Hatfield receives industry-level funding for chemical research at UNC Chapel Hill

MINOT – Now a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Breanne Hatfield ’17 explained her undergraduate science major hat trick in one sentence, “I was curious. Just curious.”

She had tied the bow on the last of her three majors with chemistry three years after the fateful car ride which first brought her to MSU as a varsity soccer athlete. At MSU, Hatfield learned about balancing academics with athletics and about pursuing curiosity under the guidance of her professors.

“I was going to a travel soccer tournament in California at the time, and I was in the car with my mom, and she said, you know, Bree, you can go play soccer, and if you don’t like it, you can always come back to California and go to a state school. But you can’t go to a state school, decide you want to play soccer, and then go play soccer,” she said. “When she said that, we were on our way to a soccer tournament, so I said let’s do this, it feels right. But I did not know where North Dakota was, admittedly. I had to look on the map.”

Now Hatfield and the rest of her University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Honey Badger teammates go down to the soccer field every Saturday to get out of the lab and clear their heads after completing their weekly chemical research. Contrasting Hatfield’s varsity soccer days at Minot State University, the Chapel Hill (UNC) Honey Badgers, exclusively made up of chemistry department faculty and students, range from people with years of experience, such as herself, to players who almost never touched a soccer ball.


As a graduate student, Hatfield does not go to school, per se; she goes to work. Since getting into UNC’s five-year chemistry program in 2017, she has been working in Professor Kevin Weeks’ lab. Weeks is also a co-founder of Ribometrix. His company researches ribonucleic acid, or RNA, to create disease-combatting drugs.

“It is a classic nine to five, with a few overtime shifts,” Hatfield said.   

Her days include catching up on scientific literature, running lab experiments, and attending seminars. Her program does not require her to take classes or teach them after her second year in the program.

Moreover, she did very well in her second year of research in Weeks’ lab. In April 2019, following multiple successful experiments, she partnered with Ribometrix under a sponsored research agreement. Since then, she has been studying RNA structure and function to develop therapeutic drugs. Hatfield also meets with the company’s industry professionals weekly to discuss her research progress.

“They fund my research. They give me a great amount of industry resources,” she said. “Industry funding is 20 times larger than academic funding. Just to have that speed, knowledge, and collaboration, it all accelerates my Ph.D.”

Hatfield’s college career started with an impromptu decision to join Minot State University’s soccer team. She had played defender on her high school’s varsity soccer team in Manteca, California. Nearing graduation, Hatfield received a phone call from Jason Spain, former MSU women’s soccer coach, who saw her film and decided to recruit her.

She started as a math major at MSU simply because she liked math. However, after joining Professor Narayan Thapa’s research, where she solved mathematical equations that helped in explaining, or modeling, avascular tumor growth, Hatfield added a biology major out of interest.

As the days went by, however, she started asking herself big biological questions about tumors and otherwise, all while she researched ticks with Professor Paul Lepp. The answers to these questions boiled down into the small details of chemistry. Hatfield then went to the chemistry lab, where she met Lucy and Mikhail Bobylev, chemistry instructors.


Within her memories of playing soccer and studying sciences lies a story of balance and dedication on both her academic and athletic fronts.

“I am so glad I played soccer, because then I couldn’t be all-academic or all-soccer. I had to be half and half,” she said. “Outside of the athletics and academics, I had great people to enjoy my time with, such as my teammates and professors in the chemistry department. We went on science conferences, but outside of those, we would go sightseeing, and we were foodies, so we would go to different restaurants.”

With her mentor, Lucy Bobylev, as one of those people Hatfield spent time with outside of class and athletics, she explained how the instructor pushed her into becoming confident in herself as a chemistry researcher.

“She always told us, if you are going to be a female in a male-dominated field, never doubt yourself. Never go below your mark,” Hatfield said. “To do that, you needed someone in your ear — you needed someone to give you that confidence, and Mrs. Bobylev was always there.”

Hatfield also explained how Bobylev represented the MSU support system in one short story.

“I remember having a conversation with her on being split between biology and chemistry, and I told her chemistry is a male-dominated field. She just laughed and shrugged, and she said, so?”

Between balancing an athletic life with an academically rigorous day-to-day routine, between meeting with industry professionals and working alongside doctoral candidates, and between Minot State University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel-Hill, Hatfield distilled the essence of moving upward in life into one piece of advice.

“There is a difference between being comfortable with failure and between being fearless with it. When I started in research, failure was inevitable,” she said. “So you can get comfortable with failure and accept it, or you can continue to push on with your next curiosity.”     

As Hatfield nears the conclusion of another academic chapter in her life at her last year at Chapel Hill, she remains excited about future prospects.

“I am looking for postdoctoral fellowships in the Bay Area,” she said. “I have been away from my mom for 10 years, and it’s about time I go back and have Friday wine nights with her.”

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 04/13/22   

» More MSU News