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Dr. Megan Matthews (‘11) Finds a Culture of Collaboration at Penn State

1 February 2019

Megan Matthews

When Dr. Megan Matthews began searching for graduate programs, she knew that she wanted to attend a top research institution that would offer her the opportunity to develop as a scientist.

Fortunately, Dr. Matthews—who earned her PhD in Chemistry in 2011—found everything she was looking for at Penn State. She notes that she was particularly impressed by the University’s state-of-the-art facilities, “the new building with beautiful chemistry labs makes PSU Chemistry one of the nicest research facilities that I have seen and had the pleasure to work.” However, it was the enthusiasm of the chemistry community at Penn State that made the University stand out. “The faculty are excited to do science, and the administration does everything it can to enable their research programs,” she says, “There are no barriers or fears - diving into science with passionate researchers was both inspiring and motivating.”

After arriving at Penn State, Dr. Matthews conducted research with four different faculty members; she says that “the resources and individualized faculty support makes PSU a special learning environment.” The breakthrough moment in her graduate research came during her fourth year at Penn State. “I was watching the mass spectrometer acquire the key piece of data that nailed our hypothesis and cracked open the project that would become the major direction of the lab for many years to come,” she explains, “That day I learned that as grad students, we are only a single experiment away from making a big discovery and having an impact on a field.”

Although Penn State’s top-of-the-line research and academic programs ultimately convinced Dr. Matthews to come to the University, it was the people, the culture, and the positive working environment within the Department of Chemistry that made her graduate school experience special.

“Penn State gave me what I needed to succeed when, at the time, I felt like I was taking a big risk,” she explains. “The collaborative culture at PSU was exactly what I was looking for in my graduate experience,” she continues, “students learn together, work hard together, and, most importantly, having fun throughout our graduate careers in and outside of lab. The combination creates a team-based culture that opens endless opportunities...The department is spot on in terms of knowing how to create an inclusive culture that truly defines everyone as equals.”

After graduating from Penn State, Dr. Matthews joined the discovery proteomics program at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA. While there, she worked with Dr. Ben Cravatt to discover new drug targets by capturing functionality on proteins that cannot be predicted from gene or protein sequence. Her work eventually resulted in a publication in Nature Chemistry.

Shortly afterwards, Dr. Matthews said goodbye to the beaches and boardwalks of California to return to Pennsylvania. She is now Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, and her group is studying chemical proteomics technologies to discover functional protein modifications and novel drug targets.

Dr. Matthews says that her time at Penn State gave her the skills and confidence to propel herself to success at Scripps and as a professor. “Penn State inspired me to think big, be bold and trust myself,” she explains, “The science and the people at Penn State taught me how to focus my creativity, how to ask pressing biological questions, and how to communicate compelling results across disciplines—the essential components of scientific research.”

She adds that several of the professors she worked with at Penn State are still actively involved in her career. She explains that their support has helped her overcome challenges she faced as a woman in a male-dominated field. “At Penn State,” Dr. Matthews explains, “mentorship is for life.”

“I would not be where I am today without the spectacular training and continued support I received from PSU,” she continues when asked what advice she would give to students considering Penn State’s graduate program. “There are many factors to consider when choosing a graduate program, but with Penn State you cannot go wrong.” She notes, “for me, I never doubted that I made the right decision to go to PSU.”

In her free time, Dr. Matthews enjoys traveling, cooking, and wine tasting with her husband, as well as online shoe shopping.

Communications Coordinator