+ Animal nutrition
+ Custom research diets
+ Quality control
How long have you worked at Envigo?
I have been a part of the Envigo team for 11 years. Currently, I am a lab animal nutritionist within our site at Madison, Wisconsin.
Which department do you work in?
I work in Teklad diets, the department within Envigo responsible for making and providing diets for research animals. It is important that we provide top quality diets, with the best ingredients and quality control, so that researchers can trust and repeat the studies they do with animals that are fed our diets. We work closely with our customers to ensure we create the optimal diet for their research needs. These vary from diets to keep animals healthy as well as ones that can facilitate making animals obese, insulin resistant, hypertensive, atherogenic and much more. Being able to provide our customers with these individually-tailored research diets allow researchers to better understand disease models. We also work with a lot of customer-supplied ingredients, any of which could be the next new drug for controlling a disease like diabetes or cancer.
What are your individual responsibilities?
The work I’m involved in is related to the custom research diets that we make. I primarily help our customers in choosing existing diets or develop new diets to reach their research aims. I also serve on our custom diet quality control committee, answer technical questions about diets and develop content for our website and technical pieces. In addition, I support our sales team through custom diet training, to ensure they have accurate and reliable information to share with our customers.
What are the best parts of your job?
Nutrition and diet formulation are often a new concept for many of the researchers that we work with. As a result, I get to do a lot of education in my job, which I thoroughly enjoy. It’s great to see the excitement of the researchers as we work through things and plan a study together. Realizing that they will be able to carefully design and control their study to test their specific research questions is often eye-opening for them.
It must be said that I always learn a lot from the researchers too. They are often experts in their field of research and share details about the amazing work they are doing to try to better understand and prevent or treat diseases. I always learn something new and am inspired by our customers every day.
What is an absolute ‘must have’ in your role?
I have a Bachelor’s and Doctorate degree in Nutrition, which is definitely essential for my job functions. In addition to that, I have also worked as a clinical dietitian, and the clinic experience I gained in that role helps me today with my customer service and being able to effectively communicate with people. It also gave me great insight and understanding into many of the areas of health and disease that the researchers we work with are studying.
I have always loved animals and from a very young age thought I wanted to become a veterinarian. My mom tells me stories of how I would line up my stuffed animals and give them check-ups and apply casts or bandages as needed! When I started college, I was in the pre-veterinary Scholars program at Michigan State University. That program would have allowed me to go into veterinary school after completing my coursework in two years rather than four years with a bachelor’s degree. However, a combination of factors led me away from veterinary science toward nutrition.
One was my mom reminding me that as a veterinarian I would often be taking care of animals that hadn’t been well taken care of, and that might not be easy for me to deal with given my love of animals. Another was a bicycling accident that left me with a broken pelvis. During my recovery I took a ‘healthy lifestyles’ course that focused on nutrition and exercise. That really raised my interest in nutrition as an area of study.
What finally resulted in changing my major was a year spent abroad in Poland, where I could acutely see the impacts of a more open and Westernized society leading to rising rates of obesity and associated disease. When I returned to the US, my eyes were opened to how pervasive obesity was in the US. As a result, I not only changed my major, but also started working in a lab that researched obesity and diabetes.
Tell us about some of your achievements.
I have been fortunate to have been involved in a number of projects that have helped to benefit our customers, or that have made things easier for them. For example, I have worked extensively on the content of our website, making sure the information is current, relevant and useful to our customers. I updated our ‘diet-induced obesity’ page, adding more example diets and extensive tables comparing important features of the diets, as well as useful things like links to references. Also related to obesity, I worked with two different industry partners to generate data to support use of our diets in either mice or rats for their obesity studies.
I am also really proud of the work I put into helping design our new diet formulation program. I put a lot of thought into the design of the formula search portion which allows us to better search for diets. I also had the idea to incorporate a customer communication log into that program, meaning diets are now linked to the communication items that reference them. I also played an integral role in getting things like our AskANutrionist Live chat program and online order initiation form up and running.
What do you like doing outside work?
Madison is a fantastic place to live, with beautiful lakes and lots of things to do outdoors. I love being outdoors in any and every way possible, from riding bike or horses, kayaking or just going for a nice walk in the woods. If you visit my office, you’ll see I also like to bring the outdoors in, with my office full of plants and even a fountain to simulate running water. Yoga is my grounding activity and I recently became an instructor to help share the peace and positivity that comes from doing yoga with others.
If you have a question for Jessica, or you're interested in learning more about our laboratory animal diets capabilities, please contact us.