Graduate Research Assistantship (Master’s or Ph.D.)  Illinois Natural History Survey in Prairie Research Institute at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 

Project Description: The Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is seeking a Graduate Research Assistant at the Master’s or Ph.D. level to work on the phylogenomics of phytoplasmas, a group of not-yet cultured bacteria associated with insects (vectors, primarily Hemiptera) and plants (hosts) and implicated in plant disease.

The student will work with Drs. Valeria Trivellone and Chris Dietrich (University of Illinois) and Dr. Yanghui Cao (Northwest A&F University, Shaanxi, China). The focus of this project is to uncover the true diversity of phytoplasmas worldwide, reconstruct their evolutionary relationships, and document their associations with insects and plants by screening a large collection of insects preserved in a museum biorepository using modern DNA sequencing techniques.

The expected outcome will be to resolve the deep phylogenetic structure of phytoplasmas using anchored phylogenomics, fill gaps in knowledge of phytoplasma associations with their insect vectors and host plants, and contribute to development of more robust, multi-locus methods for classifying and identifying phytoplasmas.


  • Bachelor’s degree in biology or related field with coursework in genetics and evolution. 
  • Interest in or experience working with insects and/or insect-born pathogens. 
  • Interest in or experience with basic molecular laboratory techniques such as DNA extractions, DNA quantifications, and standard or qPCR. 
  • Strong time management skills and attention to detail. 

Other Desired Qualifications

  • Experience with DNA extraction, quantification, and specimen management. 
  • Experience processing high-throughput next-generation sequencing data. 
  • Ability to present research findings at conferences and publish in scientific journals. 
  • Must be committed to a workplace that values different backgrounds and life experience and allows everyone to bring their authentic self to work. 
  • Proficiency in scripting (e.g. R, Python, bash) or programming (e.g. C++). 

Duties and Responsibilities

  • Collect, analyze, and interpret molecular data of phytoplasmas and morphological data of their insect hosts. 
  • Conduct literature reviews. 
  • Work with the PIs to develop an individualized research plan that will test hypotheses with laboratory experiments. 
  • Prepare a thesis or dissertation focused on the evolution of insect-phytoplasma-plant associations. 
  • The student will expect to travel to Italy for two months to work with collaborators and will also be expected to present preliminary research results at scientific conferences. 

Salary and Appointment: This position includes a 50% research assistantship with a tuition waiver through the School of Integrative Biology. The current monthly stipend for this assistantship is $2,812.00 plus tuition waiver. Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. The expected start date is Fall 2023 or at the latest Spring 2024. 

To Apply: To be considered for this position, please email 1) cover letter (2 page max) that explains how your research interests fit into the broader goals of the research group and/or topics provided above, 2) detailed curriculum vitae (CV) highlighting your academic achievements and research experience to Dr. Trivellone @ (reference “Graduate Application” in subject line).   Before submitting your formal application, please contact Dr. Trivellone ( Review of applicants will begin immediately and proceed until the position is filled.

This position is contingent on the selected applicant’s ability to apply and be accepted into one of the following graduate programs offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  

Entomology ( in Ecology, Evolution, & Conservation Biology (PEEC) (

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