Jim Morris with Elizabeth Kahney, his Laboratory Manager and former undergraduate research student, who will be leaving soon to begin graduate school at Johns Hopkins University.

Jim Morris works with Elizabeth Kahney, his laboratory manager and former undergraduate research student, who soon will be leaving to begin graduate school at Johns Hopkins University.
Image Credit: Katie Black

CLEMSON — Clemson University professor James Morris recently was honored by the Biology Division of the national Council on Undergraduate Research.

Morris, of the genetics and biochemistry department in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, received an honorable mention for his superior mentoring of undergraduate students and their research. He is one of three professors nationwide to be recognized by Biology Division. The Council on Undergraduate Research has more than 10,000 members.

Through Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program for undergraduate research, Morris works with four to six undergraduates in his lab every semester and two over the summer. Students typically begin as sophomores or juniors. First they shadow a senior undergraduate or graduate student to learn research methods and lab protocols. Then they begin working on a small project that they can grow into independent, autonomous research.

“Leading graduate schools and medical schools want students who have completed independent research, gone to conferences and published papers as undergraduates,” said Morris. “Here they have the opportunity, the support and the encouragement to do that.”

Morris has been mentoring undergraduate students for the 12 years he has been at Clemson. With major research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a family with two young children, demands on his time are many. His wife and research partner on NIH grants, Meredith Teilhet Morris, is assistant professor in the department of genetics and biochemistry, also is a partner in managing their complex lives.

How does he find the time to be so dedicated to undergraduate students while also giving time to his family, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers? To Morris that is an easy question.

“They keep me engaged in the research. We do experiments together shoulder to shoulder and I love their enthusiasm for what they discover. They keep me inspired,” he said.

The Morrises are scientists in the Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center (EPIC) and recently were awarded a $347,263 two-year grant from NIH to discover metabolic targets that could lead to a cure for African sleeping sickness, Trypanosoma brucei, a disease that puts nearly 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa at risk.

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EPIC
The Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center (EPIC), founded in February 2013, is an interdisciplinary research cooperative at Clemson University. It stands at the forefront of biomedical research on eukaryotic pathogens, which are the causative agents of some of the most devastating and intractable diseases of humans including malaria, amoebic dysentery, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and fungal meningitis. Globalization has resulted in an increase in such infections in the U.S. and many eukaryotic pathogens are also classified as bioterrorism agents and/or neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The global importance of these pathogens is what motivates our faculty members, who have established a lengthy track record of major contributions in this area of research.