Paul Durst, Ph.D.



    Duke University, Department of Biology


    David Pfennig, Ph.D.


For me, education and research have always gone hand in hand.  I first became interested in biology as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley.  There, I had the opportunity to work on a wide range of research projects studying everything from the evolutionary dynamics of a parasitic microbe to the habitat preferences of birds in French Polynesia.  At the same time that I was conducting research, I was teaching ecology and evolution at a local high school as part of an NSF sponsored GK-12 program.  I found these activities to be immensely rewarding largely because they complemented each other so well.  I was able to incorporate my research into concrete examples in the classroom and the questions and comments the students raised gave me new and interesting perspectives on my work.

After graduating, I continued to pursue both research and education opportunities.  In the summers, I worked as a field technician, studying the impact of oil drilling on small mammal communities in North Dakota one summer and the feeding strategies of intertidal invertebrates in New Zealand the next.  During the school year, I worked at a local high school teaching computer science and tutoring students in STEM fields.  Once again, these activities complemented each other and both helped prepare me to be an independent researcher as a graduate student.

For my graduate work at Duke University, I was advised by Louise Roth and my project focused on two distinct topics.  The first was a historical biogeography of deer mice across the Channel Islands of southern California, and the second examined the biotic and abiotic factors that produce exceptional size changes in insular mammals.  Both of these projects were influenced by my previous research and teaching experiences (I actually went to the Channel Islands for the first time as part of the GK-12 program!) and my work continued to influence my teaching, both as a TA and through outreach at local middle schools, universities and museums.

At UNC, I am excited to continue working as both a researcher and an educator as a SPIRE scholar.  I am working with David Pfenning to study the differences in gene expression underlying a polyphenism observed in spadefoot toad tadpoles, and I look forward to incorporating this work into an education and outreach program.



  • Fall 2016
    • Principles of Biology, UNC Pembroke
  • Spring 2016
    • Molecular Ecology, UNC Pembroke


  • Lea, Amanda J., Tauras P. Vilgalys, Paul A.P. Durst, and Jenny Tung.  “Maximizing ecological and evolutionary insight from bisulfite sequencing data sets.”  Accepted Nature Ecology and Evolution (2017)
  • Alf, B. Durst, P, and Pfennig, D. 2016. Behavioral plasticity and the origins of novelty: the evolution of the rattlesnake rattle" American Naturalist.