In celebration of Women’s History Month, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is highlighting leading women helping advance agriculture-related sciences.
Get to know University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s Dr. Kasie Raymann. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology and the lead investigator on a NIFA-funded research project, as well the advisor on a NIFA-funded predoctoral fellowship awarded to graduate student Alexis Hoopman. Dr. Raymann was previously the recipient of a NIFA postdoctoral fellowship.
Tell us your journey and how your interest in agriculture developed.
My exposure to and appreciation for agriculture started as a child. I grew up in rural, southern Indiana surrounded by agriculture, and spent the latter years of my childhood living and working on my stepfather’s family farm. However, my interest in agricultural research did not develop until later in life. I obtained my undergraduate degree from Indiana University where I majored in biology. I joined a research lab (advisor: Dr. Michael Lynch) at the end of my sophomore year where I started working on and developed a passion for microbes.
After obtaining my bachelor’s degree in biology from Indiana University, I went on to do my Ph.D. in the Microbiology Department at Institute Pasteur in Paris, France, where I continued to work on microbes (advisor: Dr. Simonetta Gribaldo). I received my Ph.D. in September 2014 and then moved to the University of Texas-Austin to do my postdoctoral research with Dr. Nancy Moran; this is where I started to work on the microbes that live inside the gut of honey bees (the gut microbiome).
Although I initially viewed honey bees as just a model system to study host-microbe interactions, I quickly realized the work I was doing was also very applied because honey bees are so agriculturally and economically important. Thus, I designed a project to investigate how antibiotics (used in beekeeping) and pesticides (used in agriculture) impact the gut microbiome and health of honey bees, which was funded by a USDA-NIFA Postdoctoral Fellowship. My postdoctoral research helped provide evidence that the microbiome is important for honey bee health and exposure to chemicals (antibiotics and pesticides) can severely disrupt the microbiome composition resulting in increased mortality and pathogen susceptibility.
After working with honey bees for three years as a postdoctoral researcher, I fell in love with them, not only as a model system, but also as animals. In 2018, I started my lab at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where I continue to do research on honey bees and the microbes that are associated with them, including pathogens and beneficial bacteria. I actively work and collaborate with North Carolina Apiculture Extension Specialist Dr. David Tarpy (Co-PI on my current NIFA grant) as well as many local and regional beekeepers. I and my graduate students frequently give seminars and webinars to beekeeping clubs and societies across North Carolina.
I have also developed a strong relationship with the North American (USA and Canada) honey bee veterinarian community to help educate and inform veterinarians about honey bee health. I wrote a chapter for a new textbook, “Honeybee Medicine for the Veterinary Practitioner,” which is the first honey bee medicine textbook created for veterinarians. I also served as a panelist at the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria public meeting where I discussed the dangers of antibiotic use in beekeeping. Over the last eight years my research on honey bees has become more tightly intertwined with agriculture and outreach, and I see this relationship continuing to grow throughout my career due to the immense importance of honey bees to our food security and economy.
Who are your role models? Who/what inspires you?
My passion for science and knowledge drove me to pursue a career as an academic scientist. Professionally my role models are my two amazing female mentors, Drs. Simonetta Gribaldo (Ph.D. advisor) and Nancy Moran (postdoc advisor). Without their mentorship, support, and guidance, I would not be where I am today. Their incredible success inspires me to be a great researcher and mentor. As a mentor now myself, my students inspire and motivate me in so many ways. Being a mentor is one of the most important and rewarding things in my life.
Personally, my role models are my husband, mother, father, siblings, and best friends, all of whom inspire me in different ways. My family and friends have supported, encouraged, and shaped me into the person I am—and they continue to positively influence my life every day.
What personal challenges have you encountered and how did you overcome them?
Although there are many obstacles for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), I feel, as a white woman, I have been privileged in many ways. Like all women, I encounter and deal with sexism frequently. At early stages of my career, I felt like I had to ignore any sexism I encountered, but I always made sure to have a support group of strong women (friends and family) to talk to and lean on, which helped me persist. Now, as an assistant professor, I have made it my priority to point out and speak up about sexism, not only for myself, but also for others. I make sure my lab environment is equitable, inclusive, and safe, and that I am a good role model and support system for all my students and trainees. I wouldn’t say I have overcome dealing with sexism, but I have worked hard to not let it impact my goals and career. I am committed to being an activist, not only for women, but also other minorities in and outside of STEM.
What advice would you give to girls and young women who want to enter agriculture? What advice do you have for fellow women in agriculture?
Follow your passion and never give up! Find good mentors that will support and encourage you. Create a support system of people you can lean on and talk to about issues. Don’t be afraid to be the only woman in a job or career, someone must always be the first and you can help change the dynamics. And most importantly, always remember that this is not a man’s world, and you are amazing, capable. and can do anything you want in life!