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Ph.D. Fellowship Snapshots 2023-2024

Each year, The Graduate School awards a number of competitive fellowships to both incoming and continuing Ph.D. students in various disciplines. Take a look at how the 2023-2024 academic year fellowships have supported graduate student research and professional development, in students' own words.

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Nolan Arkansas

Art, Art History & Visual Studies

Dean's Graduate Fellowship

As a first-year Ph.D. student in Art, Art History & Visual Studies, I explore my interests in these three fields. I study Native American art made from organic materials, such as Cherokee river cane baskets. In the age of synthetic dyes, plastics, and landfills, I argue that Native art practices represent a symbiotic relationship to the environment. I also study art history by researching at the Nasher Museum; I study early museums, traditional categories of fine art, pricing, and art markets, art restoration and conservation, and curation. This summer I will study in art museums in London and Mexico City. Finally, the field of visual studies supports my interest in films. As a singer, scholar, and filmmaker, I direct and act in films that revise history. My current project, 1924: A Villain Origin Story, portrays a Duke music student who becomes the Blue Devil… I consider this project an Art, Art History & Visual Studies project because it recreates the history of an artist at Duke, and it highlights Native students at Trinity, British art songs, and Duke architecture. I will continue making films that combine history, art, and theory in order to challenge dominant narratives and inspire other artists.

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Blake Beaver

Literature

Bass Instructional Fellowship: Digital Education Fellowship

In my dissertation, "Residues of the Televisual Family: Technological Allegory in the U.S. Family Drama, 2001-2023," I examine the complex relationships between technological change and cultural ideals of the family in the United States after 2000. Through allegorical readings of four millennial family dramas, Six Feet Under, Brothers & Sisters, Friday Night Lights, and Succession, I argue that the developing technologies and economic strategies of television distribution produce new cultural imaginaries of the American family. Across each chapter, I read the four dramas as attributing variations in kinship to shifts in television and home video technologies. I demonstrate this claim through the framework of technological allegory—reflexive storylines in which media technologies like DVD players, Jumbotrons, and smartphones form central properties in the series' visual styling and sequences of events. From a synthetic perspective, I suggest that the four dramas' technological allegories translate an invisible meaning. This overarching referent is the "residually televisual family," a concept that crystallizes the declining but continuous influence of televisual conventions on the production of the family story and image from digital media's emergence to dominance in US culture. 

As a Bass Digital Education Fellow in the spring 2024 semester, I am creating an online course module that instructs students in the creation of video essays.

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Madison Bradley-Cronkwright

Evolutionary Anthropology

Myra and William Waldo Boone Fellowship

My research focuses on evolutionary biomechanics and primate morphology. I conduct research that spans multiple levels of biological organization (ex. whole-organism performance, external morphology, organs, and tissues) to better understand how variation at these levels interact and evolve. As an Evolutionary Anthropologist, I endeavor to relay evolutionary stories in instances where primates employ unique or distinct solutions. For example, many primates leap when crossing gaps in the forest. These primate leapers can outperform both computational models and human engineering. As such, the overarching goal of my dissertation is a thorough examination of how multiple species of primates at the Duke Lemur Center evolved morphology to generate and deliver the power necessary to execute leaping behaviors. I conduct this research informed by biomechanical paradigms developed in other animals with exceptionally powerful behaviors. To assess leaping, I use high-speed cameras to gather precise three-dimensional data of hindlimb joint motion. I integrate this spatial information with the forces delivered while an animal becomes airborne. Past work in the field of evolutionary anthropology often correlates morphological features and broad locomotor categories. I instead advocate for an approach that tests the predictive relationships between multiple morphological characters and actual measures of leaping performance using Bayesian model comparison.

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Will Brewbaker

English

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

My work considers the relationship between poetry and Christian theology, especially as this relationship develops in a cluster of poets in the twentieth century. This group of poets includes Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Robert Hayden, and James Merrill, to name a few. In the work of these poets, I think that we can chart the development of a distinct—if oftentimes "ironic" or oblique—theological poetics. 

Writing in the generations after the towering figures of literary modernism, these poets turned inward: to their own lives, orbits, and experiences. But this "confessional" turn had another, subtler dimension. While not explicitly theological, these poems frequently display a troubled relationship with Christian belief. In the work of, say, James Merrill—whose archives I explored this summer with a Dissertation Research Travel Award—we find a poet caught between belief and unbelief, between faith and doubt. For Merrill, this tension leads to a poetic sensibility that neither takes the Christian faith at its word nor rejects it fully; rather, it works through an interlocking series of questions, anxieties, and worries.

As I continue my research at Duke, I'm excited to see where this project goes and grateful to The Graduate School for supporting it thus far.

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Gongyuan Cao

Biology

Aleane Webb Dissertation Research Fellowship

My research interest is in where biodiversity is from, specifically in the aspects of new functional proteins and new species. My thesis project studies how a protein in tomatoes gains a novel function that stops herbivory insects from eating these tomatoes. I am also interested in the predictability of this kind of protein's evolution: can we predict what its relative proteins in other tomato family species would become, and what determines their fates?

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Nicole Caviness-Ashe

Nursing

Brown-Nagin Graduate Fellowship

My work addresses health disparities in patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Patients with AML often face complex side effects, frequent hospital visits, and intense chemotherapies. My research goals have been to understand: 1) social determinants of health 2) barriers and facilitators to navigating cancer care and 3) factors that impact survival for patients with AML. Ultimately, I hope to develop ways to improve access to quality care and treatments for patients from underserved and underrepresented groups who often have worse outcomes.

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Jonathan Choi

Marine Science & Conservation

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

The Biden Administration has made offshore wind energy development a key tool in its efforts to address climate change. However, offshore wind energy could potentially hurt migratory birds flying over the Gulf of Mexico, as they could collide with the turbines or be scared away from their ideal feeding grounds.

My dissertation focuses on using shorebird tracking data to help ensure that the offshore wind energy sites are picked carefully and to track where the birds affected by offshore wind go. By collecting this information, we can better inform overall conservation efforts throughout the Americas. The domestic travel grant allowed me to travel with a team from Smithsonian to the Gulf Coast where I learned more about the local habitat and conservation challenges.

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Eduardo Cisternas Jimenez

Medical Physics

Graduate School Administrative Intern for the University Center for Exemplary Mentoring

A Neuro-Fuzzy Inference System (NFIS) combines fuzzy logic's intuitive reasoning with neural networks' learning capabilities, making it ideal for complex, uncertain environments like radiotherapy treatment planning. In radiotherapy, precise targeting of tumors while sparing healthy tissue is critical. An NFIS can analyze vast data, including patient anatomy and tumor characteristics, to personalize treatment plans. It learns from historical treatment outcomes, improving its recommendations over time. By incorporating expert knowledge through fuzzy rules, NFIS supports decision-making in ambiguous situations, adjusting plans as new information becomes available. This adaptability is crucial for responding to changes in tumor size or position during treatment. NFIS also handles uncertainties inherent in patient data and treatment response, optimizing radiation dose distribution for efficacy and safety. Integrating NFIS into radiotherapy planning can streamline the process, making it more efficient and effective, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes.

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January Cornelius

Population Health Sciences

Chancellor's Scholarship (Domestic)

As a first-year Ph.D. student, I have had the opportunity to explore patient-centered research focusing on patient preferences using discrete choice experiments to examine various health outcomes such as organ transplantation and diabetic retinopathy. Throughout my first year, I have been making connections within and outside the School of Medicine to identify and find research projects that focus on health equity and social determinants of health. I look forward to collaborating with others on these projects in the future. As I continue my journey, I am excited to explore my interests in health measurement and social determinants of health to develop meaningful research.

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Karina Cuevas Mora

Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health

Chancellor's Scholarship (Domestic)
Dean's Graduate Fellowship

As a first-year student, I have had the opportunity to rotate in three different labs that examine environmental exposures to chemicals and subsequent health outcomes. Humans are exposed to a mix of chemicals every day via water, food, and consumer products. My goal is to understand the molecular mechanisms altered by exposure to chemical mixtures because people are exposed to a mix of chemicals in real life. Because chemicals like PFAS and PDBEs have been shown to cross the placenta, I aim to use my Ph.D. training to gain skills in assessing reproductive and developmental toxicity. More specifically, I am interested in understanding how these environmentally abundant chemicals affect metabolism and immune functions, and how these changes can alter fetal development.

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Mary Dance Berry

Religion

Julian Price Graduate Fellowship

My dissertation examines how three different reading communities—namely African biblical interpreters, Euro-American evangelical interpreters, and Euro-American mainline or non-evangelical interpreters—interpret ecological imagery in the Hebrew Bible's prophetic texts and create a hermeneutical dialogue among these readerships to illumine these texts anew. As this dialogue ultimately highlights the significance of nonhuman creation and its suffering to the prophetic critique, my dissertation elucidates the import of these texts for the ongoing climate crisis. 

The Julian Price Graduate Fellowship enabled me to spend the past year researching my dissertation more fully, not only through the study of written scholarship but also through engagement with scholars in these reading communities. Because of this fellowship, I was able to attend and meet with scholars at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting, Tyndale Fellowship, and the Colloquium on Epistemology, Context and Text in African Biblical Studies (CollECT). I was also asked to present portions of my work at Tyndale Fellowship and at two meetings of CollECT.

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Lucas da Silva Lopes

Romance Studies

James B. Duke International Research Travel Fellowship

My dissertation is a transnational and multilingual investigation that examines the contradictions of the Latin American and Caribbean processes of social and literary modernization through the perspective of literary works produced at the agrarian margins of the nation. It specifically addresses the spatio-temporal narrative logic of mid-twentieth-century novels from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Martinique, relating their articulation of temporality to the local history and social realities of the places they thematize. For the scope of this project, four novels are privileged as primary objects of analysis: Crónica da casa assassinada (1959) by the Brazilian writer Lúcio Cardoso, Escalera para Electra (1969) by the Dominican writer Aída Cartagena Portalatín, La vie et la mort de Marcel Gonstran (1971) by the Martinican writer Vincent Placoly, and E oferecerás a tua outra face (1972) by the Brazilian writer Bárbara de Araújo.

The four novels and three spaces represented in my research are important because they articulate the nexus between coloniality, its cultural traces and remainders, and the struggles for emancipation. These places are rarely considered alongside one another in literary and cultural history. Yet they share remarkable convergences. Together, they provide us with a rich depiction of the varied ways in which coloniality marked the reality of the colonies and the different strategies of resistance created in each context.


Danae Diaz

Biology

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

My work serves to investigate the effects of urbanization and metal contaminants on Eastern bluebird reproductive success, coloration, problem-solving ability, and communication. My work assesses differences across four field sites in the NC Piedmont area. Throughout the breeding season (March-August) we monitor differences in nesting behavior, coloration, mate-choice dynamics, and problem-solving ability across these four sites. This is an ongoing project, and as such, we hope to also assess variation in all of these aspects across years. Given the rapidly expanding nature of the triangle area, understanding the effects of urbanization and contaminants on population success is particularly elucidating. 

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Gabriela Diaz-Tang

Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

Dean's Graduate Fellowship

As a first-year student in the Molecular Genetics and Microbiology program, rotations have been incredibly beneficial in exposing me to new techniques and different perspectives within the field. Moving forward, I am eager to delve deeper into mechanisms of pathogenesis and host-pathogen interactions to contribute to the development of novel approaches for disease prevention and treatment. 

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Alexander Dombowsky

Statistical Science

Myra and William Waldo Boone Fellowship

My research focuses on designing Bayesian methods for cluster analysis with applications to global health. Clustering is a task in unsupervised learning in which the observations that comprise a dataset are allocated into distinct clusters. The underlying intuition is that observations in the same cluster are similar, whereas observations in different clusters are dissimilar. Multiview clustering arises when the data are collected from heterogeneous but often correlated sources, or views, and the main goal is to provide clusterings for each view. Using tools from nonparametric statistics, I have developed CLustering with Independence Centering (CLIC), a coherent framework for Bayesian multiview clustering that incorporates between-view dependence with concrete theoretical guarantees. The main application of my work is to an ongoing project on inferring subtypes of sepsis exhibited by a cohort in Moshi, Tanzania, in which the two views are comprehensive RNA sequence information and routine clinical lab work. The ultimate aim is to derive medically interpretable clusters that can be used to inform treatment decisions.


James Draney

English

Graduate School Administrative Internship

My dissertation, "Computable Worlds: The Novel in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism," examines the rise of the data economy from a literary perspective. I am beginning work on a book project about the relationship between commercial surveillance and culture in the twenty-first century.

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Katherine Duncker

Biomedical Engineering

Jo Rae Wright Fellowship for Outstanding Women in Science

My Ph.D. work is focused on engineering microbial communities to act as distributed environmental sentinels. I use a combination of experimental and computational techniques in order to utilize bacteria populations to sense multiple chemical concentrations in an environment. Bacteria can be designed to detect a wide range of different chemicals and output a fluorescent response. I combine these bacteria biosensors together in a culture and use machine learning to decode their multi-fluorescence responses to estimate the initial concentration of the chemicals present. This system could one day be used to measure contaminants in water or detect disease biomarkers in the human gut.

In addition to my Ph.D. research, I was co-president of the Women in Science and Engineering group at Duke for over two years. As co-president, I helped organize social, career-building, and outreach events for graduate women in STEM at Duke to help build community and support women and girls in their careers in STEM.

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Matthew Ennis

Physics

Bass Instructional Fellowship: Instructor of Record

My research is in the synthesis and characterization of magnetic materials. Our group is interested in materials with complex magnetic interactions, and particularly in materials where those magnetic interactions compete with one another (we call this magnetic frustration). We create all the materials we study in our lab and perform experiments to better understand the physics behind their behavior. We do some measurements in house, but also do more advanced experiments at user facilities around the country and the world. 

Through the Bass Fellowship, I was able to teach a sophomore-level course called Optics and Modern Physics. This course serves as a bridge between the introductory and upper-level courses for physics majors and focuses on the major developments in physics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly Einstein's special theory of relativity and the development of quantum mechanics. The course gives students their first exposure to these topics and helps them to develop a conceptual understanding before they do a more rigorous study in their later coursework.

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Carina Fowler

Psychology & Neuroscience

Phillip Jackson Baugh Fellowship

Thank you very much for awarding me the Phillip Jackson Baugh Fellowship. This award allowed me to stay at Duke for my final year to complete my dissertation prior to going on Clinical Internship—a year of full-time therapy and assessment services required to graduate with a clinical psychology degree. My dissertation research focused on the mixture of chemical contaminants to which children are regularly exposed (e.g., air pollutants, flame retardants, plasticizers). I examined both demographic disparities in children's exposure to these chemical mixtures as well as how they impact brain development.

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Natasza Gawlick

The Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies

James B. Duke International Research Travel Fellowship

My dissertation explores the way literature, theater, and film facilitate the creation of transnational and transcultural communities through their distinct formal and structural elements, as well as their theoretical commitments to queer studies, intersectional feminism, and Critical Race Theory. I am particularly interested in exploring the role of kinship, archives of memory, and changing notions of citizenship that are articulated through and vis-a-vis cultural products. 

Generous funding and support by the James B. Duke International Research Travel Fellowship allowed me to conduct essential research at Romani-centered archives, such as the Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg, Germany, and the Austrian State Archives in Vienna. Additionally, I was able to attend Ake Dikhea, the annual Romani film festival in Berlin, Germany, in October 2023 and connect with Romani communities and activists in the Austrian cities of Vienna and Innsbruck, Austria, as well as in the German cities of Berlin and Marburg. These connections have been essential for the development of my dissertation project and my aim of highlighting the voices and perspectives of Romani individuals/artists. 

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Emily Gebhardt

History

Dissertation Research Travel Award (International)

I am a historian of medieval culture, spirituality, and politics. My dissertation focuses on textual constructions of fifteenth-century kingship fashioned through the use and reception of these texts within communally ritualized contexts. Some of my other projects examine the functionality of medieval devotional texts and mnemonics, instances of political prophecy and usurpation, and the theatricality of public spectacles of violence. I also enjoy studying constructs and receptions of selfhood, identity, and the other.

I am currently in my fourth year in the History Ph.D. program. This semester, I continue to serve in my capacities as the Graduate Assistant Course Scheduler for the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Graduate Coordinator for the Franklin Humanities Institute's Manuscript Migration Lab, and a Graduate Team Coordinator for Duke's interdisciplinary program, Bass Connections.

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Christian Darius Gibson

Medical Physics

Dean's Graduate Fellowship
James B. Duke Fellowship
University Scholar

The field of medical physics focuses on the use of radiation to treat cancer patients and to image the internal anatomy of patients. My current project involves creating a magnetic slime hydrogel that a patient receiving radiation therapy for cancer in their GI tract can ingest. The slime can then be controlled using magnets situated outside of the patient. The goal is for the slime to optimize the patient's bowel in such a way that the stomach or small intestine will be physically moved outside of the radiation thus they will receive less radiation and suffer fewer complications.

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Julia michelle Gordon

English

James B. Duke Fellowship

I am researching twentieth-century American literature and film in order to explore the connections between mythology, identity formation, and images. I am specifically interested in the Western genre and the emergent digital culture of the century's later decades.

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Dana Grieco

Marine Science & Conservation

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

I am a doctoral candidate in marine science and conservation at the Duke University Marine Lab, where I study how climate change impacts small-scale, data-poor coral reef fisheries, and identify how conservation can be leveraged as a tool to mitigate these impacts. As an interdisciplinary scholar, I investigate reef fisheries by looking holistically at both the reef fish and dependent communities. The aims of this work are to 1) generate evidence-based insights on how conservation interventions can lead to sustainable outcomes for tropical fishery systems in the face of climate change, 2) advance research methods in coral-reef fishery assessments, and 3) inform fisheries practice. 

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Taylor Hinnant

Cell Biology

Bass Instructional Fellowship: Teaching Assistant

My research aims to understand how structures in the small intestine, called villi, form. These structures are required for proper nutrient absorption and become blunted in diseases such as Celiac or Ulcerative Colitis. I use mouse models and fluorescent imaging to uncover the molecular and cellular mechanisms of villar morphogenesis, which could provide insights into treating pathologies related to villar atrophy.

The Bass Instructional Fellowship has allowed me to develop my skills in pedagogy while completing my dissertation research. I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to gain additional teaching experience during my time at Duke so that I can hopefully fulfill my future career goal of obtaining a teaching-focused faculty position.

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Rebecca Horan

Marine Science & Conservation

James B. Duke International Research Travel Fellowship

My research seeks to understand the experiences of small-scale fishing community-based organizations (CBOs) in the South West Indian Ocean region in collectively working together and participating in capacity development programs (e.g. training, workshops, learning exchanges, etc.) for sustainable resource use and management. I am particularly focused on the many, often invisible, contributions of women in small-scale fishing organizations and considerations of gender equity. This year I have been conducting interviews and focus group discussions with coastal fishing communities in Madagascar and Tanzania in collaboration with NGO partners, local research assistants, and feedback from the communities involved. We are inclusively co-designing these case studies in the hopes that the research process and findings will be relevant to researchers, practitioners, and the coastal communities with whom they are working in the South West Indian Ocean seascape.

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Savannah Johnson

Psychology & Neuroscience

Dissertation Research Travel Award (International)

For my dissertation, I developed and piloted a mental health promotion and intimate partner violence prevention intervention for adolescents. This work took place in Muhuru Bay, Kenya, a rural fishing community on the coast of Lake Victoria. The community-engaged nature of the project required traveling to Kenya to work closely alongside community members who were collaborators. The International Dissertation Research Travel Award helped make this travel, as well as this project, possible. 

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Adrienne Jones

Public Policy

Aleane Webb Dissertation Research Fellowship

As an interdisciplinary scholar, my interests lie at the intersection of research, program evaluation, and social policy. Broadly, my work examines employment as a pathway to social mobility. I focus on the labor market experiences—including job access, job loss, and job changes—of Black workers, the collateral consequences of these experiences, and the role of the State in exacerbating or alleviating inequalities. Though I have trained in quantitative and qualitative methods, my current project draws on in-depth, semi-structured interviews that center the voices of suspended motorists to produce rich, descriptive data that uncover mechanisms that contribute to disparate labor market outcomes, particularly among low-income, Black workers in the American South. 

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Andrew Kenealy

Political Science

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

I research US foreign relations.  My dissertation examines how Congress engages with and shapes the American public on foreign affairs.  The domestic travel grant from Duke allowed me to spend time in Washington, DC, conducting dozens of research interviews with a wide range of congressional policymakers.  I've been able to speak with current and former elected senators, elected representatives, as well as high-ranking staffers.  These interviews help me better understand the key drivers of legislator activity on foreign policy issues, and inform the arguments that appear in my work.  

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Shao-Heng Ko

Computer Science

Bass Instructional Fellowship: Instructor of Record

Having received the Bass IoR fellowship, I am serving as the Instructor-of-Record for CompSci 230 (Discrete Math for Computer Science) for the spring 2024 semester. This is a required course for computer science BS/BA—we have 138 students in the class from all kinds of different backgrounds with all kinds of different academic interests. 

Deviating from the typical computer science course that people might imagine, there is little to no programming happening in CompSci 230. Instead, this course trains students in mathematical reasoning and analytical skills that are essential in downstream computer science topics. The abstract nature of the content makes this course challenging to deliver.

With the support from the graduate school (through the Bass IoR Fellowship) and the CS department, I am able to devote my energy to re-designing not just the course content (which in fact only needed minor tweaks) but the course structure and mechanism. The course adopted many unconventional designs and mechanisms with the goal of nudging students to focus on learning and acquiring a lasting mastery of concepts as opposed to stressing about grades, hoarding points, or chasing assignment deadlines. There is a strong support cast consisting of one departmental staff member, three graduate TAs, and a whopping 22 undergraduate TAs to help shore up all the extra workload that I created by adopting the new course structure. 

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Lev Kolinski

Evolutionary Anthropology

James B. Duke Fellowship

When people transition from subsistence to market-based livelihoods ("market integration"), they experience the benefits of new goods and services, as well as health consequences due to changing diets and lifestyles. Some aspects of human health, such as growth and noncommunicable disease, are well-studied in the context of market integration. Less is known about market integration and infectious disease.

As a first-year Ph.D. student in the Nunn Laboratory, I hope to integrate a disease ecology perspective into studies of market integration in rural, northeast Madagascar. Disease ecology is the study of hosts and pathogens within their environmental and evolutionary contexts. For my research, I am interested in studying how market integration mediates the risk of zoonotic disease by looking at changes in human-animal interactions and human susceptibility to infection. 

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Anya Lewis-Meeks

English

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)
Julian Price Graduate Fellowship

During the latter half of the 20th century, "magical realism" proliferated among literary scholars as the catch-all term for Latin American and Caribbean novels such as Gabriel García Márquez's 100 Years of Solitude. However, decades of debate have caused "magic realism" and its offshoots to grow out of fashion. And yet, how else might one describe the supernatural happenings, unrealistic coincidences, and mythic rituals that continue to occur in Caribbean diaspora novels in the twenty-first century? My dissertation investigates the presence of supernatural elements in 21st-century Caribbean novels, asking: 1) How does the speculative manifest within Caribbean novels? 2) How do contemporary Caribbean writers define themselves in line with a tradition of Caribbean folklore? 3) What are the stakes of Caribbean-located and diaspora writers drawing on folkloric forms of knowledge within their fiction, as the Caribbean region itself faces extreme precarity and the threat of extinction? With the generous support of the graduate school for the 2023-2024 academic year, I visited the British Archives, Black Cultural Archives, and George Padmore Institute in London; the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin; and the National Archives in Kingston, Jamaica to begin to arrive at answers to these questions. Thus, I interweave Caribbean thought, Black Studies, and creative praxis to coin and develop a term called "spectacular chaos," a term that brings together speculative literature and chaos theory. 

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Elizabeth Macias Rojo

Population Health Sciences

Dean's Graduate Fellowship

I am a first-year Ph.D. student, and my research interests are the effects of climate change on health, with a particular focus on social determinants of health and environmental justice. I am currently researching the impact of heat-related illnesses on farmworkers across North Carolina and California, and I am looking to expand that research to international sites. I am committed to practicing the principles of cultural humility, equitable community engagement, and anti-colonial approaches to research. What I enjoy the most are the meaningful connections with communities, team members, academics, and the Latino Caucus for Public Health, an APHA-affiliated group.  At Duke, I have particularly enjoyed my involvement with LATIN-19 and BioCoRE.


Carl Manner

Biology

Dissertation Research Travel Awards (Domestic and International)

I study the genetics of how marine invertebrates like sea urchins and corals respond to the stress imposed on them by climate change. Several marine invertebrates are keystone species on which entire ecosystems (and many millions of humans) depend. As we burn fossil fuels, we release carbon dioxide gas that warms the planet and acidifies the world's oceans. This dramatic shift in environmental conditions stresses the organisms that call the ocean home. Marine biologists have learned much about which genes get turned on or off in response to this stress, but how exactly those genes relate to the stress itself—the "why" of those genes turning on and off—remains elusive. 

Among marine invertebrates, the lack of available high-quality genome sequences and tools for manipulating individual genes are some of the last remaining technical barriers to understanding these responses at a mechanistic level. With respect to genome sequences, it is particularly important to investigate how genomes within a species differ across geographic distance and across gradients of temperature and pH. 

My work takes aim at these gaps in knowledge and technical capability. Successfully bridging this gap would enable, for the first time, the development of a mechanistic understanding of the climate change-induced stress, which will help scientists to better predict the consequences of climate change for marine environments, and help us devise and implement more effective conservation efforts.

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Morgan McCloud

Biomedical Engineering

Sloan Scholar

I am a first-year Ph.D. student co-advised by Dr. McNabb and Dr. Izatt. My research focuses on implementing ocular imaging modalities on autonomous robotic arms. Traditional eye imaging techniques tend to require stabilization of the patient and highly specialized individuals conducting the exam. We aim for our work to expand the ability to image people that are not able to be imaged using traditional techniques. 

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Dana McLachlin

Cultural Anthropology

James B. Duke International Research Travel Fellowship

I am currently researching solar energy, infrastructure politics, and economic growth amidst climate change in Bangladesh. I appreciate the support from the graduate school which has enabled me to conduct ethnographic research with a solar energy company and among various solar energy consumers. My goal is to better understand renewable energy transition as a social, political, and material process.

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Ricardo Adrian Mendez

Physics

Sloan Scholar

My research focuses on nuclear physics and nuclear structure, usually in the low or medium-energy region of quantum chromodynamics (QCD). In particular, I am studying the internal electromagnetic structure of the proton by using Compton Scattering at Duke's High-Intensity γ-Ray Source (HIγS) facility.

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Gabriel H. Mesa

Cell and Molecular Biology

University Scholar

Due to the lack of sufficient therapies to treat certain cancers, new therapeutic strategies are needed. Since cancers utilize different cellular programs to their advantage compared to other cell types, we can try to leverage these differences against themselves therapeutically. My current work is identifying new therapeutic targets against certain subsets of cancers that display unique characteristics, and then evaluating whether we can alter the functionality of these targets to disrupt the cancer's use of that cellular pathway.

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Gabriela Nagle Alverio

Environmental Policy

Dissertation Research Travel Award (International)

I am a J.D-Ph.D. Candidate in environmental policy with a concentration in political science. I research the ways that climate change impacts human security and the legal and policy solutions therein. Most recently, my work has focused on climate migration and immobility, with a focus on the role of policymakers in intentionally promoting or unintentionally restraining agency around decisions to move in the face of climate disasters. I am committed to policy-engaged applied research and have worked directly with agencies and organizations including UNFCCC, USAID, USIP, Oxfam, UNICEF, IOM, and the OSCE.

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Reshma Nargund

Environment

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

I am investigating the impact of various exposures, such as air pollution and extreme temperatures, during pregnancy on newborn gene expression. Simply put, my research explores how early-life exposures influence gene activation and deactivation in newborns. Exposure to air pollution and extreme temperatures during pregnancy is known to affect both birth outcomes and newborn epigenetics. The level of air pollution pregnant women encounter is often tied to their residential location, which, in turn, correlates with socioeconomic status. To untangle the effects of socioeconomic status, I supplement demographic data with information on maternal financial and psychological stress collected during pregnancy through purpose-designed questions. Leveraging my expertise in epidemiology, biostatistics, and newborn epigenetics acquired during my Ph.D., I aim to utilize publicly available genomics data to address more critical questions.

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Alexandria Niebergall

Earth and Climate Sciences

Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

I study how surface ocean microbes and ecosystems impact carbon sequestration in the ocean. Through the biological carbon pump, organisms convert CO2 into organic matter (like sugars). Some amount of this carbon is recycled back into CO2 in the surface ocean, but some of it is exported out of the surface of the ocean and sequestered from the atmosphere for geologically significant periods of time. While this process is well known, it is difficult to quantify and predict. My work aims to understand how our measurement methods impact our estimates of this process, how we can better predict the amount of carbon sequestered through this process, and how the microbial community in the surface ocean impacts the amount of carbon exported and the depths to which it is exported. 

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Tyler Norris

Environment

James B. Duke Fellowship

My research focuses on decarbonization and reliability of electric power systems, as part of Professor Dalia Patino-Echeverri's research group in the Nicholas School of the Environment. Specifically, my current research focuses on enhanced methods to accelerate the interconnection of clean power plants to the electrical transmission system while preserving reliability. Inefficiency in the process of connecting new clean power plants to the grid is increasingly recognized as one of the biggest bottlenecks to advancing decarbonization goals and meeting rising electricity demand. My research builds on my previous experience developing electricity market forecasts at S&P Global Platts and developing large-scale solar and storage power plants; to date, my work has been cited by the U.S. Department of Energy, the New York Times, Utility Dive, and Canary Media. I’ve also been invited to present to U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff and other conferences. Additional areas of interest include integrated resource planning, transmission planning, demand-side management, and the intersection of artificial intelligence and electric power.

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Arinze Okafor

Cell Biology

Paul and Lauren Ghaffari Graduate Fellowship

My research lies at the intersection of genomics, stem cell and cancer biology, and computational biology. My research objective has been to combine these disciplines in elucidating the underlying mechanisms of regeneration and cancer development in the injured muscle, and how these two related processes diverge. Muscle cancer, which primarily originates from muscle stem cells, is one of the common types of cancer in children. This type of cancer is known to have poor outcomes, especially when it occurs in adults. Recent studies have shown that the development of this muscle cancer is often driven by corrupted regenerative pathways, in the presence of cancer-causing DNA mutations. Notably, both muscle cancer and muscle regeneration originate from the same muscle stem cells. Applying genomic technologies to mouse models of both muscle regeneration and cancer development, we can obtain temporally-resolved molecular snapshots of both the regenerative and the cancer development processes. We have used this method to elucidate how regenerative signals drive muscle stem cell self-renewal in the normally regenerating muscle. We are further applying the same methods to see how some regenerative pathways become corrupted in cancer development to drive the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. Insights from these studies will expectedly shed light on how to selectively target corrupted regenerative pathways that drive cancer development, without affecting normal regeneration.

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Taylor Outlaw

Chemistry

Bass Instructional Fellowship: Teaching Assistant 

I am a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in chemistry studying the mechanism of copper toxicity in E. coli, specifically the effects of copper on the activity and structural integrity of GAPDH, a key metabolic protein. My work is at the intersection of inorganic chemistry (the study of metals) and biochemistry. My Bass Instructional Fellowship supported my experience as the lead TA for second-semester organic chemistry with Prof. Charlie Cox. In this role, I managed graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants and taught select lectures.

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Erik Peterson

Physics

Bass Instructional Fellowship: Instructor of Record

I study exploding stars, called Type Ia Supernovae, in order to better measure the expansion of the Universe. Over the past 40 years, supernova cosmology has focused on the analysis of optical light from telescopes. My thesis focuses instead on near-infrared light and takes advantage of the fact that near-infrared light is not as affected by dust. I observe these supernovae, which are millions of light years away, on a telescope in Hawaii, and I use the near-infrared light I see to measure both how far away they are and how quickly they are moving away from us. With this information, I am able to better characterize the expansion of the Universe.

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Samantha Elizabeth Phelps

Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health

James B. Duke Fellowship

I am a first-year rotating student in the Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health program. My background in biochemistry and neuroscience has led me to an interest in developmental neurotoxicology. It is well-known that the early-life environment can have reverberating effects on later-life health, and many studies have established the importance of the gut microbiome on human health. However, very little is known about the effects of the microbiome during development. For my future thesis work, I plan to use zebrafish as a model organism to study the effects of the microbiome on early-life development. I am honored to receive the James B. Duke Fellowship in support of my scientific pursuits. 


Mary Purcell

Philosophy

James B. Duke Fellowship

My main philosophical interests are in the history of philosophy, specifically in the early modern period and the Renaissance, with a focus on women philosophers. Within the early modern period, I am primarily interested in the works of Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), especially those regarding metaphysics. I am interested in the role infinitude plays in sustaining order and balance amongst parts of nature. My research aims at understanding the implications of her commitment to a robust sense of freedom in nature and the consequences of her materialism which says that all of nature is material, perceptive, and rational. Additionally, I explore her use of poetry, plays, and science fiction as vehicles for developing theories regarding metaphysics. Beyond Cavendish, I am generally interested in early modern works of natural philosophy, especially those including infinite world theory, theories of causation, and political philosophy. 


Muyang Ren

Economics

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

Researchers evaluate policy effects by estimating the causal effects of individual decisions (e.g., college attendance) on outcomes (e.g., future earnings). This is challenging due to self-selection bias, where high-ability individuals attend college more, potentially overestimating education's effects. To overcome this, instrumental variables (e.g., distance to college) are used to generate variations in individuals' decisions without directly affecting their outcomes. However, estimating causal effects in treatment effect models faces challenges, such as the weak instrument problem, where the distance to college may fail to generate enough variation in individuals' decisions to attend school. Consequently, estimators of causal effects (e.g., average returns to education) can be unstable and uninformative. I am currently developing new statistical inference tools to address this issue.

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Rosalind Rothwell

History

Julian Price Graduate Fellowship

My dissertation, "Intoxicating Things: Global Material Culture and Empire on British and French Coromandel, c. 1670-1757," examines how global maritime imports shaped the history of British Madras and French Pondicherry, two port cities on India's southeastern Coromandel Coast. Historians have primarily framed the early modern Coromandel as a region that produced exports but that largely did not consume items from other parts of the world. My dissertation instead examines the importance of global objects and intoxicants - like Chinese porcelain and New World tobacco - to the history of colonial Coromandel cities. It asks how the region's diverse Asian, African, and European inhabitants consumed and regulated these items, thus developing a regional colonial culture and economy. This project requires extensive research in museums and archives across the UK, France, India, and the US. It entails visual and material culture analysis of art objects and draws on written sources in English, French, Portuguese, Tamil, and Italian.  

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Bryan Rusch

Art, Art History & Visual Studies

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

My work examines the architecture, interior design, and tools of North Carolina's state-run medical system from 1865-1900. Through the lens of design and use, I am studying how idealized planning documents became actualized. Alongside architectural drawing and patents, I am cross-reading scrapbooks, poetry collections, and letters composed within the walls of the state hospitals of the late 19th Century. Through this variety of sources, I seek to examine how medical and design practitioners sought to create trust in modern medicine amongst their local constituents who would be unfamiliar with the rapidly changing standards of the discipline. These practitioners leaned on increasingly relied upon the ideology of objective technology to create reproducible medical outcomes as legible evidence of medicine's progress. Simultaneously, this period saw medicine's entanglement with the carceral and education systems as a transinstitutional network established to educate and rehabilitate the populous for modern life. 

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Naomi Samuel

Business Administration

Dean's Graduate Fellowship

My research focuses on how workplace appearance rules intersect with systems of discrimination, and the implications of individuals choosing to resist these expectations. In one domain, I examine violations of racialized appearance rules: the implications when organizational members violate these rules via their hair. I’m also theorizing about how individuals generally are perceived when they choose to deviate from norms with the goal of conveying social and personal identities—examining the mechanisms through which identity-based nonconformity could lead to positive organizational outcomes. Another part of my research focuses on how to attenuate resistance to policies geared at fostering racial equality.

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Ben Sarbey

Philosophy

Evan Frankel Fellowship

I study ethical aspects of the end-of-life experience, with the goal of improving the quality of life of dying patients. This year I have focused on the ethics of assisted dying programs as well as legal issues related to the definition of death. Assisted dying is a controversial but important part of helping some patients "die well," a concept that I have tried to explore in my dissertation work.

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Emily Shyr

Music

Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

My dissertation, "The Romantic Sublime in the Late Works of Franz Schubert" re-hears his music as engaging with the aesthetic of the sublime, and by doing so, dismantles the gendered binary through which scholars have understood his music and aesthetics. I show that Schubert's innovations in his late music expand upon received understandings of the sublime, what the German philosopher Immanuel Kant described as either the mixed feeling of terror and pleasure when encountering the formidable power of nature (the "dynamically" sublime), or the sense of wonder when contemplating the infinite (the "mathematically" sublime).

My project recontextualizes the intellectual and cultural milieu of the composer and his art and reassesses the gendered historiography that has obfuscated his clear engagement with the sublime. Bringing together musicology, philosophy, art history, cultural history, and gender studies, I broaden the ways in which musicians, audiences, and scholars perform, listen to, and interpret his music.

The Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship has allowed me to devote my time to writing significant portions of my dissertation. The time protected from other obligations has allowed me to refine older chapters, write new ones, and pursue a co-authored chapter with my advisor. Moreover, I have been able to spend time re-evaluating sources that have changed my methodology in one chapter, which immensely strengthened the chapter and improved its argument.

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Kirit Singh

Biomedical Engineering

Paul and Lauren Ghaffari Graduate Fellowship

Glioblastoma is the most common form of primary brain cancer and has exceptionally poor outcomes. While immunotherapy has changed the landscape in many other cancers, it has failed to date against glioblastoma. This is due to the unique environment glioblastoma exists in, shielded by the blood-brain barrier and shielded from the immune system. 

My research focuses on making brain tumors more responsive to immunotherapy, by either increasing the immune systems presence within them or by overcoming methods by which they evade detection. I work in both the pre-clinical and clinical settings, aiming to translate our laboratory findings rapidly to the clinic. This also involves the design and execution of surgical window-of-opportunity (SWOOPP) studies, where we can understand how clinical disease responds to treatment. This allows us to quickly understand whether drugs are having their intended effect or are being neutralized by a compensatory mechanism. I intend to continue my work alongside my ongoing medical training, aiming to translate new research findings into clinically deliverable strategies that can make a meaningful impact on the lives of patients. 

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Abram Smith

History

James B. Duke International Research Travel Fellowship

I study the early 20th-century Egyptian cotton industry, specifically processing industries like ginning, seed oil, and bale pressing. I examine how the organization of these businesses, their technologies, and their regulations composed the governance structure of a global commodity chain. These industries were responsible for the assembly of raw plant matter into graded, standardized, exportable bales of cotton. At the same time, they were sites for selective breeding programs, anti-fraud measures, and pest control campaigns that helped shape and market Egyptian cotton in the long term. 

Using these industries as a lens, my research examines the evolution of what constituted "Egyptian cotton"—botanical varieties, preparation and standards, and marketing—as world textile markets fragmented over the course of the World Wars and the Great Depression. The Egyptian ginning industry in particular reflects these changes. From 1905 to 1930, booming British markets for specialized cotton encouraged consolidation and centralization among the largest firms. But as more diverse markets for lower-cost cotton grew in importance from 1930 to 1952, the ginning industry began using vertical integration strategies and embracing standardization to secure a wider market. My work asks how these changes affected the governance of the commodity chain—what constellations of businesses, officials, experts plants, and machines decided what Egyptian cotton should be and where it should go. 

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Saman Sotoudeh Paima

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

The purpose of my research is to improve how we assess lung health using CT (computed tomography) scanning technologies. My focus is on the reliability of lung density measurements, a critical factor in understanding lung conditions, diagnosing diseases, and monitoring their progression. The challenge lies in the variability of measurement accuracy across different CT scanners, which can impact the consistency of patient care.

Recently, a new type of CT technology, known as photon-counting CT (PCCT), has been introduced, which offers several advantages over the traditional energy-integrating CT (EICT) scanners, including higher resolution, improved contrast, and reduced image noise. As PCCT is getting integrated into a practice using routine clinical scanners, we need to measure the consistency of lung density measurements within and between these two types of scanners.

Supported by the Domestic Travel Award, I have had the opportunity to conduct this research at four leading U.S. hospitals, including Duke University, all equipped with PCCT scanners. This journey offered invaluable clinical experience and the chance to collaborate with faculty and industry experts at each site, enriching my study. I am excited to present our findings at the 2024 American Thoracic Society (ATS) conference and am grateful for The Graduate School's support that has significantly contributed to my ongoing research at Duke.


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Laura Stilwell

Public Policy

Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

I am an M.D./Ph.D. student in public policy with a concentration in economics. I will graduate from Duke in May 2025 and plan to pursue a residency in pediatrics. Broadly, my research combines insights from economics, public health, and clinical medicine to examine how policies and interventions impact children’s and families’ well-being. As part of my dissertation, I examined how a monthly, unconditional cash transfer given to low-income mothers at the time of their infants’ birth impacted four key dimensions of housing important to children’s health and well-being: stability, affordability, quality, and membership. I also studied the impact of the same unconditional cash transfer on breastfeeding, child care, and maternal employment in the first year of the infant’s life.

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Leo Trotz-Liboff

Classical Studies

Ottis Green Fellowship

The Ottis Green Fellowship gave me the wonderful opportunity to focus on finishing my dissertation "Esoteric Philosophy in Rome" in the final year of my Ph.D. in classical studies. In the dissertation, I investigate how ancient Roman philosophers changed their manner of writing to navigate political and religious pressures that could result in persecution or even death. By providing a historical parallel, this study also sheds light on the difficulties in pursuing free thought faced by those living under censorship in recent history and today. I wish to thank the Ottis Green Foundation sincerely for supporting my research. 

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Stephanie Valdez

Marine Science & Conservation

Aleane Webb Dissertation Research Fellowship
Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship

In my dissertation, I am exploring when and how traditionally studied ecological factors such as top-down (i.e. consumer) and bottom-up (i.e. nutrient availability) forces alter a variety of coastal wetland plant traits that have often been understudied but likely play significant roles in future resilience to global change and conservations measures. Using a combination of field experiments and observational surveys, I examine a multitude of responses to these plant communities when top-down and bottom-up factors change from the status quo. More specifically, I focus on how consumers, such as grazing snails and insects, affect a dominant marsh species and how they change plant species interactions in the high marsh—a space likely to face major alteration with sea level rise and nutrient run-off. I also focus on how highly mobile, migratory consumers such as stingrays alter, and in some cases truncate the local range limit of highly valuable and at-risk seagrass ecosystems. Combined, these projects add insight into rapidly changing and threatened plant communities that shape coastal life and beyond.  


Santiago Mateo Villamizar Chaparro

Political Science

Dissertation Research Travel Award (International)
James B. Duke International Research Travel Fellowship

My research analyzes the political and economic effects of migratory movements in Latin America from both a historical and a contemporary perspective. With my graduate fellowships, I was able to go both to Colombia and Brazil to work on my dissertation. First, I was able to be in Colombia during the October 2023 municipal-level elections to analyze the conditions under which local politicians engage in xenophobic or integrationist rhetoric. Additionally, the fellowships then allowed me to travel to Brazil to collect more data on my project intended to study the long-term consequences of migration policies intended to "Whiten" the population between 1880 and 1930. The fellowships also allowed me to hire an RA to help me with the digitization of the historical data that I plan to make available once the project is concluded as well as present my work at some academic conferences.

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Carly Williams

Biochemistry

Jo Rae Wright Fellowship for Outstanding Women in Science
Paul and Lauren Ghaffari Graduate Fellowship

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, with one in nine men being diagnosed in their lifetime. The vast majority of prostate cancer deaths are due to metastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). The current frontline therapies for mCRPC are hormonal therapies, such as enzalutamide, which target the androgen receptor (AR). While hormonal therapies prolong the overall survival of men with mCRPC, acquired resistance to these drugs is inevitable in as little as two years. My dissertation research studies the use of small molecule inhibitors targeting critical DNA repair pathways utilized by prostate cancer cells to become resistant to frontline hormone treatments. By inhibiting these DNA repair pathways, the prostate cancer cells become sensitive to hormonal therapies again. This research offers hope to those fighting prostate cancer by providing a novel treatment regime and advances the frontier of oncology.


Yaming You

History

Aleane Webb Dissertation Research Fellowship
Dissertation Research Travel Award (Domestic)

I am a Ph.D. candidate in history and am currently writing my dissertation on the history of medicine and public health in modern China in the twentieth century. My research has primarily taken place in different archives and libraries in the US and China. The fellowships from The Graduate School have supported my various archival trips and my purchase of important historical monographs published in the early twentieth century in China. 

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Tatjana Zimbelius-Klem

The Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies

Dissertation Research Travel Award (International)

In my dissertation, I examine the role of music in the public sphere of 1920s Austria, with the goal of analyzing the political stakes of acoustic culture during this period. After the First World War and the fall of the Habsburg Empire, it became necessary to redefine what "Austria(n)" was and meant. I argue that music was used as a tool to (re)define an Austrian cultural tradition and to forge communities—from the Workers' Symphony Concerts in Vienna to performances at the Salzburg festival.

Because I am committed to investigating a particularly broad range of cultural objects and historical figures, my project places substantial emphasis on archival work, which requires me to do research on site. In the summer of 2023, the International Dissertation Research Travel Award made it possible for me to spend six weeks in Austria, doing research for my first and second chapters. I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity that the Graduate School provided for me.