Alumni Profiles - Meet Erica Spackman
Hometown: Athens, GA
Years of Graduation: M.S. 1998, Ph.D. 2001
Major: Animal Science
Current Position of Employment or Education:
Research Microbiologist, USDA
Describe your best Ag experience:
Going to visit poultry farms, companies, plants, hatcheries, vaccine companies. Being able to interact with the industry that our research was supporting was key to my experience. I was exposed to all aspects of poultry production which has been invaluable in my career after graduation. I learned what's practical for the real world, what's not, met people I continue to work with, and learned to appreciate the work of farmers.
Which Ag course was your favorite and why?
Oh, don't make me choose. I think Food Microbiology was one of the ones I enjoyed most and got the most out of. Going into the course I did not have much background in food microbiology, so it was all new. It was also a mix of lab and lecture, which made it more interesting. A small class also meant there was good interaction with the professor.
Tell us about your current position or program of study and what led you to that field.
Currently I am a Research Microbiologist with the US Dept. of Agriculture. I study avian influenza virus and focus on diagnostic assay development, vaccine development and characterizing the virus. When I left UD, I came to the USDA as a post-doc, to continue my work in poultry disease research. I was able to apply for an open research scientist position and have been here ever since.
How did your College of Ag experiences prepare you for your current job or post-graduate education?
Outstandingly. UD is a top tier institution for poultry disease research, and many of the professors are considered the experts on their areas of study (something I think I appreciated more after graduating). The department also had a great deal of interaction with the poultry industry, which is critical for one's research to have impact; the science must be relevant for the field. When I graduated I had a solid understanding of poultry health, production, and of what disease research the industry needs and what is feasible. Of course there is plenty of basic research needed with poultry viruses that needs to be done and I have been prepared for that as well.
What advice do you have for students interested in your field?Make sure you understand the practical as well as the basic science. Work with the industry. Come to the scientific meetings and get to know people. Find an adviser who you work well with. Ag research is more relaxed and friendlier than basic research or public health/medical research, so if that appeals to you, try it.