Why Graduate School?

When I miss an opportunity or mess up on a question, I tend to take it as a challenge. A few weeks ago I traveled to Knoxville for my formal interview with the Animal Science graduate committee. Looking back, I would sure like to have a redo on a few questions. Surely, I am not the only one that looks back on things like interviews and thinks of better answers that could have been…

From the time I was a kid, I have always been passionate about working with cattle. Hands down, my favorite time of ranch life has always been calving season. I am pretty sure if you ask my dad today, he would agree that I drove him nuts always asking “Why” about everything on the ranch. That is just the person I am and just the way I think. So when asked why I want to go to graduate school, at the University of Tennessee, and study animal reproduction, my answer wasn’t quite up to par. The first response in my mind was “How can you not get excited about it? Just the whole system working together, creating life from nothing, and the fact that we can study and learn about this system, and how to manage it better.” Maybe not the answer these guys were looking for, but it was what came to my mind.

Why not graduate school? Looking back, I have to admit that I have never been content with just working. Ranch life is my passion, but academic work comes easier for me than it may for others. My ultimate goal is to retire on my front porch watching the sunset on the ranch, but I know there’s a long road before I arrive at that point. There is so much to learn, and I want to opportunity to share with others what I love most. Graduate school in Tennessee only makes sense. There are so many resources and opportunities in this state with the size of the beef cowherd. I want to gain a better understanding of cattle production. How can we do more with less? I want a better understanding of the production cycle and how we can better suit cows to our specific environments. Why not graduate school? Why not study under people I want to be like and learn more from? I can always learn from the school of hard knocks, but why not be one to help other ranchers be better producers too?

Why reproduction physiology? Many of my fondest memories as a kid include checking on calving cows with my dad and the rush and excitement of helping newborn calves into this world when trouble would arise. There have been many times when I would be shoulder deep in a cow, lying in the mud, watching snow fall, and suffering from arm cramps, just to deliver a calf that might or might not live. In those times, my head was spinning with questions. I thought this bull was an easy calver? Why is this heifer having trouble calving? (Why the hell can’t they calve in the daylight when it’s warmer???) As I grow up and learn more, my questions become a bit more. What can we do to improve our breeding rates? How can we help this heifer reach her full potential as a cow? How do all of these hormones come together in just the right amount at just the right time? How will stress during pregnancy affect this cow’s offspring? It truly is fascinating to me, and there is a never-ending list of questions. The big circle of life for these cattle, and I can keep learning more and more about it.

So where do I see graduate school taking me? Hell if I know. I do not have my heart set on one specific job description. I know my passion lies within the cattle community. I know that I love helping other people and sharing what I am most passionate about. I know I want to stay involved in cattle production (and no, “production” does not mean I want to get a degree and stay on the farm all my life), because that is where the best things, people, and places in my life reside. I cannot tell you right now if I want to work specifically in Academia or Industry. I cannot tell you exactly where I will be in 5 years. But one thing I do know is that I will continue seeking opportunities to learn, grow, investigate, and share because it’s what I love doing. Ultimately, it’s like what the apostle Paul said in Philippians…

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Maybe this still isn’t what those guys were looking for, but it’s what I’m going to be.

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IF you want to be successful, its just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you’re doing And believe in what you are doing. — Will Rogers

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