SUNY Oswego human development faculty member Rebecca Burch recently earned the campus President’s Award for Scholarly and Creative Activity for impactful research and overwhelming contributions toward the next generation of researchers.

“She has brought students into her research in all areas; working with them as co-authors on professional publications and paper and poster presentations at professional and local conferences,” wrote Burch’s nominator, fellow human development faculty member David Sargeant. “Her contribution of chapters in edited volumes speaks to the widespread importance and interest in her research work.” 

Some of Burch’s research has gained widespread media interest. For example, her co-authored study on superheroes having unrealistic proportions led to interviews with global media with a total circulation of more than 163.4 million news hits. More recently, research on flirting on which she was a co-author appeared in 60 global news stories, with the research rating among the top 5 percent of outputs scored by Altmetric.

But those studies are just the tip of the iceberg for Burch’s breadth of topics. At the time of the nomination, Burch counted 30 peer reviewed journal articles, 11 book chapters, six book and research reviews and 21 reference entries in print – as well as eight more publications of various types in press plus five under review in a variety of evolutionary psychology topics. 

Burch also has provided more than 100 presentations of various types with students at conferences and other institutions, as well as dozens of solo presentations. She was elected president of the pre-eminent organization in her field, the Northeastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS), where she has been an active organizer and presenter.

Nomination letters focused on the great personal impact that Burch has had upon research assistants who have gone on to notable positions and projects.

“When I reached her lab as an undergraduate, I was an unmotivated first-generation college student with a lot of talent and no direction,” wrote SUNY Oswego graduate Daniel Hipp, who has since earned his Ph.D. and is now an advanced polytrauma research fellow at TBI Rehab/Research at the Rocky Mountain Regional Veterans Association Medical Center in Colorado. “When I left, I was an award-winning undergraduate researcher with several 4.0 semesters, a CV populated with poster abstracts and scholarly book chapters and a career in psychological and neuroscientific research ahead of me.”

Once he began working in her lab several days a week, “I knew instantly it was a special place for learning how to become a scientist, and not only because of the self-evidently interesting subject matter she studies,” Hipp said. “Her lab was always a place of numbers and data, of ideas and conversation, and of enthusiasm and hard work.” 

Mentees receive opportunities to co-present at conferences, and Hipp had the opportunity to co-author a chapter in a scholarly book as an undergraduate.

The impact of that relationship is ongoing because “every paper I have published and every grant I’ve written in the last 15 years has been possible in part because of her early tutelage and example,” Hipp noted. “And when I have mentored students of my own, I always try to channel Dr. Burch’s patience, rigor and enthusiasm. In addition to being a great mentor of researchers, Dr. Burch is a rigorous and prolific researcher in her own right with a diversity of scholarship and a publishing record that evidences her legendary work ethic.”

‘Tremendous influence’

“Dr. Burch was an instrumental part of my educational experience at SUNY Oswego,” wrote Samantha Da Vita, a 2011 SUNY Oswego graduate who is now vice president of research for Quadrant Biosciences Inc. in Syracuse, where Da Vita manages a team of researchers while overseeing the company’s Food and Drug Association clinical trials. “Undoubtedly, Dr. Burch has had a tremendous influence on my successful career as a research scientist.”

Da Vita and Burch developed several co-presentations and projects related to human behavior across the menstrual cycle, one of which won an award for Best Poster Presentation at the NEEP  Conference in 2011.

“As with many of her mentees, she dedicated substantial time and effort towards my scientific, educational and professional development,” wrote Da Vita, who went on to earn a master’s in psychology and manage large research projects for Syracuse University before working with Quadrant Biosciences. 

“Dr. Burch’s dedication to mentorship, training, and service are even more impressive when one considers that she is also one of the leading scientists in her field,” Da Vita wrote. “Dr. Burch has maintained a productive research program that has yielded numerous high-impact publications. Her widely cited (nearly 16,000 citations in the literature) work in psychology has received international recognition.”

Another former student who earned a Ph.D., Martin De Vita is now a behavioral science officer and captain in the U.S. Army’s Medical Service Corps in San Antonio, thanks in part to the many “invaluable opportunities” Burch provided. 

“My undergraduate experiences as a research and teaching assistant for Dr. Burch had a profound effect on shaping my scholarly interests,” De Vita wrote. “Her talent and proficiency for teaching inspired me to seek every opportunity to learn beyond the curriculum.”

His time as a research assistant instilled “critical skills that remained the foundation for my scholarly pursuits in psychology,” De Vita noted. “Dr. Burch consistently promoted my competency in research design, statistics, experimental methods, writing and scientific communication. She dedicated her time and support to help me develop research ideas.” Together they co-authored multiple presentations, including two at NEEPS conferences.

“Dr. Burch has always displayed a commitment to mentoring the next generation of scientists in psychology,” De Vita added. “Beyond her selfless service as a mentor and teacher, Dr. Burch’s accomplishments as a researcher warrant considerable praise. … Several of her publications have been ranked in the 99th percentile by metrics that measure research impact.”

Additional recommendations from colleagues spanned such institutions as Tulane, Bucknell and St. Mary’s universities, SUNY New Paltz and the University of Redlands.

Burch earned her doctor of philosophy degree from the University at Albany, a bachelor’s in psychology from SUNY Brockport and an associate degree in liberal arts from Adirondack Community College.