Biochemistry faculty profile – Professor Elizabeth Craig

Photo of Betty Craig
Professor Betty Craig.

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?

I grew up outside a small town in New Hampshire called Peterborough. I went to Peterborough High then to the University of Rhode Island for undergrad and Washington University Medical School in St. Louis for grad school.

Where did you carry out your postdoctoral research?

I did two postdocs. The first at St. Louis University in virology (adenoviruses) and the second at UC San Francisco in molecular biology, where I had the exciting opportunity to learn the very new (at the time) techniques of cloning and DNA sequencing.

As a child, who was your biggest influence?

My mother: She made sure “little sister” (me) got to do everything that my big brother did, from getting the opportunity to make the “big money” mowing lawns rather than just babysitting, and promoting my going to university rather than the nearby teachers’ college. Also my science teachers, Nr. Lofgren and Mr. Yeo, (remarkably) both went on to get PhDs after their stints as high school teachers.

Why did you decide to study science?

Because thinking about out how living things worked was fun.

Why did you come to Madison? When?

The science is great and very broad here at UW, and to me Madison was the perfect size to live and raise a family – not too big nor too small. I arrived in the fall of 1979 as an Assistant Professor.

What do you like most about being a professor?

Watching and helping students, postdocs, and young professors develop their scientific skills, confidence and find their niche. And being able to discover new things.

What is the focus of your research?

Our goal is to understand the diverse biological functions of the proteins which we now call “molecular chaperones” because they remodel protein structure through transient interaction — but were originally called heat shock proteins (Hsps) because their expression was robustly induced when exposed to stresses such as an increase in temperature.

What do you consider your major accomplishments?

Early on in the Madison Craig lab, we found that these Hsps were remarkably highly conserved and critical for normal cell function. Ensuing students and postdocs uncovered totally unexpected roles in basic cell physiology, from import of proteins into mitochondria to biogenesis of Fe-S cluster proteins – and continue to make progress on how they do such things.

What advice would you provide to a new assistant professor who is just starting his/her career?

Follow your own path, don’t be afraid to take on big questions (but keep that practical back-up plan in the back of your mind!)

When you are not working, what do you like to do?

Cook (I don’t have to follow protocols!), tend my plants, read, follow Badger basketball, and spend time at our “up north” cabin.

What is your favorite place in Madison?

Allen Centennial Gardens

Best Advice I Ever Received

“Keep your eye on the ball”

My Undergrad Alma Mater

URI – go Rhody

My Worst Subject In School

Music appreciation – I’m completely tone deaf and had to drop or get an “F”

If I Weren’t A Professor, I Would

Be a gardener

In College I Drove

A ‘50s Dodge pickup truck to get my job during the summers

Favorite Books

Many: Some that I’ve read in the past year include Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, The Yellow House by Sarah Broom, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Favorite City

San Francisco (70s retro) and Kyoto, Japan

Favorite Coffee

Ancora French Sumatran

My Latest Accomplishment

Finally making a pizza from scratch that I thought was really tasty

Nobody Knows I…

Worked summers in college as a waitress/cook at an artist “colony”