Case study

Scientific officer ruminants — Emily

A degree in veterinary medicine has provided Emily with an excellent foundation of knowledge that helps her develop standards and policies in animal welfare

How did you get your job as a scientific officer?

I was looking in the veterinary press for work. I had been hoping to avoid clinical practice but didn't know exactly what I wanted to go into, or how to get into something else.

Scanning the online job section of an animal welfare charity, I came across what I would describe as the ideal job for me, a role in developing animal welfare policy both within the charity and on a wider scale, specifically focusing on ruminants. Since I was mainly interested in farm animal work, this job was ideal. I applied, was interviewed and was offered the job.

How relevant is your degree?

My degree is fairly relevant. The job didn't require a veterinary degree but it is very useful having one as I have an in-depth knowledge of animal welfare, the running of farms, the production cycles of various ruminants and common ailments which affect them at various points in the year, or during their production cycle.

What's a typical day like as a scientific officer?

I spend most days in the office, with the odd day out attending meetings in London or elsewhere. Occasionally, I get a trip out to visit a farm.

Days in the office are spent reading the latest animal welfare science articles, developing standards for the charity's farm animal welfare scheme, answering any queries that come in, either from external sources or internally and drawing up position statements on certain animal welfare issues, and information sheets on various ruminant species.

We integrate a lot with the other science groups, e.g. Bovine TB is an issue we address alongside specialists from the wildlife department.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the fact that my work potentially impacts thousands of animals. I can improve the welfare of many more ruminants than I could through the prism of clinical vet practice.

It is also extremely family friendly.

What are the challenges?

The slow progress in changing perceptions of animal welfare in farmed animals is a challenge. It takes many, many years of work to get changes to be accepted on a wide scale, let alone implemented on farms.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I hope to be working for the same charity, hopefully with a promotion to senior scientific officer for ruminants, should the opportunity arise.

What advice can you give to others?

If you are not wholly against clinical practice, getting a couple of years' experience prior to applying for non-clinical roles may stand you in good stead. Be aware of the alternative jobs within the species groups you're interested in. For example, AHDB Dairy hire vets to help develop their technical information and deliver it to producers.

Identify the parts of veterinary medicine you enjoy. If you are less keen on the clinical work, consider alternative options such as pharmacology - perhaps working for a drugs company, or on the physiological side - maybe in genetics. You may also wish to undertake further study in one of the many subject-specific areas available and this could lead into a research post.

Persevere and use all available resources - I saw careers advisors, attended talks by those working in government or the drug industry and I spoke to them afterwards. Attend conferences if you can, research the internet for everything you're interested in.

Remember that your career is long, and the first few years might need to be experience-building before you can get your teeth into what you really want to do.

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