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A Series of Fortunate Events - Morgan Black

Morgan Black smiling for the camera in front of a wall.

As Morgan Black walked through the auditorium of the UCC on Graduate Studies Preview Day she wasn’t sure what steps she would be taking next with her studies. A risk-taker by nature, who always welcomed new opportunities, she was determined to keep an open mind while she perused the many booths. 

What followed was a series of fortunate events including a chance meeting with Dr. Michael Strong, dean, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and a conversation with David Haniford, PhD, then the graduate chair, Department of Biochemistry.

Fast forward to 2014; Black is currently pursuing her master's degree in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology.

Black’s passion for science was first sparked by her grade-nine science teacher, Marcus Poitras. It was then ignited during her participation in ‘Science School’, a scholarship program for grade 12 students offered through the Ontario Science Centre.

Applying to Science School on a whim, Black was one of 20 students accepted to the program, and completed her high school Chemistry, Biology and Calculus credits at the Science Centre.

With her interest in science piqued, Black began the Bachelor of Medical Sciences (BMSc) Program at Western University. In her third year, she secured a position in the Biochemistry Summer Research Program, working with Haniford. Black enjoyed her project and lab experience so much she completed her fourth year thesis under Haniford as well.

Following graduation, Black continued in Haniford’s lab while she considered what direction she should follow. A chance meeting with Dr. Anthony Nichols, while working at a part-time job at Best Buy led to a unique opportunity for her to pursue her master's under his supervision. Black’s research focuses on investigating therapies for throat and neck cancers caused by the Human papillomavirus (HPV).  

“My project is seeking better treatment for all patients, as well as differential treatment for the positive and negative HPV cancer strains. HPV-positive cancer derives differently from those caused by tobacco mutations. You can imagine then, if we have two different tumours, the treatment should be different – but where we are now, they are treated the same”, said Black.

Black acknowledges that she wouldn’t be where she is today without taking chances, and acting on all the opportunities that have been presented to her. “I’ve been very lucky – I’ve never really turned down those chance opportunities because I find that they help”, she said.

She also encourages other graduate students to take advantage of all the opportunities available to help improve their research, including connecting in with one’s supervisory committee. “I was really excited to make up my own committee. 

“This was my chance to sit down with the people I pick as mentors to talk about my research. I think a lot of graduate students are intimidated by it, or worried that these people are going to tear into you and ask hard questions about research, but that is kind of the point. It helps keep your research on track.”

The 2014 Graduate Studies Preview Day was held on January 16 and welcomed undergraduate students interested in pursuing a master’s or PhD program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. With more than 17 programs to choose from there is tremendous depth at the School.