Prospective Students

I’m looking for a Ph.D. student to join me at KU in Fall 2017! Please read the note on graduate studies below before contacting me if you’re interested.  The student would apply through the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Department at KU, and would be housed at the Kansas Biological Survey (where my lab is). Lawrence is the epitome of a vibrant, eclectic college town – a great place to live and study!  More details regarding applying for Fall 2017 are here.

Note to Perspective Students (Updated July 2016)
Scientific research is the process of discovering how the natural world works. As such, if you are inquisitive, observant and enjoy solving problems, a research experience at the undergraduate or graduate level may appeal to you. To many, scientific research conjures images of a sole researcher toiling away at the laboratory bench; this, however, represents how science was done in the past. Of course, in research you will log many hours in the lab, but today science is often a collaborative, interactive community effort. Frequent and free exchange of ideas and (respectfully) challenging conventions are the cornerstones of scientific progress. If you want to be part of a scientific team, please read on for the specific opportunities available at different levels.

1. Undergraduate Research


Students launching a boat to sample a lake.


Many of today’s scientists (myself included) started on their current career paths because of an undergraduate research experience. By participating in research early in college you can advance your learning and skills set far beyond what can be taught in a class or laboratory. You will work directly with other undergraduates, graduate students and faculty to get hands-on training in modern scientific laboratory methods, field work, data analysis and scientific communication.




What opportunities are available?


Filtering is fun! (Wright State, ~2010)


Working in the Burgin Lab will expose you to both laboratory and field work. We have equipment to measure dissolved gases and ions in water and to examine microbial communities. Our group also does a lot of field work, which often involves collecting soil or water samples and bringing them back to process for analysis. Please refer to the lab tour or research pages to get a better idea of what you may be doing as part of the lab.





Katie Schlafke presenting her undergrad research at the Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting in Portland, OR (2014).

What’s in it for you?

· Hands-on experience in how to do science.

· Learning how to operate analytical and molecular equipment = skills that can improve your resume for jobs.

· Improving your communication skills through research presentations and papers.







2. Graduate School 

Proceeding to graduate school represents a sharp departure from the academic world you know/knew as an undergraduate student. In graduate school, there is less of an emphasis on classes and a shift to becoming an independent scholar, that is, someone who can teach themselves through reading literature and conducting experiments. You will be expected to develop an interesting question through thorough literature work, design experiments to answer it, conduct the experiments and analyze the data, and finally write and present your results in scientific meetings and journals.

Because graduate school is so different from undergraduate, before applying you should ask yourself “Why do I want to go to graduate school?” If you are interested in a career in environmental sciences, an advanced degree can open many doors including careers in law, natural resources management, laboratory services and analysis and academic research.

What to expect from the Burgin Lab:

So, if you’ve given the issue of graduate school some thought, how do you know which lab is the right one for you? Considering “fit” is an important aspect of deciding on graduate school—you’re agreeing to work closely with an advisor for two or more years, so it’s fair to want to know what you’re getting into. The first aspect of “fit” to consider is how well a person’s research program intersects with your own research interests. My program focuses on biogeochemistry, microbial ecology and ecosystem ecology—a lot of research can fall into those categories, but I get particularly excited by thinking about how two or three of those categories intersect. If you’re interested in knowing more about how two or more of those areas intersect, then our research interests might be a good fit.

2014-04-17 20.27.45

UNL students with their checks for winning SNR’s Elevator Speech Contest.  (From Left, M.S. student Christa Webber [2nd place, M.S. level spoken presentation], undergrad Cain Silvey [best undergraduate poster] and M.S. student Karla Jarecke [best graduate poster]).

A second aspect of “fit” to consider is the style of your advisor. To know what kind of advising style you prefer, you have to spend some time reflecting on your own work habits. Do you prefer someone you’re accountable to and have frequent access to for questions (called “hands-on” advising)? Or would you prefer to work on your own with infrequent check-ins (“hands-off”)? I will be an involved advisor, but not a micro-manager. I expect my students to be self-motivated, but will not let them flounder if they need help, particularly technical help. I will work closely with students as they develop their questions and methods, and particularly encourage (and help find opportunities for) them to write proposals to fund their work and to attend scientific meetings. Furthermore, I expect students to present their work and publish it in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

If your research interests match mine and you think you could thrive under my advising style, please feel free to contact me. But before you decide to apply, there is the question of support to consider…

Support and Applying

Biogeochemistry and molecular microbiology are expensive fields, requiring intensive maintenance of equipment, chemicals and labor to run samples. I generally will not take on students if I can’t fund their research. Students will be supported through: 1) teaching assistantships, 2) research assistantships, and 3) fellowships (e.g., EPA STAR).

To apply for graduate school, first contact me (see below). After we discussed options, you need to apply as per the instructions on the KU webpage.

If you are interested in joining the Burgin Lab, please send me an e-mail with the following:

1. A short statement of why you want to either get research experience (undergrad) or get a graduate degree. If you are interested in a graduate degree, please explain your research interests and how they fit into the broader context of my research program.

2. A description of your past research experience, including: 1) any former advisors, 2) publications or presentations related to the work.

3. Your GPA and GRE scores (graduate).

I will reply as soon as possible, but please note this may take up to a week. If there is room available and our interests seem like a good match, the next step will be to schedule an in-person visit (on campus) or phone call (if you are off campus).