Dean's Research Award for Master's Students 2022-2023
The Dean’s Research Award for Master’s Students provides up to $1,000 to fund research relevant to a master’s student’s degree completion or research/conference travel. Here is a look at some of the award recipients for the 2022-2023 academic year and their pursuits. For a complete list of recipients, visit the 2022-23 fellowship recipients page.
CAR-T therapy provides a vital role in cancer treatment. However, it comes with a rather complicated process. It starts by extracting T cells from the patient, shipping it to the company to manufacture to genetically engineer them, shipping them back again, and infusing them into the patient. As you can see, this process is complicated and time-consuming, which will affect the quality of the engineered CAR-T therapy. Therefore, I proposed a method to overcome this by designing a hydrogel as a scaffold for rapid CAR-T releases and manufacturing within the body. In other words, my proposal aims to eliminate the company's use and instead build that whole process inside the body. This award will help me purchase the required molecules, antibodies, and other relevant materials.
Experimental and Documentary Arts
I am an Iranian documentary filmmaker interested in social justice and socio-political issues worldwide. I will use this award for my thesis film. The main concept is about the imprisonment feeling I have tolerated my whole life as an Iranian woman, no matter where I have lived, in Iran or abroad.
Experimental and Documentary Arts
I'm grateful to receive a Dean's Research Award for Master's Students from the Graduate School which supports travel for my research of the immigration and linguistics of the Cape Verdean diaspora, shedding new light on old and contentious cultural understandings, artistic representations and political actions surrounding race, ethnicity, identity and equity in the United States. Oral histories of Cabo Verdean Americans and interviews with linguists and historians such as Manuel Da Luz Gonçalves, linguist, author of the first Cape Verdean Kriolu to English Dictionary, provides a narrative anchor to my thesis paper and thesis experimental cinema installation.
As an MFA EDA candidate, I research avant-garde cinema and cinema cognition. My thesis exhibit examines the potential of unbinding audience interactions with moving image and audio from a theater to expand the spectrum of self-awareness cognition. As avant-garde cinema dislodges chronological time passage, unhinges narrative exposition and disrupts physical properties, it has been observed to engage complex cognitive functions working memory, long term memory and chronesthesia and renders cognitive events not seen or observed outside of viewing experimental cinema. Cinema as an extracorporeal cognitive organ produces new cognitive functions in the mind and over a century into the proliferation of cinematic engagement neurologists ask whether these new cognitive functions could generate an evolution in human cognition.
Brachytherapy is a form of cancer radiation treatment where a sealed radiation source is placed inside the body near the tumor to lessen the amount of radiation administered to surrounding areas. Me and my advisors, Oana Craciunescu, Ph.D., and Julie Raffi, Ph.D., submitted a proposal centered around the implementation of needle-tracking technology in real-time ultrasound-based, intracavitary and interstitial gynecological high-dose-rate brachytherapy treatments. We are in the final stages of developing a Box Training Kit to improve resident comfort in performing brachytherapy treatments. We are also collaborating with Eigen Health, to develop real-time ultrasound-based needle-tracking technologies. The funding from this award will go towards materials necessary to optimize and reconstruct multi-modality imaging phantoms, as well as support our project to further optimization of clinical training for proper needle placement in intracavitary/interstitial gynecological brachytherapy treatments.
Graduate Liberal Studies
I am currently in the Graduate Liberal Studies program, and am focusing my master's project toward tracing my own family history. My grandmother was a refugee who fled Slovenia in 1943 during the Second World War. I will be using this grant to travel to Slovenia and contextualize her life and her journey. I also plan to create a video documentary that visually shows my initial research, my travel through Slovenia, the hiking hours, the research I need to conduct once I am in Litija, and all the displays of human emotion along the way. This project is one of self-negotiation and self-contextualization, and I believe that the best way to show that externally is through the visual medium. I intend also to write a research paper partially about the culture of Slovenia at the time, as a project of this scope cannot be conducted without contextualization, but I also plan to centralize the majority of the paper around how identity itself fits into the shared, human condition, how self-contextualization can lead to more open discussions between people, and how violence and power dynamics can change human notions of self-identity.
Experimental and Documentary Arts
The Dean's Research Award is funding my travel expenses while I work on a documentary film about how back-to-back hurricanes are impacting one small town in North Carolina. With each severe weather event that hits Seven Springs, there are fewer resources left to build back and fewer people who are willing to repair the damage. An already struggling rural community is being pushed to the brink of collapse. The decline of this small town means a loss of culture, community, and identity for both the people who are forced to leave and the few who choose to stay. Will town leaders be able to save their beloved town before it's too late? Stay tuned for my film, coming spring 2023!
Electrical and Computer Engineering
My research focuses on developing a closed-loop system for deep brain stimulation (DBS) in Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease, affecting nearly one million people in the US, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed every year.
My thesis focuses on 1) implementation of an adaptive DBS (aDBS) controller to dynamically adjust stimulation in PD patients, 2) experiments in clinic to evaluate the efficacy and energy usage of the external controller, and 3) effective collection and analysis of patients’ data from blinded tests in home settings.
To achieve these goals, one of the biggest challenges was developing a robust system that can be used by the research participants at their home. I have developed a stand-alone which can communicate with implanted DBS devices and can be used to integrate any controller into the closed-loop system. The software has been very helpful to collect data and test different controller designs and can be extensively modified per the research needs. My research work has been an integral part of my experience at Duke, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with faculty from ECE, BME as well as the neuroscience department. The Dean's Research Award has allowed me to cover the expenses of books and online courses to learn skills required for the success of my research. It will also allow me to present my research at a conference, and make my experience more extensive and meaningful even after I graduate.
I conduct research at Xenon MRI service center as a student research assistant. My current work mainly focuses on analysis of the nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of hyper polarized (HP) 129Xe in gas- and dissolved phases in air space, interstitial lung parenchymal tissue, blood plasma, and red blood cells. I also assist the team in polarizing the HP 129Xe gas and analyzing pulmonary magnetic resonance images.
HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death among African adolescents and young people, with studies showing that a young person dies every 10 minutes due to AIDS-related illnesses. Additionally, adolescents living with HIV deal with psychosocial issues such as stigma, adherence to HIV medication, and navigating sexual relationships among their peers. For my master’s thesis, I am working under the mentorship of Dr. Osondu Ogbuoji at the Duke Global Health Institute/Duke Center for Policy Impact in Global Health to evaluate the health and economic benefits of a mental health and life skills intervention called Sauti ya Vijana (SYV). SYV is a group-based, scalable intervention delivered by young adult group leaders and designed to improve antiretroviral therapy adherence and virologic suppression among young people living with HIV in Tanzania. To this end, we have conducted a cost analysis of the 2016-2020 SYV clinical trial to determine the cost of delivering the intervention and developed a mathematical model which we will use to forecast the long-term health and economic benefits of the intervention in comparison to the standard of HIV care in Tanzania. The Dean's Research Award for Master's Students will be used to support the dissemination of the research findings.
My thesis work is focused on better understanding the delays that a patient might experience to emergency medical care after suffering from a traumatic injury. I work under the mentorship of Dr. Anjni Joiner and Dr. Emily Smith in collaboration with Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi, Tanzania.
The Dean's Research Award for Master's Students will support the submission of an abstract to the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine Conference 2023 as well as my travel/attendance at that conference to hopefully present! The abstract that I'll be submitting is centered on a qualitative, interview-based study about the termination of resuscitation (essentially the decision to stop CPR) with emergency medical providers in the Triangle area.
Experimental and Documentary Arts
I am a second year in the MFA of Experimental and Documentary Arts and am currently working on my thesis film about deeply held beliefs. For this project I am spending time with members from different communities of belief to understand what they think and how they got there. I will be using this grant to purchase the recording and audio equipment necessary to record a collection of audio interviews for this project.
Many of my research interests lie at the intersections of transportation, housing, and health. My past attendance at this conference exposed me to a wide range of exciting work happening in the broad field of transportation research. I would specifically plan to attend the meeting for the standing committee in economics. Committee meetings at this conference provide an excellent opportunity to learn about specific federal research priorities. Given my interest in health economics, I have also found the committee on Transportation and Public Health to host many interesting sessions on interdisciplinary research topics.
As part of my master’s program, I aspire to conduct research that merges my knowledge of transportation economics with my long-standing interests in health care access and housing markets. I will be using the award to attend the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. I expect to learn about new research techniques and gain a better understanding of the research frontier in transportation economics and deepen my understanding of how economic methods may apply to a range of topics.
Before starting at Duke, I worked as a consultant where I developed a fare and service elasticity model for a major U.S. public transit agency. My research team has been selected as finalists for the TRB Transit Data Challenge and will be presenting our work on how public transit agencies can use their data to develop insights about ridership groups and trends.
With the provided funds from this award, I will be able to purchase maintenance materials required for culturing nickel-treated bronchial epithelial cells. My research, thus far, has involved exploring cellular mechanics with advanced optical techniques. The current project, in which the funds will be applied, examines the carcinogenic transformation effect on the BEAS-2B cell line. In order to preserve the morphology of the relatively volatile cell line, experiments and culture will need to be done in parallel and triplicate, resulting in increased culture maintenance costs.
I am interested in refugee and migrant health, and social determinants of health among minority populations. Since December 2021, I have assisted Dr. Katelyn Holliday’s team in the conduction of a research study investigating barriers and facilitators of physical activity among women attending community health clinics.
The Dean's Research Award for Master's Students granted me the opportunity to attend my first conference and successfully conduct an oral presentation based on this research at the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting & Expo 2022, titled, “Physical activity among Latinas: barriers to and preferences for community-based physical activity interventions.” Due to this amazing opportunity, I was also awarded the Student Oral Presentation Award by APHA Physical Activity Section.
It was amazing to receive valuable feedback on my team’s work, engage with public health experts, and learn about other projects that aim to serve marginalized populations through the improvement of physical activity interventions. This professional development opportunity was undoubtedly invaluable on my educational path toward my Master of Science in Global Health degree from Duke University as it strengthened my research, presentation, and communication skills and provided me exposure to the latest high-quality research in public health. I feel very honored to receive this award that supported me in meeting this grand milestone in my public health career.
Interdisciplinary Data Science
I am a first-year master’s student in the Interdisciplinary Data Science program. I am interested in the intersection of business and data science. I would like to explore ways to incorporate data to improve operational efficiencies while promoting sustainability, from product development to end-of-life product recycling. Aside from practicing a sustainable lifestyle, I believe data science can achieve much more than individual efforts due to its economies of scale. I am thankful for the Dean's Research Award. I will use this grant to purchase equipment with sufficient computational power to further my study and research.
I am currently working on a research project exploring the feasibility and acceptability of the use of technology in improving hypertension management in Nepal with Dr. Lijing Yan and local partners, including Medic Mobile and Kathmandu University. Our goal is to better understand the challenges and opportunities for the development and scaling of mHealth programs in low-and middle-income countries such as Nepal. Our findings from smaller studies within the project have been shared with the World Health Organization as part of a report. Now, we are working to extend the reach of our research to make its findings more applicable to a wider audience and secure its publication in prestigious journals. With the support of the Dean's Research Award, our team of native researchers will be traveling to rural areas across Nepal to gather primary data through focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, including female community health volunteers, m-Health service providers, and health facility leaders. The insights gained from this research will help inform best practices for successful mHealth programs, support the integration of technology into primary healthcare systems, and serve as a basis for further research on relevant issues.
According to UNAIDS, in Tanzania, approximately 40% of the wealthiest quintile and 60% of the lowest wealth quintile experience an unmet family planning need. Furthermore, about 25% of adolescent girls (aged 15-19) in Tanzania become pregnant annually. Under the guidance of Dr. Dorothy Dow, I am conducting a study on barriers and facilitators to desired contraceptive use for adolescent girls and young women living with HIV (AGYWLWH) in Moshi, Tanzania. Because this topic is of particular importance and interest to adolescent girls and young women in Moshi’s community, I intend to use the Dean’s Research Award to promote community engagement in data analysis of in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. Partnering with Moshi’s youth community advisory board (CAB), I also hope to learn about and implement the most effective strategies to return these results to their peers. This award has helped me complete my thesis research and center community perspectives in this work.
I am quite interested in the intersection between Statistics and Social Sciences. Nowadays, we are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the real-life data that could be utilized. I am fortunate to begin working with Professor Alexander Volfovsky on a research project earlier this semester. The project involves processing and exploring large amounts of network data retrieved from a Twitter experiment by the Duke Polarization Lab in 2017. We are interested in how people's ideological stands may change in the long term as a result of disruptive exposure to opposing opinions online.
The primary way of estimating this potential polarization tendency is based upon network data, specifically the network of friends and followers of each subject. In order to run a Bayesian ideal point estimation model thousands of times, the project requires some device with stronger hardwares and computing powers. Therefore, I plan to use this award to upgrade my current device into one with multi-core processors and continue my research work more efficiently.
Radiation is the standard for care in treating brain cancer; however, a great limitation to delivering curative doses of radiation is normal tissue toxicity. Recent reports suggest an exciting phenomenon called the FLASH effect. When radiation is delivered at FLASH dose rates, much higher than dose rates currently used in the clinic, normal tissue has been seen to be spared with no change in tumor control, but the underlying mechanisms causing this are not known. Better understanding the FLASH effect is an opportunity for the development of new and more effective treatment approaches to brain cancer. This research aims to design an experimental setup using the High Intensity Gamma-ray Source and an organotypic rat brain slice model for use to explore the FLASH effect in cancer and normal tissue. The Dean’s Research Award will allow for the purchasing of EBT3 film, used for dosimetry in experiments, and stereoscope time, to image irradiated rat brain slices for analysis. Data gathered from film and stereoscope images will be used to design an experiment for the study of the FLASH effect.
Experimental and Documentary Arts
I chose to pursue my graduate study at Duke because of my interest in investigating Jewish and African American relationships in the American South. Through research in 2021, I discovered the story of the partnership between Jewish philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald and former slave and leader of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington.
During the beginning of the 20th century Rosenwald and Washington worked together to fund and construct more than 5,300 schoolhouses for African American children in the segregated South. For each schoolhouse Rosenwald promised to fund a portion of the cost of the school if the African American community and the white community could raise the remaining funds. Though the project began in 1912 with six rural schoolhouses near the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, by the 1930s Rosenwald Schools were widespread across the South, ultimately transforming African American education.
For my thesis film in the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program I am telling the story of the Russell School in Hillsborough, North Carolina, which is the last remaining Rosenwald School in Durham County. Through the generous funds provided by the Dean’s Research Award I will have the opportunity to travel on a research trip to Nashville, Tennessee, to view the archives of the Julius Rosenwald Fund at Fisk University. This research trip will help further the scope of my film through access to primary source materials.
Leo Yuan Tien
Analytical Political Economy
I am a second-year master’s student in the Economics and Political Science Departments (joint program). My project investigates the logic of using "scorched earth campaigns" (i.e., large-scale burning of settlements and fields) against civilians in civil wars. I was motivated by the Rohingya Crisis in 2017 when Myanmar’s state forces burned down most Rohingya communities and displaced more than 700,000 people. Through theoretical development and data analysis, my project seeks to explain why this extreme but understudied form of violence is used. The Dean’s Research Award will fund my trip to the Annual Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, where I will present my work to other conflict scholars.
Experimental and Documentary Arts
I am working with critical cartography and image making to explore new counter-mapping practices. Maps are a point of entry into places but the history of them is settled on a vantage point, in the unseen influence of dominion over the natural world, to encompass a world within our social/economic or political interpretations. I consider that a path to resisting this kind of power/knowledge relations is to look into the meanings of representation, to remodel this constructed sense of observance. By using the conceptual tools typically related to physical geography, cartography and horizontal optical surveying I plan to explore the notion of placement and the particularity of location.
With the funds granted by this award, I will acquire some basic equipment to quantify a spatially I still struggle to recognize as a foreigner, living in the United States, North Carolina, Durham. By using the techniques of trilateration and triangulation, I will record angles and distances not entirely with the purpose of gathering data but rather to reconfigure the notion of place into a sense of acquaintance and belonging. As an alien resident in an unknown land and unfamiliar country, I believe that maps are fundamental as efforts into orienting ourselves in our surroundings but by understanding the notion of unity within diversity. This opportunity will serve for me as an ideal chance to intertwine technique, critical thinking and artistic experimentation.
Harshitha Venugopal Lavanya
An important component of the synthetic biologist’s toolbox are sensor-actuator systems that can sense physical or chemical change and respond to them in real time. These systems could be used in metabolic engineering, disease diagnostics and therapeutics as well as in environmental-agricultural applications.
However, designing such complex living sensor-actuator systems have different limitations, including increased metabolic burden on the bacterial cell. Engineering multiple bacterial cells to perform different individual sensing functions can reduce the metabolic burden but results in cross talk and interference. Spatially segregating different strains reduces this competition, allowing stable coexistence of multiple populations. Therefore, spatial separation can be used as a tool to implement a complex microbial sensor-actuator system.
Leveraging this idea, as a part of my Masters research project, I am designing a library of sensor-reporter systems for inflammatory bowel disease. My goal for this project is to be able to sense multiple biomarkers for this disease and pair the sensor system with the dose dependent expression of a therapeutic molecule.
I am grateful for the Dean's Research Award as it will help fund travel expenses for my research that was done this summer (2022). I traveled to Madagascar to study lifestyle indicators that influence elevated blood pressures in adults in the rural Sava Region of Madagascar. My interests in global health include non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), and their burden on populations and healthcare infrastructures. After graduating, I hope to work as a program manager for an NGO that focuses on strengthening healthcare systems and vulnerable populations in low income countries.
I'm a second-year M.A. student in Economics. I am most interested in research that helps us understand the impact of labor market prospects and lifetime location choices on shaping inequalities. My current research project with my coauthor investigates migration choices and wage negotiations for couples. Couples’ decisions of where to live and work often result in one spouse experiencing earnings or job loss at the time of a move. We expect our findings to contribute to understanding gender lifetime income inequality, household location choices, within- and between-family inequalities, and household labor supply. Funds generously provided by The Graduate School will help me cover my conference travel expenses to seek feedback from researchers and learn more about the current state of the field. I sincerely thank the donors who made this award possible.
In order to increase clinical effectiveness and deliver better patient care, I'm interested in integrating cutting-edge artificial intelligence technologies into radiation therapy. The topic of my master’s thesis is "Understanding human planner’s strategy in human-robot interaction in treatment planning using reinforcement learning." AI has proven to be a powerful tool to aid human planners to create high-quality plans. However, human planners are often critical in specific areas of treatment planning when interacting with AI planning tools, where this information may not be adequately grasped by the AI model. This study aims to understand human planner's specific strategy to evaluate and further improve the AI planning tool with reinforcement learning. The result of this study was submitted to the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting and selected as an oral presentation in the "Best of Physics" section. The award will be used to cover the costs of the conference travel.
Graduate Liberal Studies
Studying in interdisciplinary fields, I am exploring the area overlapped between image philosophy and history. In my current project, I am writing a thesis work about realism in ancient history documentaries based on realist theories and contemporary ancient history documentaries' techniques. The thesis part is accompanied by a short self-made historical documentary, which is planning to elaborate on the realistic representative techniques in ancient history documentaries. The awards support a lot on the film project. With the funding, my project gets improvement in terms of shooting experience and video quality.
Specifically, the purchase of lenses can enrich the details and filming sizes of the video. The travel support will allow the camera to experience the authentic historical sites of Judaculla Rock and the surrounding area first-hand. These are all productive in reaching the project's goal of realistic presentation in historical film work. The completeness of my project cannot be achieved without the support of this award.
My study focuses on identifying post-stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) radionecrosis in brain metastasis (BM) patients using 3D magnetic resonance (MR) images. SRS is an established and well-tolerated primary treatment for BM; however, a considerable number of BM patients will demonstrate radiographic progression (radionecrosis or recurrent tumor) at the treated site. The prescription for undetermined post-SRS progression was often conservative, as radionecrosis can clinically and radiographically mimic recurrent tumors, and further SRS on radionecrosis could have fatal consequences. Such a dilemma inspired me to develop a non-invasive AI tool to aid post-SRS BM management. The Dean's Research Award will allow me to attend academic conferences and gain more insights from researchers with different backgrounds. And I'll keep working on my study towards developing clinical AI tools.
My studies explore the relationship between contemporary literature and political imagination, with a specific focus on female friendship narratives and the affective dimension of politics. My current work explores how Elena Ferrante's tetralogy The Neapolitan Novels engages in a critical dialogue with the philosophical and theoretical discussions around "the politics of friendship." The Dean's Research Award will help cover my conference travel expenses.