Summer Spotlights: How Four Ph.D. Students Advanced Their Research

October 22, 2021
Summer Research Snapshots.From Durham to Alaska to Gabon to ... Mars?

Making the most of the summer, Duke Ph.D. students took research trips or found alternative means of conducting research, accessing source material, making progress on their dissertations, and gaining new skills and experiences.

Take a look at how four doctoral students integrated Bass Connections into their summer research, and read about more fellowship-supported pursuits on The Graduate School’s website.

Jessica Coleman, Psychology & Neuroscience

Bass Connections: Promoting Psychological Adjustment and Pelvic Health Among Female Cancer Survivors

Jessica Coleman.With generous funding from The Graduate School, I was able to make substantial progress on my dissertation research that focuses on promoting adaptive coping among female patients undergoing invasive and stressful medical care. I conducted remote interviews with female cancer survivors about their experience of genitally invasive cancer care, pelvic radiation and genito-pelvic side effects. Conducting these interviews informed the refinement of my dissertation intervention pilot over the summer, which will be tested during the 2021-2022 academic year.

I also began to lead a Bass Connections team—Promoting Psychological Adjustment and Pelvic Health Among Female Cancer Survivors—that is collaborating on the development of two interventions, including my dissertation pilot. I mentored and collaborated with team members on qualitative data analysis and the creation of patient materials for my intervention. Lastly, I submitted and revised multiple manuscripts for publication.

Gregory Larsen, Marine Science & Conservation

Bass Connections: Biogeographic Assessment of Antarctic Coastal Habitats

Gregory Larsen.With the support of the Duke Graduate School’s Summer Research Fellowship, this summer was a very productive period for several projects that are part of my dissertation research and early career development.

In the early summer I completed a manuscript for one of my dissertation chapters, modeling spatial behavioral ecology of seals and sea lions in an Alaskan coastal habitat, and my co-authors and I are now preparing the draft for journal submission.

I was also able to complete data processing and preliminary analyses of a major dataset of drone surveys from my field work in Antarctica, which will constitute the third and possibly fourth chapters of my dissertation and will also support a Bass Connections course that I am teaching this fall and spring. This summer support also enabled me to prepare curriculum materials for the course and the additional student research projects that will emerge from it.

Finally, this summer I was able to assist collaborators with seabird surveys in southeast Alaska, and assemble a repository of regional Antarctic drone and satellite remote sensing datasets for both my own research and another project with collaborating Antarctic scientists. All of these projects advanced my own research efforts and have given me valuable opportunities to connect with peer scientists in the polar and near-polar research communities.

Halina Malinowski, Ecology

Bass Connections: Impact of Declining Animal Populations on Tropical Forests

Halina and Jean in Gabon.
Halina Malinowski (right) and research assistant Jean measure tree diameter in Ivindo National Park in Gabon.

This past summer I had the incredible opportunity to conduct research abroad in Gabon with various members from my lab and Gabonese colleagues. We worked in Ivindo National Park as part of the Poulsen lab’s Bass Connections project and NSF Pachyderms to Pathogens project.

Together, we established three sites within the park entailing a paired plot design of two 50x50-meter plots along a defaunation gradient to measure the impacts of defaunation on ecosystem services. We did this by establishing exclosure plots for herbivores of various sizes (small, medium and large), carrying out in-depth forest measurements, and deploying camera traps. Within each plot we identified and measured all trees above 1.5 meters for their height and diameter at breast height. We also began pilot studies to examine seed predation and germination success on specific elephant dispersed and non-elephant dispersed tree species.

This vast dataset will be used to evaluate how anthropogenic impacts causing decreases in animal populations in tropical forests affect the ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, seed dispersal and provisioning services.

This incredible experience has laid the groundwork for my Ph.D. research, which will continue to work alongside these projects with further emphasis on seed predation, seed-dispersal, and long-term impacts of the loss of megaherbivores in the tropics. Additionally, I was able to practice and greatly improve my French language skills, which are essential for my Ph.D. research in Gabon.

Somia Youssef, Political Science

Bass Connections: Going to Mars — Science, Society and Sustainability

Sowmia Youssef.In the summer of 2021, I focused on three main goals: The first was recording how my dissertation topic is evolving throughout my research process, taking note in particular of useful skills I need to improve the quality of work I produce. For instance, I began learning how to code and exploring different methodologies that may allow me to better answer the research questions of my dissertation. This allowed me to revisit my dissertation plan, adapt it to reflect the changes, and fine-tune the outline I am following to organize the compiled research in the time I have.

Second, I worked as a research assistant on a Bass Connections project to coordinate the production of a policy report and public-facing website with an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty, reflecting the fruit of a long-year effort of studying humanity’s ventures into outer space, and in particular, on going to Mars.

My third goal was prioritizing my health and wellness by participating in group coaching, making good use of the resources available to me to cultivate better and healthier habits as an academic and professional, and realizing the profound effect self-care has on the quality of research I produce.

Summer Research Snapshots on The Graduate School website.

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