Brittany Morgan, the John V. O’Connor Assistant Professor in Cancer Drug Discovery, does not recall having any particular aptitude or interest in chemistry in high school but explains that her chemistry teacher must have seen something in her.
“After school one day, she actually helped me fill out my one college application…and made sure I got into the research programs,” she said.
Having influential mentors has played a huge role in helping Morgan to get to where she is today. She is a first-generation college student, and without this level of support, she doubts she would have attended college, let alone gone on to receive a doctoral degree and become a professor. Now, she uses her talents and knowledge to mentor others, an area of work about which she is very passionate.
In addition to mentoring, Morgan is passionate about both research and teaching.
“I think something that Notre Dame could offer me that literally no other place could was the interplay of being able to do really awesome research and also, at the same time, my views as an educator and a mentor would be valued,” she said.
This semester, Morgan, who teaches in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, is teaching chemical biology. She said she enjoys having the freedom to design a course, and she has crafted her course not as a test-focused course but one that encourages students to develop their thinking.
“I aim to get rid of the kind of, you go in and then you get a lecture and you go out and you get an exam,” she said. “I enjoy being able to bring that fun part back into science.”
Morgan’s research focuses on using covalent small molecules to capture and study the molecular recognition of dynamic and disordered proteins. RNA binding proteins are the protein class that has the greatest number of disease-annotated mutations, she said. This makes them more cancer drivers than any other class, and also potentially the basis of many neurological diseases. These proteins are highly dynamic and lack traditional binding pockets, so they are unable to be targeted with traditional small molecules.
She believes her research will have important therapeutic implications for various diseases such as cancer.
Overall, Morgan said she loves working with undergraduate students both in the classroom and in the lab.
“What undergraduates are able to accomplish I think is just phenomenal…Working with students who are just really interested in thinking about the next big problems in the world–it’s really fun because I think about them too,” she said.