Clifford Steven Morrison lives in Troy, New York where he is a Ph.D. Candidate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Morrison’s experience as a Terry Scholar, Emerald Eagle Scholar, Honors College Scholar, and McNair Scholar at UNT, lead him to pursue his Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Morrison earned his B.S. in Chemistry and B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of North Texas in 2014 and was a member of the Honors Program.
What brought you to the University of North Texas (UNT)?
I chose UNT for my undergraduate studies because of its focuses on impactful and high-quality research, diversity and inclusivity, sustainability, and high standards of academic excellence.
Why did you choose to be a member of the UNT Honors College (or program) during your studies?
I wanted to be a member of the Honors College so I could take more enriching classes. It was also very motivating to be part of a community of scholars who have similar goals and motivations as I did.
What do you remember enjoying about the Honors College?
I enjoyed the many opportunities the Honors College gave for its students to meet with one another and share perspectives regardless of academic discipline. That is what elevated my Honors College experience from simply taking enriched classes to knowing that I was a part of a diverse community of scholars.
How did your experience at UNT and in the Honors College shape your career path?
Between my experiences as a Terry Scholar, Emerald Eagle Scholar, Honors College Scholar, and McNair Scholar at UNT, I found myself being motivated to step out beyond the classroom and approach fundamental research by looking at the big picture. I’m interested in solving complex problems using a multidisciplinary approach, and my experience in the Honors College directly contributed to that mindset. This led me to pursue my Ph.D. in chemical engineering.
What was the most valuable lesson – inside or outside the classroom – that you learned at UNT?
I learned that failure is a necessary component of success. I used to be anxious about getting something wrong or not doing something well the first time, but since my time as an Honors College student and being an undergraduate researcher, I’ve come to learn that shedding that anxiety about failure is what allows me to put my best foot forward.
What did you do in the year immediately after graduating?
The day after graduation, I moved to upstate New York and began my Ph.D. program in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I also applied for, and won, a fellowship from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships Program, which allowed me to focus on my studies. In addition, I led support groups for LGBTQA+ youth in upstate New York, made new friends, and adopted a beautiful rescue cat named Gia.
Please share a memorable moment or experience from your time at UNT and the Honors College.
My entire experience as a McNair Scholar, under the umbrella of the Honors College at UNT, was incredibly notable and memorable. I spent three years performing research in the lab, making presentations about my work, and preparing myself for graduate school. That experience was invaluable, and I definitely would not be where I am today without it.
How would you describe UNT, the Honors College, and Denton?
The culture of UNT is pretty unique compared to other universities in the state of Texas, and the same can be said about Denton compared to other cities in the state – so I think learned a lot about myself by learning a lot about other people and other cultures while I was there. At UNT, there’s a sense of pride and unity in diversity, and that shines through in its academic programs as well. I learned how to look at the big picture from multiple perspectives as an Honors College student, and I think that viewpoint is consistent with the culture of UNT at large.
If you could go back and do it all again, would you still attend UNT? What would you do differently, if anything, during your time as a student?
I’m proud of what I did at UNT, so no, I wouldn’t change my choice to go there. If anything, I would just go back in time to remind myself to go out and have some more fun every once in a while! I tell my students all the time that “you can just buy your textbooks at a bookstore and read them on your own if all you care about is the course material.” But the college experience is about much more than just that, and I think we all forget that sometimes (myself included!).
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
Since my time at UNT, I consider my greatest professional accomplishment to be that I successfully broadened my academic expertise from chemistry/biochemistry in my undergraduate career to include chemical/biological engineering in my graduate career. It was immensely tough to go into a Ph.D. program in a field that I don’t have a bachelor’s degree in, but it’s been incredibly rewarding so far. In addition, I’ve published two first-author academic papers; published two patents; published my master’s thesis; won a few fellowships for graduate school; and presented at multiple conferences.
Did you pursue any other career paths prior to your current occupation? If so, please describe your occupational history.
My one and only career path (so far) since my time at UNT hasn’t changed – I am still a student. However, with respect to my academic fields of study, I can say that I switched fields between my undergraduate and graduate studies. I started off my academic career in the sciences at UNT, but I have now ended up in engineering in graduate school.
What advice/insight do you have for UNT alumni and students interested in your field?
My advice to anyone interested in biotechnology is to take as many mathematics courses as possible, broaden your perspective outside of the field you started off in, learn to see the big picture, and try to solve problems with a multidisciplinary approach.