Exploring careers in dairy science series: Academic specialist

The career paths and options related to dairy science and the dairy industry are limitless! No matter what talents or interests a person possesses, there is a dairy-related position waiting to be claimed.

This is the first article in a new series by Michigan State University Extension that will explore careers in dairy science that are not always the ones that come to mind. From animal care to adverti''sing, professors to public relations, there is a career path in dairy for everyone!  I recently sat down with Elizabeth Karcher, Academic Specialist in Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University, to find out about her background, how she became an Academic Specialist and what that means, and advice for others seeking a similar career.

Melissa: What is your position and how does it relate to the dairy industry?
Elizabeth: I’m an Academic Specialist with a 70 percent teaching and 30 percent advising appointment.  Classes I teach are related to dairy management and animal health in the four-year Animal Science and two-year Ag Tech programs.  I’m the advisor for Production Animal Scholars concentration, a program for undergraduate students with a strong interest in food animal health, and co-advisor for the Animal Science Undergraduate Research Student Association (ASURSA). Another really exciting part of my position is leading study abroad trips that teach students about agriculture around the world.

Melissa: What is your background with dairy?
Elizabeth:  I didn’t grow up with cows, but I wanted to be a vet. As an undergraduate at  Penn State University, I studied Animal Bioscience and started working in a dairy nutrition lab. I discovered I really enjoyed cows and research. This was a better match for me than vet school, so I pursued graduate school.

Melissa: What educational path brought to your current role related to dairy?
Elizabeth:  After graduating from Penn State, I moved to Purdue University for my master’s degree studying dairy nutrition. Next I attended Iowa State University for my Ph.D., studying the relationship of immunobiology and nutrition in dairy cows. I completed a post doctorite in the Large Animal Clinical Sciences Department  at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine and was hired in the Department of Animal Science in 2008.  I quickly learned through my experiences that I enjoyed research, but was also very passionate about teaching.

Melissa: Why did you choose to work in a dairy field?
Elizabeth:  There are many exciting career opportunities in the dairy industry and I really enjoy working with students. You are always learning from the students.There are more and more students coming into Animal Science that don’t have an agricultural background; I can relate to that. I work with many students who really want to attend vet school, but that isn’t going to be the right match for every student. I encourage them to look into other options, like I did, to see careers they might not have considered.

Melissa: What advice would you have for someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?
Elizabeth: Gain as much experience doing different things as you can, especially as an undergraduate.  Be an active student and pursue experiences outside of the classroom; work on a farm and find internships.  If you can be a teachers assistant for a class, do it.  As an undergraduate, develop relationships with faculty members. These relationships may help you discover opportunities and open up a career path.

Melissa: Is there any other information you would like to share?
Elizabeth: If you like working with people and are passionate about sharing information, this could be a potential career path. It took a lot of education to get here, but if you enjoy what you are doing, it is worth it.  There are career options outside of academia with different benefits, but for me, the best part of my job is working with students.

Be sure to read other articles in this series, Exploring careers in dairy science series: Communications and public relations and Exploring Careers in Dairy Science Series: Assistant Professor.