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Summer Research Snapshots 2015

Summer Research Fellowships

For summer 2015, The Graduate School provided 436 summer research fellowships to its Ph.D. students, totaling nearly $3.9 million in support. These included 262 guaranteed fellowships to first- and second-year students and 174 competitive awards to students in their third year or beyond. Here's a look at the work those fellowships supported, in the words of the recipients.

Click the links below to jump to the roundup for a specific Ph.D. program.


Art, Art History and Visual Studies

Nathan Bullock

The largest Chinese cemetery outside of China. It is to be destroyed by the Singaporean government to build a road.

I first audited a summer class offered by my department and did scanning with a professor. I then went to Singapore to do fieldwork and was able to research architecture and urban planning. I also met artists and activists and attended numerous meetings and events while also interviewing architects and architecture professors.

My participant observation in the current events was very exciting as the next election will be occurring in less than a month, and this year is the last year within the scope of my research.

Photo: The largest Chinese cemetery outside of China. It is to be destroyed by the Singaporean government to build a road.

Elisabeth Narkin

The main square, with the basilica of Saint Andrew (Sant’ Andrea), begun by Alberti in 1472, was a favorite stop on Elisabeth’s way home from the archive.

Thanks to the generous support of The Graduate School’s Summer Research Fellowship, I spent time conducting research on my dissertation, entitled “Rearing the Royals: Architecture & the Spatialization of Royal Childhood in France, 1499-1610“ at the Archivio di Stato of Mantua, Italy.

The Italian state archives in Mantua house an important collection of documents pertaining to the Gonzaga family. These manuscripts are essential to my dissertation, as one of the state’s young princes, Lodovico Gonzaga, was sent to France to be raised with King Henri II’s children in 1549. The almost daily correspondence of the little prince’s governor, chaplain, preceptor, and other staff to his mother and brother in Mantua provide a fascinating glimpse of the daily activities and ceremonial functions of the French court. The activities chronicled include mock tournaments, hunting expeditions, childhood illnesses, and holiday festivities, as well as Lodovico’s progress in learning French. Crucially for my study, these reports also frequently describe the architectural spaces in which these activities unfolded.

While working at the archive, I worked in their small reading room, where the very helpful staff advised me on paleography and suggested additional sources. After the archives closed, I enjoyed Mantua’s architectural (Palazzo Te, the ducal palace) and gastronomic (frog legs, pizza, seafood) pleasures.

Photo: The main square, with the basilica of Saint Andrew (Sant’ Andrea), begun by Alberti in 1472, was a favorite stop on Elisabeth’s way home from the archive.



Patrick Green

I study how mantis shrimp use their fast-moving strikes to resolve aggressive interactions. Last year, I found that mantis shrimp resolve fights by ritualistically striking each other on the tail (telson) in a behavior I’ve termed “telson sparring”.

This summer, I used my Graduate School summer funding to start research investigating the energetics of this behavior - how do mantis shrimp use these potentially deadly strikes during fights without killing each other? How much energy do mantis shrimp exert during a sparring interaction, and how does this match with expectations of behavioral theory?

To answer these questions, I take ultra-high-speed videos (at 30,000 frames/second), which I then digitize to find out how fast mantis shrimp strikes are moving and how much energy is exerted during a strike. These methods take a lot of trial and error, so it was very useful to have the time and funding to work out the methods of this research.

I also presented my first dissertation chapter at the Animal Behavior Society Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. My presentation garnered some press coverage, and I’m now finishing up the process of publishing this work!

I’m very grateful to The Graduate School for their generous support!

Tzu-Tong Kao

I am studying the leaf evolution and morphogenesis of ferns. My paper “Origins of the Endemic Scaly Tree Ferns on the Galápagos and Cocos Islands” was accepted by the International Journal of Plant Science. I also participated in the Next Generation Pteridology Symposium at the Smithsonian ( ) and presented a poster. I will take the 2015 Next-Generation Sequencing Short Course by Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics.

Irene Liao

Picture of Ipomoea lacunosa, a species of morning glories that displays traits associated with the selfing syndrome.

I am interested in the evolution of floral traits, specifically the loss of nectar in the evolution of the selfing syndrome, a group of morphological and physiological traits associated with the transition from outcrossing to selfing. I am asking this question in Ipomoea lacunosa (pictured), which is closely related to sweet potatoes.

Over the summer, I conducted some experiments to address what genes and other reasons could underlie nectar loss in I. lacunosa compared to its sister species, I. cordatotriloba, which has large pink petals and produces a lot of nectar. I collected floral measurements, including flower length, width, and nectar volume from the two species. I also dissected the nectary, the nectar producing tissue, and measured its size using pictures taken under a microscope. I analyzed gene expression differences in two possible candidate genes for nectar production between the two morning glory species.

Finally, I presented a poster describing the preliminary results of these experiments at the inaugural meeting of the Pan-American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology held at the University of California, Berkeley.

Photo: Picture of Ipomoea lacunosa, a species of morning glories that displays traits associated with the selfing syndrome.

Jessica Nelson

Marchantia polymorpha, my model plant

This summer, the Graduate School Summer Research Fellowship allowed me to complete four field trips to obtain plant collections for my dissertation and to attend the Botanical Society of America conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

The specimens I obtained this summer will form the basis for a large portion of my dissertation, which focuses on the interactions of a plant, Marchantia polymorpha, with the fungi that live inside it. At the end of May, I collected samples of this plant in the mountains of North Carolina. In June, I traveled to Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont to obtain more specimens and in early July, I collected in Kentucky. At the end of July, I traveled to Canada for the conference and participated in an American Bryological and Lichenological Society (ABLS) field trip in the Canadian Rockies, where I also observed the plant I study in a number of habitats.

I presented the results of my dissertation research thus far in an ABLS symposium at the conference. Directly from the conference, I traveled to Oregon and Washington to do more field work and visit with family.

Photo: Marchantia polymorpha, my model plant


Classical Studies

Mackenzie Zalin

The Summer Research Fellowship enabled me to complete a full draft of my dissertation on aetiology and historical methodology in Herodotus, and to participate in the summer session of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, an intensive six-week program designed for graduate students to experience first-hand the remnants of ancient Greece. I am grateful to The Graduate School for affording me the opportunity to make good headway with my dissertation and to undertake invaluable professional development.


Computer Science

Puneet Jain

In summer 2015, I extensively worked on my thesis and an ongoing project to conserve bandwidth for visual data offloading. We submitted our initial findings in the form of a poster in the MobiCom 2015 conference. The extended version of work is being prepared to be submitted to NSDI 2015. Moreover, I defended my Ph.D. on August 24, 2015.

Ruofan Xia

I have mainly continued my research on storage system modeling during the summer. I completed a major portion of research which will form part of my dissertation. I have also been improving my previous works (publications, etc.) and compiling them into parts in my dissertation.

As of the end of this summer, I am about half way through finishing my dissertation and have also made other preparations to defend in October 2015.


Cultural Anthropology

Yeongjin Cho

During summer 2015, I finalized my dissertation and did six-week follow-up field research in China.



Brenna Forester

A Weller’s Salamander peeks out of bag during field sampling.

Thanks to a Graduate School Summer Research Fellowship, I was able to complete field work in my Southern Appalachian study area this summer! This part of my dissertation is focused on Weller’s Salamander (Plethodon welleri), a range-restricted, endemic species of conservation concern, which is found only on a small number of peaks in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

My research integrates landscape ecology with population genomics in order to identify local adaptation and gene flow within species. These analyses allow us to better understand the capacity of species to adapt to changing conditions, and what management actions will be most effective to conserve biodiversity under global change.

Results from my research will be used to develop conservation management plans for Weller’s Salamander, which faces a number of threats including habitat fragmentation, climate change, and invasive pathogens.

Photo: A Weller’s Salamander peeks out of bag during field sampling.

Lydia Greene

Ferdinand the sifaka pulls on big brother Conrad’s tail at the Duke Lemur Center

I spent much of my summer conducting research at the Duke Lemur Center (DLC), collecting many of the fecal samples I need for my dissertation! This mostly involved following lemurs around in the forest and waiting for them to poop. I also finished up some manuscripts and some chemical analyses on ring-tailed lemur scent secretions that I didn’t have time for during the semester.

Because of this summer fellowship, I also had time to devote to educational outreach activities at the DLC including working with their Leaping Lemurs Summer Camp, and taking over their Instagram for a week to blog about my research. It was a very productive summer!

Photo: Ferdinand the sifaka pulls on big brother Conrad’s tail at the Duke Lemur Center

Ryan Huang

I spent the summer attending conferences such as Ecological Society of America (ESA) and Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC). In addition, I finished analyzing satellite data on the movement of sooty terns and am currently in the middle of drafting a publication on my results.

Kendra Smyth

I began my summer having just returned from seven months studying meerkats in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert. After adjusting back to “normal” life, I began the daunting task of validating two lab techniques that (I hoped) would enable me to study the immune systems of meerkats.

I got a short break from lab work in the first week of June when I participated in a NESCent Immune Memory catalysis meeting. It was a great opportunity to discuss new developments in the field and network with ecoimmunologists from all over the country. I took another break from the lab to attend a ‘Storytelling Bootcamp’ at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC. During this workshop, I got hands-on training from National Geographic photographers and videographers on how to use media to communicate my science.

By July, my hard work in the lab began to pay off, and I started analyzing the 300-plus meerkat serum samples that I’d brought back from Africa. The experiments were long (often starting at 7 a.m. and ending after midnight), but the summer was the perfect time to get this work done. I celebrated the end of a productive summer with the publication of a manuscript in late August!



Xiaomin Fu

I spent most of my summer working on my dissertation project on employer learning and statistical discrimination on the basis of marital status in the labor market. I use a nationally representative longitudinal data set NLSY79 for my analysis. I wrapped up my analysis towards the end of the summer and focused on writing for the rest of the summer. I also participated in a writing workshop which taught me practical writing skills and facilitated peer support in writing. I submitted my paper abstract to the 2015 Southern Economic Association Annual Meeting which is scheduled in November.

I am grateful for the Summer Research Fellowship which made it possible for me to fully concentrate on my dissertation.

Soroush Ghazi

I mainly worked on my research. Because of the fellowship, I had enough time to produce enough results for one paper and started working on a second one. I predominantly work on economic growth theory and market structure. One of the interesting results that I could show in the summer was that the sign of (total) firm entry might change as the persistence of the productivity shock changes. Also, my research provides more structure to discipline the functional form of the firm entry cost.

An important benefit of having a fellowship is that one can use the fund to attend conferences and seminars, and this is what I did during the summer. I attended NBER conference at MIT/Boston and their workshop on asset-pricing, which was very helpful for getting an idea about the future direction of the field. This is very helpful for setting one’s future research agenda, and I should partially thank the Graduate School fellowship for making it happen.

Finally, because of the fellowship, I could afford to spend some time on learning new computational techniques that are being used in the field in regards to handling heterogeneity. Also, I read and learned new theoretical techniques used for solving models containing stochastic partial differential equations.

In the end, I want to thank The Graduate School and the fellowship providers for giving me the opportunity to do it all.

Jose Martinez

This summer has been great. I had the opportunity to travel to Peru and Ecuador and collect data for two of the projects I am working on. In Peru, I had great meetings with different agents of the Ministry of Production and was granted access to unique sources of administrative data.

In this project, I am analyzing the introduction of property rights on the way firms procure higher profit and on the way they interact with each other. In Ecuador, my co-author and I were collecting our own data.

We have interviewed key information on 400 small traditional restaurants in Ecuador and we want to see whether a well-designed information campaign can boost the functioning of the high quality restaurants. All in all, a great summer.

Rudolf-Harri Oberg

I spent the majority of summer here in Durham developing my research interests and taking classes. I managed to get a fair bit of reading done and developed my research interests further. I also took classes in programming, which is a very necessary skill for the coming years. Very few things in empirical work get done with pen and paper, and many models require numerical solutions.

I enjoyed my summer, I had a great time and the Summer Research Fellowship helped to support that.

Da yang Su

We have a second-year paper due at the end of August, so I spent my summer mostly working on it. At the same time I equipped myself with necessary tools needed to become an RA in the fall. The award really helped me to focus on my research without worrying about getting a job to cover my living expenses.

Gina Turrini

I spent the summer editing my second-year paper (a requirement for my program) in the hopes that I might use it as the first chapter of my dissertation. I also spent some time thinking about what I will do on my dissertation and began to get involved in the planning and execution of some pilot studies (being led by my adviser with others) that will hopefully go into the field sometime this year.

If all goes well, I will use this data for my dissertation.



Thomas Manganaro

This summer I needed to largely finish my dissertation, as I am going on the job market in the fall, and I know there is not much time to work on the dissertation once that begins. I needed to revise my introduction and first and second chapters and also draft a fourth chapter. Because I had no other work obligations and was able to live off of my Summer Research Fellowship, I was able to accomplish all of those things. Further, I also created a shorter version of my second chapter so it can work adequately as a writing sample for the job market and as a potential article for publication. Lastly, in late August, I began to work on my job application material, including job letter, teaching statement, and dissertation abstract.

Sasha Panaram

The summer research fellowship from the Duke Graduate School enabled me to dedicate my time to preparing for my upcoming preliminary exams. In addition to reading and writing intensively throughout the summer, I also used the fellowship to support my visits to various museums and research centers in New York, where I spent my summer, like the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of Art. In particular, participating in events and conversations sponsored by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and viewing an exhibition entitled “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Works” at MoMA helped supplement what I was reading and allowed me to process what I was learning with the help of others.

Given that my research focuses on black expressivity and feminism in periods of migration in twentieth century black literature, I am grateful to have had opportunities this summer to participate in events that encouraged me to think about my research interests across disciplines.

Phillip Stillman

The Summer Research Fellowship from the Duke Graduate School for summer 2015 allowed me to accomplish a number of tasks toward the completion of my dissertation, “Social Organisms: Humanity and Biology in Nineteenth Century British Fiction,” and it gave me time to put toward my professional development more generally.

In addition to significant alterations to my completed first chapter, “The Human Organism,” I was able to produce a draft of my prospectus for the dissertation as a whole and take significant strides toward the production of my second chapter, “Evolution’s Monsters: Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights.” Writing this second chapter required extensive research into Darwin’s early, often unpublished writing on metaphysics and natural history, as well as a number of pre-Darwinian theorists of evolution including well-known thinkers like Lamarck and those who have been obscured since the time of their initially meaningful impact such as Robert Chambers.

Summer funding has allowed me to do that research, and together with my revised first chapter and prospectus I am now prepared to begin drafting the second chapter. I was also able to complete and present work related to my third chapter at the North American Victorian Studies Association’s annual conference in a paper entitled, “Edwin Chadwick’s Contribution to Contemporary Climate Change Discourse,” and to participate in a weeklong professionalization workshop associated with that conference.


Environmental Policy

Rubenka Bandyopadhyay

Bandyopadhyay at the UN headquarters in Geneva

Thanks to the generous support of the Alice M. and Fred J. Stanback, Jr. Fellowship Fund, I was able to make considerable progress on my PhD project this summer. In collaboration with Professor Dalia Patiño-Echeverri and Adam Cornelius, we modeled and assessed the effects of proposals made by the Midwest Independent System Operator to modify its electricity market operations to account for the economic value of increased system ramp capability. I am currently using the model to assess the benefits of increased ramp capabilities in power systems provided by hybrid wind-coal units with flexible amine-based Carbon Capture and Storage retrofits.

Also, in conjunction with funding from Duke’s Energy Initiative, this fellowship allowed me to accept an unpaid internship position at the Sustainable Energy Division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in Geneva, Switzerland. During this internship I performed an assessment of scope of implementation of coal-wind hybrid technology as an alternative source of electricity production in the UNECE region. This internship gave me valuable insights into the energy policy mechanisms in the UNECE member countries, as well as the opportunity to observe the protocols and modes of operation of an international organization focusing on energy policy.

Photo: At the UN headquarters in Geneva

Aubrey Kirkpatrick

During my first year, which is primarily coursework with a heavy load, I maintained a list of research ideas—interesting questions or unexplained economic phenomenon—that were worth exploring. During the summer, I attacked that list, spending a week on each idea, collecting data and developing theories. Unfortunately, none of them resulted in anything meaningful, at least not right away, but that’s the point of research. While no papers came out of the summer research, I explored necessary preliminary investigations.

Stephanie Stefanski

A southern right whale breaching off of the coast of Puerto Piramides, Peninsula Valdes, Argentina

During the summer, I worked on research with my Ph.D. adviser, Marty Smith, where I helped collect data on fisheries management in the United States. I then traveled to Roatan, Honduras, for a week as a representative of Cousteau Divers, to educate middle and high school students on marine species identification. The goal of the program is to instruct recreational divers on how to become citizen scientists by converting their everyday observations into a form of ocean health monitoring. We also became certified to hunt invasive lion fish, catching a total of 100 in five days.

I spent the last month of summer in Peninsula Valdes, Argentina, a World Heritage Site for the conservation of marine mammals, such as the southern right whale. My master’s thesis was an economic valuation of marine wildlife at the site, so I returned to share the results of my study and to meet with local researchers to develop research ideas for my dissertation. I also worked with a local whale watching company, Tito Bottazzi Whale Watch, in order to better understand the success of responsible, community-based whale watching in Peninsula Valdes.

Photo: A southern right whale breaching off of the coast of Puerto Piramides, Peninsula Valdes, Argentina

Faraz Usmani

a photograph of one of the individuals who was a part of our study and her brand new ACE-1 improved cookstove.

During the summer of 2015, I ran a pilot study under the guidance of Professor Marc Jeuland in rural Cambodia to investigate how monetary incentives can ensure sustained use of improved cookstoves.

Improved cookstoves have beneficial health impacts (by reducing exposure to toxic cooking smoke from traditional cooking practices in developing countries) as well as beneficial environmental impacts (locally, by reducing deforestation through lowering firewood consumption and globally, by lowering carbon emissions). While much work has looked at how the adoption of beneficial technologies such as improved cookstoves can be increased, relatively little research exists on how the use of these technologies can be sustained once the excitement surrounding the acquisition of the new technology subsides.

In our study, we aim to explore how offering rural households monetary incentives linked to stove use can help overcome some of the obstacles facing continued use.

Photos: This is a photograph of one of the individuals who was a part of our study and her brand new ACE-1 improved cookstove.


Evolutionary Anthropology

Lauren Gonzales

Hiking through the Andes in Peru.

The Graduate School’s Summer Research Fellowship has allowed me to both 1) focus exclusively on writing major sections of my dissertation and 2) conduct field work along the Amazon River in Peru.

During the first half of the summer, I was able to dedicate all of my time to finishing and then writing several sections of my dissertation titled “Intraspecific variation in semicircular canal morphology in primates and its implication towards locomotor evolution”. As a result, I should now be able to defend this work in the 2015 fall semester.

In the latter half of the summer, I traveled to the Amazonian basin in Peru, where I have begun to conduct field along the Madre de Dios River. During this trip, I scouted for fossil bearing localities from Early and Middle Miocene age deposits. I also established contacts and collaborated with several Peruvian graduate students with the aim of facilitating future research in the area.

Photo: Hiking through the Andes in Peru.


Bernadette Perchalski

Duke University campsite in the Bridger Basin of Wyoming.

This summer I, along with other Duke students and faculty, went to Wyoming in search of fossils as part of a joint research project with the University of Florida Natural History Museum. We focused on sedimentary sections spanning from the late Paleocene to middle Eocene (roughly 56-46 MYA), a time when modern mammal lineages like horses, rodents, and primates began to appear in North America.

After the field season I returned to Durham to conduct a locomotion experiment at the Duke Lemur Center. My proposed dissertation topic seeks to combine the early primate fossils collected in Wyoming with the studies of modern primate behavior to better understand how early primates navigated through complex arboreal environments.

Photo: Duke University campsite in the Bridger Basin of Wyoming.


German Studies

John Gill

I stayed in North Carolina and wrote an essay for a class I had taken in the spring semester and gotten an extension for. I also did a whole lot of reading in preparation for my third year in the German program, which is dominated by the creation of reading lists and preparation for the preliminary exams.

Heidi Hart

During this summer, I have been able to complete my research in Berlin, including finding important information on my dissertation subject, composer Hanns Eisler, in the Stasi archive. I have also been able to take the time to prepare several of Eisler’s songs from his Nazi-era exile for performance.

Duke summer funding allowed me to travel to New York City for this concert, part of the Word and Music Association conference, at which I also presented a paper on music and narrative. At the end of the summer, I have been able to draft preliminary materials for the job market this fall.

Thank you for the generous support and time to prepare for my final year in the Ph.D. program!

Annegret Oehme

The summer fellowship enabled me to continue working exclusively on my dissertation without teaching obligations from May to August and turn my research finding from the past months into a complete and finished chapter. By now, I have thus only one chapter left, and will be able to move forward quickly and defend my dissertation by May 2016.



James Nealy

This summer I flew to Moscow to work at two archives (GARF and ARAN) and the Russian State Library. There I conducted preliminary research for my dissertation. This experience was crucial for me because navigating Russian archives is not an easy task and because “open stacks” libraries in Russia do not exist.

But my trip was not only beneficial for understanding the logistics of doing research in Russia. I located some documents that will form the basis of a research paper that I will write next semester in a Research Seminar course. This paper will ultimately be a part of my portfolio, which I am required to prepare in order to begin writing my dissertation.

Claire Payton

Archival research in France runs on coffee and croissants.

Thanks to generous funding from The Graduate School, I was able to spend my summer in French diplomatic archives located in the lovely city of Nantes.

The documents I found there have opened up exciting new avenues for my dissertation, “Port-au-Prince, Cold War City: Dictatorship, International Development, and Urban Planning in Haiti (1957-1986).” The French embassy in Port-au-Prince reported regularly to Paris on the workings of the Duvalier dictatorships, Haiti’s efforts to secure international financing from the United States and international lending agencies, French business concerns in Haiti, as well as daily life in the capital. When combined with research based in the United States and Haiti, these reports offer a means of tracing the different strategies used by the Duvalier administrations to secure international financing to govern locally.

Photo: Archival research in France runs on coffee and croissants. Thanks GSAS!

Corinna Zeltsman

Thanks to a Summer Research Fellowship from The Graduate School, I was able to finish research for my dissertation, “Gutenberg’s Children: Making Print in Nineteenth-Century Mexico City.” Although I had completed much of my research in Mexican archives during 2013-14, over the course of writing my dissertation I became aware of new sources relevant to my project and identified some areas that would benefit from follow-up investigations.

In the beginning of the summer, therefore, I used my fellowship funds to travel to Austin, Texas, where I spent several weeks working in the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at UT-Austin. Later, I traveled to Berkeley where I consulted materials in the Bancroft Library. Both libraries have some of the richest collections of Mexican printed materials from the nineteenth century. In between these research trips, I also drafted a chapter of my dissertation.



Sophie Smith

A strip of border wall dividing the U.S.-Mexico in the Sonoran desert near Naco/Agua Prieta

The Duke Graduate School Summer Research Fellowship supported my work conducting participatory research in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. My time was focused on visiting and examining the rural context of immigration enforcement in the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona. In particular, I observed first-hand the impacts of modern border policing on isolated border communities in this increasingly militarized zone of the southwest US, including in the towns of Arivaca, Ajo, Lukeville, Bisbee, Patagonia, Amado, and on the Tohono O’odham reservation. I also conducted research on deportation practices in the walled binational border city of Nogales, Arizona.

The support for this research provided by The Graduate School has been invaluable, and I am currently in the write-up phase of a chapter on the subject.

Photo: A strip of border wall dividing the U.S.-Mexico in the Sonoran desert near Naco/Agua Prieta


Marine Science and Conservation

Tara Essock-Burns

The funding from the Graduate School allowed me to complete my writing and final work for my dissertation, which was submitted August 21. Without the support, I would not have been able to produce the writing that I was able to or move forward in a timely manner. Thank you for the support!

Julia Burrows

A plot of a whale diving (black line) into the prey layer (colors), as the layer begins to ascend near sunset.

The Summer Research Fellowship from the Duke Graduate School allowed me to focus solely on data analysis and writing for my dissertation research on the fine-scale foraging behavior of humpback whales in Southeast Alaska. Specifically, I spent my summer examining the relationship between the density of a shrimp-like crustacean called krill, the whale’s prey, and the diving and feeding behavior of humpback whales. I learned how to use Generalized Linear Models and how to make figures of my data in R software. I found that whales maximized their foraging efficiency by adjusting their feeding depth to the depth of the maximum prey density, in an effort to capture the most prey with each lunge (feeding event).

I am extremely grateful to the Duke Graduate School for their generous financial support this summer!

Photo: A plot of a whale diving (black line) into the prey layer (colors), as the layer begins to ascend near sunset. Each green dot indicates a lunge-feeding event. The color bar on the right side of the graph represents the density of prey, with warmer colors indicating denser prey and the cooler colors less dense prey.

Heather Heenehan

I study the soundscape of Hawaiian spinner dolphin resting bays. These animals use shallow coastal areas during the day to rest, and my work examines the acoustic environment of their critically important resting areas.

I really cannot express how much this research fellowship meant to me this summer or what it did for my progress, for building confidence and ultimately for my trek towards graduation in just 200 words.

What I can say is that having had 10 teaching assistantships during my first four years as a Ph.D. student, including two summer term TAs, I greatly appreciated this time to focus on and develop my research.

I am happy to report that from this time I am now a few days from submitting a paper, my first chapter. I now have a solid draft of my second chapter, a chapter that I will be presenting at the Society for Marine Mammalogy Biennial in San Francisco. I also now have all of the processing done for my third and final data chapter thanks to the time I had to mentor and work with an undergraduate student and even got the chance to start to analyze and develop that third chapter!

This summer fellowship kicked off my fifth and (knock on wood) final year in an extremely positive and productive way and I would like to say thank you for that.



Yan Chu

The generous summer funding from The Graduate School allowed me to spend the summer focusing on reading various topics in mathematics as well as connecting them to my previous studies.

I have expanded my knowledge on elliptic curves, especially about rational points on them. The structure theorems on elliptic curves shed lights on me about what operations we could have on those curves; this will prepare me into further research in arithmetic geometry. Such research could also be useful in cryptography, which I believe is a potential resource or field for my future thesis.

Lizzy Huang

I spent most of my time doing my research and thesis. I have read a couple of key papers related to my research topic. And since I had a lot of free time, I was able to get into deep understanding of my research area and have become an expert in this field. I am now applying the techniques I learned in the summer to my thesis topic and hopefully it would turn out to be a good theorem.

Summer is really crucial to Ph.D. students. I really appreciate that I could get a fellowship this summer from The Graduate School so that I didn’t need to teach, which would occupy a big amount of time as a graduate student. I hope The Graduate School can set up more fellowship for students like me, who are in pure sciences and who cannot easily find outside funding to support themselves during summer.

Jeffrey LaComb

My summer activities consisted of:

  1. Preparation for and completion of my oral qualifying exam.
  2. Completing an independent study on Morse Theory, which is a section of mathematics related to topology and geometry, and may prove useful in my future research if I decide to pursue one of these fields.
  3. Aiding with a week-long mathematical biology workshop hosted by Duke for undergraduate students from colleges around the U.S. Each undergraduate prepared a project with the assistance of a graduate student, and gave a presentation about their results at the end of the week.
  4. Preparation for teaching for the first time this fall.

Yu Pan

I spent most of the summer doing research on my thesis topic. I read a lot of papers, tried a lot in my research, and talked with my adviser. It is pretty helpful for me to have such a long period to focus on research without teaching responsibilities. I also went to the Georgia Topology conference at the University of Georgia from June 10 to June 14. It was a nice experience to talk to folks in the field and commute math ideas with them.

Dmitry Vagner

This summer, I was a visiting student at MIT working with the category theorist David Spivak and his postdoc Patrick Schultz. Our research, culminating in two arXiv papers, explores the relationship between doctrines (categories with extra compositional structure) and their corresponding graphical calculus. In particular, we establish several results that show that the category consisting of categories of a given doctrine and structure preserving functors between them is equivalent to the category of algebras over the operad that encodes their graphical calculus.

One cute example of this includes “the operad for operads”—which can be seen as an algebra over itself (us category theorists like meta). Such correspondences formalize the diagrammatic proofs that turn convoluted higher dimensional algebra into arguments that appeal to basic visual intuition. Applications of these diagrammatic calculi are manifest in knot theory, quantum logic, formal linguistics, and electrical/chemical networks.

Brendan Williamson

For most of the summer I prepared to start my thesis by reading some of my adviser’s previous papers on stochastic differential equations. I also read some books on similar relevant topics, mainly The Geometry of Markov Diffusion Operators. I participated in a study group with my adviser and other graduate students on some topics related to my future thesis, particularly stochastic differential equations on manifolds and Hormander’s Theorem. I also put some finishing touches on a paper I have been working on for some time, on estimating large deviation rate functions. I began to write another, much shorter paper inspired by some of the problems encountered in writing that paper, specifically studying the convergence of moment generating functions and when it implies convergence of the corresponding distributions.

For the remaining three weeks of the summer I went home. During this time I met with the person I have been writing the rate function estimation paper with. I also visited my old university to show my face and inquire (indirectly) about future job opportunities. I also began condensing this paper into a one-hour presentation that I will give in the beginning of October.



Sarah Bereza

During summer 2015, I completed revisions of two dissertation chapters, did a week of archival research, and presented research at the Biennial Christian Congregational Music Conference held at Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford, UK. This progress puts me well ahead of the timeline for my department—I will have two chapters submitted within a year of my prelim, whereas the requirement in my department is one chapter.

Karen Messina

I participated in the French for Reading course offered through Duke Summer Session. This course prepared me for taking my department’s required language reading exam. Whereas the last time I took the exam I only had barely enough time to get through the excerpt, this time I was able to finish the exam and still have time left over to review my translation and make improvements. Even then, I still had five minutes left in my exam time. I don’t know yet whether or not I passed, but I know the summer program made an immeasurable improvement in my French reading. Thank you!

Owen Richardson

“Tendrils” performed at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside

I spent this past summer composing two new wind quintets and pursuing performances of my music across the country. In June, I participated in the fresh inc festival at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, in Kenosha, WI. While in residence there, I received the premiere of “Tendrils,” scored for two flutes, two oboes, and bassoon. In addition, I was commissioned by the Kenosha Community Foundation to write a wind quintet for the Kenosha Symphony Orchestra’s Quintet. The premiere or the resultant work, “BEACON,” took place at the Kenosha Public Museum on September 12.

Also in June, I was invited to the nief-norf festival at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, for the premiere of my piece “Astrolabe,” which had been selected as a winner of the festival’s international call for scores.

Finally, Emmanuel Church in Boston, Massachusetts, premiered “Rough/Smooth,” a commission for chorus and organ, on July 19.

Photos: “Tendrils” performed at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside

Harrison Russin

My primary endeavors over the summer were related to language study. I studied both German and Latin approximately three to four hours every day. I also narrowed down potential topics for my dissertation. This mainly involved getting familiar with the secondary literature on my research topic—specifically, reading about Greeks who were living in Italy in the 15th century, and what impact (if any) they had on musical thought at the time.



Forgive Avorgbedor

I attended the 26th International Nursing Research Congress in Puerto RIco. I reviewed drafts of grants and literature I worked on in the spring semester. I also submitted an application for data set which I intend to use for my dissertation and obtained the data which is ready to be used. In addition, I did data collection for my adviser’s research.

Shaoqing Ge

This summer has been very rewarding. I continued to seek collaboration with a research team outside of Duke and finally got approved. The analysis is in process and a manuscript is anticipated in the near future. I also worked with my advisor on his project, which was accepted to present on the International Family Nursing Conference in Denmark. In addition, I further explored my research interest and have developed a better outline of my dissertation.

Mariam Kayle

During the past summer, I was able to focus on publications and preparing for my dissertations study.

I have coauthored a publication titled “The Adolescent and Young Adult with Cancer: A Developmental Life Course Perspective.” This paper was in a special issue in Seminars in Oncology Nursing, one of the leading nursing oncology journals. This paper summarized what is known about the impact of cancer and its treatment on the biopsychosocial world of the adolescent and young adult  

I also authored another paper titled “Evaluation of a Sickle Cell Disease Educational Website for Emergency Providers”. This paper presents a formal evaluation of an open-access, educational website, “Emergency Department Sickle Cell Disease: Crisis Management and Beyond,” which was created to provide education about sickle cell disease management to emergency department providers who are not sickle cell experts. This paper has been accepted for publication at Advanced Emergency Nursing Journal and is currently in press.

I also worked on a third manuscript that is currently being prepared for submission on the challenges that adolescents with sickle cell disease and their parents have and the work they do to shift the responsibility of disease management from the parent to the adolescent.

For my dissertation work, I worked on a grant applications and IRB application in preparation for my dissertation study.

Allison Lewinski

The Summer Research Fellowship from the Duke Graduate School allowed me to fully engage in activities pertinent to my research focus. With no service or employment obligations, I was able to accomplish quite a bit this summer that furthered my knowledge in my research focus. My primary research interest is investigating social relationships in computer mediated environments (e.g., virtual environments, text chat, etc.), specifically looking at how social interactions among individuals living with type 2 diabetes influence self-management and subsequently health outcomes.

My secondary research interest is identifying how social and peer support is exchanged among individuals living with type 2 diabetes who are interacting via a computer mediated environment. I also attended two one-week long intensive courses in qualitative research methods where I learned new coding and analyzing techniques. In addition to these classes, I wrote my proposal and published two manuscripts.

However, the biggest accomplishment this summer was that I successfully defended my dissertation proposal in July! All of these activities were possible because the Summer Research Fellowship provided me with both funds for living expenses and time to pursue these educational opportunities.

Tara Mann

This past summer I revised and resubmitted my literature review for publication. I also began writing a manuscript on my pilot study that was conducted this past spring. In addition to working on publications, I began a research practicum, as well as creating and compiling material for a distance-based learning class that I will be helping to teach this fall.

My last two weeks of summer, I took my preliminary examination and am waiting to hear my results. Overall, I feel this was a very productive summer experience.

Hanzhang Xu

This summer I did my global health field work in China as part of a Bass Connections project. I just finished phase II data collection in Shanghai. I want to look at older adults who have either mild cognitive impairment or dementia and see how they have been taken care of by their caregivers, what their living status is, what their health status is and what community services or other medical services are available. I also collected data from the caregivers to see their barriers and burdens while caring for the older adults. I did both quantitative and qualitative data collection because sometimes numbers can’t tell the whole story.



Lauren Bunch

I spent my time working on research for my dissertation (in particular, reading and writing on the concepts of authenticity and enhancement).

Bryce Gessell

I worked on preparing two papers for publication—one on an 18th-century French scientist named Emilie du Chatelet, and one on the science and philosophy of ion channels. I hope to be submitting these soon. I also participated in various psychology and neuroscience studies, read a lot, and worked on transcribing a recently-found work of Chatelet’s.

Sungwoo Um

Sungwoo Um's presentation on trustfulness at KPA.

The 2015 Summer Research Fellowship from the Duke Graduate School allowed me to make good progress in my research. The two main research topics during the summer were trustfulness and modesty. Trustfulness is a good truster’s virtue. This virtue, despite its importance, has long been neglected. Thanks to the fellowship, I was able to give a successful presentation on the nature and value of trustfulness at Korean Philosophical Association and share valuable ideas with many people.

Another topic I worked on is modesty. Modesty is widely accepted as an important virtue, but it is hard to give an adequate account of it because its typical features seem to conflict with general characteristics of a virtue. During the summer, I’ve been working on this topic and wrote a paper which argues that modesty is a proper evaluative attitude toward oneself in relation to others. I’m planning to submit this paper to a journal after some minor revisions.

I will continue to do research on important virtues and other normative issues. Many thanks for the generous funds that enabled to me to achieve those meaningful works during this summer!

Photo: My presentation on trustfulness at KPA.


Political Science

Andrew Ballard

This summer was busy. In May, I defended my dissertation prospectus. Since then, I have been working on refining my ideas and gathering data to improve the project, including gaining access to some restricted data sources.

I also attended a competitive summer institute for political science graduate students, which rotates campuses but was held at the University of Michigan this summer. Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models has a history of turning out successful academics and is a useful institute both for networking and improving one’s research.

I also took a trip to Europe for three weeks, visiting Ireland, the UK, and Italy. This was an excellent use of my time, even though it was mostly vacation. I was able to recharge and hit the ground running for this semester.

Lastly, I worked on a number of research projects this summer and will be submitting at least four papers to journals this fall as a result.

Haohan Chen

Over the summer I worked with my adviser, Professor Herbert Kitschelt, on the Democratic Linkage and Accountability Project. I worked on a political methods paper with Professor Kitschelt, on generating indices of political parties’ policy position, and an individual paper about how inequality associates with the linkage strategies of political parties.

In addition, I took a few online course on Coursera on data mining, text retrieval and analysis, and questionnaire design for survey experiment. I also attended the Causal Inference workshop held by the Law School at Northwestern University.

Victoria Dounoucos

For part of the summer I was a teaching assistant for the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute. Along with one other political science student, I was a TA for the lab for the introduction statistics class. This class focused on teaching students the basics of statistical analysis, the assumptions of linear regression, and how to analyze data in R in order to run these regressions.

The rest of the summer was focused on developing and researching my paper to be defended in the third year of my program. This preliminary exam is to be a plausibly publishable paper defended in front of a committee in one’s subfield of study.

Michael Hawley

I primarily did text-based research for my dissertation, which concerns the influence of Cicero on the political thought of the Enlightenment. I began writing the first chapters of the dissertation toward the end of the summer. I also completed drafts of a few articles to be submitted for publication.

Ida Hjermitslev

I participated in two summer school courses. During May and June, I took Math230, a probability course, which prepared me for the statistics course I am taking in the fall semester. During July and August, I lived in Berlin and participated in an intensive language course at the Freie Universität. The class met for six hours every day. Furthermore, I shared an apartment with two Berliners and thus had plenty of opportunity to practice my skills.

Between classes I worked on a research project.


Psychology and Neuroscience

Michael Barger

During summer 2015, I proposed and completed the first study of my dissertation. I was able to complete an IRB protocol, collect survey data in 18 summer classes, analyze the data, and design a subsequent study for my dissertation.

I was also able to complete my dissertation proposal. I submitted two conference proposals for the annual AERA conference based on this research and another project with student athletes. I also organized a symposium with other researchers around the world for this conference. Finally, I was able to work on a manuscript based on data collected during the previous school year and submit a manuscript for a theoretical paper to Educational Psychologist.

The Graduate School made it possible to complete a lot of work that will undoubtedly improve my chances of graduating on time and gain employment within academia.

Victoria Lee

With the assistance of the Summer Research Fellowship, I was able to focus my attention on completing the second phase of a three-part study that will be included in my dissertation. Specifically this study examines the effects of identity and social cognition on economic decision-making in group contexts. We collected data from over 125 participants and show that manipulating person perception can reduce group biases. Next, we will be examining individual differences that lead to prosocial behavior and whether the effects carry over to more complex social interactions.

In addition, the summer fellowship allowed me to work on writing over the summer. I added another publication to my CV and started working on my dissertation, which will look at how different social contexts engage social cognitive processes to different extents and in turn affect economic decision-making.

Thanks to the generous funding from the Graduate School and the Jess & Minnie Brady Jaffrey College Scholarship Fund this summer has been very productive for me.

Hannah Moshontz

This summer I conducted preliminary research which I hope will serve as the foundation for my master’s thesis and eventually my dissertation. We sought to better understand individual differences in goal disengagement (or, colloquially: how winners quit). Do successful self-regulators (e.g., people who possess grit, who have great capacity for self-control, who tend to consider future consequences) stop pursuing goals for different reasons than their less skilled counterparts?

We designed online studies to address this question and found that although skilled self-regulators were no more or less likely to stop pursuing various mundane and consequential goals than less-skilled self-regulators, they did so for different reasons. Rather than disengaging because a goal proved too challenging or because they weren’t enjoying themselves, skilled self-regulators seemed to disengage from goals they felt no longer served them and from goals that prevented them from reaching other, more important goals. We have applied to present our findings to the Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology next January.


Public Policy Studies

Mercy DeMenno

I used the summer research funding to collect and analyze data for a project on stakeholder participation in the regulatory process. Having the funding allowed me dedicated time to refine my research design and collect the required data, which I was unable to do during the academic year. The data collected will be used to support a degree requirement (a second-year empirical paper) and will inform my dissertation prospectus.

Amy Finnegan

Sunrise over Borobudur Temple, Central Java, Indonesia.

I used my Summer Research Fellowship to visit Indonesia for a second time. I spent two months in Yogyakarta, Central Java, making new professional contacts, gathering program documents for my dissertation, and practicing my Indonesian with cab drivers and food peddlers. It’s odd to see a white foreigner in Indonesia (especially one who can speak the local language). Many people commented on how lucky I am to be able to travel so far alone and I know it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of The Graduate School. I spent the remainder of my summer in Durham, where I capitalized on the energy and momentum I gained in Indonesia to finish work on my job-market paper and prepare for the job market.

Photo: Sunrise over Borobudur Temple, Central Java, Indonesia. You don’t always have to get up that early in the morning to see how beautiful Indonesia really is!

John Holbein

I continued my dissertation work studying how we can increase low and unequal levels of voter turnout in the United States. I started a new project that explores whether intervening when children are very young to teach them general life skills can have long run effects on their rates of civic participation. I found that they could, and that increasing civic participation may be more about teaching children general skills--such as the ability to regulate their behavior and work in group settings—rather than teaching knowledge and facts about government and politics.


Religious Studies

Eric Chalfant

I visited the Charles E. Stevens American Atheists Library and Archive at the American Atheists Headquarters in Cranford, New Jersey. There, I collected materials vital to two chapters of my dissertation: First, original copies of 19th-century Freethought periodicals published by DM Bennett and E Haldemann-Julius and containing the cartoons of Watson Heston. Second, primary source materials related to Robert Harold Scott’s pioneering atheist radio broadcast of 1946 and Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s American Atheists radio program broadcast in the 1960s and 70s.

Emanuel Fiano

I have used the Kearns Summer Research Fellowship to support the writing of my dissertation. It examines the relevance of the fourth-century Trinitarian controversy, which concerned the ways in which God relates through a second principle to the created universe, for the “parting of the ways” between Christianity and Judaism. In analyzing these disputes I focus on the Roman province of Syria, where Christianity’s ties to local Judaism exemplify patterns of interaction throughout the eastern Roman Empire.

Alivelu Nagamani

The ferocious deity Kala Bhairava (a form of Shiva) at the Svayam Siddha Kali Peetham in Guntur, Andhra.

Thanks to the summer funding, I was able to wrap up the remaining portions of my ethnographic fieldwork. I traveled to towns in Andhra and Telangana, India, to meet with advanced practitioners of mantras in both vedic and tantric fields. Some of the towns I visited included Vishakapatnam, Guntur, Chandole, Rajahmundry, Vijayawada, and Basara.

I was also able to reside at some of these religious centers to participate along with others in intensive mantra-sadhana (practice of mantras). This is a crucial part of my methodology of immersion and insider ethnography.

Photo: The ferocious deity Kala Bhairava (a form of Shiva) at the Svayam Siddha Kali Peetham in Guntur, Andhra.

Julie Newberry

During the summer of 2015, I made significant progress toward fulfilling the research language requirements for my program. I passed my French exam at the beginning of the summer, and then I began to learn German by means of an online course through the Erasmus Academy.

In addition to studying German, I finished an incomplete from spring 2015 and had the opportunity to do some reading in my field that I had not had time to do during the summer. I believe this will be helpful as I move into the new semester and look toward forming a committee later this year and drawing up a reading list for my preliminary examinations.

Jeffrey Nicolaisen

Boddhisattva at Sunrise, Dharma Drum Mountain

I conducted preliminary dissertation research on Taiwanese Buddhist environmentalism. I am planning to do an anthropological study on how Buddhism affects views toward the environment in Taiwan, especially in relation to animals. My focus for the summer was to do the background research necessary to make a dissertation research plan and begin applying for research funding. I stayed at the World Education Center of the Buddhist organization Dharma Drum Mountain, which promotes spiritual environmentalism. I also made connections with the animal welfare group Life Conservationist Association, which was founded by a Buddhist nun.

Finally, I visited a community of indigenous people to learn about alternative ecological views to the more mainstream Buddhist views. While in Taiwan, I also took the opportunity to attend two academic conferences, where I was able to make important connections with scholars in my field. In my remaining time, I was able to complete two research fellowship applications, translate an essay by one of the key Buddhist environmental activists in Taiwan for an upcoming edited volume, and take a course on reading Chinese Buddhist texts at Dharma Drum Institute for the Liberal Arts.

Photo: Boddhisattva at Sunrise, Dharma Drum Mountain

Nicholas Wagner

During the first part of my summer (May-June) I was studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary. While there, I took a course on the Babylonian Talmud. For the remainder of the summer (June-August) I was studying Modern Hebrew at Middlebury College’s Summer Language School. I did the former course to deepen my background in the literature of rabbinic Judaism, since we have only one scholar at Duke who works with these materials.

The Middlebury’s Summer Language Program helped advance my skills in Modern Hebrew. The language is one of my modern research languages, thus I wanted to secure a higher level of proficiency before moving forward in my doctoral program.



Brian Aronson

I dedicated my summer to working on four different papers. I spent significant time revising a paper for publication, regarding the generalizability of exchange theory on social solidarity. I worked on fixing up a rough draft of another paper about how peer influence is correlated to diagnosis of ADHD, suggesting that some basic diagnostic batteries ought to be reworded. This required expanding my methods through learning how to implement a Simulation Investigation for Empirical Network Analysis (SIENA) through R. I continued a couple of collaborative projects regarding advanced methods (topic modeling, classifier/machine learning algorithms, etc.) for studying cultural production, and a collaborative project about data synthesis via multiple imputation in SAS. Also, I spent a sizable chunk of time planning out my dissertation proposal, narrowing down the topics and specific questions I want to study, and picking my dissertation committee.

Jarron Bowman

I conducted literature reviews related to economic sociology and the political power of US corporate elites in preparation for a research paper I will write this school year.

Joshua Bruce, 2014

During May, I was a visiting doctoral fellow at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences in Bremen, Germany. I presented research I had conducted at Duke during the prior year, received feedback from faculty and other graduate students, and began working on a paper with another doctoral student at BIGSSS. I also presented research at the Sixth Annual Mary Douglas Seminar at University College London.

When I returned to Durham, I used my time to work on two departmental essay exams, which were turned in at the end of the summer. I also worked on an empirical paper, which I presented at the annual American Sociological Association conference.

Jacob Fisher

Thanks to support from the summer fellowship, I was able to prepare my job-market materials, complete a substantial amount of work on my dissertation, and submit two papers for publication.

Without the extra time afforded by the summer fellowship, I would not have had time to carefully prepare my job market materials, which would have made me a worse candidate for academic jobs. Thank you very much!