The optimistic musings of a first year

With longer days and the daffodils popping their heads up, spring is most definitely in the air in the UK and I am pleased to say over the last few weeks I have discovered and embraced many new things! One of them being attempting to write my first blog post (so please bear with!), I have also set up my very own twitter account and I think managed to ‘tweet’. I have enrolled on my first MOOC and discovered the wonders of adding chocolate to my chili and mustard to my mash potato!

My first three achievements were things highlighted to us during our inaugural ZELS-AS training meeting in Cambridge last December. I have to admit although I love technology, I have always been reluctant towards social media and online learning platforms. However, I have been more than pleasantly surprised at the benefits and thought provoking nature of these three platforms so far (I can’t claim that my offerings to the blogosphere will be quite so enlightening!) My more food-orientated discoveries admittedly may seem less significant in the world of zoonosis but more on that later.

My first MOOC (massive open online courses for those like me who had never heard the term before!) is entitled ‘Global Health Case Studies from a Biosocial Perspective’. In the first week of the course while reading the preface of the textbook Reimagining Global Health: An Introduction by Paul Farmer, Arthur Kleinman, Jim Kim, and Matthew Basilico, I came across the below line;

‘Caught between unreflective activism and an informed but ultimately paralytic skepticism!’

This phrase jumped out from the text for me as it described perfectly the position I felt I was in prior to becoming involved with the ZELS initiative.

After graduating with a veterinary degree in 2007 I have been involved with various animal welfare charities and veterinary NGO’s. This has been an immense experience and has given me vast opportunities to travel and be directly involved in programs in a wide range of developing countries. I will never forget the light bulb moment when I first travelled to West Africa in 2007 and suddenly realized the massive impact veterinary knowledge could have on such a large proportion of the world’s poorest communities. I was afforded opportunities and access to attend and have my input where woman would not normally be welcomed all due to my education at a British vet school. I soon realised that my future certainly didn’t hold the confines of clinical practice in the UK that I had envisaged all those years ago when I started out as an undergraduate. I met visionary and inspiring people along the way and knew that the “One Health’ sector was where I wanted to be.

After eight years of working in the NGO sector I certainly felt as the textbook describes ‘caught between unreflective activism and an informed but ultimately paralytic skepticism.’ I had witnessed many failed NGO initiatives and felt that a heavier emphasis on research was very much lacking in the sector.

Luckily, as is often the way fate had it under control and the ZELS initiative came along at just the right time for me. Being involved with the cohort and everything I have learned and experienced so far has set the fire that was dwindling into full roaring glory and my optimism of what is achievable is topped right back up again!


Now back to the more tasty discussion of food, my culinary revelations made me think of a parallel with the much-talked about one health interdisciplinary working teams that we all strive for. Ingredients that you wouldn’t normally group together actually prove very complementary when combined, giving the dish much more depth and overall a much better outcome. I was thinking of this parallel when I attended the One Health for the Real World symposium at ZSL last month. It was a great meeting and highlighted some really interesting points that arise when trying to work in an interdisciplinary manner. I was very pleased when our student cohort and others were referred to as the future of One Health (mainly because it made me feel quite youthful!). I think our programme is a great way to hone this working style from the very beginning of a researchers career. We have a great cohort of students from diverse backgrounds both culturally and academically. By training together and having monthly catch-ups and journal clubs we are constantly thinking how to research and implement things together. Learning the nuances and norms of the other disciplines will hopefully mean that by the time we become established researchers, these techniques will be engrained and it will prove less of a struggle to fit these practices into a rigid discipline specific way of working.

Now, here’s hoping the culinary and research related revelations will keep coming in equal measure!

By Laura Craighead


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