Graduate Student Profile: Tawny Chandler

Please briefly describe your research.

The research group that I am a part of focuses on health and nutrition of dairy cows during the transition period. This challenging time has the greatest potential for improvement in the life cycle of a dairy cow. Although we have supplemented rumen protected nutrients and improved animal health and production in applied research settings, we strive to understand their basic mechanisms of action. Because the liver is central to the metabolism that supports lactation, our efforts emphasize the regulation of pathways of hepatic lipid and glucose metabolism. By isolating and culturing primary hepatocytes we can conduct experiments that examine, on a molecular basis, the pathways that are altered in order to support milk production and animal health when cows transition into a lactating state. Specifically, my research focuses on the methyl donating properties and hepatic metabolism of supplemental choline and methionine, two essential nutrients that can interact and significantly improve liver function and health in all animals. Although both support dairy cow health and production, they likely work through different mechanisms and appear to differentially regulate energy metabolism pathways in the liver. By determining how these specific nutrients alter and regulate hepatic metabolism on a molecular basis, we can elucidate how they support animal health and production. From this knowledge we can develop nutrition strategies that will improve the transition period for dairy cows.

Why did you choose to attend UW-Madison for graduate study?

Going to graduate school was not always the plan. In fact, I didn’t even consider the prospect until after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. I’ve always known that I wanted to stay active in the agriculture industry, I just didn’t know if it would be as a producer or working off the farm. I had considered law school, but before that I wanted to gain more practical training in the dairy industry, and decided to attend UW-Madison. The UW is held in such high esteem in my area because of the high caliber Dairy Science program that it has. I considered myself lucky to have been accepted and couldn’t pass up the opportunity for that level of education. My experiences there and along the way made me rethink my law school aspirations.

Even before I went to college, I had an interest in dairy cattle nutrition and health. I would eavesdrop on the conversations my father had with nutritionists and consultants (before getting told to finish my chores), mix feed and feed the cows as often as I could, and made fresh cow health and management my responsibility. As an undergrad I made dairy cattle nutrition a priority in my coursework, almost like a hobby. In my ruminant nutrition course I started balancing my father’s TMR. I loved the nutrition and management courses I took partly because I was learning so much, but mainly because I started to help my parents make improvements at home on the farm. We improved our herd ration, feedstuff quality, and management because of my training. Soon my father was calling me with questions rather than his own nutritionist. The responsibility and satisfaction with that role encouraged me to consider a graduate program in ruminant nutrition.

While I was taking advantage of internship experiences and study abroad programs supported by UW-Madison, I gained a national and international perspective of the ag-industry, as well as a taste of the challenges that it will face. The most important experience I had was taking a graduate level course in Sweden that focused on research. That experience introduced me to the value and importance of continuing research in the ag-industry. While meeting a diversity of producers around the world, everyone was impressed with background at UW-Madison. They knew exactly where it was, what research was being conducted there, and talked about how important it was to them. Because of its global reputation, my invaluable experiences there, and my passion for ruminant nutrition, I did not hesitate to accept an offer to attend a graduate program here.

What resources have proven invaluable to your academic success at UW (e.g. campus, departmental facilities or staff, the state’s dairy industry)?

My academic success was really founded on the dairy industry that drives Wisconsin. The producers in our state have built a community that is focused on supporting the next generation of leaders in the ag industry and provide so many opportunities for them to succeed. Because stakeholders are committed to supporting the Dairy Science program at UW, I was able to take advantage of classroom and on-farm learning experiences that contributed to my academic success. In addition, the reputation of UW’s facilitates, faculty, and staff helped me leverage my academic success to gain internship and study abroad experiences that further enhanced my education.

In your own words, how would you describe the academic environment at UW?

The academic environment at UW-Madison is very integrated. Because of the strong industry community, stakeholders support and are involved in classroom, on-farm, and practical learning experiences that are applicable to the future career of our choice. Along with learning the basics in either a science, business, or communications focused field, students are encouraged and given opportunities to employ that education in applied settings. This is also reflected in my grad program, so that when other students and I graduate, we are more competitive job candidates because we have gained practical experience and are more well-rounded individuals.

What are your post-graduation plans?

After successfully completing my PhD, I aspire to work for the dairy industry in a nutrition consulting, technical, or research related position.