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Sidebar Feature   |  Spring 2006

Animal Planet generation explores career opportunities

Erin James & Maggie
James and her dog Maggie, a national agility champion (Photo by Tom Campbell)

Erin James grew up on a “mini-farm” with a mixed bag of animals—horses, dogs, donkeys and cats—that were kept as pets. She showed animals in 4-H and ultimately decided that she wanted a career working with animals.

James is representative of animal sciences majors today, says Barry Delks, coordinator of career services and alumni relations for Purdue's animal sciences department. The majority of students are no longer “farm kids” with a production livestock background. Instead, they are mostly female (75 percent) and raised in the suburbs, and they want to be a vet or work with companion or exotic animals.

“These are students who really enjoy animals,” Delks says. “They've had pets, been in 4-H and lived on mini-farms. They've grown up watching Animal Planet.” But not every student will get into vet school, and the market can only absorb so many dog trainers and zookeepers. A major focus of the animal sciences curriculum is to teach students to be just as savvy about the full range of career options. “Even if they've known since they were two years old that they want to be a vet, we want them to have a Plan B,” Delks says. “We find the tasks that they like involving working with animals and show them how they can transfer those skills to other fields.” Career exploration includes everything from career planning classes to guest speakers and industry tours to internships.

Transferable skills

James is a good example of a student who now looks at potential careers with a wider field of vision. “I always wanted to do something with animals,” she says. “I used to think that you had to be a vet, but, when I came to Purdue, I found there are other ways to accomplish the same thing.”

James is interested in animal behavior. The junior has continued to work in training and behavior counseling that she started at a Bloomington, Ind., animal shelter when she was in high school. She created a program there to increase adoption by correcting behavioral problems with training. During an internship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, James visited the National Detector Dog Training Center in Florida and worked with one of the dogs.

With her extensive background in training, a career in animal behavior and counseling seemed cut and dried. But through finding out about other options, James is also considering a career in the animal health pharmaceutical industry.

Creatures great and small

For some animal sciences majors, Purdue gives them their first exposure to livestock production. Students have dubbed the Applied Animal Management course “Pet a Cow.” Students get hands-on experience with beef and dairy cattle, horses, poultry, sheep and swine at the Purdue animal research farm. As a result, some have switched their career interests to animal production.

Animal sciences major Laura Rudolf, who can often be seen walking her pet ferret on campus, says it's working with animals that's most important, whether large or small, domestic or exotic. “My favorite animal is the one I'm working with at the time.”



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