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Developing in an unusual veterinary workplace

11 Jan 2021 | Jo Gale

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A veterinary degree opens the door to many different opportunities. In this blog, Jo Gale shares an insight into her science communication role at a large multinational company, and how this has helped her to develop personally and professionally.

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A geneticist, a microbiologist and a vet walk into a room. Not the start of a cheesy joke, but a typical day at the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, the global fundamental research centre for Mars Petcare, where I’ve been based for the last nine years. I work in the Mars Petcare Global Science Communication Team, focused on finding engaging and practical ways to share science about pets. My career journey has perhaps not been quite standard - I started out in mixed practice, then moved into small animal practice, worked for six years as a laboratory animal vet for a pharmaceutical company, and then joined Mars Petcare in January 2012.

Adding to my veterinary knowledge

My workplace is very different to the typical veterinary practice, but I love working for a large, multinational company. I’m a curious person with a passion for learning and I’ve gained so much from colleagues with different expertise over the years. Working with scientists to communicate their research (in fields as diverse as the gut microbiome, periodontal disease or feline feeding behaviour) is like delving into a real life Wikipedia. I really feel I’ve been able to add to my existing veterinary knowledge to become a more rounded animal health advocate. It’s a true collaboration – I support my colleagues with my expertise (both as a vet and as a science communicator) and l also learn so much from them.

I’ve benefitted enormously from opportunities for training and development, especially in non-clinical topics such as leadership, stakeholder relationships and influencing. Along with learning about the theoretical aspects on courses and at training events, I’ve been able to use what I’ve learnt in my role and gain practical experience. Personal development is considered very important – like all my colleagues I have a personal development plan (PDP) with areas I’m focusing on for my current and future role. Being encouraged to think about new roles within the company in the future is an exciting thought. When you’ve spent five years at university being educated towards the job of “veterinary surgeon” it can be refreshing and exhilarating to think of all the roles in which your knowledge, skills and expertise could be used during your career.

Contributing to an evolving workplace

As I’ve been on my personal career journey, Mars Petcare has also been on a journey. From a pet food company it has grown to truly become a pet care business, with a large veterinary health division of thousands of vet clinics in the US, UK and Europe. It’s an exciting company to be part of, with so many opportunities to both contribute and learn. It’s clear that my veterinary background is becoming ever more relevant and valued as the business evolves.

One thing which is big part of the culture at Mars is that it is a family owned business. There are no shareholders as it’s still run by the Mars family who started out in pet food manufacture in the UK in 1934 (and chocolate in the US before that). The Mars family members are very involved in the business and they regularly visit Mars sites around the world. They are real advocates of science as well as genuine pet lovers, and their influence is felt in our day to day work. It means that decisions are made for the long term, which is particularly important in scientific research where getting answers can take some time.

Though I never imagined on graduation day that I’d end up in science communication for a petcare company, it really does demonstrate that a veterinary degree can take you to so many places and the opportunities are growing all the time.

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