Informational Interview by Haley Carter, ASPB Conviron Scholar
I had the pleasure of interviewing Katherine Andrews, who is the Director of Cultivation, Standards and Practices at Cresco Labs. Andrews is an alumna of the Plant Biology and Conservation Graduate Program at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden where she completed a Master’s thesis entitled Precipitation frequency negatively impacts plant survivorship, growth, phenology and herbivory in Oenothera harringtonii. She was invited to speak to current students at our Professional Development series. While this event was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19, we had the opportunity to connect over email where she was kind enough to answer the following questions.
So you graduated from the Plant Biology program here at the Chicago Botanic Garden a few years ago, where are you working now and what is your official title?
I’m working for a company called Cresco Labs – a vertically integrated leading multi-state operator in the cannabis industry. My official title is Director of Cultivation, Standards and Practices.
And did you start that job right after graduation?
I started working for Cresco a couple months prior to graduating the Plant Biology program. I started back on March 25th, 2019 so I’m actually coming up on my 1 year anniversary.
Congratulations! How did you negotiate this position while finishing your thesis?
It all kind of just fell into place. As I was wrapping up my thesis I began looking into jobs and other opportunities so that I had a plan post graduation. I cast my net pretty wide and considered everything from internship programs for additional experience, positions in government agencies (such as the BLM and Parks Service), as well as the private sector. During the last year of my Master’s program I had gotten in touch with Cresco Labs, an established leader in the cannabis industry. I saw their potential and sent out an application. A week later, I got a call from the SVP of Production and was told the position I had applied for had been filled. To my surprise, he said they were interested in creating a new position that aligned with my skillset. We began discussing opportunities in the company and settled on my role and job title, Director of Cultivation, Standards and Practices.
Did you know you wanted to work outside of academia when you started your graduate studies?
Yes, I was fairly certain academia was not the path I planned to take at the start of my graduate studies. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do upon starting, but I knew I would figure it out along the way.
What does your day-to-day look like in your position? How much variety is there?
There isn’t really much of a day-to-day so to speak in my position. The functions of my position include facilitating cultivation related to R&D efforts (improving growing practices, trialing out new products/technologies, developing studies for improved data collection, etc.), leading our breeding initiative (designing our genetics program, running pheno-hunts, creating novel strains/cultivars), managing cultivation internships and collaborations with academic institutions, trouble-shooting cultivation problems that arise at our facilities, and overseeing all related cultivation documentation. On any given day my goal is to make progress on ongoing projects and ensure our cultivation operations are running smoothly.
What is your favorite part of your job?
That’s a tough question, but I’d have to say all my favorite aspects of the job are made possible through our company culture. Cresco Labs has made a huge effort to hire subject matter experts from a variety of fields. The cannabis industry is relatively new compared to other regulated industries such as big pharma, food and beverage, etc. so our culture is one of self-starters and collaboration. We are all working towards the same goal of normalizing and professionalizing the cannabis industry, and it’s been an incredible experience learning from coworkers who all bring something unique to the table.
What is your least favorite part?
My least favorite part is the stigma still associated with cannabis. While many states have decided to pass legislation allowing for medicinal and recreational cannabis use, the industry is still federally illegal. The legal standing of cannabis functions as a barrier to the greater exploration of its applications and necessary research, imposing unique limitations on the industry.
Do you expect to continue in industry and in the cannabis industry in particular?
At this time, I can’t see myself leaving Cresco Labs or the cannabis industry generally. I love the company I work for and all the opportunities available in the industry.
How do you think a background in science has contributed to your success in this career?
I would not have landed my job without the background in science I gained throughout my academic career. Specifically, I attribute my time in the Plant Biology and Conservation Master’s Program as the biggest contribution to my success. With the rise of the cannabis industry, candidates with degrees in Plant Biology/Botany, Horticulture, etc. are in high demand. Aside from the obvious plant related nature of my position, I have adapted skills gained in the graduate program to fit the needs of my job. These skills include the ability to design comprehensive experimental trials, grant writing, mentorship, and public speaking just to name a few. More broadly, my scientific background has better equipped me to implement structure in an evolving, dynamic industry.
Thank you for your time! It’s been a pleasure hearing about your career and very encouraging to see how you’ve adapted your science experience to this position you’re clearly passionate about!