Dr. Jennifer Graham-Engeland is an Associate Professor in the Biobehavioral Health Department at The Pennsylvania State University. She graduated from Cornell University majoring in Psychology and English and went on to receive her M.A. and Ph.D. in Social and Health Psychology from Stony Brook University. Jennifer then conducted postdoctoral research at The Ohio State University before joining the faculty where she is today at Penn State. She has been awarded the American Psychosomatic Society Scholar Research Award as well as the Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society Scholars Award. In our interview, Jennifer shares more about her journey through life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (02:14)
Jennifer believes that it is very important to have balance in your life as a scientist. These days she spends much of her time with her two children, renovating her home, hiking in the mountains, and getting out of the house to enjoy her town and explore other cities.
The Scientific Side (03:09)
In the laboratory, Jennifer investigates how psychological stress affects physical health. Though there are some instances where stress can be beneficial, severe or chronic stress can be harmful and debilitating. Jennifer’s research has been focusing specifically on how people with chronic pain respond to stress and how psychological, behavioral, and physiological changes may explain the connection between stress and chronic pain.
A Dose of Motivation (07:10)
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” by Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass
“I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable; I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” by Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass
What Got You Hooked on Science? (12:04)
Jennifer started her pursuit of a career in science relatively late. She had been planning to graduate college with an English major, and enjoyed conducting close analyses of books and poems. During a meeting with a faculty member to discuss a potential senior thesis, Jennifer revealed her plan to evaluate the role of memory in the poems of a modern poet. Based on her interests, she was referred to the faculty in the psychology department and was soon introduced to the excitement of research.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (21:20)
The first time Jennifer applied for a tenure track job was the first time that she tried really hard to do something and completely failed. She was attempting to go straight from graduate school into a faculty position and set off on her first interview just four weeks after the birth of her first child. The interview went poorly. Jennifer was exhausted, unprepared, and did not make the impression she had hoped to make. She was disappointed that things didn’t work out, but those experiences were helpful when she applied again after her postdoctoral work.
A Shining Success! (24:20)
Jennifer and her colleagues have had some really exciting papers published recently. She was one of the principal investigators on a longitudinal project measuring how stress is related to cognitive aging. They are just starting to look at the data this summer, and it has been thrilling to begin to run analyses.
Book Recommendations (30:20)
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
Most Treasured Travel (27:30)
Whenever she goes for International conferences, Jennifer always tries to include extra time in the trip to travel at the end of the conference. She is often able to travel with her husband who works in a similar scientific field, and they have gone to some wonderful conferences together. Jennifer recalls the breathtaking fjords, scenic train rides, beautiful cities, and phenomenal people she met on a trip to Norway prior to a conference.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (33:00)
Jennifer believes it is really rewarding to get a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes lives of the people you work with, particularly your mentors. One of Jennifer’s previous mentors invited the whole lab over for a BBQ, which was a lot of fun. The group was surprised by the professor’s impressive daffodil gardens with thousands of daffodils. Seeing that her mentors had families and hobbies showed that they had lives outside of science.
Advice For Us All (38:30)
It is important to collaborate and talk to people within and outside of your field. It is also important to maintain a sense of balance. You can be very passionate about science and have fun as well.
Jennifer has obtained funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State and other sources for her research. She investigates the impact of psychological stress on physical health and the psychological, physiological, and behavioral mechanisms underlying stress and health connections. She emphasizes the impact of cognitive and emotional responses to stress (e.g., rumination, meaning-making, anger) and their potential as targets for non-pharmacological intervention. Specific topics of her research program include: 1) adaptive consequences of recognizing and expressing negative emotion; 2) how emotion, depressed mood, inflammation, and physical pain are bi-directionally connected; 3) the use of immune-related biomarkers (particularly inflammatory markers) as outcomes or mediators of stress and health phenomena, and 4) the relevance of situational forces (e.g., relationship dynamics) and individual differences (e.g., hostility, loneliness, gender) on stress and health connections, with particular emphasis on chronic pain and inflammation. Her original research in these areas is published in biomedical and psychological journals. Dr. Graham-Engeland has also been invited to present her work at different forums worldwide, and has chaired several symposiums at international conferences, such as the American Psychosomatic Society and the Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society. Dr. Graham-Engeland is a dedicated instructor as well, and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Biobehavioral Health, including Gender and Biobehavioral Health and Interdisciplinary Integration in Biobehavioral Health.
*This episode was originally published on August 14, 2015.