Focus on CMMG graduate students: Paul Morse

Paul Morse, former M.D.-Ph.D student working with CMMG faculty, Dr. Maik Hüttemann, Professor of Molecular Medicine and Genetics and of Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Immunology

Paul Morse, an MD-PhD student working with Dr. Maik Hüttemann (Professor of Molecular Medicine and Genetics and of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology), recently defended his dissertation, “The Endogenous Regulation and Exogenous Manipulation of Mitochondrial Activity: Cytochrome c and Cytochrome c Oxidase. His work focused on regulatory posttranslational modifications of cytochrome c, a coupling protein of the mitochondrial electron transport chain, and its relation to diseases such as stroke.  

Morse is one of about 6,000 MD-PhD students in the U.S. Pursuing both a medical degree and a PhD is a challenging although rewarding path to pursue. Morse explains that one of the accomplishments he is most proud of over his past few years has been transitioning from an unsure student into a researcher confident in his abilities. “I learned when to pull the plug…it was a valuable experience learning when to say no,” says Morse. Learning in this way how to best focus his energy allowed him to finish his PhD with several successful projects. “I feel very accomplished bringing so many different projects to completion, he says. The support system Morse developed while working with Dr. Hüttemann also helped shape him. “He’s [Dr. Hüttemann] a very hands-on mentor…he always encouraged me to think and was willing to let me be wrong about things,” explains Morse, adding that mentorship is key to developing independent and successful future researchers. He notes that Dr. Hüttemann taught him the various aspects of running a lab, from writing NIH grants to running and interpreting experiments. “He [Dr. Hüttemann] really just wanted me to think about things,” says Morse, emphasizing the importance of thinking critically and developing a scientific mindset. When asked how he would advise future PhD students, Morse emphasized the importance of having a strong support system because “… it’s hard even when it goes well” when pursuing such a strenuous path. Most importantly, choosing a mentor who is willing to go a long way to support and teach you is imperative as a graduate student. “It’s all about having good mentors, people who are ready to take a chance on you.” 


Morse was previously deeply engaged with research during his undergraduate years at Grand Valley State University and sees that as a positive and formative experience. Enrolling in an integrated MD-PhD program has allowed him to pursue both medical school and research and develop an unusual skill set that should benefit his future patients. Morse hopes to use these skills in the future and “mix clinical practice and research together…and keep that scientific mindset going forward.


Although he will start from the ground up again as he re-enters medical school this coming year, Morse is confident that the skills he has learned will help him succeed in this part of his journey. “I’ve had a broader education and have got exposure to a lot of different techniques and ideas, he says. As for future professional goals, Morse hopes to apply for a research residency after medical school and gain exposure to a different field of study.