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Elizabeth McGraw named head of Department of Biology

25 February 2021
Elizabeth McGraw
Credit: Patrick Mansell, Penn State

Elizabeth McGraw, Professor and Huck Scholar in Entomology and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics (CIDD), has been named the new head of the Department of Biology, effective April 1, 2021. 

“Beth is an accomplished scholar and brings a keen commitment to advocacy and excellence, and to furthering the success of students, postdocs, faculty and staff,” said Tracy Langkilde, Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science. “I am confident that she will provide strong and effective leadership to the department.”

McGraw succeeds Langkilde, who served as the head of the department since 2016.

“I am eager to work with my new colleagues in biology to further the department’s demonstrated excellence,” said McGraw. “Together, we will focus on increasing the department’s diversity and mentoring, promoting the research programs of our faculty, recruiting for excellence, communicating our science to the public, and continuing our collective effort to give our undergraduates in biology the interdisciplinary training needed to solve pressing global problems.”

McGraw’s research examines how genetic diversity in a virus like dengue, and in its mosquito host, affects how the virus is transmitted. She also studies the relationship between mosquitoes and their endosymbiotic bacteria, Wolbachia. Her lab is investigating how the bacteria prevents harmful pathogens from replicating inside the mosquito — a trait that is the cornerstone of an international effort to develop Wolbachia-based biocontrol against mosquito-borne diseases.

McGraw’s dedication to research and teaching have been recognized with several honors and awards, including the Eureka Prize from the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre in 2013 for her work as part of the Eliminate Dengue Team, the Ross Crozier Medal from the Genetics Society of AustralAsia in 2012, the Larkins Fellowship from Monash University in 2011, the Smart Futures Fellowship from the Queensland government in 2010, the Executive Dean’s Medal for Outstanding Performance in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Queensland in 2007, and commendations for the Enhancement of Student Learning from the University of Queensland in 2005 and 2003. She has authored almost 90 scientific articles in journals including Nature, Cell, Nature Reviews Microbiology, and PLOS Pathogens.

McGraw has served as director of CIDD since 2018. McGraw has also provided considerable guidance to the Penn State community during the COVID-19 pandemic. She led the University’s COVID-19 seed grant initiative, is a member of the University COVID-19 task force on strategic communications to students, and has served on several panels in Centre County regarding safe voting and a safe return to K12 education. She also developed a new video series “AskCIDD,” in collaboration with colleagues, to respond to questions from the public, producing more than 60 videos in the first year.

Prior to joining Penn State in 2017, she served on the faculty at Monash University in Victoria, Australia, from 2011 to 2017 and as an assistant professor and senior lecturer in genetics at the University of Queensland, Australia, from 2002 to 2001. She completed postdoctoral research at the University of Queensland and at the Yale University School of Medicine. McGraw earned a doctoral degree in biology from Penn State in 1998 and a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Michigan in 1993.