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A mix of science and practical animal skills: Meet Melanie Stokes

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7 October 2020

Studying a degree that matters sees many of our alumni go on to pursue a career in a field that not only inspires them, but makes a difference to the supply chain and the wider world. Whether working in nutrition for animals and humans alike; preservation of the environment; or creation of new products and markets, there are many exciting roles for our students to undertake and we invite our alumni to share these experiences with us. Graduating in 2018, Melanie Stokes studied BSc (Hons) Bioveterinary Science and shares where her career has taken her so far.

Melanie traced back her career direction to beginning her search for a university. She said: “If I’m honest, I struggled with deciding what to study at university - it felt like such a big decision at the age of 18.

“I had always held a keen interest in biology at school and enjoyed learning about the fundamental science of how animals work. I’m also from a local farming family and so enjoyed the practical side of animal husbandry. I knew that I wanted to follow a career path that involved farm animals but wasn’t sure in what respect.

“I remember reading about the Bioveterinary Science course and thinking that it would give me a good mix of science and practical animal skills to achieve that.”

With that idea in mind, Melanie soon found the course at Harper Adams, and decided to attend one of our open days. She commented: “As soon as I visited Harper Adams, I knew it was the university for me. I felt that the campus had a real ‘home away from home’ feeling and it was nice to know that you would be mixing with students who all had similar interests due to the specialist nature of the university.

“I was also really impressed by the wide range of facilities that Harper had to offer, including both the research labs and the farm – how many universities can say they have their own commercial farm on campus?”

Living and studying on our beautiful rural campus is something many of our students value. The 635 hectare farm enables students to undertake practical learning and gain true insight into the theory from the classroom.

Melanie definitely enjoyed her classroom experience, saying: “I really enjoyed how varied the Bioveterinary Science course was. Ranging from companion animals to farm animals, and from nutrition to genetics, no two modules were the same.

“The course is fun, interesting and challenging - all in equal measure!

“Having the ability to choose between optional modules in second and final year also allows you to tailor some of your study to your own personal interests but whilst still helping you to develop a broad range of skills to open up opportunities in many areas of the animal industry.”

In encouraging that development of skills, students undertake a placement year in industry during their third year at Harper. Melanie’s choice of employer came as a result of a particular module she studied. She said: “I enjoyed the farm animal nutrition module in my second year and found myself interested in the effects that different nutrients have on animal health and performance.

“This led me to accepting a placement at Primary Diets, a division of AB Agri, which specialises in the manufacture of piglet creep and starter feeds. Throughout the year, I spent time in various departments with a focus primarily on supporting the nutrition team with their research and development programme.

“This experience was invaluable, and I felt like I was able to put the theory I had learnt during my lectures into practice in a real-life commercial situation.”

Melanie had a successful year at Primary Diets and, as a result, was offered a full time position as a Nutritionist following her graduation. She said: “I am now responsible for providing technical support to pig farmers and businesses both in the UK and some overseas markets, and for providing research and development support to one of the company’s largest customers.”

Now two years into her role, Melanie reflected on the experience. She shared: “When I first started at Harper I was particularly nervous about having to do a year in industry – would I manage to find somewhere? Did I have the skills and knowledge that employers were looking for?

“Now looking back, I know that the placement year is what sets Harper apart from other universities. It has certainly helped me to progress in my career very early on, as I already had experience of the industry I am now working in.”

Looking to the future, Melanie is keeping her options open, looking for those opportunities that inspire her. She explained: “My future plans for my career are still unknown to me, but that doesn’t scare me anymore because I know that Harper has set me up with the knowledge I need to succeed in a variety of different roles in the animal industry.”

For others interested in a similar career path, Melanie said: “My advice for people interested in pursuing a similar career path would be to do your research.

“There are so many different jobs and opportunities in this industry worth exploring. I bet you won’t find Pig Nutritionist on a standard occupation list but that’s what makes careers in the industry so exciting!”

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