Pat Harris - Veterinary Clinical Nutritionist

What made you chose this career?

Having ridden and competed from an early age as well as being quite academic I decided that I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon. During the training (over 6 years at Cambridge) I was involved in a small research project which I thoroughly enjoyed and which gave me a real desire to do practical research. After qualifying I stayed on initially at the Vet School as the House Physician and then had a fantastic opportunity to undertake a clinically based PhD at the Animal Health Trust looking at aspects of Tying-up and then to pursue post-doctoral work into metabolic diseases in horses. It became increasingly apparent to me over this time that nutrition was a key factor in so many aspects of horse well-being and I became increasingly passionate about nutrition which lead me to take on the role at MARS managing the nutrition orientated equine research portfolio. So I often state that I am a Veterinarian by training and a nutritionist by choice!

What’s the best part about your job?

Two particular aspect spring to mind
 Helping young researchers develop their skills i.e. their ability to develop robust study protocols and to extract the best quality information from their results.
 (Which is often linked with the above) Carrying out good quality publishable research that is of practical use in improving the lives of horses. Undertaking work that we can not only use in our products but we can also spread the information via articles and presentations. It is fantastic to think that what we do via our collaborations with researchers around the world linked to my role in MARS Horsecare can really make a difference

What’s the worst part about your job?

My particular role involves a good deal of travelling and while there are many positive aspects to this you often don’t actually get to see much of the places that you visit and as we all know travelling can be quite tiring but more than this it is the simple fact of being away so often from my home and husband plus the cats and horses that is the worst part.

What qualifications did you undertake to get to where you are now?

After qualifying as a veterinarian followed by the PhD at the AHT and undertaking nutrition focused research I first joined MARS and WALTHAM. I then became a diplomate of the ECVN and then a recognised RCVS specialist in equine nutrition. I also became involved in many aspects of the equine world such as being president of the British Equine Veterinary Association , and a member of the veterinary Advisory board of World Horse Welfare as well as currently being the President of the ESVCN.

My background and original training gave me a broad knowledge of research and nutrition principles as well as an understanding of the many issues Veterinarians and owners face where nutrition may be of value. However, fundamentally you don’t have to be a Veterinarian to either be a good researcher into nutrition or to give good nutrition advice.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Still trying to make a better world for horses.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get started in your career?

As mentioned above you do not have to be a veterinarian (although if you are then undertaking the specialist nutrition training is something I would really recommend to do) but you do need a degree in a relevant disciple and then to get some nutrition related research work under your belt .

Regardless of the route anyone takes I’d say don’t be embarrassed to ask questions: they not only help your understanding but they often help lecturers and mentors to clarify and distil their thinking too. Unexpected benefits and advances come from asking questions and not necessarily taking things – even published information – as a given. Finding a suitable mentor can be very beneficial but, whatever role or direction is chosen though, no-one can make it without passion for the subject and lots of motivation and self-drive.

Is there anything you would do differently in your career pathway?

No , actually not I am probably doing the perfect job for me and my passion and skill set : but I have been incredibly lucky in the opportunities I have been able to take up, in the mentors I have had over my career, as well as the great research I’ve been involved in and the excellent collaborators I have worked with as well as my very supportive colleagues at WALTHAM and MARS Horsecare.

However, it is important to note that I did not set myself this complete pathway when I first started out and I think it is important to be open to taking relevant opportunities that may open for you along your career path whatever it may be.

If you weren’t a vet/nutritionist etc. what would you be?

Probably an epidemiologist : setting up to obtain good quality data and then finding patterns and fitting the jigsaw pieces together has always seemed to me to be extremely rewarding .

Further away from biology maybe a business accountant or financial manager (ideally for an animal based charity or similar) – using my skills in a different way but hopefully still making a difference.

What has been the most embarrassing or funniest moment in your career?

I remember one incident when I was due to give a talk at a large congress back in the days when our visual aids consistent of slides loaded into a carousel projector. The technician dropped the carousel and replaced the slides in a random sequence, unbeknown to me and just before I was due to speak ! That made for an interesting lecture, but the positive from it was that it helped me to be able to think on my feet when lecturing and it certainly encouraged questions from the audience – which as I have said is always good.