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Dear Friends, Faculty, Students, and Alumni,

As I begin my service as the Chair of Biology I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself and my leadership team and to share with you my vision for the department.  I will work hard and my faculty will work hard to achieve that vision, but we also need some help from you.

Although I am new to this specific role, I have been committed to service and leadership throughout my 26-year career at UNC.  I have served on numerous Department of Biology committees including those focusing on research (e.g. the Microscopy Committee), teaching/training (e.g. the Graduate Studies Committee), and inclusivity (e.g. Faculty Working Group on Culture and Environment). I have also served on many committees outside of the Department that help advance the research and teaching missions of the University.  But my most intensive leadership experience has come from serving for over a decade as the Associate Dean for Research in the School of Medicine and as the Director of the Integrative Program for Biological & Genome Sciences, which works closely with the Department of Biology.  These experiences have helped prepare me to lead the Department of Biology, which continues to be one of the flagship Departments at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

My vision is for UNC’s Department of Biology to be the nation’s leader in collaborative and innovative scholarship. To achieve this vision, I am working to foster a culture of excellence in individual and collaborative scholarship that is rooted in 1) curiosity-driven inquiry of biological processes at all levels: ecological, organismal, cellular, and molecular, and 2) evidenced-based pedagogical practices that continually improve education at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels.  I have assembled an outstanding leadership team of four Associate Chairs, including Dr. Christina Burch (AC for Development), Dr. Ty Hedrick (AC for Research and Teaching Space), Dr. Amy Maddox (AC for Academic Affairs) and Dr. Kevin Slep (AC for Diversity Equity and Inclusion) that meets regularly with me and our Associate Chair for Business Administration, Logan Brackett, to support the department’s missions by setting priorities and strategic goals, and managing operations.  This year we have launched three new tenure track faculty searches in the areas of biodiversity, ecological informatics, and neurobiology, as well as a search for a new teaching professor.  We are developing a strategic plan for future faculty recruitment, and will have an off-campus departmental retreat where we will discuss how to incorporate into our plan the constructive suggestions for improvement provided by our recent departmental review, which noted that “there are few biology departments of such breadth and high standing” as ours.

My own research focuses on understanding how gene expression and chromatin organization regulate genome replication. The work currently being conducted in my lab uses cutting-edge imaging and genomic technologies to addresses two fundamental questions in cell biology: 1) How does chromatin organization influence DNA synthesis and cell proliferation during development? And, 2) How do phase-separated bio-molecular condensates control gene expression? Both of these projects are highly collaborative, involving the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students from the labs of many of my colleagues in the Department of Biology and across the University.  Innovation springs from such collaborations, and it is widely known that UNC Chapel Hill is among the most, if not the most, collaborative research and teaching intensive universities in the world, with the Department of Biology leading the way in establishing such a culture.

My teaching attempts to bridge the divide between a basic science understanding of biological mechanisms with their application in the clinic or in the field, e.g. to treat cancer or to reduce disease transmission. Like my research, my teaching is collaborative – Dr. Mark Peifer and I work together to design and deliver two different upper level elective courses – and makes use of evidence-based pedagogical practices.  For example, one of primary teaching tools is to divide our class up into small discussion groups when delving into a paper from the primary research literature.  We encourage understanding of the science by encouraging the students to break down each experiment or figure into five essential questions: 1) What is the biological question being asked (i.e. what do they want to know)? 2) What is the experiment (i.e what technology and methods were used)? 3) What is the result (i.e. what happened)? What is the interpretation (i.e. what does the result mean)? What biological conclusions can you draw (i.e. what did we learn)? These have been my most rewarding teaching experiences, as they provide the best opportunities for me to actually work closely with students and get them to understand the material.  Being immersed in a department full of so many amazing instructors who are willing and even eager to share best teaching practices is incredibly valuable and professionally fulfilling.

As I embark on my new role, I am excited to support the academic and research mission of the University by supporting the careers of the faculty, staff, and students that, together, comprise the UNC Department of Biology. I am grateful to all of the many previous department chairs and faculty leaders for shaping the department into the wonderful place it is now.  I am looking forward to helping the department become even stronger in the future. You, too, can help us achieve the vision of becoming the nation’s leader in collaborative and innovative scholarship in Biology by making a large or small donation now.

Thank you for your support of Biology here at UNC.


Bob Duronio

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