Lili Cai




I was born in a small coastal county called Xiapu in the province of Fujian, China, in 1990. I have two siblings, an older brother and an elder sister, and we are the generation of left-behind children, staying mostly with our grandparents near the local tea garden. The memory of my hometown lingers with various seafoods that were either freshly served or pickled, as well as the aroma of tea that permeated the atmosphere spring to fall. The elementary school I attended was less than five minutes away from our house so I was lucky that I could sleep late in the morning to catch the first class. This luxury ended when I started going to a junior boarding middle school, because there we had to get up early for the mandatory morning exercises. In hindsight, this dormitory life actually helped me to be more independent and self-disciplined.

Educational Background

When it was time to go to college, I had no idea what my career goal would be. My older brother was majoring in Finance far away from our hometown in Chongqing and settled in Fuzhou (the capital of Fujian province, China) when he graduated. My elder sister went to a medical school in Fuzhou too. As the youngest child in our family, they preferred me to choose a college nearby rather than one out of Fujian province. At that time, I just wanted to do something different (different in major and college) from my siblings and I did so. I chose to go to Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University and was assigned to a major I had never heard of before, which was known as Wood Science and Engineering. This major was also new to our family and everybody thought I was going to be a carpenter.

As I got to know the major deeper, I found this is an amazing field where I could learn both wood science engineering, as wellas furniture and interior design through the program. I spent around two years learning graphing and 3D modeling. In my senior year, I was recommended to continue into the Master’s program at the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University with an entrance exam exemption and was lucky to be a member of Dr. Yongqun Xie’s research group. During my master’s study, I was involved in a very interesting project that involved baking “wood cakes” in the lab using waste paper pulp in order to improve its fire-resistance. That was a lot of fun!

After I finished my master's program, I got a great opportunity to work on a project related to the protection of an ancient ship in Dr. Yongyun Xie’s lab. The ship was built in the 13th century and was not discovered until 1973. It was further assembled with more than 20,000 nails before being displayed in a museum. A couple of years later, the nails in the ship rusted and the ship started discoloring. I was doing some Chemical Composition Analysis on this decayed wood. It was a great experience and I deeply realized that the protection of wood can help more people know our history. So I decided to continue my Ph.D. in the area of wood preservation and was really fortunate to work in Dr. Dragica Jeremic’s lab at Mississippi State University starting June 2016. During my Ph.D. I was mainly working on developing biobased preservatives for wood composites protection. In her lab, I met some of the most talented friends from all over the world and got the opportunity to try new food and know different cultures. I still remember the day when Dr. Jeremic told us during our weekly group meeting that she had decided to go back to Canada, and I was the one crying the hardest. After that time, I was honored to continue my Ph.D. under the supervision of Dr. Hyungsuk “Thomas” Lim, while also having Dr. Yunsang Kim as my Co-Supervisor. While this brought a lot of changes, and challenges, within my three-year Ph.D. program, I was also so lucky to have had so many great mentors along the way!

After finishing my Ph.D. at MSU, I was offered a tenure-track position at the University of Idaho where I could start my own lab in Biomaterials Deterioration and Protection. I have been so fortunate to have so many great mentors and colleagues along my career path and the opportunity to work with the next generation of wood protection professionals and leaders!


The way how I got to know IRG was when one of our group mates, Dr. Olanrewaju Raji, presented his research on the 2017’s IRG meeting in South Africa. What was more exciting was that he received two prestigious awards, Ron Cockcroft Award and Gareth Williams Award. I have found that the IRG proceedings are one of the best ways to know the frontier of the wood protection field and started my membership with IRG in 2020. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented my attending any IRG meetings since in person, I enjoy sharing my research and learning at different conferences and I am looking to meeting with our IRG family members and getting to know the names I have been reading a lot on the papers in the near future!

Real Life

I met my husband Huilin in 2008 in college and we married in 2015. Our son, Henry, was born in early 2018. My husband was very brave to move to the US with me when I was doing my Ph.D. at Mississippi State and I am so grateful for my husband’s tremendous love and support all the way here. In my spare time, I try to spend as much time as possible with my family over the weekend. We like to bring Henry outdoors and enjoy the sunshine where we live in the Palouse, WA area, just north of Moscow, Idaho.



This bio was written for the August 2021 IRG newsletter.