'My advice to students is that Ag Science lends itself to so many career options'
'I'm from a sheep farm in Roundwood, Co Wicklow, so I have always had an interest in farming. I have an older brother and knew I wouldn't be farming myself, so studying Agricultural Science was the next best thing.
"Throughout school I wanted to go to UCD for my BSc degree. I specialised in animal science because it was based more on ethics, nutrition and animal breeding and my real interest was in animals.
"I had the opportunity to go into a Masters in baby pig nutrition. At the time, in 2001, Europe was looking at banning the use of antibiotics in feed in 2006. That was going to be big so we had to find natural alternatives to antibiotics. For that we had to feed the baby pigs and take samples to see how these alternatives were working.
"I loved what I was doing and transferred from my Masters to a PhD in Animal Nutrition, graduating in 2004. I secured my first job as an Animal Nutritionist with Brett Brothers Ltd, a feed supplier in Co Kilkenny.
"My role involved making animal feed for all categories - sheep, calves, cows, pigs - and ensuring they met requirements for all the animals' diets. I had a lot of interaction with farmers who would contact me about silage quality or grass and I would help to balance that with the feed.
"Farmers are more knowledgeable now and require more advice on how to feed their animals to get the best milk production in cows or the best live weight in their cattle, so having someone who understands animal science is very beneficial.
"I wanted to move closer to Wicklow and I missed research so I went back to UCD as a Postdoctoral Researcher in 2006. The following year a lecturing position became available in Dairy Production and I got the job. Positions for lecturers don't come up very often so I was very lucky.
"The bread and butter of my job is teaching undergraduate Agricultural Science from 1st to 4th year, but 4th year is where I do most of my teaching as it becomes more applied and moves into fertility, nutrition and dairy cow nutrition.
"I never expected to be lecturer, but the more I got into animal nutrition and research, the more I wanted to stay in that area.
"A lot of the work I do is research as I have post graduate students who are doing Masters and PhDs who I supervise, and we are always applying for funding to carry out research.
"We are currently examining late lactation milk quality. Most cows in Ireland calf in the spring and when we move towards the end of lactation, which is October to November, the milk quality changes. We are looking at ways, through grass and supplementary feeds, of changing milk composition to make it more suitable. It's all down to nutrition and the quality of the product the cow makes.
"There's always something new to learn in college. Even with work that you've done years ago, there's always new ways of looking at it because there might be new types of feed, new grass, or different breeds of cows. Then of course your answer to a question can raise more questions.
"My advice to students thinking about doing Agricultural Science is that it lends itself to so many career options. Don't worry about whether you chose animal science or crop production; there are so many opportunities in the whole area. Just enjoy doing it. You can end up in any area, even journalism, lecturing or banking."
Karina Pierce is a Lecturer in Dairy Production, School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin
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