Behind the Scenes with Kate Casey-Sawicki

As the assistant director of UF’s Breathing Research and Therapeutics (BREATHE) Center as well as UF’s Brain Injury, Rehabilitation, and Neuroresilience (BRAIN) Center, Kate Casey-Sawicki‘s duties are wide-ranging, including grant writing, marketing and communications, management of training grants, web design, event planning and general project management.

Kate Casey Sawicki smiling outdoors
Kate Casey-Sawicki

“Kate is a true unsung hero,” said Michael Jaffee, M.D., director of the BRAIN Center. “She is the engine for two research centers and has been integral in grant applications, strategy, coordination and communications. She has been the organizing force behind the MBI’s Gator NeuroScholars postdoc fellowship program to attract some of the best postdocs to MBI.”

Casey-Sawicki has the rare combination of both vision and ability to implement and coordinate effectively at the highest level, he said.

Gordon Mitchell, Ph.D., director of the BREATHE Center said Casey-Sawicki is an outstanding and gifted professional.

Among her notable achievements: She has launched a popular internal online seminar series that has attracted over 3,000 subscribers; coordinated all activities for both centers, including annual retreats and international workshops; and coordinated a new NIH Program Project Grant (P01) working group.

“Since day one, Kate has brought energy, insight and dedication to move the missions of both centers forward,” Mitchell said.

Years at current role: 2

Years at UF: 20 (12 as a staff member)

Memorable moment: My most memorable work moment actually occurred while I was in line at the grocery store. One of the many hats I wear is that of grant writer. Working with Dr. Gordon Mitchell, I helped to write the competitive renewal for the BREATHE Center’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-funded T32. We had been waiting on pins and needles for months to receive our score. As my children were helping me load groceries onto the conveyor belt, my phone pinged. The text from Gordon read, “Perfect 10!” I promptly burst into tears! Honestly, it was probably a relatively memorable moment for the bemused cashier as well.

I’m inspired by: My very first day on the job(s) was spent staring at a computer screen from home while my children milled around the house. Campus had closed due to COVID. My three kids would be home from school for the foreseeable future. The position had just been created, so I didn’t even have a template I could follow or a predecessor I could ask for advice. What had I gotten myself into? In the end, it was our center members, everyone ranging from new postdocs to preeminence professors, who inspired me to create the position as I went and to be inventive and fearless in the process. With their passion for developing new therapeutic advances for individuals living with spinal cord injury or investigating tau pathogenesis in traumatic brain injury, our members didn’t let a little thing like a global pandemic stand in their way. It was a humbling first lesson in a new role, and I took it to heart.

Why I love working at UF: UF is a remarkable place with so much amazing research taking place and dedicated people. I get to interact with staff, researchers, postdocs and students from so many different fields. The fact that Gainesville is close to wonderful beaches, springs and nature only makes it better. On top of all that, I get to work for a Top 5 public university.

Fun fact: I am a consummate knitter. You just might catch me whipping up some socks during a meeting (don’t worry, it helps focus my attention) or picking up sweater stitches while my son finishes up a chess tournament. It’s an anachronistic hobby that allows me to slow down, listen to an audiobook, and create something that brings me and others joy. While I have seen a few survey-based studies that reinforce my personal experience of the emotional and cognitive benefits of knitting, I see an exciting research opportunity here. Sign me up! I’m looking at you, MBI neuroscientists…

Bonus not-so-fun-fact: In my previous life, I earned a master’s in film and media studies and was an English instructor at UF and Santa Fe College. Need a solid lesson in technical writing? Shoot me an email!

Kate Casey-Sawicki talking to colleagues
Kate Casey Sawicki smiling at her desk
Kate Casey Sawicki updating a photo board in a lab hallway
Kate Casey Sawicki talking a colleagues delivering mail