The autobiography in Volume 5 of the Annual Review of Animal Bioscience, “My Scientific Journey: From an Agrarian Start to an Academic Setting” by Janice M. Bahr, explores her research in reproductive physiology with an emphasis on her relationships with her mentors and students. After completing her PhD, she planned to take a postdoctoral position or attend medical school; however, she learned that the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign was hiring. “Having been raised on a farm and milked enough cows to have a degree in it, I did know a lot about domestic animals.”
The job did come with challenges:
Little was I aware of the challenges of being the first woman hired in the Department of Animal Sciences of 40 men. I was the only female permanent faculty member for about 20 years. Even though I progressed through the academic ranks at an unprecedented speed, becoming an assistant professor in 1974, an associate professor in 1979, and a full professor in 1983, I was paid less as a full professor than the male associate professors in Animal Sciences. I described this experience as swimming upstream in a stream that had no water. Fortunately, Dr. Reginald Gomes, a distinguished reproductive biologist who became head of Animal Sciences in 1985, realized I was significantly underpaid based on my scholarly accomplishments. Women professors receiving a lower salary compared with their male counterparts were not unusual.
Even after many years of reading autobiographies from female scientists, stories like that still surprise me.
I grew up next to a dairy farm in Southwestern Virginia. Upon moving to Northern California, I found the sight of cows grazing with an ocean view rather befuddling. Reading Dr. W. Barendse’s article “Climate Adaptation of Tropical Cattle” gave me a similar feeling. There are a lot of variables in how “tropical” is defined, and the cattle that live within these regions face a host of challenges that I had never considered:
The issues associated with cattle in the tropics have been known for some time, and few new issues have arisen. For example, Bonsma identified (a) heat, including radiation, temperature, and humidity; (b) feed, including feed quality and the ability to use the feed available; (c) resistance, including to parasites, especially ticks, and to photosensitivity, especially eye cancer and keratosis; and (d) the ability to avoid noxious plants, not only as a feed source but also the physical aspects of thorns and other plant defenses.
I was also intrigued by Dr. Gerald Shurson’s article “The Role of Biofuels Coproducts in Feeding the World Sustainably.” I especially appreciated the section on the debate over food versus fuel, which opened up an interesting perspective on how biofuels could be competition for feedstock:
Grains, sugar, and oilseeds are the primary feedstocks used to produce biofuels, but they are also valuable commodities in food production. Thus, increased competition for these resources between biofuels, food, and food animal industries has served as the foundation for the food-versus-fuel debate. Although increases in biofuels production are expected to continue in some countries, production limits will likely be imposed for future expansion. Incentives for using alternative feedstocks (e.g., cellulosic materials) to produce biofuels are being implemented to maintain or reduce competition for traditional grains and oilseeds in biofuels and coproduct production.
Comments are open if you’d like to share what you found most interesting in this volume.
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