Dissertation Sampler: 2014

Laney Graduate School

Doctoral education at Emory, a top national research university, provides the creation and transmission of new knowledge to the next generation of intellectual leaders. Students at Emory's Laney Graduate School are future intellectual leaders who will affect society.

Emory encourages scholarship about solutions to pressing and complex public issues -- scholarship that takes risks, challenges conventions and crosses the boundaries of academic disciplines to reach outside the university and make a difference in the world.

Browse this page to read how selected 2014 PhD recipients describe their research and its impact. For more topics, review the full Doctor of Philosophy list and refer to the Electronic Theses and Dissertations database.

Ana E. Schaller de la Cova

Ana Schaller de la CovaDissertation: Secular and Islamic Schooling in Senegal: Reconfiguring Knowledge and Opportunity in Uncertain Times

Adviser: Bruce M. Knauft, Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Anthropology

Simplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research to friends

My research examines the role of Islamic and secular schools in helping urban Senegalese youth navigate life's challenges in times of economic instability. It is based on 22 months of anthropological fieldwork in Dakar, Senegal's capital city. In this former French colony and largely Muslim nation, education both enables people in the pursuit of their life goals and engenders considerable frustration and disillusionment when it fails to connect youth to work opportunities. This fundamental duality of schooling challenges the received notion that education in the developing world is the key to national prosperity and to the realization of individual success.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact

Amid all sorts of misinformation and rhetoric about globalization, Islamic education, and youth in the developing world, I hope my research shows that the reality of people's experience is more complicated and contradictory. We need to look more critically at how knowledge is understood and used and face its contradictions, gaps and inequities head on. Education could be a much more positive force if pedagogy was revised to value greater student participation and emphasize on dialogic forms of knowing. To this I would add the ethos of pragmatic improvisation -- known in Senegal as "goorgoorlouisme" -- that was the touchstone of my research in Dakar, Senegal.

What I'm doing after graduation

Lecturer in History and International Studies at Portland State University; Follow-up research in Senegal

Liz Cummins

Liz CumminsDissertation: Word, Object, Image: The Bed as a Sign in New Kingdom Egyptian Art

Adviser: Gay Robins, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Art History

Simplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research to friends

I examine the bed as word, object and image in New Kingdom Egypt (1550-1077 BC) in order to explore the bed's function within the conceptual structure of ancient Egyptian art. Like many western cultures today, the Egyptians associated the bed with the concepts of sleep, death and sexual activity, but the framework in which it was comprehended was quite different from today. I argue that the bed signaled to the viewer that the occupant was in a transitional state, and the ultimate function for the sign of the bed was to aid in the rebirth of its occupant.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact

This research examines the division between text and image in ancient Egyptian culture, which is often difficult to define due to the figurative nature of hieroglyphs. There have been partial examinations of this division by Egyptologists but the parameters have not yet been fully considered. This dissertation contributes to this discussion by taking a single concept (the bed) and exploring its multiple visual manifestations.

What I'm doing after graduation

Continuing to study and teach art history in the classroom and online

Ana West

Ana WestDissertation: Elasticity and Structure of Self-Assembled Systems with Defects and Inclusions

Adviser: James T. Kindt, Professor of Chemistry

Simplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research to friends

"Self-assembly" is a fascinating concept in science. Under certain conditions, biological molecules have a significant "stickiness" and the ability to find each other to spontaneously create complex function reversible materials. The lipid bilayer component of membranes enclosing all living cells is lipid molecule self-assembly. My dissertation contains theory and simulation characterizations of three self-assembled systems. I studied:

  • If calculated edge tensions, forces needed to repair porated lipid bilayers, correlate with lipid tail structure
  • Properties of different phase lipid membranes that incorporate quantum dots, highly sought optical probes in biomedical imaging
  • How protein hydrogel network structure and topological defects affect hydrogels' dynamic and elastic response.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact

Simulation investigations and new theory provide insight and means for interpretation of puzzling physical results. For example, protein hydrogels, jello-like materials, self-assemble from peptides into network structures. Synthesizing hydrogels of precise mechanical strength and dynamic response proved challenging. Measured shear plateau moduli (Go), quantity that describes mechanical strength, strongly deviated from theoretical predictions that propose linear relationships in number of linkers (NL). We design simple simulation models and calculate the elastic and dynamic response. A 1% (one percent) stoichiometric mismatch in mixing peptides leads to sharp decrease in shear relaxation time. A new theory that connects findings of various simulation instances is proposed and accounts for the non-linear Go vs. NL relationship.

What I'm doing after graduation

Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Mercer University

Lisa Staimez

Lisa StaimezDissertation: The Pathophysiology of Diabetes and Prediabetes: Understanding the Relative Roles of Impaired Beta-Cell Function and Insulin Resistance in Asian Indians

Adviser: K.M. Venkat Narayan, Ruth and O.C. Hubert Chair of Global Health

Simplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research to friends

Type 2 diabetes is a wide-reaching, global disease, strongly linked to obesity, unhealthy nutrition and physical inactivity. Both insulin resistance and beta-cell dysfunction are known causes of the disease, yet questions exist regarding the roles of these two factors in the pathway leading to diabetes. This study examined 1,285 individuals without known diabetes who were screened in the Diabetes Community Lifestyle Improvement Program in Chennai, India. We found decreases in beta-cell function were marked, even in people with normal blood glucose levels; and beta-cell dysfunction is a critical factor for disease development, above and beyond insulin resistance.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact

Data from this large, community-based study of Asian Indians suggest that reduced beta-cell function is prominent at glycemic levels that are clinically defined as "healthy." Beta-cell dysfunction may be a very early indicator of prediabetes or diabetes later in life. This work will help identify new, innovative ways to preventing diabetes in the growing number of people worldwide who are developing the disease.

What I'm doing after graduation

Postdoctoral fellowship

Bonus info

Lisa won the first Emory University Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition with this work.

Daniel Shapiro

Dissertation: The Relationship Between Cortisol and Cognitive Functions in Individuals at Clinical High-Risk of Developing Psychosis

Adviser: Elaine Walker, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Simplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research to friends

My research aims to identify factors that predict the onset of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. I studied individuals who are at high risk for developing schizophrenia, based on the presence of biological risk or sub-threshold symptoms. My study found evidence of increased activity of the biological stress-response system at baseline, as well as deficits in cognitive difficulties, both of which are found in those who have already developed a psychotic disorder. There was a small relationship between this type of dysregulation of the stress-response system and poorer cognitive functions, particularly higher order types of thinking.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact

This research is part of a large, nationwide study, led by Walker and colleagues. The aim is to better understand how severe mental illness develops and to determine how to prospectively identify young people who will go on to develop schizophrenia later in life. Through early identification, we hope to begin treatment early and improve the course of illness or even prevent it in the first place. This study suggests that cognitive difficulties and increased activity of the body's stress response system predate the onset of schizophrenia and that this dysregulation may play a role in exacerbating cognitive difficulties.

What I'm doing after graduation

Postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania

Sonal Gersappa Nalkur

Dissertation: Moving Newspapers Online: Newspaper Diversification and Viability (1990-2010)

Adviser: Timothy J. Dowd, Professor of Sociology

Simplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research to friends

Traditional print newspapers have not thrived in the digital age. The number of print newspapers ceasing operations in recent years has increased just as the number of online news sources has increased. The primary goal of my dissertation was to better understand the role newspapers have played in creating the complex world of online news and how their involvement, in turn, may have affected their own viability. I take both qualitative and quantitative historical approaches to better understand the "launch" of innovation in the news industry.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact

As daily newspapers find survival increasingly difficult, the preservation of news as a public good is essential in an ever-changing media landscape. What I found was that successful digital innovation in news organizations depended upon the timing of change, as well as the previous successes and failures of the organization. Historical factors tell us that the demise of newspapers is not merely a function of "supply and demand," so much as it is powerfully influenced by the changing behaviors of audiences and producers in realms that extend far beyond newspapers.

What I'm doing after graduation

CNN television research job in Atlanta

Nanci L. Buiza

Nanci BuziaDissertation: Phantoms of the Past: Trauma and Affect in Postwar Central American Literature

Adviser: Ricardo Gutiérrez-Mouat, Professor of Spanish

Simplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research to friends

My dissertation examines the ways in which contemporary Central American literature represents the social fragmentation and residual violence left behind by the wars, revolutions and genocides experienced in Central America throughout the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. The literary works I study engage the issues of memory and trauma through characters that are compulsively and violently self-destructive. I argue that by focusing on the affective experiences of such characters, these novels and short stories become sources of truths and values that had been covered over by previous forms of literature that had answered to political expediency.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact

My research aims at helping to generate a more nuanced understanding of the psychological and emotional wounds suffered by Central Americans, many of whom now reside in the U.S. My work thus gives visibility to a rapidly growing and racially diverse Central American community that is often overlooked both culturally and intellectually. By teasing out the complexities of this literature, my dissertation seeks new forms of thinking and understanding that can register the diversity of experiences and traumas that continue to burden this community, whose impact on American society has grown in recent years.

What I'm doing after graduation

Assistant Professor of Spanish, Swarthmore College

Moya Bailey

Moya BaileyDissertation: Race, Region and Gender in Early Emory School of Medicine Yearbooks

Adviser: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Professor of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Simplifying the abstract: How I'd explain my research to friends

The existence of care inequities along the axes of race, sex, gender, sexuality, ability and class suggests that the examination of medical training -- the mechanism by which all doctors are taught their craft -- may hold the key to shifting this reality. My dissertation examines how patient and student bodies are represented in the yearbooks students create during their training. An idyllic student and patient emerge that reinforce one another at the expense of bodily diversity among patients and students, exacerbating care disparities through images and texts.

Making a difference: How my research is having an impact

I highlight the ways in which class and gender impact the ways that young Southern medical students understood themselves and their patients at the time. Though we are 100 years' removed from these yearbooks, the stories they tell remain important for understanding how the medical sociocultural practices after the standardization of the practice still inform the ways in which doctors are being trained today. The hidden curriculum I uncover in the yearbooks has very little to do with health and healing and more with how doctors see themselves and their patients.

What I'm doing after graduation

Postdoctoral Fellow at Northeastern University in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Digital Humanities following a postdoctoral position at Pennsylvania State University in African American Studies

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