Each week, the Department of Chemistry highlights a graduate student who is doing interesting and exciting work within the department. In this installment of our highlight series, we are featuring Erica Graff, who is a fifth-year student in the Cremer lab.
Erica’s work focuses on studying the phase separation of protein solutions so that she can better understand how their phase behavior relates to protein interactions.
Outside of the lab, Erica volunteers during the school year with Lion's Pantry, an organization that seeks to address the issue of food insecurity at Penn State University Park campus. She also volunteers with Centre County PAWS.
This week, we met virtually with Erica to discuss her life in and outside of the lab! Please enjoy our interview with Erica Graff.
Question: How did you get interested in chemistry?
Answer: I was always interested in how the microscopic world changes what we see with our eyes, from weather phenomena to properties of materials. I also enjoyed working with my hands, which I get to do a lot of in the lab!
Q: What inspires you as a scientist?
A: I am motivated by complex challenges that require multiple steps to solve, like puzzles. I also love the idea of contributing to humanity’s knowledge. It’s like a small, permanent way of improving society.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: Probably my growth in public speaking since I started graduate school. I was incredibly shy and nervous around strangers before, but now I can comfortably speak in professional settings.
Q: Why did you decide to come to Penn State?
A: I thought the campus was beautiful and liked that it was relatively close to my home in New Jersey.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in Keyport, New Jersey. My home was about a mile from the beach and there are quite a few Victorian style homes along the shore.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: My hobbies include hiking, rock climbing, sewing, reading, homebrewing, and playing video games.
Q: Do you have any pets?
A: I have two delightful cats at home!
Q: What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?
A: A restful day off includes sewing up a project while watching sewing videos and perhaps baking cookies and reading at night. An active day off would probably be hiking to a new place, eating dinner by a campfire, and sleeping under the stars.
Q: What’s your dream vacation?
A: My dream vacation would probably be a road trip through several west-coast states, starting off with some skiing in Colorado and soaking in the sun further south.
Q: If you could have dinner with anybody (living or dead), who would it be and why?
A: I’d probably want to eat hot wings with a comedian, like Bo Burnham. I think it would be hilarious!
Bonus Question: Do you have any fun science trivia to share?
A: NASA shares an “Astronomy Picture of the Day” that I check daily. It’s fun for learning little bits of astronomy.
Thanks to Erica for these interesting and thoughtful answers! We hope you enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more graduate student highlights in the weeks to come!