After graduating from Edinburgh vet school, I worked as a vet in mixed practice. I had an interest in working internationally, so I spent some time locuming, travelling to participate in veterinary projects in other countries and doing some medical editing for a neurological journal on the side. Realising that I would need to develop my technical expertise to develop career opportunities in international animal health, I then completed a residency in clinical research at a large equine hospital, simultaneously completing a distance-learning MSc in veterinary epidemiology and public health at the RVC.
Working with working equids had always been something I wanted to do, so following this, I worked in the research team for the international non-governmental organisation Brooke, where I was part of a team producing an evidence base for animal welfare interventions in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
Working at Brooke was fantastic, but in 2018, after five years, I decided I wanted to gain experience outside of the equine world and complete a PhD. Many of the positions I looked at and that were attractive necessitated a doctoral degree and working full-time in research seemed like a logical next step. My project was a study of the economic and social factors that influence how foot-and-mouth disease is controlled in Kenya at local and national levels.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the PhD and I had to readjust my expectations of spending extended periods of time in Kenya. But it also gave me the opportunity to do some parallel pieces of work outside of my studies, including working in the behavioural science team at Public Health England (PHE), now UKHSA, during the UK’s response to COVID-19.
My PhD finished in early 2023 and now I work at the European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (EuFMD), a commission in the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as a technical specialist focusing on epidemiology and socioeconomics within international livestock disease control programmes.
What advice would you have given to your younger self?
The advice I would give my younger self is that there isn’t an ultimate end game – your dream job today may not be your dream job tomorrow, and that’s OK, or even better than OK. Working with ruminants in epidemiology and economics as I do now was the last thing on the agenda when I was at vet school.
The advice I would give my younger self is that there isn’t an ultimate end game – your dream job today may not be your dream job tomorrow, and that’s OK, or even better than OK
Being open to lateral movement has been valuable – whether working with racehorses during my residency, achieving my goal of working with donkeys and mules or taking the opportunity of a secondment with PHE during the COVID-19 pandemic to build my understanding of behavioural science within public health.
I used to chase particular milestones that I thought were important (for example, managing a team, getting a project management qualification) without thinking about whether they were relevant to the professional goals I wanted to achieve. Now I am trying to make decisions based on recognising what makes a working day productive and enjoyable and concentrating on my strengths and the outcomes of the work I do instead of worrying whether I am progressing fast enough or have a senior enough position.
How do you look after your well-being?
An advantage of working outside a clinical environment is the knowledge that nothing will die if you don’t send that email today. I try hard to keep my working hours reasonable. I know that my productivity drastically reduces if I am tired, and working more hours, unless absolutely necessary, does not increase the amount of work I produce.
I am lucky because I work from home with a flexible schedule, so I can schedule exercise within my working day. My pets (a cat and a dog) are an essential part of maintaining my well-being, both because my dog needs walking whatever the day or weather and because they provide a sensible sounding board, hugs on demand and, most of the time, quiet and intelligent company. Spending time outside is essential. Hugging a pony whenever possible is also important.
It is also important for me to have people in my life who have only a passing interest in anything veterinary, and their love and friendship grounds me and puts what I do into perspective
I am very lucky to have an extended network of professional colleagues, many of whom are personal friends who I love very much. But it is also important for me to have people in my life who have only a passing interest in anything veterinary, and their love and friendship grounds me and puts what I do into perspective. In general, being able to be a good friend is important to me as well; it is dangerous to centre too much of your life around yourself.
Finally, I know that I am not happy unless there is an element of challenge in my life. It is a balance between nights at home watching Married at First Sight and taking on new professional, physical and personal challenges. Both are needed!
What is important to you in a workplace?
- Kindness, humility, people I can learn from
- The work is motivated by doing something positive
- Everyone is listened to, included, supported and acknowledged
- Reasonable processes and logistics – at least being able to arrange travel and expenses without it taking a full day
- Some flexibility to allow people to have lives – personal and professional – outside their direct role
- Room to grow
Figure 1 – a photo I was asked to provide to “sum up my career” – is of a donkey in Hazrati Sultan, in the Samangan province of North Afghanistan, which I was lucky enough to visit in 2015. Being able to visit different people in different places, and talk to them about their animals, has been a highlight of my career and my life.