Q&A with New CABBI Program Manager

Celine Young was named Program Manager on March 31, 2023, for the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI), assuming a leadership role that oversees the center’s operations and project management team. 

Prior to joining the CABBI team, Young worked as Managing Director for the Molecule Maker Lab Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, acting as the connection point between research and business processes.  

In this Q&A, Young discussed the administrative side of research, the future of CABBI, and what it’s like to oversee such a large center.

First of all, congratulations on your new position! I know it’s been a couple months since you started, so how have your first couple of months been?

Busy — in a good way, though. There is a lot that’s been going on at CABBI that I jumped right into. So we’ve hosted industrial partners, made progress on planning for a new greenhouse in Research Park, and are in the midst of planning for our annual retreat, all while coming up to speed with the new position, team, and center.

What drew you to the type of research in bioenergy that CABBI does? What made you want to accept this position?

I was trained as a lipid biochemist, so a lot of my prior research aligned with the conversion theme in CABBI. On the research side of things, I was initially interested in how the conversion theme works with the plant biology and crop science side of the research portfolio. That’s a new area of research for me, and I’m always interested in looking to learn more about all the exciting research going on.

I know in your position you wear a lot of hats, but what would you say are your primary responsibilities as program manager?

The responsibilities are pretty wide ranging: from the finance side of things to communications within the center, to reporting to the Department of Energy, the funding agency. I also wear different hats for research strategy, HR, and making sure we’re supporting an inclusive environment in the center. For overall management of this big center, I lead a team of staff members who coordinate with the themes, manage the data, oversee the lab space, and more broadly support the CABBI community.

Do you have one aspect that is your favorite or most excites you?

I think just the fact that it is so wide ranging in the responsibilities. I thrive in fast-paced environments, and I really like that my days never look the same.

What are you most looking forward to in terms of near- and long-term goals for the program?

In the near term, on June 20-22 we bring the CABBI community to campus, all together for our annual Science Retreat. I was able to attend the retreat last year, and it’s always fun to see everyone being able to connect in person since we are spread out all across the country. In the longer term, there are a lot of new projects going on to expand the reach of CABBI – both in research and non-research spaces. This includes things like the development of the new greenhouse, expanding our summer internship program, and building relationships with industry partners.

I know you’ve had director/management positions in your previous work, so I was curious to hear what lead you away from research in the lab towards more managerial positions.

Pretty early on in my Ph.D. I realized I did not want to keep working at the bench long-term. My days were spent with pipettes and mass spectrometers, and that just was not going to be sustainable for me long term. I knew I wanted to stay as close to the research as possible, so roles like this one at CABBI really allow me to help the researchers just focus on the research while my team and I try to take everything else off their plates.

Do you feel that background of things you’ve done before this have prepared you and informed how you took on this role at CABBI?

Yes, for sure. A lot of my research training can be applied here, mostly in the space around communicating the science, which is critical for these sorts of positions. When communicating with the researchers, the funding agency, and the general public, being able to speak each other’s language makes everything go much smoother in terms of the management of the center.

I know that you are very busy, but when you do get some free time what are some things you like to do?

I definitely spend a lot of time with my family. My husband and I have a one and a half year old at home, so home life is very busy. We also have a dog, and we’re very active outside.

— Article by CABBI Communications Intern Erin Minor