Th Burgess lab fosters an inclusive and supportive culture that encourages collaboration among members of all backgrounds and different experiences. We believe that diverse work teams generate the most innovative ideas. 

  • Collaboration: 
    • Mentorship is an important part of scientific training, both as a mentor and a mentee
    • Be respectful of different intellectual ideas/personal viewpoints/problems/concerns from all people, inside and outside of the lab
    • Give feedback in the spirit of helping each other grow, and receive it in the same mindset
  • Growth and learning
      • Physical and mental wellness is essential for being a productive scientist.
      • We are each growing and learning as scientists and humans, but we are striving to learn and improve
      • Take responsibility for words and actions and agree to engage in respectful conversation if an offense arises
      • Understand that multidisciplinary viewpoints foster growth and innovation.
      • Recognize that as individuals we are all learning and growing from our experiences;
        • Pledge
          • Avoid exclusionary and unwelcoming language
          • Avoid any sexist, racist or homophobic language
          • Use caution when discussing sensitive personal comments
          • Refrain from comments on physical appearance
          • Recognize discrimination, sexual and/or nonsexual harassment
          • Avoid incitement to any violence, suicide or self-harm

    We believe in the Burgess lab that if there is anything that makes you uncomfortable that you should speak out to someone you trust. 

    Description/Elaboration of Diversity Activities in Scholarly and Creative Activities  for Sean M Burgess 


    I fully believe that diverse work teams generate the most innovative ideas. To build a diverse community, equitable access to research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students is essential. I have been fortunate to have had the resources  to provided inclusive mentored research experience in my lab for over 50 undergraduates and high school students, many of whom were in programs targeted to URMs (McNair, CURE, BUSP, B-Sharp, HHMI, and MCBGAP/BioGAP). Ivan Olaya, a 4th year graduate student in my lab first worked for one year as a PREP@UCD scholar. He joined my lab as student in the Integrative Genetics and Genomics graduate group in 2019. We received a Diversity supplement to my NIH R01 grant that covered Ivan’s tuition, fees, and stipend for two years. We spend time during the summer to  antiracist lab and participated in the CBS Summer Social Justice reading group led by Vicki Morgan. We created a new DEI tab on our web page with a code of conduct and links to resources. In 2022 we as a lab are participants in the UC Davis Structural Racism Revealed challenge.



    MCBGAP (2017-2019)

    The UC-HBCU initiative was spearheaded by President Janet Napolitano to prepare Black and African American students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities for graduate study. The program funds 6 students for an 8-week research experience plus professional development component largely run by the Academic Coordinator Carole Hom. Students receive room & board and stipend. At the end of the summer, the students present their work at a symposium. Notably, the program pays for one parent to attend the symposium. This is a critical part of the program since families can envision research as a pathway to success. The UC Davis MCBGAP program was spearheaded by Professor Daniel Starr in 2014 who was awarded a three-year grant to host students from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (2014-2016). I took over the responsibility of MCBGAP in 2016 and wrote a grant to renew the funding for 3 additional years. In consultation with Dan and Carole, we decided the program could be expanded to include students from two additional HBCUs, Florida A&M and Xavier University of Louisiana,. A $308,302 grant was offered to support this proposal involving the 4 different institutions and 19 selected faculty members at UC Davis. We ran the program successfully for three years. One student is enrolled in a PhD program at UC Davis (Chelsea Kelland), one entered an MD/PhD program (Karen Ose-Boamah, U. Connecticut), one student is a PhD student at the University of Michigan (Ashley Mello), and one is currently applying to PhD programs (Uche Onuchukwu). Faith Simiyu was an MCBGAP student who worked in my lab in 2017 and is now a dentistry student.

    BioGAP (2020-2022).

    As MCBGAP was coming to the end of its funding period in 2019, Carole and Rick Grosberg were already in discussions with Grad Studies to continue funding the EEGAP (Ecology and Evolution). I joined the discussion and we were able to extend the MCBGAP program to a UC Davis funded program (BioGAP). This program is broader in scope that spans the breadth of basic research in biochemistry, molecular, cell, and developmental biology, including research in genetics, neuroscience, and plant science. We continued with our previous HBCU partners and students from the California State University system. The BioGAP program with over 24 faculty takes a comprehensive approach to student intellectual development through seminars, video conferences, and mentoring to prepare students for summer research at UC Davis and competitive applications to graduate programs. Unfortunately both the 2020 and 2021 programs were offered virtually so student participation was somewhat low. Among BioGAP alumni,  one  is spending a year as PREP scholar and now is applying to PhD programs (Hector Navarro). Two others are applying to PhD programs (Aliyah Penn, Johnny Vertiz). Aliyah Penn did her summer research project in my lab.


    The goal of the program is to provide academic preparation and research experiences for admission to a strong graduate program in molecular biology, genetics, cell biology, developmental biology or related fields. I have served as an advisor to two students in the program and hosted Ivan Olaya as a Junior Specialist in 2018. I also participate in giving feedback for practice talks, poster sessions, and mock interviews given by the students each year. I am currently on the PREP@UCDavis Steering committee and am keenly interested in the success of the program.


    Integrative Genetics and Genomics Graduate Group (IGG)

    Dave Segal and I have been co-Chairs of the Integrative Genetics and Genomics Graduate Group since 2019 and have recently been selected to lead the group for another three years.  The co-chair model allows us to split work in putting out myriad fires and advocating for students and also diving deep into ways the group can promote DEI issues. In 2020 we convened a DEI committee with the following goals: 1. Provide education and training in DEI issues including resources for underrepresented students’ educational plans and professional development: 2. Advance student diversity and retention into our IGG program through improved mentorship opportunities: 3. Develop a strategy to sustain DEI efforts within IGG, including interfacing with Admissions and Recruitment.

    The efforts are ongoing but we have made headway into several of these issues.

    1. To make the admissions process more equitable, the IGG web page now has a tab with tips and information for prospective IGG students created by IGG faculty Joanna Chiu. This document demystifies the application process, from how to ask professors for letters of recommendation to understanding what goes into the personal statement and what the review committee is looking for ( This is important for URMs since many may not have had adequate mentorship to put together a strong application. Historically IGG gets about 80-90 applicants. Last year 128 prospective students submitted applications. We updated our extended qualifying exam guidelines to promote equity in a similar fashion.
    2. Our new holistic admissions review rubric designed by IGG faculty Joanna Chiu has allowed us to identify outstanding candidates from historically marginalized groups. Evidence suggests that the GRE is not a good predictor of graduate student success. We rallied to expedite and update to our degree requirements, so that the GRE is no longer required for admissions. This relieves a financial burden on economically disadvantaged students and opens opportunities for graduate education to those students who found it out of reach.
    3. We recognize that physical and mental wellness are essential for being a productive scientist. Entering a PhD program can be a culture shock for any student, but URMs and First-Gen students are disproportionally impacted. Thus, it is essential to give all admitted students the resources to succeed. To this end, Dave and I created an IGG student handbook for entering students summarizing what was covered in orientation and more. We have also revamped the rotation course GGG 205 to cover topics that go beyond rotation talks to demystify the graduate student experience, with sessions devoted to advising, managing conflict, reporting discrimination and harassment, professional development, and wellness issues. The first year IGG students now take a 5-week wellness course led by Carolyn Dewa and Georgia Drakakaki with Plant Biology students. This course has been used as a pilot with the hope to extend the opportunity to all graduate students. In the winter offering of GGG 205 we have developed a grant writing course that gives every IGG student the opportunity to write a grant and receive constructive feedback ahead of joining a lab. Importantly, we also supported the formation of a new Wellness and Mentorship committee chaired by Fred Chedin. We also initiated the creation of the weekly IGG newsletter that has resources for students.
    4. We have worked at the intersection of the goals of the DEI committee chaired by Cecilia Guilivi with the Recruitment committee chaired by Jackie Barlow. Together these committees developed a flyer to hand out at conferences such as ABRCMS and mailed to departments at California State Universities to reach students who may not have considered graduate education. I attend all of these meetings. I am a constant presence on twitter through @UCDavisGenetics with over 1000 followers to promote the group and highlight student and faculty success.
    5. As some of our students are interested in academic careers, there is again a need to promote equity for students from different backgrounds, particularly First-Gen students. I participated in a meeting with Professors of the Futures to discuss how one sets up a research lab and applies for funding and the Envision program for prospective students.

    The work is ongoing but I think we have already been able to make a difference.

    Undergraduate education:

    For the last two years I have been on panels for prospective UC Davis transfer students to discuss research opportunities at UC Davis. I regularly attend orientations, especially to talk to parents of incoming students to help demystify the undergraduate experience so that they can best support their students. This especially helps First-Generation students to know their parents stand behind them. I have also been on panels for first year students on advice on how to participate in undergraduate research in the BIS 005 course. I served on a campus-wide Community of Practice on student wellness. This program spanned the academic year and my team developed the curriculum for an online Aggie Wellness 101 course for First-Year students.   I have also developed several writing assignments in MCB 164, Advanced Genetics to help students be good science communicators. In one assignment they research the history of American Eugenics Movement. Many students shocked that it existed, much less that it led to mass sterilizations of tens of thousands of individuals in California and established a blueprint for Nazism and policies for “racial cleansing” during the Third Reich.

    I  gave presentations focused on graduate studies at UC Davis to MARC students at Stony Brook University and San Francisco State University



    Advancing Faculty Diversity (member faculty search committee)

    Campus data from 2016 shows that on average 74% of UC Davis faculty identify as white, while the 2020 Census shows that white people represent only 39% of the population of California. In 2019 UC Davis was awarded a grant for Advancing Faculty Diversity with the goal of closing this gap. This grant was ground-breaking in that the initial review was based on blinded evaluation of Contribution to Diversity statements by a faculty search committee. The committee identifies those applications for “serious consideration” and then are allowed to see the entire packets and then create a “short list” of applicants reviewed by zoom and then a final short list. I was on such a search committee in CBS co-chaired by Phillip Kass and Neelima Sinha. It was a novel approach to hiring and we identified several outstanding candidates who came for campus visits. One candidate clearly stood out and was offered the position. UC Davis was her first choice, but unfortunately the constraints of the grant did not allow time for her husband to pursue job prospects and she ended up going to another university. This search demonstrated the complexities of the model which hopefully was useful in designing future searches through the program. While this model may not be appropriate for all searches, it demonstrated the importance of carefully evaluating Diversity Statements that can be applied universally.


    Confidential Advisor (Academic Affairs)

    For the 2020-2021 search season, I was asked by Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Phil Kass to join two other faculty to serve as a “Confidential Advisors” for a faculty searches in CBS, the Center for Neuroscience and the School of Nursing. The premise of the program is to provide a resource for the shortlisted candidates inviting them to interact with an impartial faculty member outside of the search that could help to answer any questions they would have about the university or the city of Davis not related to the search. Candidates were very impressed that they were offered a confidential advisor and it was rewarding to feel like I was working to level the playing field, especially among URMs who may not have had the experience in academia or adequate mentoring to navigate a faculty interview or the steps after an offer. For some, UC Davis was their first faculty interview ever, so it was I was very satisfying to help demystify the process. I was asked by CBS to continue this role in this year’s faculty searches.


    Ad hoc CBS DEI Committee (co-Chair)

    As a follow up to the Spring 2020 CBS faculty meeting, the CBS Faculty Executive Committee convened a Town Hall  July 21, 2020. The primary goal of the Town Hall was to formulate a list of immediate and long-term actions that CBS can take to combat racism and to strive for a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. The outcome of the Town Hall was to organize a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. The composition of this Committee evolved over the course of the year, and the final composition included 13 members representing students, staff, postdocs, and faculty.


    The charter of the committee comprised the following:

    1. Determine immediate actions for CBS faculty that will strongly reflect our commitment to combat racism and promote a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment in CBS.
    2. Work together with the Dean’s office to examine data on diversity and equity in CBS and to provide input and guidance on drafting a Strategic Plan for promoting antiracism and DEI in CBS.
    3. Provide a means of communication across Departments, Centers, and graduate groups in order to facilitate and coordinate ongoing efforts toward combatting racism and promoting DEI in CBS.


    Summary of CBS actions in support of DEIJ, 2020-2021

    1. Appointment of a graduate student assistant to the Dean for DEI
    2. Creation of CBS DEI web page (
    3. Implementation of a list-serve for CBS postdoctoral fellows
    4. Recommendation for adding “justice” to the DEI committee name and charter
    5. Exploration of options for DEIJ funding by meeting with CBS Development Director, Shari Kawelo
    6. Roll out of DEI climate survey in collaboration with office of DEI
    7. Defined immediate and long-term DEIJ goals for CBS
    8. Recommendation for the implementation of a permanent CBS DEIJ committee


    This insights of the committee led to recommendation actions for implementation of each stakeholder. A permanent CBS DEI committee has been assembled with an eye to equal representation of all stakeholders.