Faculty Statement

I need to bust my tail every day in order to teach students how to work hard.

I need to be fastidious in my physical exams to teach students how to pay attention to details.

I need to fill out labels, put bands on, and double and triple check myself to teach students the importance of food safety.

I need to call producers the day after I see a case to teach students how to follow through.

I need to ask my colleagues for help to teach students how to collaborate.

I need to watch what I say to teach students how to be professional.

I need to voice my opinion to teach students how to respectfully disagree.

I need to stand up for fellow colleagues and give them the benefit of the doubt to teach students how to be unified as a profession.

I need to listen carelfully and take my time with producers to teach students how to care for their clients and how to communicate.

I need to go home at a decent hour to teach students how to have a work life balance.

I need to be willing to pick out stalls and haul water buckets to teach students how to be humble.

I need to laugh at myself to teach students not to take themselves too seriously.

I need to ask questions to teach students how to be curious.

I need to read papers to teach students how to educate themselves.

I need to move slowly to teach students how to be patient with each other and their clients.

I need to move quickly to teach students how to be efficient.

I need to take students’ ideas seriously to teach them to be open minded.

I need to persevere to teach students, especially the girls, that they can do it.

I need to fail in order to teach students how to get back up again.

Most importantly, I need to love and care about students as human beings in order to teach them how to be human beings.

That is what it means to me to be a faculty member.

Posted in PFP13F

Interdisciplinary cooperation: is it like a middle school dance at first?

I can see it now – animal scientists lined up along one wall, veterinarians lined up along the other.  Every once and awhile someone wanders over to the punch bowl.  Finally they play the Macarena and a few brave souls wander out to the dance floor but lose heart half way through and slink back to their respective walls.

I recently attended a conference that was mostly comprised of animal scientists and it struck me, as one of the few veterinarians in attendance, that we ought to make more of an effort to work together.  Of course, I was also one of the only women in attendance, and it’s tempting to blame the sparse and ineffectual communication between the two fields on the fact that the are so male-dominated.  But despite all the stereotypes I must insist that one cannot make sweeping generalizations about the communicating abilities of men vs women.  That being said, it occurred to me that someone ought to champion the effort to bring animal scientists and veterinarians into more of a working partnership, a symbiotic relationship, if you will, rather than a tolerance of the other’s existance.  Right now, it seems to me, each profession at its best will ignore the other, and at its worst may overtly undermine the other.  I must admit that I have little hope of changing things.  And I wouldn’t even know where to start.

For those who are in interdisciplinary fields, how does it work?  Who started it?  What was the tipping point?  I’d be grateful for any thoughts or insight…

Posted in PFP13F

The heaviest responsibility

This is the part of my job that I hate the most: deciding whether another individual should be allowed to join my profession.  It is wholly necessary and yet I detest it.  Students come through as fourth years, having spent so much time, money, sweat, and blood towards earning this degree, and sometimes the conclusion I come to is that they ought to be denied their long sought after goal.  Some times it’s easy to make that decision because they have a terrible attitude, which is most often the case.  But occasionally the cause for concern is actual competency.  A student has put in as much effort as possible but has still fallen short.  At this point it is tempting to turn and blame the admissions department for a failure on their part, but that does nothing to solve the current problem.  Here we have student who has put themselves often a hundred thousand dollars in debt and I want to send them packing with nothing to show for it.

I am never the sole person responsible for making this decision, thank goodness.  I stand with a whole crowd of clinicans and professors who work together to come to a decision.  The ability to shoulder the responsibility as a group lightens the burden somewhat.  But in the end, our collective decision comes from each of us making our own individual decision.  Yay or nay.

Do people in other departments feel the weight of this responsibility?  Will you ever have to decide if graduate students get their PhD or not?  If associate professors make tenure?  I don’t envy you that job.

Posted in PFP13F

Meningitis outbreak at Princeton

A total of 7 students at Princeton University have come down with bacterial meningitis since March.  While 6 of those students have recovered and the 7th is expected to recover, the mortality associated with this disease is typically 10%.  Adolescents seem to be particularly susceptible, making it a serious issue for colleges and universities.

Our current policy at Virginia Tech is that students are required to be vaccinated for bacterial meningitis unless they sign a waiver.  It seems reasonable to present recommendations and to let students choose not to follow those recommendations as long as long as they release the university from any liability, right?

Herd health is my job.  The system described above only works when the prevalence of the disease is very low and when the efficacy of the vaccine is nearly 100%.  Problems arise when a) the unvaccinated population grows to be of significant size relative to the vaccinated population, and b) the vaccine doesn’t completely protect those who chose to be vaccinated.  At that point, the unvaccinated group actually increases the risk of disease for the vaccinated group.  Should students have the right to refuse vaccination?

Ever since the autism scare, routine vaccination has come under scrutiny by society.  It’s more and more common for parents to pick and choose vaccinations for their children or to omit vaccination altogether.  I don’t have access to the number of waivers signed over the past 10 years, but it would be interesting to know if and how the numbers of unvaccinated students have changed.

The other piece of information that I don’t have is whether or not anyone who was vaccinated against a strain of bacterial meningitis has ever contracted that strain.  There are certainly reports of students who were vaccinated for one strain contracting a different strain of the disease.  In fact, the strain infecting the students at Princeton is not one that we currently have an approved vaccine for in the US.  The CDC is looking into importing a product approved in other countries.  But as long as I’m vaccinated, I don’t care if you aren’t, right?  Not so fast.  Fundamentally, even the best vaccines can be overcome by enough exposure.  It is possible that if there are enough unvaccinated individuals in a population and an outbreak occurs, a higher number of individuals will contract the disease.  The increased shedding into the environment might be enough to overcome the immune systems of even the vaccinated individuals.  Right now the choice to remain unvaccinated appears to be a personal one; that could change.

I am not insisting that everyone be forced to go under the needle, so to speak.  But with the current trends in our society, vaccination and the way we approach “herd health” on college campuses may have to change if more and more students choose to omit vaccination.

Posted in PFP13F

PhDs on Welfare

I just read a great article about a woman who had her PhD but couldn’t find a full time job for quite some time and ended up on welfare:

https://chroniclevitae.com/news/97-from-welfare-to-the-tenure-track

There was a lot of backlash when her story was first told; the issue of welfare is politically polarizing, if nothing else.  I don’t really care about whether welfare is right or wrong, but I do think it’s interesting to consider how to counsel students and prospective students in an economy where a job in their dream field is not guarenteed.

Vet students are currently experiencing a relative job shortage.  There are still jobs to be had, but compared to several years ago jobs are not as readily come by.  Students can no longer find a job in precisely the city or neighborhood that they perhaps would have liked.  And in equine medicine jobs are flat out hard to come by.  Many times new graduates who had always wanted to work with horses end up working on dogs and cats.  Some of them are just happy, others are fairly miserable.

What can we do to monitor the job market and help senior students make educated decisions about graduate school?  Or should we scrap it and just tell them to “Follow their dreams”…no matter what?

 

Posted in PFP13F

Spousal hires

I just read an article from the Chronicle about spousal hires:

http://chronicle.com/article/Faculty-Couples-for-Better-or/142481/

The idea of spousal hiring makes sense, particularly for institutions in sparsely populated areas.  I like the idea of the employer taking care of employees and valuing their entire exist as human beings.  By hiring a spouse, the university is acknowledging the employee’s family and life outside of work.

It is readily apparent, however, that when two spouses work in the same department drama inevitably ensues.  The divorce rate is 50%.  Flip a coin to detemine whether or not the spousal hire will result in a fractured department.

Amicable separations are possible but seemingly less common.  Of course, quiet divorces may go unnoticed and our perception of the success of spousal hires could thus be biased.  If I were in charge, I would approach spousal hires within the same department with more caution than spousal hires in different departments.  I would not attempt to discern the fate of the relationship (which is none of my business) during a job interview.  That would be ridiculous.  But I think it’s ok to acknowledge that there is risk involved when you hire spouses to work in the same department.  The same goes for allowing two people in a department to start a relationship, whether they are peers or a supervisor and subordinate.  Perhaps you could allow hires in different departments but not within the same department given the risk of interpersonal strife.  But perhaps it would be inappropriate to draw a distinction between the two and treat them differently.

All I can say is that if I were married to a large animal vet, we would not work in the same practice.  But that’s just me.  To each his own.

Posted in PFP13F

Does America need a slogan to attract foreign college students?

I just read an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education about our popularity amoung students from other countries:

http://chronicle.com/article/US-Will-Be-Fastest-Growing/142191/

The article listed Great Britain and Australia along with the US as some of the most popular destinations.

I would imagine that the effects of attracting large numbers of foreign college students are too numerous to count.  In addition to the economic stimulation that foreign students bring to this country, they also introduce new perspectives and ideas to the disciplines to which they belong.

Given that foreign college students are such a great thing to have, should we double our efforts to attract them to America?  And if so, how can we specifically compete with Great Britain and Australia, who are, purportedly, our biggest competitors?

One third of foreign college students come from India and China.  I am picturing commercials airing in China where the camera pans across the Grand Canyon and Niagra Falls and a voiceover says (in Chinese), “The knowledge waiting for you in America would fill up this canyon and spill over like this waterfall…..”

Posted in PFP13F

Integrity in research is like handing over the keys when you’ve had one too many

I just read about Matthew Poore and the data he falsified:

http://ori.dhhs.gov/content/case-summary-poore-matthew

Here’s what I think: lying about research is like drunk driving.  It’s too easy to do.  And we aren’t very good at detecting all the times it happens.  Therefore, the consequences need to be severe and as close to permanent as possible.

Matthew Poore used results from an experiment as results from a second experiment that never actually took place.  No one knows if this was laziness or lack of funding or a time crunch.  And who cares?  We’re all under the same pressure and experience the same constraints.  The rest of us manage to get it done without lying.  What if the person who conducted the safety testing on your mother’s new cancer medicine was lying?  Or your child’s allergy medicine?  This is an intensely serious problem.

According to the CDC, the average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before his first arrest.  How many times did Matthew Poore lie prior to being caught?  We’ll never know.  And will he continue to lie?  About one third of arrested drunk drivers are repeat offenders (NDOT, 1995).

But wait, you say.  Matthew Poore must now go through a rigorous three year probationary period.  Ha!  I hope you noticed that once the ORI has approved his plan for research supervision, it is none other than Matthew Poore himself who is responsible for compliance to said plan.  Who should we rely on to tell us if the lying offender is following the rules now?  Clearly someone thought that the lyer himself was the best answer.  Come on, people! Fifty to 75% of drunk drivers continue to drive on their suspended licenses (Peck, et al., American Journal of Public Health, 1995).  The punishment is not harsh enough to deter people from lying and continuing to do so even if caught.

My solution is whiskey plates.  In Minnesota, convicted drunk drivers must have special license plates on their cars identifying them as such.  If you are caught cheating, you must henceforth put a special astrick next to your name on every publication.  That way we know to watch out for swerving and to drive a little more defensively.

 

Posted in PFP13F

Open Access – who’s going to pay for it?

Science Publications (http://thescipub.com/) is a company that publishes peer-reviewed research online in 29 different journals with unlimited access for the general public.  Authors pay $45-$70/page for the first 8 pages and $100/page for extra pages.  This fee covers:

“the journal’s production, online availability, hosting and archiving and allows lower subscription prices and thus a greater circulation for the journal as well as immediate online availability for unlimited data download world wide.”

Other journals that charge a subscription fee may not have page charges, such as Theriogenology.  However, if you want to make your article in Theriogenology “open access” there is a $2,500 fee.

Some journals that charge for a subscription will still charge authors a page fee for publishing.  The Journal of Animal Science charges $85/page for conventional publication and anywhere from $2500-$3250 for open access publication.  A journal that charges both the author and the reader for the costs of publishing the article may be able to charge the reader less for a subscription.  A one year subscription to the Journal of Animal Science costs $135 whereas a one year subscription to Theriogenology (no page charge for publishing) costs $565.

It seems that the money to make publishing happen has to come from somewhere, which is really just common sense.  Making information widely available is certainly cheaper than it was in Gutenberg’s day, but there is still overhead associated with editing articles and publishing them online.  For now, the publishing companies have put that burden back on the grants (I’m assuming authors don’t pay out of pocket) that funded the research itself.  Let the authors choose whether or not they want to spend the money to widely disseminate their information.

The first journal mentioned in this post will publish articles as open access for a more reasonable rate, but authors will want to submit articles to the most esteemed journals they can.  The impact factors for the three journals in this post are listed below:

AJAVS impact factor:  0.65

JAS impact factor: 2.58

Theriogenology impact factor: 2.08

Somehow it all comes back to bragging rights, reputation, and money.

Posted in PFP13F

Mission: Education?

Graduating from a college does not qualify you to be an expert on college education in general or even your alma mater.  In fact, far from it.  My undergraduate experience was entirely unique to me and my chosen path through school.  My classmates and I were different in more ways than we were similar; the only thing we had in common was the same airspace for a few hours each week.  But regardless of major, extracurriculars, or social tendancies, the university had the same goals for all of us and for itself:

http://www.virginia.edu/statementofpurpose/purpose.html

I currently live in Blacksburg and thought this would be an interesting juxtaposition:

https://www.nr.edu/mission/

UVA puts quite an emphasis on “achieving eminence as a center of higher learning” while NRCC places more importance on meeting “individual, business, and community needs of the Commonwealth.”  These two exerpts neatly sum up the differences between the goals of the two institutions.  I have very little experience with community college but based on reading the mission statement I wouldn’t hesitate to give less tuition dollars for the same degree – especially in the current economy.

UVA’s mission statement encompasses a lofty vision for a small subset of the population while NRCC’s mission statement describes more modest aspirations that apply to a greater portion of the population.  Both institutions will meet needs of the community.  There is a great need for research and cutting edge innovation in order to better society.  There is also a need for education for the masses, if you will.  Not everyone needs or can afford to pay for the prestigious diploma associated with attending a more selective college.

My father is a lawyer.  He didn’t go to Harvard or Yale.  He went to night classes at Chase College of Law (Northern Kentucky University) while working full time.  He’s doing very well for himself.  But I think it’s great that we have Harvard and Yale.

 

Posted in PFP13F