Meet Dr. Taylor Pini, Faculty Lecturer in Veterinary Reproduction
Science discovery and generating new knowledge drives her to pave the road for cracking how to improve artificial insemination in sheep.
Dr. Taylor Pini is an Australian faculty lecturer in Veterinary Reproduction at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Gatton, Queensland, Australia. Her research specializes in fundamental reproduction biology to further understand sperm physiology in agriculturally important species in Australia. In fact, she considers that her research will be key in aiding artificial breeding technology in sheep. This is also of importance to the agricultural economy in Australia since sheep are highly sought out for their wool production.
One piece of advice is not always right for everyone.
At a young age, Taylor heard from many adults that if she wanted to work with animals that she needed to become a veterinarian. She then decided to take that piece of advice and set her sights on applying and completing a degree in Veterinary Science. Taylor felt thrown for a loop toward the end of her high school studies when she received not high enough grades to apply to a veterinary degree. One thing still was true for her and it was her passion for working with animals. She decided to further investigate what other college degrees incorporated working with and (or) studying animals. Out of all of the options, she found that Animal Science just ticked a lot of boxes for her because it could provide her with a broad sense of understanding science through a rich variety of courses. She decided to attend the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia. After twelve months of being an undergraduate student, she was relieved to know that her interests lied in knowing how biology works rather than lamenting not getting into a veterinary school. She also got her first taste of animal reproduction through her course lectures and that inspired her to pursue a PhD at the same institution with Dr. Simon de Graaf. Her graduate thesis focused on understanding sperm physiology in order to fill in the knowledge gaps in sheep reproduction. Captivated to further her understanding in sheep reproduction, she decided to expose herself to human in-vitro fertilization during her postdoctoral studies at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM)in Lonetree, Colorado, United States of America. During her years at the CCRM, she got different perspectives of how to use similar tools in agriculture in a different setting. She then left the United States to pursue another postdoctoral position in which she looked at how diet affects male fertility and paternal effects (non-genetic information from the father to the offspring) in mice at the University of Sydney. After a year in her second postdoc, she was offered a faculty position as a lecturer in Veterinary Reproduction at UQ. Taylor might not know exactly what the future holds for her but she is excited to start establishing her own laboratory and changing the boundaries between research and applied reproduction.
Change starts from within.
Starting off her career as a scientist, Taylor mentions that she learned four major lessons. The first being that you need to take things less personal. Most of us can agree that when you’re in a graduate program it is a roller coaster of emotions because you’ve become so emotionally invested on what you are doing.
“Whether it’s getting reviews on a paper or getting feedback on a grant, it all feels very personal because it is all about breaking down, deconstructing and judging everything that you’ve put into with blood, sweat and tears. As you progress through your career, I think you do get better at taking things less personally but there is a big part of the job that is having constant judgement on your work.”
In a nutshell, it may be difficult to get constructive criticism early on in our careers but Taylor believes that it is part of the growing pains of becoming a scientist. The second lesson that she credits to be essential for any scientist is being patient because things don’t happen overnight. Being a trainee herself, she acknowledges that having goals are important but in the same breath she urges others to know that they will take time to achieve. The third lesson centers on finding good mentors. For her, it was fundamental to get people to believe in you and your abilities and that they would want to sling you into the stratosphere of academia. She recognizes that her PhD advisor, Dr. Simon de Graaf, has been a critical part of being able to find comfort in science when wanting someone to bounce off ideas from or just hear about her concerns in or out of science. She also mentions that sometimes just knowing that others in higher positions have gone through what you’ve been through makes you feel more at peace. The fourth and final lesson, keep your options open. As she mentioned at the start of this interview, she didn’t start where she thought she wanted to be but it all starts with finding out what is right for you by researching your options.
“Try to talk to people who work in spaces that you might want to work in. I think it is very difficult to grasp, as a growing young adult, how many career options and paths there are out there. Even more important, we find it hard to recognize that the decisions that you make early on in terms of what you are going to study don’t set your life in concrete terms.”
Taylor is convinced that there is always opportunity to change in life, even if it may feel like a huge decision. A great example that she gave us is when you are choosing which university and program you want to go into. She now knows that stressing about these things are not as important as finding your passions in life and that although you may not know what you want right now, you’ll eventually figure it out.
It’s all about perspective in life and inclusion of others.
Having years gone by since her first lecture in animal reproduction, she still continues to find joy and excitement in discovering and generating new knowledge. She admits that some people in her work field don’t often feel a drive to want to go to work every day like she does. However, she does reckon that the people in science are often what make a difference in a work environment by making others feel included, valued and (or) have a sense of belonging. She also considers that highlighting women in agriculture science everywhere is important because they have less opportunity compared to men.
“I personally know so many women who are brilliant and bring so much to the table by working in agriculture. Therefore, we need to make people in higher positions aware of them in order to not just talk about diversity and inclusion but also take action for having programs in place to support them.”
An example of a program Taylor gave us is one that supports women who are coming back from maternity leave and back into the workforce. Arrangements can be made to help these women through either financial aid or flexible work hours. Another way that she thinks we can support women and minorities is by creating grants that only fund those types of applicants.
Enjoying the ride while advocating for animal welfare.
During her time off, Taylor finds herself volunteering as an advocate for rehoming and educating people on the welfare of Greyhounds. The industry for Greyhound racing is both large and popular in Australia. Unfortunately, this breed of dog gets retired between 2 to 3 years old and then they often have nowhere to go. She and her husband got very involved in this program when they adopted their own Greyhound named Atlas a few years ago. Apart from that, she considers herself an avid hiker in Australia though she fondly remembers her time in Colorado for all its colorful trails. She also enjoys creating crochet projects such as baby blankets for friends and family or something for Atlas to wear. She considers this type of task to be full of mindfulness and can keep her busy.
If you want to learn more about Taylor, contact her at:
Twitter: @TaylorPini or @repro_radio
This article was transcribed and written by WAGs team member Carolina L. Gonzalez-Berrios.