Graduate Student Projects


1. Policy Paper and Oped
2. Translating Economics research: Wage inequality in China
3. Translating Economics research: Fairness and inequality
4. Translating History research: Devotional saints in Brazil and Peru
5. Writing Economic Development and anti-poverty Policy
6. Dissertation into creative writing, journalism, blogs, etc.
7. Reaching policy makers, think tanks, military leaders and other decision-makers
8. Developing curatorial proposal, exhibition reviews, other public art writing
9. Economics and Public Policy to a general audience: health policy in Asia
10. Professional writing in Financial industry
Undergraduate Thesis Projects
11. Health care and Public Policy
12. Graffiti and Street Art

If you’re interested in being a reader for one of these students, please email us at readerproject@duke.edu.

1. Policy Paper and Oped

I am a third year PhD student in Cultural Anthropology. My research is broadly about questions of energy transition, green capitalism, and large-scale technological change. Through a study of industrial wind farms in Southern Mexico and the engineers and policy makers who design and deploy wind turbines, I hope to shed light on the messiness of “green” technologies once they hit the ground.

I am working on a policy paper for the Woodrow Wilson Mexico Institute, which I hope to deliver to them in January/February 2014. It is a short 5 page paper about the wind energy landscape in Mexico and social challenges. This would be the first project I would like to work on. In addition, I see my research as part of a broader question about renewable energy, and see the field work I have been doing as speaking to so many issues confronting us here in the US. I would really like to write oped articles in the future to use my knowledge beyond the academy, and have some opportunities for more creative writing.

First project – 5 page policy paper for the Woodrow Wilson Center on the Wind Energy Landcsape and social issues in Mexico  Second Project – OPed piece on the rise of natural gas extraction in the US energy market and its effect on the renewable energy sector.

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2. Translating Economics research: Wage inequality in China

I am a graduate student in Economic Department, Duke University. Before coming to Duke, I earned my bachelor degree in Finance in Zhejiang Gongshang University in China. As a graduate student in Economics, my primary research interests are in the wage inequality and social inequality. From year 2011 to 2012, I led a project to examine the mechanism of economic openness on labor-demand elasticity and wage inequality between skilled and unskilled workers. This project was the only one in my undergraduate department to receive the government fund in China. My senior thesis further discussed how the social network can affect the wealth inequality in China through human capital accumulation. Outside the academia, I also engaged in and organized various student activities in my undergraduate study, including organizing student seminars, establishing student academic journals, and helping establishing alumni network system.

The opportunity to work with the real world issues is the most attracting fact for me to participate the Reader Project.

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3. Translating Economics research: Fairness and inequality

I am a Turkish grad student currently in the sixth year of Economics PhD program. My research area is behavioral economics, an interdisciplinary area between Economics and Psychology.

I’d like to practice talking to/writing to nonacademic audiences about my research – which I believe they would find very interesting (if can tell the story good)

My project is about fairness views towards inequality in income distribution. I am studying how beliefs about the system that generates income influence the fairness views. Specifically, I look at whether the system involves (1) agency, (2) procedural justice influences whether people find the income inequality fair or not.

I believe it would be most helpful to have a reader with professional experience in Economics, experience in journalism, and/or popular writing in economics related topics.

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4. Translating History research: Devotional saints in Brazil and Peru

I am a fourth-year PhD student in History at Duke University and a Baltimore native studying visual culture in colonial Latin America. Spanning disciplinary, linguistic, and imperial boundaries, my dissertation charts the dynamic process through which popular saints worshipped and/or crafted by or for populations of African and indigenous descent in Brazil and Peru, came to shape local Catholicism while coloring lay devotion throughout the Iberian world. My project asks: how and to what degree does the emergences of popular devotion to colored saints in Brazil and Peru, such as the Nubian Princess Santa Efigênia and the Luso-Hindu Saint Gonçalo Garcia, reflect processes of transculturation through which African and/or indigenous ancestral worship became grafted onto Christian devotion to saints, and with what consequences for both the missionaries and the missionized? How might the reception, appropriation, and transformation of Iberian images of saints by the multi-ethnic populations of Brazil and Peru reflect local ideas about sacredness and difference?

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5. Writing Economic Development and anti-poverty Policy

After graduating from Yale University with a B.A. in history in 2002, I taught high school English and theater arts in northeastern North Carolina through the Teach for America program, remaining an additional year. I then worked for several years as a journalist and news editor for an alternative weekly paper in Charlottesville, Virginia, before coming to Duke for graduate school to study modern U.S. history. I am currently in my third year in the program, working on my preliminary field work and dissertation prospectus.

One role that I would like to play with my professional career is to help translate academic work for a more general audience; I am also interested in conducting research and writing history that has relevance for real world challenges. Working through the Reader Project, I hope that the process will keep my scholarly language accessible to a broader audience and my research questions applicable and recognizable to policy makers and others tackling issues such as economic inequality and the challenges that our complex political economy presents to maintaining a strong democracy.

What I imagine would be most helpful would be to consult a reader regarding my dissertation prospectus, regarding the multilayered and often conflicting economic development policy for the former cotton belt counties of the rural U.S. South since 1965, tentatively titled “Kids are the new cash crop: The struggle for economic development in the rural South since 1965.” Roughly 25 pages, my dissertation prospectus will outline my dissertation research questions, the relevant academic scholarship that I’m building on or challenging, and my methods and research plan for answering my questions.

A reader with experience in crafting, critiquing, or lobbying for economic development or anti-poverty policy—at whatever level of governance—would be wonderful, or maybe someone working in business who is familiar with the issues of supply chains and site selection. Otherwise, someone involved in education policy or basically any kind of legislative decision making would also be relevant.

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6. Dissertation into creative writing, journalism, blogs, etc.

I study the intersection of race, religion and US Empire in the Spanish Caribbean in the History dept. My dissertation is about twentieth-century Protestant networks in the Dominican Republic.

I would like to participate in the Reader Project because in addition to my dissertation, I am working on a project that stems from my research on the AME Church in the Dominican Republic. I would like feedback on how to shape this work for a more general audience.

Since 2007, I have worked with the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church community in the Dominican Republic. This historic sector of Dominican society dates back to the first massive immigration of Afro-North Americans to Haiti during the years 1824-1826. Many of the black immigrants who migrated to Hispaniola during this time came from the northeast of the United States and were members or affiliates of Bishop Richard Allen’s A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, Mother Bethel. Today Dominican members of the A.M.E. Church’s 16th District find themselves at the intersection between U.S. black church traditions and social expectations for Protestants in the Dominican Republic, who now represent about eighteen percent of the population. Considering that Dominican national identity is typically linked to Catholic-Spanish heritage, this project studies the position of a Black Methodist church within Dominican society at large. With only 3000 members, the A.M.E. Church represents a minority of a minority. In what ways have historical changes within the church been a response to local and transnational dynamics? Do religious practices within the community reflect shifting discourses of race and morality in the Dominican Republic and the U.S.? These are some of the questions that I ask in my on-going work with the Dominican Conference of the A.M.E. Church.

I want to work on writing about this project in general–blog posts, more creative pieces, and/or an article piece.

I would like a reader with experience in creative writing, journalism, blogs, travel abroad, anthropology.

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7. Reaching policy makers, think tanks, military leaders and other decision-makers

I came to Duke’s Religion dept. having lived in two worlds, so to speak: as an academic (an MA student) on one hand, and as an author and journalist focused on human rights in the Middle East and Islamicate world on the other. Before commencing my MA in Near Eastern Studies at Washington University, I had spent nearly two years living in Egypt as a human rights researcher and freelance op-ed columnist. That experience made me realize the need for regional specialists to remain engaged with the broader public. That ethos has come to inform my work ever since, both during my time as an MA student, and the two years since, during which I have been based in Qatar (on a research fellowship I prematurely vacated), Jerusalem (for independent research), Indonesia (on a summer fellowship) and most recently Morocco (2012-13 Fulbright scholar). In my program at Duke, I focus on transnational histories of reformist Islamic thought, with a particular emphasis on Sufism. Academically speaking I know I am in an excellent position, insofar as I have some of the best scholars in the world willing to train and groom my work; my hope, though, is that I can find an intelligent way to augment my purely academic work with public engagement — particularly in a manner that can advocate for a more informed and humane policy toward the regions on which my academic research is so entrenched.

As I mentioned above, I began my academic career with the desire to combine solid and rigorous academic scholarship with informed engagement with the broader public. Thus far I have had some successes on that front through the prism of journalism; most recently, I have become an occasional op-ed columnist for Al Jazeera. Still, insofar as one of my primary goals in public engagement is to push for more humane policy towards my region of study (the Arab Middle East and South Asia), journalism may not be the most apposite venue to reach policymakers. This will require an entirely new set of imperatives, a different writing style, and a different set of publishing outlets, all of which I am at this point in time wholly unfamiliar. Through participating in the Reader Project, my hope is to learn how to channel this desire for public engagement into the more specific channels I would need to reach in order to influence policy at a macro level — i.e. reaching think tanks, military officers, policy makers, etc. With the right mentorship, I know this can become a reality.

I think readers in journalism would likely be helpful, but I think perhaps the most helpful readers would be those who themselves are in the policy community. Think tank directors, military officers, and other decision makers in these arenas would know how to approach the policy community as a subject matter expert, what publications to seek out for this purpose, and how to deliver the message properly.

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8. Developing curatorial proposal, exhibition reviews, other public art writing

After several teaching for seven years at an art university in Mexico, I decided to go get a PhD as part of the healing process of my exile from Cuba, displacement, and the fear I experience with the English language. After I entered the graduate program at the Romance Studies at Duke University, I began to sense the same fears, difficulties and low self-steam emotions I had experienced when I first recently arrived to the States as a Cuban refugee and entered the University of Iowa. Committed to overcome the sense of failure, I realized that my dream of writing in English was going to help me to heal the pains, the fears, the displacement and the ambivalence I have continuously experience in my life. It was time to confront the issues I had with English writing.  / Since I arrived to Duke University, I have made several attempts to attend the writing lab at Duke. There, I found out that graduate students who are US Citizen, even though their first language is not English, do no have access to Duke University’s writing lab. Even though I can write my dissertation in Spanish because of the nature of the Romance Studies Department, I would like to publish my research in English based journals, and possible write a book. / The opportunity to participate in the Reader Project will provide a much needed space for continuing my dialogue with English writing and to open new avenues for my professional development. At the present, I do no have access to communicate or share my written work with any professional or writing program at Duke University.  Having the opportunity to be part of the Reader Project will provide substantial knowledge and guidance for my future development, and will help me to overcome the fears of writing. English is my language of exile, as well as the language, which allows me to continue my professional development.

Since my area of studies is US Latino, Caribbean and Latin American art, I would like to develop curatorial proposal, exhibitions reviews, proposal for museum education, and artist interviews at the Reader Project.

I think a reader with a background in Art, Humanities, Philosophy, Fiction writing, and/or American Studies would be the most helpful.

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9. Economics and Public Policy to a general audience: health policy in Asia

I am a second-year PhD student at the Sanford School of Public Policy, concentrating in economics and health policy. I spent most of my life in Philadelphia, PA, but was born in Shanghai, China, and attended Shanghai American School for high school. I graduated the University of Pennsylvania in 2010 with a B.A. in economics and political science, and I graduated in 2012 with an M.S. in economics at Tufts. I am interested in researching how health policies impact individual behaviors related to chronic disease care and management, particularly diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, and how these behaviors may differ across socioeconomic levels. My primary region of interest is China and other East Asian or Southeast Asian nations. I am currently writing a second-year paper concerning the impact of health policies on chronic disease behavior among the elderly in China, and how these behavior changes are related to education levels and income of household members.

While I haven’t been at Duke for very long, my passion is to further connect research to information channels outside of academia. This is why I helped organize the GradX conference last year with the Society of Duke Fellows, where graduate students were required to present their research in a short, engaging, and concise format, with a focus on spreading their message to a general audience. This is also why I am one of the co-founders of the Duke Interdisciplinary Social Innovators (www.disiduke.org), which aims to foster interdisciplinary collaboration among graduate students across campus to apply knowledge they learned in classrooms to help nonprofits solve problems. My new focus is to improve my communication and writing skills, so that I can more effectively communicate my own research to the general audience.

A reader that understands a little bit of statistics or econometrics would be helpful. And someone who can help me figure out a more efficient way to blog. Otherwise I’m open to collaborating with anyone!

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10. Professional writing in Financial industry

I am a PhD student in Statistical Science at Duke University. I am involved in Bayesian statistics research with Professor James Berger. I focus on multiple testing problems on gene expressions as well as clinical trials. We have established Bayes and Empirical Bayes procedures on false positive rates of mutually exclusive hypotheses with arbitrary covariance dependence. My interests lie in the area of quantitative finance and large-scale inferences. I received his B.Sc. in mathematics from National Taiwan University. I was on the Dean’s list in college and received a Study Abroad Scholarship from the Ministry of Education, Taiwan.

I always enjoy reading Scientific American and technology columns on the Wall Street Journal, and admire those writers who can explain the latest scientific discoveries comprehensively for the general public. As a Ph.D. student in Statistical Science with one semester teaching experience in Calculus, I totally understand the difficulty of communicating with people who have an impression that math is formidable. In my opinion, teaching math in class is much easier than writing a scientific essay. In addition, I believe that explaining statistical meanings of a model or simulation results to non-experts will be part of the routine as a quantitative analyst- my ideal job. Therefore, I would like to participate in the Duke Reader Project to improve my non-academic writing skills so that I can play a role like those writers I admired do: elucidate complex math and statistics to everyone who is interested.

I would like to discuss cover letters, resume, personal statement with a reader.

I think someone with work experience in financial industry, in particular, quantitative analysts would be most helpful.

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Undergraduate projects

We are also looking for readers for two students who are writing their senior theses:

11. Health care and Public Policy

I am a senior at Duke University majoring in Public Policy with minors in Biology and Economics. In addition to serving as co-President of The Duke Association for Business Oriented Women (BOW), I am the Treasurer of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity and a member of Duke Business Society. Last summer, I interned at J.P. Morgan in Leveraged Finance, and I will be returning full-time after graduation. I have previously interned in Risk Management at GE Capital, Healthcare Financial Services, and in Public Relations at Revlon and Bloomingdale’s. I grew up in Westchester, New York and spent Fall 2012 studying abroad in Florence, Italy. In my spare time, I enjoy running to explore new cities, baking, photography, and volunteering with ill children at the Ronald McDonald House of Durham and Duke Hospital.   I will be joining J.P. Morgan’s Leveraged Finance team in the summer of 2014. I don’t have much clarity on where I am headed beyond this.

I am interested in the awareness and effectiveness of Duke University Financial Aid programs for uninsured Durham-area families with ill children. Because low-income families are often unaware of programs that exist to help them pay for healthcare costs, these children tend to seek treatment less frequently and subsequently present in worse disease states than children of higher income families. It is necessary to determine what impact healthcare costs have on the treatment and care decisions that the uninsured population makes. In order to do this, I plan to speak with people at Duke Medical Center that work to provide families with financial aid. The point of these conversations is to determine what programs exist, whom they target, and how Duke goes about informing their patients of these options. I then plan to conduct interviews with parents of patients in treatment at Duke Hospital, in order to better understand what they think their personal aid needs are and how well they feel Duke meets these needs through the Charity Care and Financial Assistance Programs. Finally, I plan to have conversations with families in the waiting room at Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham about their level of awareness of aid options prior to seeking treatment and whether or not their source of treatment has changed based on what they knew about potential costs. Ultimately, these interviews might help reconcile the gap between patients’ awareness of financial aid programs and their perception of personal unmet need. Furthermore, it will clarify whether or not patients’ awareness of aid programs impact their utilization of healthcare services. This research is intended to help Duke Hospital better serve their target populations and meet new legislative standards for community awareness levels.

I am looking for a reader with health care and pub pol background.

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12. Graffiti and Street Art

My thesis is focused on the way graffiti and street art interact with space.  I’m looking at not only the way artists re-invent the spaces they are working with, but how space influences (or does not influence) the way the viewer perceives the message of the work.  This includes thinking about artists who use both the streets and the galleries to show their art and what this does for their art.

I would be interested in having someone who knew about the subject, but it would not be completely necessary.  I am more concerned with forming a strong argument,and organizing my evidence clearly.  If someone is interested in the topic, that would be great.  My thesis schedule has various benchmarks for drafts of the paper (which is relatively short, maybe 40 pages). I would like to send a draft or two a month to my reader as the thesis progresses.

If you’re interested in being a reader for one of these students, please email us at readerproject@duke.edu.

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