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2019 Keller Award Winner, Becky Poole, Continues Her Passion for Cattle Research

A man and woman wearing an NC State t-shirt work on cattle research.
Associate Professor Dan Poole works with Becky Poole on cattle research.

Rebecca ‘Becky’ Poole has embodied the “Think and Do” lifestyle that her education at NC State trained her to have. From producing award-winning research as a student at NC State to continuing her academic career at Texas A&M University, Poole has maintained a high degree of academic excellence throughout her studies.

Poole began her academic career at CALS pursuing a degree in animal science. Like many animal science majors, Poole went into the field with an interest in veterinary medicine, but soon realized just how many opportunities she had to choose from in the expansive field.

“I was intrigued with large animals, like cattle and sheep and pigs and livestock,” Poole said. “And so I looked at research options and I got to do undergraduate research with Dr. Charlotte Farin, looking at estrus synchronization protocols.”  

Her budding interest in large animals became much more of a passion the further she delved into the material. Upon completion of her undergraduate degree, Poole made the decision to continue her studies through a master’s program at Virginia Tech. At Virginia Tech, Poole conducted research on the impacts of human obesity on fertility using pigs as her biomedical model. 

Poole’s thirst for expertise in her field continued after completing her master’s program. Her passion for education led Poole back to her alma mater for a Ph.D. program. It was back at NC State where she was given access to work with the species she had long been passionate about: beef cattle.

A cow in the middle of a field
Becky Poole’s research focuses on mitigation strategies to improve the reproductive performance of cattle that graze tall fescue.

Poole’s decision to return to NC State for her doctorate was largely influenced by the fortunate circumstances of talking to her soon-to-be advisor, Dr. Dan Poole (no relation). It was during their initial phone call that the two realized they shared more in common than just a last name.

“It was like talking with an old friend. It was so easy, and I felt so comfortable talking about my research interest and how that would mesh well with his research program. We just kept going back and forth on different ideas,” Poole said. “Something that’s sometimes overlooked but so important for a Ph.D. program is, ‘Do you work well with your mentor?’ And you need to work well with them and feel comfortable with them as far as talking about your ideas. And I did.”

Poole credits much of her academic success to the great relationship she and Dr. Poole were able to build while she conducted her research. Dr. Poole’s lab focused on fescue toxicosis, a disease that can affect cattle that graze tall fescue. As a result of grazing in tall fescue, cattle are less likely to shed their winter coats during the hot season, which leads to many heat-stressed complications, including reproductive problems. Becky Poole’s research continued Dr. Poole’s studies. She looked at mitigation strategies to improve the reproductive performance of cattle that graze tall fescue.

For the second portion of her dissertation, Poole looked further into the immune systems of these cattle. She wanted to know if cattle that consumed the fescue toxin would respond differently if exposed to a vaccine.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that Poole had realized her research had been selected by CALS as the winner of the Kenneth R. Keller Research Award. The Keller Award is given out each year to recognize outstanding doctoral dissertations within CALS.

“When you think about the college, there’s just so many good scientists and disciplines within the college: poultry science, plant science, or crop and soil science and biochemistry — you name it,” Poole said. “And so to have been selected for that to be the best dissertation of all of the great dissertations that came out this year is just so humbling. I’m honored to have won it.”

Poole is currently doing postdoctoral research at Texas A&M University on the microbiome of the reproductive tract in cattle. She is looking to see if the presence of different bacterial species in the reproductive tract has any bearing on the outcome of fertility.

When not focusing on research, Poole can be found navigating her newfound responsibilities of being an educator. At TAMU, Poole has been given the opportunity to fill in as a guest lecturer in a reproduction class for one of her colleagues. 

“I just love being in front of a classroom full of students, and I’m a very interactive teacher,” Poole said. “I try to give them personal experiences and things I’ve gone through. And so I try to keep a good mindset when I’m teaching and give them real-world examples to kind of help put it all into perspective.”

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