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Emily Erickson

Emily Erickson 2013 & 2014

2013 & 2014 Astronaut Scholar


Clarks Hill, IN




College of Agriculture


Are there any key experiences at Purdue that you feel made you a better scholar? Without a doubt, my interactions with professors, mentors, and fellow students have encouraged me to become a better scholar. I have been surrounded by incredible people during my time at Purdue, the NIH, Mayo Clinic, and abroad. I have learned that almost anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Such support has been invaluable and has pushed me to work hard, and put my best foot forward in every situation.


How do you think this led to winning the Churchill Scholarship? Every action has a consequence. Looking back, I see many examples of how one opportunity opened the door to the next. The people I met along each step of the way played a role in helping me reach the next opportunity. However, I believe keeping an open mind and embracing new experiences are just as important; whether it’s the opportunity to study abroad, an internship, or participation in a club or activity.


How did you get started in research? I have always been deeply interested in science. I grew up raising dairy goats which sparked my interest in health, science, and research. With science fairs and great teachers, my passion for how things worked was further stimulated. I began a science research project in high school in a Nuclear Engineering lab, then moved on to a Plant Evolutionary Biology lab, both at Purdue. During my freshman year at Purdue, I began working in Dr. Karen Plaut’s mammary gland biology lab, which combined my background in animal science with my interest in human health. This research led me to pursue research internships outside of Purdue and has led me to where I am today.


When you applied for a Goldwater Scholarship your sophomore year, you received an Honorable Mention. For some students, this might have been enough of a reward. You applied a second time and won the full award. What motivated you to apply again? With one more year of experience and understanding under my belt, I thought that I may have a better application the second time. I was able to learn from my mistakes and direct criticisms toward making improvements in my application. As with research, we often learn most from what does not succeed the first time. Reflecting on my time at Purdue, I have grown so much as a person and as a scientist. Each new experience accelerated my understanding of the world.


You’ve received many other scholarships, including two Astronaut Scholarships. What is it, beyond the financing, that makes a scholarship meaningful to you? I recently had the opportunity to meet with the donors for a few of the scholarships that I have received. Hearing their vision for the scholarship and connecting the scholarship to the legacy it represents has helped me to realize that as a recipient, I embody that vision. It is both humbling and empowering and I hope to make the most of those gifts. 

Tell me about starting up Purdue Goat Club. Coming to Purdue I was discouraged to hear that there was no direct outlet to continue my interest in goats. Through connections I had made showing goats in past years, I was aware of a rather large group of students at Purdue who felt the same way. Together, this group founded the Purdue Goat Club with the vision to educate Purdue students, as well as the greater community about goats.


What does leadership mean to you? I believe leadership is simply a commitment to a goal and having the vision and the coordination to influence others to join your cause.


What do you plan on doing after graduation? After studying at Cambridge next year, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. to contribute to advancing breast cancer research.