Morgan Chaney, a biomedical sciences doctoral student, was one of two advanced doctoral students awarded the David B. Smith Scholarship for the 2020-2021 academic year. Read further to learn more about his research, future goals and Kent State experience.
- Please give a short overview of your research.
I study the evolution of golden bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur aureus), specifically I want to know how they have adapted to tolerate prodigious amounts of cyanide in their specialized, very bamboo-centric diet. These animals can survive daily doses of cyanide exceeding their estimated lethal dose by about 50 times – what's more, they show no symptoms of cyanide intoxication whatsoever! This is a singular and surprising biological phenomenon because of cyanide's extreme toxicity, evident in the compound's classification as a weapon of mass destruction by the U.S. Department of Defense. To uncover how the lemurs can tolerate this extreme poison, I am mostly using genomic methods to find which genes have been crafted by natural selection. Very excitingly, this will include building a high quality genome for this critically endangered species of lemur.
- What made you choose to pursue your graduate degree here at Kent State?
The first reason has to do with the excellent faculty here at KSU. I completed my master's degree here in 2015, studying the behavior of white-faced capuchin monkeys in southwestern Costa Rica. During that time, I developed a lot of relationships in the Anthropology Department and the School of Biomedical Sciences. I knew I wanted to continue my education to obtain a Ph.D., and after finishing my M.A., I really felt that I would be best supported by the faculty at KSU because of their expertise in their fields and dedication to students.
The second reason is more personal. I am an Ohio boy, born and bred, and it means a lot to me to stay close to my family. My wife and I also knew that we wanted to start a family when I was applying to Ph.D. programs, and this only increased our preference to stay close to both sets of our parents.
- What do you enjoy most about attending Kent State for graduate school?
It sounds fulsome, I know, but I cannot emphasize enough how supported I've felt by the Anthropology Department. My wife and I had our first child last summer (see the little primate on my back in my photo?); since then, I have seen nothing but kindness and understanding from my friends, colleagues and mentors in the Anthropology Department as I have found my bearings as a parent in addition to a graduate student.
- What are your future goals?
My goals are traditional. I would like to obtain a tenure-track professorship at a college or university. Preferably, I'd like to stay in Ohio or at least the Midwestern region.
- What does this award mean to you and how will it aid you?
More than anything, this award is a wonderful reassurance that I'm doing well with my work. Like most graduate students, I have struggled with at least a modicum of self-doubt about how I have progressed with my research and through my program. I am very grateful to the Division of Graduate Studies for selecting me for the David B. Smith award.