Doctoral Students Search For New Solutions To Age-Old Problems
By Kara Kunkel
Graduate research in diverse disciplines is fundamental not only to finding solutions
to significant global problems but also to enriching the human experience.
One of today’s SMU Ph.D. candidates may find a key to the origin of the universe
while another may provide new insight into the pathology of violence.
More than 415 Ph.D. candidates enrolled in SMU’s 25 doctoral programs conduct
research year-round in fields ranging from applied science and anthropology to religious
studies and statistical science. More than 50 graduate from SMU each year.
The students, who come from around the world, forge bonds with fellow Ph.D. candidates,
faculty mentors, SMU and Dallas, says James E. Quick, associate vice president of research
and dean of graduate studies. “But preparing them to make contributions to academia
and to society is one of the University’s greatest achievements. The measure of that success
is a broad range of research conducted about issues that are important to society.”
Read how six future experts from Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences will make
their marks on our world.
Nese Sara, Economics
Nese Sara developed a passion for understanding the intricacies
of international trade while taking a course on international
trade from Kamal Saggi (see story on page 5), chairman of the
Economics Department and Dedman Distinguished Collegiate
Professor of Economics. He later became Sara’s mentor and
chair of her dissertation committee.
Sara has assisted
Saggi in research
published in the
Review in 2008. She also made presentations
about their study at two prestigious regional economics conferences
in 2007 – the Southern Economic Association Meetings
and the Midwest Theory International Economics Meetings.
Her dissertation examines the conditions under which a bilateral
free trade agreement would be attractive for countries of
dissimilar sizes that produce similar goods of differing qualities.
“I found that product quality and market size play a central
role” in whether two countries decide to sign a free trade
agreement, Sara says.
A free trade agreement benefits a country if its export market
gain exceeds the loss resulting from tariff elimination, her
study concluded. Sometimes, the most attractive trade agreement
would not be bilateral free trade but free trade for a
smaller, less developed country and a positive tariff for a larger,
more developed country, she says.
In the fall Sara will begin teaching at the University of
Cincinnati, where she has accepted a position as an assistant
professor of economics and will continue her research.
Catherine Dodson, Psychology
Observers sometimes ask whether certain research has realworld
applications. For Catherine Dodson, experiences in the
real world put her on the road to a research-centered career.
After earning a Bachelor’s degree in classical languages and
archaeology, Dodson worked as a technical writer and systems
analyst for an Internet company in Colorado. In her spare
time, she volunteered as a victim’s advocate for the police
department in the Denver suburb of Northglenn. Family situations
were sometimes so complicated that it was difficult
to determine whether a person she interviewed was a victim,
a perpetrator or both.
“The line often is blurry, depending on the circumstances,”
Dodson says. She began to wonder: “What life circumstances
or personality traits lead one to become a violent criminal?”
Dodson is particularly interested in whether childhood experiences
contribute to future aggression and how and when
society should intervene to correct antisocial behavior.
She says she is drawn to forensic psychology and would like
to work with the legal system. “I want to be involved in pragmatic
research that answers questions related to societal issues.”
Dodson has worked with clients at SMU’s Family Research
Center in collaboration with clinical faculty such as Renee Mc-
Donald, associate professor of psychology and one of her advisers.
Dodson and McDonald have studied children who are
callous and unemotional and the impact of their behavior on
the parent-child relationship. The pair presented a paper on
this topic at the International Family
Aggression Society Conference in
2008. Dodson also wrote about the
issue in her Master’s thesis.
“If these traits occur in severe
groups such as violent families,
they probably occur in other
families as well,” McDonald says.
“Catherine sees that this group of
children is not homogeneous. Poor
parenting contributes to the development of child antisocial
behavior, but there are a number of other ways that children
develop antisocial behavior.”
Azeddine Kasmi, Physics
Millions of research hours have been devoted to the quest for
the elusive Higgs boson, a theoretical subatomic particle that is
the missing piece of the Standard Model of particle physics. So
far, the Higgs is the only particle in the Standard Model that
has not been proven to exist, and it is considered a key to explaining
the origin of the universe and how particles gain mass.
Azeddine Kasmi, a doctoral candidate in SMU’s Physics Department,
is developing an algorithm that could increase the
amount of usable data studied when seeking evidence of the
Higgs particle and potentially speed its discovery. The algorithm
would use data gathered from high-energy particle accelerators
such as the Large Hadron Collider on the border of
France and Switzerland, where SMU scientists are participating
in research with the ATLAS particle detector.
“So far, it’s a feasibility study,” Kasmi says.
“But it could shorten the detection
time by 20 to 40 percent.”
Kasmi has been fascinated
physics since his undergraduate
studies at the
University of Oujda in
Morocco. He says SMU’s
commitment to this highly
competitive field and the opportunity
to work with ATLAS drew him to Dallas.
For two years, Kasmi has worked closely with Robert Kehoe,
assistant professor of physics, and has spent part of each year
at the LHC in Switzerland preparing ATLAS for its launch. It
could be several years before sufficient data has been analyzed
to prove or disprove the existence of the Higgs particle. If Kasmi
is on the right track, it could take less time.
Kasmi has presented his results internationally, most recently
at the American Physical Society’s meeting in April, and was
well received, Kehoe says. “Azeddine has made a good case
for his approach.”