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Basic Orientation

Most of the students that apply to my lab have at least some research experience in evolution or in virology – enough to know that they feel passionate about the unanswered questions in evolutionary genetics in general, or virus evolution in specific. However, I hold mentoring of postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates as a top priority. I don’t expect students to come in as experts. I do expect them to come in with some background in evolution and to take full advantage of their graduate school experience.

Students in my lab develop their own projects, with some input from me. Because these projects usually differ from the research that my lab is funded to do, my students are supported by a mixture of research and teaching assistantships. A typical student in my lab teaches for three semesters over the course of their graduate career. I consider this teaching to be an important part of graduate student training.

Most students in my lab are enrolled in the Biology Department at UNC.

Training Environment

Inside the Burch Lab

My lab offers an excellent training environment for individuals interested in evolutionary genetics, with an emphasis on experimental evolution in microbes. We take a conceptual, and often mathematical, approach to evolutionary questions, and pursue these questions in microbial systems that are amenable to genetic analysis and manipulation. Students and postdocs pursue projects that involve various aspects of microbial evolutionary genetics, including the genetics and ecology of virus host range evolution and the genetic basis and evolutionary consequences of bacteriphage adaptation to high and low temperature. These investigations employ several model systems, including the DNA bacteriophage phiX174, the RNA bacteriophage phi-6, and the bacteria Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium, and Pseudomonas syringae.

Outside the Lab

The Biology department at UNC has considerable strength in Evolutionary Biology, with a particular focus in Evolutionary genetics. Faculty with related interests include David Pfennig (character displacement and adaptive radiation), Joel Kingsolver (evolution of thermal physiology), Todd Vision (genome evolution), Corbin Jones (genetics of adaptation), Maria Servedio (theoretical population genetics), and Chris Willett (genetics of reproductive isolation). We are a highly collaborative and interactive group. We hold a weekly brown bag seminar in which our own students and postdocs present ongoing work, and a weekly journal club focused on evolutionary genetics. In addition, students have the opportunity to interact with numerous RNA virologists in the Microbiology department here at UNC (e.g., Ron Swanstrom – HIV, Ralph Baric – SARS, Aravinda de Silva – Dengue, Melinda Beck – Influenza). Through interactions with these and other virologists at UNC, students gain a better appreciation for how they can extend findings in the bacteriophage model systems to medically relevant viruses.

Tips for Applying

If you think you might like to join my research group as a graduate student …

  • Explore this web site to see what sorts of research we are doing.
  • Read some of our recent papers.
  • Check what current and past students are doing.

Most importantly – Send me an email! Include the following information:

  • A statement about how your interests might fit with ours
  • A brief summary of your previous research experiences
  • Your college or university, expected (or attained) degree, GPA, and GRE scores
  • A list of individuals you plan to use as references
  • Anything else you might like me to know about you

I will get in touch so we can talk about applying to graduate school at UNC, and what is best for your particular case.

To follow through …

  • Submit a full application to the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program as soon as possible (by January 1 at the latest).
  • Mention your interest in my group on your application
  • Plan to visit … so we (you, me, my research group, and other interested faculty and students) can get to know each other and discuss possibilities for graduate projects