2012 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Find what you are passionate about and find a way to be successful in what you do and what you enjoy. I've been very fortunate that I have long found success doing things I really like, and are very passionate about—public health and food safety. And, I am fortunate that I am working with a group of people who share that passion. So, collectively we have been quite successful in getting research grants, hiring graduate students, and producing manuscripts and publications. So, my advice would be to get involved, find out what you are passionate about, and make it a success.
Professor of Epidemiology and Animal Health,
Department of Animal and Food Sciences,
College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources
What are your research objectives and interests?
The primary focus of my research is to discover ways to change the food production-consumption continuum to meaningfully improve public health while maintaing a vibrant animal-agriculture industry. We (myself and my wonderful collaborators both here at Texas Tech as well as other institutions around the world) are fortunate to work with producers to trial tools (such as vaccines, probiotics, and education programs) that might improve food safety. Some of these tools are now widely used. But change is more than simply development of a new technology; effecting change in complex human-centered systems is difficult. So we are increasingly working with experts to evaluate complex systems to ultimately effect systemic change that benefits all the participants in the systems including producers and consumers.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
Our research has several impacts – obviously, we hope that we improve the safety of food which in turn meaningfully reduces the number food-borne illnesses. That said, we also hope to have other impacts such as fostering a student's scientific curiosity and providing that student with the tools to go off and become a great scientist. If we can train students to be better scientists than we are, then they will make better discoveries than we ever will and will also contribute to the education of the next generation of students and so on. So ultimately, I hope that we can develop a network of students and scientists that collectively discover solutions to those complex societal problems that are too great for individuals to solve.
What types of service projects have you been involved with?
Our team works with stakeholders across the food production-consumption continuum. For instance, we work to evaluate interventions in real-world production settings and provide producers advice about what might work for them. We also work with advocacy groups such as producer organizations, allied industry associations, and those groups that represent consumers. Finally, we get to interact with the government regulators who ultimately have the responsibility of inspecting – to quite literally providing the stamp of inspection – on various aspects of food production. To that end, we are able to see the opportunities and barriers to change so that hopefully we ultimately recommend is something that is perceived to be both effective and implementable by those responsible for that implementation.
What are you currently working on?
Our collective team is working on a broad suite of research and service projects. This includes efforts to provide practical solutions to the industry to combat a variety of food safety challenges such as Salmonella. These projects include very basic discovery work as well as applied efforts to implement change. While some of the aspects of the research programs may seem quite distinct, we hope that they inform each other so that we are ultimately focused on our goal of making peoples' lives better.
Where do you find your inspiration?
The origins of inspiration varies from person to person. Some like inspirational quotes and my favorite is 'Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us get to work'. So for me, inspiration (and by expansion, motivation), is a very personal activity in that many times, we cannot rely on others to provide inspiration – we have to proactively find ways to be inspired. To that end, we too often wait for inspiration rather than going out and finding it. For me, I believe inspiration is contagious. When I work with a team of people who truly believe in what they are doing and the outcome they want to achieve, that passion is infectious and it is inspiring.
What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research, and service—in their careers?
The best advice I could give is to find what inspires you, be patient but persistent, and also be willing to step out of your comfort zone. If we are willing to look at other disciplines, we often find people who share a desired outcome but want to get there on a different path. If you can work with them and find a common path, the likelihood of success is much greater.
An unsuccessful grant application is an opportunity to make it better – if you can be persistent, sooner or later you will find someone to fund it (or at least part of it but you do need to craft it to the program). Lastly, we live in a world where distractions govern our behavior. We don't allow ourselves to become bored – we have text messaging, instant messaging, twitter, social media, email, youtube, etc. My last bit of advice is to turn off all the distractions every once in a while and allow ourselves to become bored. It is during these times that I believe we do the best (and deepest) thinking about complex problems.
I received my veterinary degree from the University of Sydney, Australia, in 1994. I then pursued an internship in large animal medicine and subsequent graduate training in population medicine and epidemiology at Colorado State University. From 2002 until mid-2010, I worked at West Texas A&M University. My mission is to identify and fill critical data gaps needed to inform solutions for important societal challenges. I am an active member of the Academy of Veterinary Consultants (for which I serve on the Board of Directors), International Symposium of Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics, the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases (CRWAD), Association of Veterinary Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine (former Executive Board member), International Association of Food Protection, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and American Association of Bovine Practitioners.