Six Ph.D. Graduates Who Leveraged Bass Connections for Their Doctoral Training

May 4, 2022
Portraits of six students.
Top row: Axel Berky, Ethan Borre, Kathleen Burns; bottom row: Jaime Castrellon, Travis Knoll, Crystal Peoples

On May 7, The Graduate School will hold two hooding ceremonies for 2021-2022 Ph.D. graduates. Among them are numerous students who took advantage of the Bass Connections program to strengthen their dissertation research, coauthor publications and hone career-enhancing skills. Many students also engaged in other interdisciplinary opportunities across campus. Here is a quick look at six of them; congratulations to all of this year’s graduates!

Axel Berky, Ph.D. in Environment

Dissertation: Effects of Toxic Metal Exposures and Their Mixtures on Adverse Health Outcomes in the Peruvian Amazon
Bass Connections: Field Testing a Mercury Capture System for Artisanal Gold Mining and earlier teams

Axel Berky took part in several years of a project on environmental epidemiology in the Peruvian Amazon, leading to his dissertation topic. He also completed the Global Health Graduate Certificate and served as an Environmental Impacts Fellow and a Global Health Doctoral Scholar.

“What I did as a researcher was unique, being able to help design, analyze, collect and publish. All my time in the field helped me understand what it’s like living in another community, know what’s going on and ask the questions to help.” –Axel Berky

Axel Berky.
Axel Berky takes a water sample to measure the presence of any heavy metals and BTEX compounds from a natural spring in Puerto Luz, Peru. (Photo: Courtesy of Duke Global Health Institute)

Ethan Borre, Ph.D. in Population Health Sciences

Dissertation: Economic Evaluation and Research Prioritization of Adult Hearing Screening in the United States
Bass Connections: Evaluating Strategies to Reduce the Global Burden of Hearing Loss and earlier team

As an M.D./Ph.D. student in population health, Ethan Borre led two years of a project on hearing loss with The Lancet Commission, and was a finalist for the Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship. He also served as a Margolis Scholar with the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy.

Ethan Borre and Bass Connections team members pose for a photo.
Ethan Borre (front, in red shirt) with Bass Connections team members (Photo: Gillian Sanders Schmidler)

Kathleen Burns, Ph.D. in English

Dissertation: Vegetal Forms: How Plants Cultivate Life in Literature and Science
Bass Connections: DECIPHER: Decisions on the Risks and Benefits of Geoengineering the Climate and earlier teams

Moving from graduate student team member to team leader during her Bass Connections involvement, Kathleen Burns received the Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship. She also served as the graduate mentor for a Story+ summer project, Narrating the Environment Through the Humanities, and received a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

“Not only have I had the opportunity to meet and learn from a variety of experts ranging from famous atmospheric chemists to former U.S. ambassadors, I also have had the experience of helping build a team of undergraduates, graduates and faculty, [and] learning about ozone depletion has helped shape the topic of my dissertation project more than any other single source at Duke.” –Kathleen Burns

Kathleen Burns and her Bass Connections team members in front of their poster.
Kathleen Burns (kneeling, front left in white jacket) with team members and leaders at the Bass Connections Showcase (Photo: Beth Mann)

Jaime Castrellon, Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience

Dissertation: Dopaminergic Mechanisms of Individual Differences in the Discounting and Subjective Value of Rewards
Bass Connections: Using Neuroscience to Optimize Digital Health Interventions Across Adulthood and earlier team

Jaime Castrellon received the Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship for his work with students on a project to identify whether brain activity patterns can predict the influence of motivational text messages on changes in daily physical activity. He is also the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring, in part for his Bass Connections engagement.

“Jaime is incredibly passionate about teaching and mentoring ... He is committed to making sure that everyone he mentors develops confidence as a researcher and doesn’t just feel like a good helper. He seriously engages every student in data analysis and pushes them to read the literature and creatively make sense of results.” –Gregory Samanez-Larkin, Bass Connections team leader

Jaime Castrellon and fellow team members pose for a group photo.
Jaime Castrellon (third from right in blue shirt) with Bass Connections team members at a conference

Travis Knoll, Ph.D. in History

Dissertation: Liberate, Inculturate, Educate! Brazilian Black Catholics, Racial Justice, and Affirmative Action from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia
Bass Connections: The Cost of Opportunity? Higher Education in the Baixada Fluminense and earlier team

Travis Knoll participated in two years of a project in partnership with a Brazilian university, and served as project manager in the second year. He took his Bass Connections research further through a Student Research Award to trace the legislative, executive and judicial trajectory of affirmative action in Brazil as well as the links between racial justice policy and religious civil society organizations. Knoll served on the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council, received a Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant for an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, and made a documentary of Brazil's book revolution. He was also awarded a Kenan Institute for Ethics Religion and Public Life Graduate Fellowship, and worked with RTI International through a Provost Internship during the pandemic.

“Bass Connections has honed my skills in management, service and mentorship. [It] has gifted me with mentors and peers (faculty, graduate and undergraduate students), resources and the luxury of time to experiment, connect and learn through field experience.” –Travis Knoll

Travis Knoll with two men in Brazil.
Travis Knoll (left) with Dudu do
Morro Agudo and Antonio Lacerda in Brazil (Photo: Courtesy of Knoll and Duke Graduate School)

Crystal Peoples, Ph.D. in Sociology

Dissertation: The Significance of Racialized Networks in Contemporary American Sociology     
Bass Connections: SSNAP: Scientific Social Network Analysis Project

Crystal Peoples.Crystal Peoples took part in a project using the tools of modern network analysis to understand multiple aspects of science production, content and growth. Through the Purpose Project hosted by the Kenan Institute for Ethics, she was awarded a Race and the Professions Fellowship. She also received a Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant for an internship to understand and recommend improvements to the retention rates for students of color at Longwood University.

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