Alumni Spotlight: Margaret Krause

Name: Margaret Krause
Degree: B.S. Applied Plant Science
Grad Year: 2014
Advisors: Kevin Smith, Brian Steffenson, Sheryl Bolstad
Current organization/ employer: Cornell University

Favorite memory of campus:
Throughout my five years at the University, I worked as an undergraduate researcher in the on-campus laboratories of Jim Anderson and Brian Steffenson. I adored hanging out in the lab after class, helping the graduate students plant seeds or evaluate disease resistance in the greenhouse. I will cherish the relationships that I formed through those opportunities for the rest of my life.

Why did you choose CFANS as a college?
Beyond a broad interest in STEM, I started out in the College of Liberal Arts back in 2009 with little idea of what I wanted to major in. After arriving at the U, I was thrilled to learn that undergraduates could work part-time jobs assisting in research in the various laboratories around campus. I applied for positions in several biomedical labs, many of which involved taking care of rat or mice colonies – I just couldn’t quite get excited about that, and it showed in my job interviews. I didn’t get the jobs.

During high school, I really enjoyed the plant unit in my biology class, particularly when we learned how to make a cross between two plants. Inspired, I started to grow plants at home and make crosses of my own as a hobby. During the summer before I started at the U, a family member asked me if I knew about the life’s work of plant breeder and University of Minnesota alumnus Dr. Norman Borlaug. It was the first time that I learned that my “hobby” could be a career!

After another failed interview for a job in a cancer research lab, I headed back to the job board to find that a position in the University of Minnesota’s wheat breeding and genetics laboratory on the St. Paul campus had opened up. That was something I could get excited about! My enthusiasm carried me through the interview process, and I got the job. I quickly learned how to extract DNA from wheat plants, test for the presence or absence of a gene, and make crosses in the greenhouse. It was a perfect fit, and I promptly transferred into CFANS.

Despite growing up in the suburbs not knowing a thing about agriculture, I found my way into a career in plant breeding thanks to the numerous and exciting opportunities that the University of Minnesota and CFANS provided me as an undergraduate student.

Why do you think the University of Minnesota is great?
The University of Minnesota offers an immense breadth of opportunities to its students. Originally my goal had been to attend a small liberal arts college. Looking back now, many of the experiences that I had as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota would not have been available to me at a liberal arts college. At the U, students can conduct research on anything from the soils to the stars and everything in between, study abroad in the most far-flung places in the world, and get involved in development projects in diverse communities throughout the Twin Cities. The opportunities are truly endless!

Career information/ professional achievements:
Currently I am a Ph.D. candidate in Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell University.

I am a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship, which supports my research on developing breeding methods that integrate new technologies including genomics, aerial imaging, and climate sensing.

In addition, I am also generously supported by the New York Corn and Soybean Growers Association. In collaboration with an incredibly dynamic group of growers from around New York, I am analyzing high-resolution yield, soils, and topographical datasets to inform the application of precision agriculture tools on farms.

Most recently, I was awarded a U.S. Borlaug Fellowship in Global Food Security, supported by USAID. This fellowship allows me to carry out my dissertation research over the course of two years at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. I am currently located at their field research station in Ciudad Obregón in the northern state of Sonora and enjoy working with scientists from all over the world.

I feel fortunate to have had such a diverse set of opportunities as a Ph.D. student, and I look forward to seeing where they take me towards graduation.

What's your passion? What do you love about your work and your field?
First and foremost, I’m passionate about improving the livelihoods of people around the globe through agricultural development. Agriculture affects everyone on all corners of the earth, and I love that my work has the potential to have a far-reaching impact. I am also passionate about so many other areas related to STEM: science communications, science policy, mentoring, agricultural awareness, etc. I’m excited to continue to feed these passions and see where they carry me in my career.

How did your education at the U of M help prepare you for what you are doing today?
Beyond helping me to build the strong foundation in the plant sciences that was required to be successful in graduate school, the University of Minnesota challenged me to cultivate a wide range of crucial skills outside of the classroom. I spent one year studying Mandarin Chinese at Peking University in Beijing, China through the U of M’s Chinese Universities Exchange Program. Not only did this opportunity challenge me to navigate a new culture, but it also helped me develop personal resilience and determination. I first learned about the importance of networking as a mentee in the CFANS Mentor Program. Later, during two summer internships with seed companies, I sought out and gained key contacts that would go on to help me through the graduate school admissions process.

What advice do you have for current students (and future alumni)?
Always keep an open mind and stay curious. Take every opportunity to learn something new, even if it’s outside your major or area of interest. Diversify your educational experience whenever possible. When you start to feel comfortable, find a new way to challenge yourself. And don’t forget, networking is everything!