Bull City Fit and Healthy Lifestyles. The program aims to equip young people with tools and resources to help them lead healthier lives and learn behaviors that will continue into adulthood.

She was among 19 Duke students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2016-17 for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor was Sarah Armstrong. Below are excerpts from her final report with collaborator Alexandra Paul:

Our programming includes teen-specific group sessions at Bull City Fit focused on three main values: nutrition, exercise and healthcare navigation. Additionally, we provide one-on-one mentorship for support, encouragement and guidance throughout the program. The curriculum has a specific focus on expanding the breadth of resources, approaches and options available to teens as they transition to life as young adults.

We hope to continue our program for many years to come and expand to reach more teens. The cooking classes were a big hit, and something that the teens and parents learned a lot from, so that will continue to be part of scheduled programming. We will also continue to have fitness sessions, but these will take a less formal format, and can be more individualized. The mentorship model will be more individualized as well.

The Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant was a crucial component of starting HART and ensuring that we had the necessary resources to serve our teens. The challenges of beginning a new program were offset by the steady support from the Duke University School of Medicine, as well as our partners at Bull City Fit and the Healthy Lifestyles clinic. We believe that our project positively impacted the community but that there is still substantial room to grow.

In the future, we hope that HART continues to become more integrated in the Durham community, shifting form and accommodating the various needs of our young teen population. Personally, HART has challenged us to be more flexible, thoughtful and accountable and we believe that these qualities will better equip us to be high-quality patient-oriented clinicians.

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:

Images: Alexandra Paul and and Banafsheh Sharif-Askary (left); participants and volunteers in a cooking class (upper and lower right)