Plant and Microbial Biology’s Daub Reflects on CALS Career

An older woman wearing glasses sitting on a bench

Margo Daub, the first female department head for the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, has been a great leader and mentor to colleagues and other women at NC State.

Daub accepted her first job at NC State in 1983 as an assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology. After several years of dedication and hard work, she ascended the ranks, eventually becoming department head of what was then the Department of Botany (now Plant and Microbial Biology. Throughout her career, Daub has demonstrated an outstanding work ethic and leadership to many.

I’ve been killing plants with pathogens since 1974.

Her specialty is plant pathology, or the science of studying plant diseases and methods that would allow for plants to survive against pathogens and harsh conditions.

Initially, Daub was the instructor for the large undergraduate courses in plant pathology, but later shifted to teaching core graduate courses, with research being a heavy focus of hers.

Daub’s hallmark research focused on a group of fungi that cause disease on a large number of crop species by utilizing a toxin that damages plant cells and allows for fungal growth. Her work allowed her to formulate ways to prevent these diseases by targeting the production and toxicity of the toxin.

In 1999, the department head position in the botany department became vacant, and many of Daub’s colleagues recommended she take the realm as department head. When given the opportunity to demonstrate her leadership and expertise, Daub was thrilled.

“I had wondered if I would like administration, and I welcomed the opportunity to take on a new challenge at that stage of my career,”  Daub said.

The change in department cultures from a large agricultural department was a welcome surprise to Daub. The relatively small size of the botany department allowed her to continue pursuing research and teaching while also taking on administrative duties.

We really built a strong faculty, and I’m very proud of that.

As she had done during her time as a professor, Daub maintained a standard of excellence and collaboration with her work. When it came to administrative decisions, Daub’s goal was to make sure the outcome was representative of the overall department and that there was a level of consensus with the end result.

Her tenure as department head was not one without adversity. In 2013, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was undergoing a period of “mergers and breakups” as she called it. Daub has always believed that CALS’ greatest strength was representing both the agricultural and life sciences. This played a critical role in keeping the department in CALS. She believes this is one of the main reasons the department continues to recruit excellent faculty from other departments. In fact, building a strong, talented team of faculty members has been one of her proudest achievements.

“I feel that since I’ve joined the department, we hired just some top-notch faculty,” Daub said. “We continued a tradition of bringing in diverse faculty, not just in terms of gender, but nationality and race,” said Daub. “I feel that we really built a strong faculty, and I’m very proud of that.”

Although retired, Daub continues to have a lasting impact in her field. The aforementioned research she conducted on the harmful fungal group has flourished as a result of the student research internship she and a fellow plant pathology colleague, Jean Ristaino, had set up in Costa Rica. Daub has teamed up with one of the postdoctoral associates from the program, Elizabeth Thomas, to continue their work. The duo has recently published three papers together.

While the day-to-day activities of her time at NC State are missed, Daub has found peace and happiness in her new life at home.

“I’ve been killing plants with pathogens since 1974,” Daub said. “There are still things that are so interesting that I’d love to study, but it’s time to move on. I miss the department, and I miss my work. But I’m enjoying retirement and all the new opportunities that it brings.”

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