Information for Prospective Students
Whether your interest is in obtaining practical skills as a senior undergraduate or to study for a graduate degree, you will receive a nurturing education in the Weinberg Water Quality research group at UNC-Chapel Hill. I offer academic, research, professional, and personal guidance/mentoring to my students, but in order to maximize my attention to each person I keep the group total to no more than 10 members. In any one year of admission I usually will recruit 2-3 new graduate students and 1-2 undergraduates. In order to benefit the most from the group you should have a reasonable background in chemistry so that you will be able to use instrumentation for monitoring chemical pollutants in the environment. However, group members can have backgrounds in any of the following areas: chemistry, social sciences, engineering, microbiology, environmental sciences among others. If you are not sure if you will fit into my group, drop me a message before you apply to the program.
Senior Undergraduates: Contact me no later than 1 month before the beginning of the semester in which they are seeking an undergraduate research experience. Please indicate why you interested in a laboratory-based research project, your relevant background, and your expectations.
Applicants at the Masters Level: I review applications for the MS, MSPH, and MSEE degrees. Please review my various webpages to get a sense of what I do, the skill sets you can expect to learn, and the career opportunities that await you. When writing your statement of purpose letter to go with your application, indicate that you have read these pages and mention the specific projects or skills in my group that you are interested in. If you have mentioned me in that letter you will be guaranteed an email contact from me once I have reviewed your application materials. If you meet the minimum criteria for acceptance (usually a combination of GPA greater than 3.0 and combined GRE scores on verbal and quantitative components greater than 1200), I will let you know that you have been accepted for graduate school. Support for your graduate studies these comes from three sources:
Non-Service Fellowship award (these are highly competitive and awarded only to the top 4 applicants in any single year). Candidates nominated for these awards are usually flown in to meet with faculty members and students for our open house weekend usually held during the first week of March.;
Research Assistantship (RA) is awarded by the faculty member who is mutually acceptable as your advisor and who has a specific funded project on which you wish to work towards your degree thesis or report. There has to be a strong and convincing indication by the student that my research will benefit the student’s career and that the student will be a full and productive member of the research group. If there is a potential match I will usually prefer to have the student visit our campus and meet with me, other faculty, and my students before a final decision is made. At that visit, the applicant gets the opportunity to “interview” us and determine whether this is the best environment to begin the next step towards the career. After the visit, follow-up by the student with me is essential in order to demonstrate motivation and continued interest. A firm financial offer is usually made by the end of March and if the student accepts the offer I will expect him/her to stay in contact at least once a month until the beginning of the semester. The financial offer includes a monthly stipend, and pays tuition and health insurance.
Teaching Assistantship (TA): I teach one course each semester in which a TA is required to help set-up and guide laboratories. This position is offered to a student who has the most hands-on experience and who has usually taken the class in a previous year. In addition, the department has a number of TA slots where students help grade papers and assist with tutorials. These are assigned on the basis of ranking among all applicants to the department and decisions are usually made by the beginning of April.
Applicants at the PhD Level: It's best to make contact with me before you submit their application. This is so that we can identify an appropriate research project or focus for research that is of mutual interest. Once identified, relate your focus in your statement of purpose so that the application materials are quickly routed to me. There are many criteria that are used to judge whether an applicant is admissible to the PhD program and these go beyond the numerical minimum requirements of the GPA and GRE. For my group, I am looking for a demonstrated purpose so that I can facilitate the student’s career trajectory. While I do occasionally co-advise students whose primary interest is not chemistry, the norm is for me to accept students who wish to use advanced analytical instrumentation in pursuit of addressing or solving an environmental issue related to some aspect of water quality. If there is a match I will recommend admission to the program at which point the application is circulated to our academic programs committee who further reviews the application and makes the final decision. If the application is accepted then I am assigned as your primary advisor. I will typically only accept PhD students to my group if I have a secured source of funding for at least 3 years and I will commit to supporting the student for this time (and beyond if necessary) if the student maintains a level of achievement that is discussed at the beginning of each semester. The sources of funding are similar to those described under Masters level students described above.
I meet formally with individual students in my research group either once a week (if active in research and a low course load) or once every two weeks if in their first semester. At these meetings I provide guidance on both academic and research activities and listen to concerns or questions students may have. I will either offer personal advice and guidance or seek out the appropriate resources to address issues outside my area of expertise.
I meet with my entire research group once every two weeks for up to two hours. Most commonly the meeting will comprise a presentation by one of the students on their research progress and all students are expected to participate in a discussion. Newer students will start off by critiquing the appearance of a presentation prepared for a conference, but more senior students will be actively seeking out and providing input. Alternately, students pick a prominent manuscript which is shared with all group members. Students will review the manuscript prior to the meeting and provide written feedback as if they were reviewing for a professional journal. Group members are given guidance on the review process. These meetings are also used for general discussion about issues that affect everyone and at least twice a semester the group will meet either at a retreat or lunch venue to have a discussion in a more relaxed environment.
Since most of my research is laboratory or field-based, students who work in my group learn to adapt themselves to a variety of environments. Most eventually take on leadership roles by guiding the work of less experienced members of the group. During the first two semesters, students will learn skills from other members of the group; by the end of the first semester they will usually have their own project assigned to them.
My advising extends beyond the classroom and office setting and more into the practice of laboratory and field research. I offer hands-on training in the use of advanced analytical instrumentation, techniques in field sampling, and strategies for gaining the trust of collaborators in the field that include county, state, and federal employees as well as members of the public. Students are trained in the development of oral and written skills and each is provided the opportunity to present at least one oral and poster presentation at a national meeting. Finally, I maintain regular contact with most of my graduated students and continue to provide professional advice to them as well as finding opportunities at meetings to have them interact with my current students.
Awards to Student Advisees
2001 Water Quality Technology Conference, November 11-15, Nashville, TN. Second place award in competition for best research poster. Alice Harris (MS).
2003 American Water Works Association Water Quality Technology Conference, Philadelphia, Nov 2-5: 1 st place award in competition for best research poster. Sara Eslinger (MSPH).
2005 American Water Works Association Water Quality and Technology Division Best Paper Award for AWWA Journal for 2005. Vanessa Pereira (MSEE and PhD).
2006 Water Environment Federation Harrison Prescott Eddy Medal in recognition of research published in a water environment research periodical that makes a vital contribution to the existing knowledge of the fundamental principles or processes of water treatment. Stephen Cook (MSEE).
Professional Careers of Mentored Students