Economics and Clinical Psychology PhD Students Selected as Doctoral Scholars

March 17, 2015

The Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) recently selected two new doctoral scholars—Elisa Maffioli, an economics student, and Ali Giusto, a clinical psychology student—who will begin the program in September 2015. 

The Global Health Doctoral Scholars Program provides an opportunity for Duke doctoral candidates from multiple disciplines to participate in innovative research on a topic that straddles their primary discipline and global health. 

Each scholar is mentored by a DGHI faculty member, who provides a collaborative opportunity to conduct global health research, guidance on pursuing a dissertation related to global health, career development and other opportunities to help put the scholar on the path to a successful global health career.

“We’re excited have two more doctoral scholars add to the vibrant energy of our interdisciplinary group of doctoral scholars,” said Kathleen Sikkema, director of doctoral studies at DGHI. “In combination with our growing number of doctoral certificate students, DGHI continues to strengthen the global health community of doctoral students.”

Elisa Maffioli: Exploring the Role of Beliefs and Expectations in Health Decision-Making 

Elisa Maffioli, a third year PhD student in economics, is interested in the intersection between development economics and health economics. Inspired by a malaria study she’s been working on with global health professors Wendy O'MearaManoj Mohanan and Elizabeth Turner, she plans to focus her research on the ways in which people’s beliefs and subjective expectations influence how they make decisions about their health. Maffioli will continue this project as a doctoral scholar under the mentorship of O’Meara.

For her dissertation, Maffioli wants to apply this question to the West Africa Ebola outbreak, an epidemic in which individual beliefs about transmission of the disease and mistrust in the government were among the main factors contributing to its spread. Working under the supervision of global health and economics professor Erica Field, Maffioli is interested in exploring how beliefs about Ebola affect prevention behavior and social relationships and the how exposure to Ebola can affect beliefs about the government, health workers and the health system in general. She believes that these factors will have a considerable impact on the fight against Ebola.

Maffioli is excited about being selected as a doctoral scholar. “Having the chance to interact with leading global health scholars and students from so many different backgrounds is extremely rewarding,” she said. “And it will open doors that will allow the sharing of knowledge and experience necessary to conduct cutting-edge academic research and address important topics in global health.”

Ali Giusto: Investigating Fathers’ Influence on Youth Sexual Behavior and Mental Health

Ali Giusto, a second-year clinical psychology doctoral student, wants to understand how fathers influence family functioning, youth mental health and HIV risk behaviors in low-income countries and community settings and how these variables inform intervention development.

Giusto is motivated by the fact that most evidence-based practices are developed with homogeneous populations in high-income countries, with little research devoted to determining the effectiveness and sustainability of these programs in low-income countries and communities with diverse populations. 

She’s specifically interested in the role of fathers because, while family-based interventions targeting parenting have shown promise in improving family functioning, very few of them include and engage fathers. When considering youth HIV risk specifically, Giusto believes it’s particularly important to expand the lens to fathers, particularly in communities where gender roles may influence sexual risk behaviors.

Giusto believes the doctoral scholars program will complement her training in clinical psychology and help her understand the well-being of children and families in low income countries. She said, “I’m very excited to be a part of this program because of the dynamic and integrative opportunities it facilitates between global health and mental health communities.”

Giusto’s mentor is Eve Puffer, professor of global health, psychology and neuroscience. Giusto’s research will contribute toward a larger randomized controlled intervention trial led by Puffer that is aimed at improving family functioning to reduce youth mental health problems and HIV risk behaviors.

Maffioli and Giusto Join Nine other Doctoral Scholars

Currently there are nine other global health doctoral scholars from a range of disciplines:

  • Karmel Choi, clinical psychology
  • Drew Day, environmental health
  • Sarah Diringer, civil and environmental engineering
  • Aaron Forbis-Stokes, civil and environmental engineering
  • Jenny Orgill, environmental economics
  • Christopher Paul, environmental policy
  • Divya Rajan, public policy
  • Jie-Sheng Tan Soo, environmental policy
  • Sarah Wilson, clinical psychology

Learn more about the Global Health Doctoral Scholars and Doctoral Certificate programs.

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Ali and Elisa
Ali Giusto (l) and Elisa Maffioli (r), DGHI's newest doctoral scholars

We’re excited have two more doctoral scholars add to the vibrant energy of our interdisciplinary group of doctoral scholars.

Kathleen Sikkema, director of doctoral studies at DGHI

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