July 27, 2023

Faculty spotlight: Q and A with Haley Larson, Ph.D.

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Kansas State University Olathe is proud to offer a unique animal health program designed to guide students from the classroom to the animal health industry and beyond.

Learners who want to pursue a career in animal health, veterinary biomedical science or animal pharmaceuticals will benefit from enrolling in a master’s program or even pursuing a graduate certificate here at K-State Olathe.  

In today’s Q and A, we’ll explore exactly what learners can expect when choosing animal science programs and how studying animal health sciences at K-State Olathe can make an incredible difference in their careers. 

Haley Larson, Ph.D., is a teaching assistant professor of animal health who brings a unique teaching perspective to our campus. Larson previously worked as a senior scientist for Cargill Animal Nutrition and Health and has an incredible passion for guiding students from classroom to career.  

We sat down with Larson to discuss some of the work she’s doing here at K-State Olathe and to find out what makes our animal health program so unique. 

Q: You’ve got an incredible industry background. What led you to make the shift from working in the animal industry to teaching? 

A: Academia has always been a passion of mine. During my time in industry, I worked closely with universities to mentor graduate and undergraduate students and support their research in my laboratory. When this position at K-State Olathe opened, I thought that it was such a unique opportunity to help bridge the gap between academia and industry. I was especially excited about the unique positioning of the K-State Olathe campus and how K-State is working to expand graduate education in a nontraditional style. 

I find it incredibly rewarding to help others propel their careers forward  — whether that be as a graduate student mentoring undergraduates and master’s students working with me or during my time as a scientist in industry inviting students to complete projects in my laboratory. My teaching philosophy is founded on trying to help others on their career journey and continue to advance their understanding in the areas they’re most passionate about. 

Q: How did your background affect your teaching style? 

A: Very strongly. 

Going from a graduate student in academia to a scientist in industry was one of the hardest transitions for me career-wise because of the vast differences in styles of thinking. There can be a large knowledge gap for someone moving from an environment of learning in academia to the real-world application of that knowledge in industry. Identifying potential hurdles for students transitioning to the industry has been key for me as I develop new curriculum for the classroom. I try to blend the applied thought process of industry with detailed understanding of academia to create a bridge for students to ease the transition out of graduate school. 

Q: What drew you to animal health? 

A: I’ve been surrounded by the medical community my entire life and growing up I was fortunate enough to be a “weekend farmer” at my grandparents’ beef cattle operation. This is where I was exposed to agriculture and all that goes into farming. This exposure to agriculture at a young age is what helped me decide that I wanted a career working with animals. Actually, I originally thought I was going to be a veterinarian and went to college with that in mind. I started out as an animal science major knowing that would propel me into the vet school program. I even earned early acceptance to vet school, but during my undergrad, as I started in a lab in the animal science department conducting my own research, I found a passion for cattle nutrition. I thought, “I love this. The detail-oriented way of thinking mimics exactly how my brain thinks and I love being able to solve problems that help real-world cattle producers.” 

It was a combination of a lifelong love of animals and the influence of a great mentor during my college years who showed me that a career with animals could be more than just a veterinary degree. The possibilities really are endless. 

Q: What’s the most interesting animal you’ve worked with? 

A: Salmon. Salmon are a relatively new area of animal agriculture. Cows will always be my favorite, and I love everything about them because there’s so much complexity to a four-compartment stomach, but salmon have been the most challenging because there is so much to be learned and less research available to consult.  

Q: Who should consider pursuing a career in animal health? 

A: The field of animal health has become incredibly diverse and there’s a need for employees with interdisciplinary styles of thinking. For anyone starting a career in the animal health industry, they will find incredibly diverse teams of individuals with vastly different backgrounds. I have had the pleasure of working with computer scientists, chemists, traditional animal scientists and others. So, it’s hard to limit your audience for education to just those who have an animal health background. 

For someone who enjoys problem-solving in a way that can give back to a larger community, this is a very rewarding career field to try to integrate your passions.  

Of course, anyone with a passion for animals is a natural fit and I can say that’s why I’m here, but I’ve met many wonderful folks along the way and each person brings something different and unique to the field. 

Q: How can students start preparing for a career in animal health? 

A: Working on creating a network of folks who can expose you to different career opportunities is so important. Once you realize what the different opportunities are, you start to understand what you want to do and how you fit in. Find that one person who interests you and ask, “Hey, can I shadow you?” or “Hey, can I check this out?” From there, it’s either a “yes” or a “no” in figuring out what you want. If something isn’t a good fit, all you’re out is an afternoon. So, I would definitely say working on expanding your network and looking for opportunities to understand what career options there are. 

Q: Our last question is an easy one! Since your work revolves around animal health, do you have a favorite animal fact? 

A: I do! My favorite fact is that there are more than a quadrillion rumen microbes per cow.  

Haley Larson, Ph.D., is a teaching assistant professor of animal health at Kansas State University's Olathe campus. You can learn more about her directly on the K-State Olathe website. 

If you’re interested in animal health sciences, make sure to check out our YouTube playlist, Careers and Cases in Veterinary Medicine. 

This program is supported with funding provided by the Johnson County Education Research Triangle.

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Learn more about animal health

Thinking about pursuing a degree in animal health? The 30 credit hour M.S. in Veterinary Biomedical Science program prepares early-career students to become top-level scientists and administrators in the animal health industry through in-depth knowledge about animal physiology, diseases and their relevance to human health.

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