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CALS Weekly

Real-Life Research Unlocks New Possibilities for Animal Science Major

Exploring how to improve health outcomes for piglets has given Paige Meisner a fresh perspective on her career goals.

a young woman wearing safety goggles stands at a computer in a science lab

Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Paige Meisner thought she wanted to be a veterinarian. While she was still in high school, Meisner even worked as a veterinary technician to gain hands-on experience.

But she began to rethink her future career plans as an animal science major at North Carolina State University.

“Going to NC State, I think it obviously opens a lot of doors to what you can do with an animal science degree beyond just going to vet school,” says Meisner, who ultimately decided to switch from a veterinary concentration to a science concentration. 

And after spending last summer participating in the ASSURE (Animal Science Summer Research Experience) program, Meisner now wants to focus her degree and career on nutrition and agri medical research.

Working with animal science professors Lin Xi and Jack Odle, Meisner conducted research on neonatal swine in the hopes of improving the mortality rates of piglets. Her job was to study the effects of the medication clofibrate in swine. 

The medicine was given to the mother pig, and once the piglets were born, Meisner took samples and measured the enzyme levels in their intestines. 

young woman holds piglet
Paige Meisner studied medication to support better metabolic function in piglets as part of a summer research project.

“When pigs are first born, they have a really high mortality rate, and that’s largely because they’re really bad at using the energy they get from their food,” she says. 

The main problem comes from the fatty milk the piglets drink. They cannot efficiently break down the fat, which means they cannot get enough energy to survive. 

Meisner notes that this is a widely studied area because of its potential impact to humans. 

“Pigs are one of the last stage research models we use for human medicine. The work we are doing now can be applied to premature babies for humans,” says Meisner, adding that premature human babies have a lot of the same issues with nutrition and fatty acid metabolism that piglets do. 

Getting hands-on experience with this type of research has been critical to helping her understand the potential impact agri medical research can have. It’s also given her the confidence to envision a different career path for herself.

“I was really intimidated by research even two years ago, and I had no idea where to start getting experience,” says Meisner, noting that there are many  opportunities for undergraduate students to get research experience in a lab. “It’s not like you’re going to get thrown into the trenches. You learn the basics of benchwork and how to label the sample tubes.”  

Meisner says she’s also learned the value of teamwork and scientific exploration.

“I think that’s my favorite part of research: the people,” she says. “It’s very rewarding and fulfilling, and we all have fun with it.”

Additionally, Meisner advocates for learning beyond the classroom: “Yes, we need to be studious and we need to care about our classes, but I feel like I’ve gained so much more from taking advantage of opportunities at NC State outside the classroom.”