Four PhD Students Selected as Global Health Doctoral Scholars

Doctoral Scholars

Clockwise from top left: Mercy Asiedu (biomedical engineering), Jackie Gerson (ecology), Christine Ryan (law) and Kelly Moran (statistical science).

Published April 16, 2018 under Education News

Four Duke doctoral students have been selected to join the Global Health Doctoral Scholars program at the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), bringing the current cohort total to 13 scholars.

Through the DGHI Doctoral Scholars program, Duke PhD candidates from various disciplines conduct in-depth research on a topic that intersects their primary discipline and global health. This year’s new scholars include two international students—one from Ghana and the other from Ireland—and span disciplines of biomedical engineering, law, ecology and statistics. The latter three disciplines are new to the scholars community.

Each scholar is mentored by a DGHI faculty member. The faculty member collaborates with the scholar on planning and conducting global health research and provides dissertation mentorship and career development to help the scholar prepare for a career in global health. This year, three new faculty mentors are joining the program: DGHI professors Elizabeth Turner, Amy Herring and Megan Huchko.

“We enthusiastically welcome our new DGHI doctoral scholars who were chosen through a highly competitive selection process with applications from seven academic departments,” said Kathleen Sikkema, director of doctoral studies at DGHI. “We’re excited to integrate new disciplinary perspectives of statistical science, ecology and law into our program.”

Meet the new scholars:


Fourth-year PhD student, biomedical engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

Mercy_AsieduUndergraduate degree: BS, biomedical engineering and business, University of Rochester
Global health area of interest: Development of medical devices and automated algorithms for cervical cancer screening in low-resource settings.
Doctoral scholar research: Conduct clinical studies and in-depth interviews for portable, low-cost and speculum-free cervical cancer screening in Lima, Peru and Accra, Ghana.
DGHI mentor: Nimmi Ramanujam, professor, biomedical engineering and global health

“Cervical cancer disproportionately affects women in low- and middle- income countries,” said Asiedu. “My research focuses on developing technology to help reduce this disparity. Being a global health doctoral scholar provides a great opportunity for me to immerse myself in and learn more from these settings. It also allows me to engage with people in different countries for input, thus enabling the human centered design process.”


Second-year PhD candidate, ecology, University Program in Ecology

Jackie GersonUndergraduate degree: BA, biochemistry, Colgate University
Master’s degree: MS, environmental engineering science, Syracuse University
Global health area of interest: Increasing understanding of how the movement of contaminants through the environment leads to human exposure to these contaminants.
Doctoral scholar research: Investigate patterns in transport and transformation of mercury from artisanal gold mining that lead to human mercury exposure in the Peruvian Amazon.
DGHI mentor: William Pan, assistant professor, global environmental health

“The Doctoral Scholars program allows me to examine the interaction between environmental and human health in the face of the largest global source of mercury—artisanal gold mining. Being a part of this program provides me with the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the link between these two areas through in-depth fieldwork,” said Gerson.


Second-year PhD student, statistical science, Department of Statistical Science

Kelly MoranUndergraduate degree: BS, mathematical sciences, concentration in biology and minor in music, Clemson University
Global health area of interest: Development of statistical methods for learning about some underlying true health state from multiple imperfect measurements of that state.
Doctoral scholar research: Develop the statistical methodology necessary to integrate heterogeneous post-mortem test results, pathologist/physician gestalt (including pathologist/physician confidence in their determined cause of death) and verbal autopsies to learn about both individual-level cause of death and population-level etiologic fractions.
DGHI mentor: Elizabeth Turner, assistant professor, biostatistics and bioinformatics and global health,
and Amy Herring, professor of statistical science and global health

“I think the Doctoral Scholars program will be a great way to stay grounded and focus on the usability and usefulness of any statistical methodologies I develop. I’m also looking forward to advancing my communication skills as a statistician within the global health community,” said Moran. 


Third-year SJD candidate, Duke Law School

Christine RyanUndergraduate degree: LLB, University College Cork, Ireland
Master’s degree: LLM, University College London, UK 
Global health area of interest: Abortion rights, human rights and reproductive health
Doctoral scholar research: Examine the role of international human rights law in access to abortion in Kenya and collaborate with advocacy organizations, policymakers, health care workers and grassroots organizations to examine whether international human rights law has helped advance abortion rights in Kenya or if it has been operationalized as a tool of counter-mobilization. Also, assess the relevance of international human rights law in tackling on-the-ground obstacles to implementing court judgments and national abortion laws.
DGHI mentor: Megan Huchko, associate professor, obstetrics & gynecology and global health

“My goal is to use my foundation in international human rights law, gender and advocacy to conduct a high-quality research and advocacy project for abortion rights in Kenya. I am determined to expand my methodology and to effectively engage and work with all key stakeholders in this complex field,” said Ryan.

Learn more about the Global Health Doctoral Scholars program.

We’re excited to integrate new disciplinary perspectives of statistical science, ecology and law into our program.

Kathleen Sikkema, director of doctoral studies at DGHI