UC Davis graduate student Morgan Matson

Grad Slam Finalist Profile: Chemistry Ph.D. Student Morgan Matson

Meet Morgan Matson, Chemistry Graduate Student and Grad Slam Finalist

Morgan Matson

Program, Degree & Year of Study
Chemistry, Ph.D. Fifth Year

Research Interests
Engineered microbes to produce chemicals, fuels, and pharmaceuticals

Previous Degree(s) & College(s)
B.S. Chemistry, University of Virginia

Title of Grad Slam Presentation
Zap! Electrifying Bacteria for a Better Future

Describe your presentation style in three words.
Casual, simple, and semi-cheeky

What did you do to prepare for Grad Slam? 
My PI has always pushed the idea of “what is your story.” It doesn’t matter if your results are groundbreaking, if no one understands what you are doing or why it is important, then nothing matters. Our research is a bit out there for a Chemistry department, so my entire Ph.D. has been practicing explaining my research to people with no foundational knowledge in the field. I also participate in outreach with children, so getting 12-year olds to understand my research has been my bar for success. Beyond that, my group is very supportive, so every week in group meeting I got a chance to practice and get feedback.

What initially attracted you to your field of study? 
The premise of replacing petroleum with bacteria is simply fantastical. It’s not just petroleum either, any chemical where harvesting from the source is untenable, like many natural products and human breast milk! I was drawn to the Atsumi lab and metabolic engineering as a field of study because it was addressing real-world issues immediately. I wasn’t studying something that someone else could use to solve the problem, I was directly building the solution.

What do you like to do in your free time? 
At school, I participate in DEB and Chemistry outreach events whenever I can fit them into my schedule. Giving lab tours, evaluating high school science projects, doing hands-on demos with kids, planning and giving scientific talks to the community, and performing demonstrations. Blowing up propane balloons is strangely cathartic. Reading comic books and playing video games are my go-to chilling activities at home.

Do you have any mentors who helped you develop your interest and strength in research communication? If so, how did they help you?
My PI Shota Atsumi stresses to everyone in his group that giving a presentation is just telling a story. When people walk away from your presentation, 80% will forget your data immediately, but 100% should know your story. The straightforward way Shota communicates drew me in from visitation and has ever-since been my golden standard for science communication.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 
Like Forrest Gump said “life is like a box of chocolates”, and I am the sampling type. I can only hope I am happy, healthy, and contributing to a better society.

About This Year's Final Round

Due to the shelter-in-place order and the ongoing Coronavirus situation, UC Davis Graduate Studies chose to cancel the 2020 UC Davis Grad Slam final round event on April 7. 

Though the event’s cancellation draws this year’s competition to a close, Graduate Studies is eager to continue rewarding and recognizing the efforts of this year’s finalists. Graduate Studies, along with Grad Slam sponsors Public Scholarship and Engagement and Global Affairs, will be awarding each of the ten finalists a prize amount of $625. 

Graduate Studies will also be highlighting each of the finalists in web profiles and working with campus partners to identify alternative ways in which their contributions to society might be publicly recognized and celebrated over the course of the next year. 

For more information about UC Davis Grad Slam, visit the Grad Slam website or contact Kathryn Raley, Program and Event Manager for Graduate Studies, at knraley@ucdavis.edu

UC Davis Grad Slam Sponsors

Graduate Studies would like to thank this year's UC Davis Grad Slam sponsors for their generosity and support.

The Office of Research serves as the primary campus resource for matters related to research and technology commercialization. OR provides services and resources to simulate research, facilitate collaborations,  optimize infrastructure, ensure compliance and  translate innovations into commercial applications for societal benefit. Learn more by visiting the UC Davis Office of Research website.


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Public Scholarship and Engagement (PSE) is fostering a culture of engagement at UC Davis that increases the university’s impact through mutually-beneficial relationships that have local, regional, statewide, and global reach. We envision UC Davis research, teaching and learning that serves society and makes a positive difference in the world. Learn more by visiting the Public Scholarship and Engagement website.



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Global Affairs brings the world to UC Davis, welcoming more than 10,000 international students, scholars and leaders, and hosting programs that inspire global curiosity, understanding and engagement. Compelled by the valuable outcomes of thinking globally, we make transformative opportunities a reality by supporting the thousands of students and faculty learning and researching globally—and by facilitating collaborations that tackle the world’s most pressing challenges through more than 150 global partnerships.

Putting our vision of a UC Davis community that engages, thrives, and leads in this interconnected world into action, Global Affairs is in pursuit of an ambitious goal: Global Education for All.

About Graduate Studies

Graduate Studies at UC Davis includes over 100 dynamic degree programs and a diverse and interactive student body from around the world. Known for our state-of-the-art research facilities, productive laboratories and progressive spirit – UC Davis offers collaborative and interdisciplinary curricula through graduate groups and designated emphasis options, bringing students and faculty of different academic disciplines together to address real-world challenges.
UC Davis graduate students and postdoctoral scholars become leaders in their fields: researchers, teachers, politicians, mentors and entrepreneurs. They go on to guide, define and impact change within our global community.

For information on Graduate Studies’ current strategic initiatives, visit the Graduate Studies strategic plan page.

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