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2013 Summer Research Snapshots

Whether in Durham or Tierra del Fuego, New Orleans or Madrid, or in some other special spot that holds significance for their research, Duke graduate students make the most of their Summer Research Fellowships to further or complete their projects. This summer, The Graduate School was fortunate to be able to fund 177 graduate students through donations to the Annual Fund and from private donors. These donations contribute to The Graduate School’s long-term goal of year-round support for all doctoral students. Although common in the sciences, year-round support is less common for humanities and social science students, in particular, who often forgo their studies in the summer to pursue short-term employment. The Summer Research Fellowship is one of many competitive fellowships offered by the Graduate School to continuing students. For a glimpse of the spectrum of how Summer Research Fellowship recipients use their awards, read on.

Observation and Full-Scale Participation in Filmmaking


With the help of the Summer Research Fellowship, I spent nine weeks in the Republic of Benin, where I joined video filmmakers on their sets and drama troupes on the stage. And when I say “joined,” I mean it! Soon after I arrived in Porto-Novo, the president of the local filmmakers’ association brought me to meet Mamoudou Ehysse, alias “Mr. Okéké,” the man who introduced Yorùbá popular theater into Benin in the 1970s alongside his partner, Dehoumon Adjagnon. When Mr. Okéké learned that I could speak Yorùbá, he asked me to play a small role in a play he was putting together. Invitations followed from filmmakers, too; by the end of the summer, I had played bit roles in two other video films. Because cultural anthropology relies not only on observation but also on full-scale participation, these experiences have proved enormously helpful for me as I pin down my dissertation proposal in preparation for long-term fieldwork next year. The friendships I made in Benin this summer will make my dissertation fieldwork possible and, I hope, eventually lead to further collaborations between American and Béninois scholars and artists.

— Brian Smithson, Cultural Anthropology

Exhibitions of Fine Art
The Graduate School Summer Research Fellowship allowed me to fund a trip to Japan, where I conducted preliminary research for my dissertation. I work on modern Japanese art, in particular Exhibitions of Fine Art organized annually by the Department of Education (1907-1947). Thanks to my summer’s stay in Tokyo I could consult primary sources unavailable in the libraries in the USA, view a number of art works in person, which had been first displayed at the Exhibitions of Fine Art, and discuss my approaches and research plans with scholars in Japan. It enabled me to test and develop the ideas for my dissertation, which gives me good foundations to write my prospectus in the upcoming academic year.

— Magdalena Kolodziej, Art, Art History & Visual Studies

Genomic Controls of Hibernation in Dwarf Lemurs


The tremendously generous Duke University Summer Research fellowship allowed me the freedom to travel to Madagascar during the months of July and August for the continuation of my doctoral research investigating the genomic controls of hibernation in dwarf lemurs at Tsinjoarivo Forest. My research is focused on teasing apart how unique patterns of gene expression are correlated with the physiological extremes that occur during hibernation, such as an extreme depression of metabolism and core body temperatures of around 15 degrees C. Malagasy dwarf lemurs are the only primates that exhibit natural hibernation; thus investigations into the genomic controls of hibernation in lemurs may have numerous potential biomedical applications for humans. I was able to document my experiences in a blog geared toward increasing awareness of the importance of scientific research to the general public (found at In addition to a successful field season, I attended the 2013 International Prosimian Congress in Ranomafana, Madagascar and was given the opportunity to present preliminary results from my work. Thank you, Graduate School, for making this possible!

— Sheena Faherty, Biology

Causes of Low Fertility in East Asia
The Summer Research Fellowship allowed me to focus my time on my research, which examines causes of low fertility in East Asia, as well as causes underlying recent trends in teenage fertility rates in the US. I was also able to present one of these projects at the International Population Conference (in Busan, South Korea) during the summer, where I communicated my results to an audience of researchers and policymakers from around the world. Thank you for helping me to have the opportunity to share my results and improve my work.

— Poh Lin Tan, Public Policy Studies

Men Spending More Time on Childcare During Recession
The summer research fellowship allowed me to work on two papers this summer. The first paper demonstrates that men spent more time on childcare during the recession of 2008-2009, when their job opportunities worsened relative to women. In particular, men spent more time on physical care for children (bathing, feeding, etc), an aspect of childcare men tend to perform less than women. The second paper (recently accepted for publication!) examines regional disparities in oral health in the United States. The analysis shows that Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta experience worse oral health than the rest of the United States and are not converging towards the national average. In part this divergence is due to the fact that the Mississippi Delta is aging more quickly than the rest of the U.S. If I hadn’t had the summer research fellowship, I would not have been able to devote so much time to these projects!

— Marina Gorsuch, Public Policy Studies

Coming of Age During Economic Reform in China
In July 2013, with the help a Graduate School Summer Research Fellowship, I was able to travel to Shanghai, China to conduct in-depth interviews with Chinese college juniors about their life plans and reactions toward coming of age during the period of the economic reform. This is part of my dissertation project which looks at how the pathways to adulthood have changed during Chinese economic reform. In addition to allowing me to travel to my field site, the summer fellowship also facilitates the writing and revision of another chapter of my dissertation.

— Felicia Feng Tian, Sociology

Exploration of 19th-Century Southern Food Cultures
The Duke University Summer Research Fellowship played a pivotal role in funding my exploration of nineteenth-century Southern food cultures. My project focuses on antebellum farmers’ markets in port cities such as New Orleans, Baltimore, and Savannah. These markets provided a centralized base through which most fresh foods passed before making their ways to the kitchens of urban residents and restaurants. These markets were also an integral point of contact among those who cultivated, distributed, and consumed foods — spaces where the disparate sectors of an urban community met those working in the rural interior as well as on the vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean. This summer, I studied the dependence of historic restaurants on the French Market in New Orleans. I was granted special access to the Antoine’s Restaurant family archives where I examined previously unexplored business records. I also had the opportunity to apprentice in the open-hearth kitchen of the historic Herman Grimma House. Under the guidance of New Orleans home cooks, I was able to learn the nineteenth-century cooking techniques embedded in the pages of the historic cookbooks that are paramount to my dissertation research.

— Ashley Young, History

Mental Health of Haitian Women Living in the Dominican Republic
This summer, I was able to revise my Master’s paper on how stigma and religiosity impact racial differences in mental health service use. In addition, I was able to read more deeply on the history of the Haitian Revolution and in order to prepare for my dissertation field work on the mental health Haitian women living in the Dominican Republic. I also took the summer to compile and review field notes from my pre-dissertation trip to the D.R. in March. Thank you to the generous donors who made my work this summer possible.

— Trenita Childers, Sociology

First Generation of American “Outsider” Activists
The Graduate School’s 2013 Summer Fellowship funded my research at several institutions in the New York metropolitan area, including the MoMA, the Whitney, the American Folk Art Museum and the Newark Museum. My research is about the first generation of American “Outsider” artists, who were collected by these museums beginning in the 1930s. However, many of these museums rarely put work by 20th-century self-taught artists on view, so my fellowship enabled me to visit the their storage facilities where I examined works by artists like William Edmondson, the first African American artist to have a show at the MoMA. I also spent a significant amount of time in the archives and libraries of these museums, examining the records pertaining to specific artworks as well as correspondence and exhibition files that revealed an important foundation of primary source material for my dissertation on the rise of the Outsider artist in America.

— Katherine Jentleson, Art, Art History and Visual Studies

Soviet-Israeli Diplomatic Relationships in Postwar Years
Thanks to the Summer Research Fellowship, I was able to conduct preliminary research in both Russia and Israel for my dissertation, which focuses on the Soviet-Israeli diplomatic relationship in the postwar years. In June 2013, I began my research in Moscow, where I visited the State Archives of the Russian Federation, exploring the papers of Foreign Ministry officials and Jewish intellectuals. On the next leg of my journey, I conducted research in Jerusalem at the Israel State Archives. There, I studied government materials chronicling Israel’s alliance with Russia. Due to the Graduate School’s fellowship, I was able to begin the transnational research necessary for my project.

— Rachel Bessner, History

Rise of Consumer Culture Under Socialism
With the generous funding made available by the Graduate School Summer Fellowship, during the summer of 2013 I was able to travel to Moscow, Russia to work in the country’s central archives. The preliminary research trip allowed me to develop my dissertation topic, which examines the rise of consumer culture under conditions of socialism after the Second World War.

— Nina Arutyunyan, History

Immigrant Wealth Accumulation and Business
Thanks to the Graduate School Summer Fellowship, I was able to make significant progress on my dissertation research, which focuses on immigrant wealth accumulation and business ownership. Specifically, the fellowship allowed me to spend two months interviewing Chinese business owners in Los Angeles. During my stay in L.A., I interviewed 25 business owners and community leaders, attended numerous conferences and networking events, and spent countless hours observing business owners in San Gabriel Valley, the epicenter of Chinese enterprise in L.A. This field research provided me with valuable insights into the migration experiences and business practices of this unique and growing population. It also informed my understanding of how educational attainment and occupational experience expose immigrants to global and local social networks that facilitate business success.

— Paige Borelli, Sociology

The Moral Horizons of Politics
The very generous Duke University Summer Research fellowship contributed enormously to the progress of my dissertation research, to the extent that it freed me from the necessity of seeking summer employment in Durham in order to meet living costs here during the summer months, which enabled me to devote increased attention to my own dissertation work and other related projects. This summer, I was also able to travel to Germany and to Hungary in order to attend conferences and workshops at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and at the Central European University (Budapest). While overseas, my academic schedule daily brought me in touch with themes immediately relevant to my dissertation research and with other researchers, whose own concerns and research agenda significantly overlapped with my own. My dissertation critically interrogates the meaning and possible significance of the moral horizons of politics. It proceeds by examining three representative responses to this theme, thereby illuminating the preeminent and paradigmatic, possible, theoretical postures available in an age of pluralism: (a) John Rawls and political liberalism, (b) Michel Foucault and neo-Foucauldianism, and (c) Carl Schmitt.

— Aaron Roberts, Political Science

Roles of Self-Control and Social Influences on Eating Behavior
Thanks to the 2013 Summer Research Fellowship, I was able to continue my research evaluating the roles of self-control and social influences on eating behavior this past summer. I ran an online study that examined how people evaluate and incorporate prior food choices into their food consumption decisions later in the day. My findings have spurred me to develop a lab-based study that I will run this fall. Without the Summer Research Fellowship, I would have had to postpone these studies for at least 6 months and delay the development of my dissertation topic.

— Jennifer Isherwood, Psychology & Neuroscience

The Role of Natural Resources in Peacebuilding

I am a Ph.D. Student examining how best to implement environmental governance in the post-conflict context. My dissertation research focuses on the role of natural resources in peacebuilding in South Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan. The Graduate School Summer Fellowship allowed me to accomplish two primary goals. First, it provided me with the time to wade through an extensive reading list and prepare for my upcoming preliminary exams. Although I was at first anxious about the amount of reading I would have to accomplish over the summer, I found ultimately that I was grateful to have the time to expand my knowledge of the theoretical literature. During the academic year, graduate students are so busy keeping up with work that we barely have time to sit and contemplate how different strands of theory piece together to create a comprehensive picture of our field. With the time provided by the Summer Fellowship, I came to see how scholars were building on existing theory to address larger theoretical puzzles in political science and environmental politics. In addition, I better understand where my work fits into this framework and how I can potentially contribute to theory building. I also feel prepared for my exams! Second, I was able to work on a manuscript that I am preparing for publication. The time provided by the fellowship allowed me to make progress on some critical ideas, and I expect to submit the manuscript by the end of the 2013 Fall Semester. This will be extraordinarily helpful for success on the job market when I graduate. I am grateful that the Graduate School has the ability to provide students with this type of opportunity to advance their research and career options.

— McKenzie Johnson, Environmental Policy

Researching the Spanish Cinema
The Duke Summer Research Fellowship allowed me to spend a month in the archives of the Reina Sofia Museum Contemporary Art Center in Madrid researching the experimental filmmaker and inventor Jose Val del Omar. Throughout my stay, I was able to look at a variety of materials relating to Val del Omar’s technical and creative production, materials that are helping me to write an article about the relationship between technology, under-development, and modernity in post-Civil War Spain. While I was in Spain, I also had the opportunity to visit the National Cinematheque, where I saw prints of films that are not available outside the country, allowing me to further my research on Spanish cinema. Without the Summer Research Fellowship, I would not have had access to many of these rare and difficult-to-access film resources.

— Laura Jaramillo, Literature

Developing and Pre-testing Survey Measures
The summer fellowship was incredibly helpful in allowing me to finish preparation work for my dissertation, including developing and pre-testing survey measures. The final survey data have now been collected, and I’m looking forward to digging into it and seeing what I can learn! The fellowship also gave me the time to write (and rewrite!) several papers which will help me on the job market next year, as well as time to travel to Switzerland to attend the International Summer School on Affective Sciences which was both intellectually enriching and a great opportunity to connect to scholars from around the United States and Europe.

— Andrew Miles, Sociology

Building Computer Models to Forecast Spread of Invasive Beavers in Patagonia
For my dissertation, I am using observations, mark-recapture methods and radio-telemetry to build computer models that will help forecast the spread of invasive beavers in Patagonia. Beavers were introduced to the island of Tierra del Fuego in 1946 and have since spread throughout the southern beech forest and more recently through the adjacent steppe affecting native biodiversity They reached mainland Chile by the mid-90s, threatening invasion of all of Patagonia. The summer research fellowship allowed me not only to complete my second field season in remote Patagonia but also, at my return to Duke, work on detailed computer simulations that incorporate population data I am collecting in Tierra del Fuego. By modeling more realistically the spread of invasive beavers in Patagonia I expect my work will provide more efficient tools to control the beaver invasion.

— Alejandro Pietrek, Biology

Exploring Structure for Ultraviolet Plasmonics
The summer research fellowship enabled me to defend my thesis and fulfill all the requirements of the PhD in Physics during this summer. In addition to my degree, the fellowship also allowed me to continue my exploration of gallium nanoparticle, a novel material and structure for ultraviolet plasmonics which has great potential in spectroscopy, imaging, computing and green energy. I also prepared and submitted another manuscript on the ellipsometric analysis of gallium nanoparticles. None of this could have been done without the generous contributors to the university.

— Yang Yang, Physics

Intersections Between 19th-Century Photography, Magical Practices, and Science
My work explores intersections between 19th-century photography, magical practices, and science. The Summer Research Grant afforded me the opportunity to take a number of classes at the Center for Alternative Photography in New York where I learned how to shoot 19th-century photographs, specifically using the wet plate process to produce ambrotypes and tintypes. At the center, I was taught alternative photographic processes by contemporary artists committed to these techniques. The intensive workshops have changed the way I think and write about photography and will undoubtedly inform my work. As a scholar-artist, my dissertation will employ a creative visual component, as well as meditate on the experience of shooting with 19th-century camera technologies. My work demonstrates how art practice itself can be used to produce archives that speak to and with archives of the past. I think of the dialogue as a kind of technological talk between camera technologies—cameras that speak–which can string together the 19th century with the 21st. I am so very grateful for the Summer Research Fellowship, without which, my project would be unimaginable.

— Cheryl Spinner, English Department