Meet our student researchers: Jillian Gordon


In 2018, Jillian Gordon, then a student at the University of Edinburgh, was awarded an AWF student grant. She chose to focus her project on the “relationship between grimace expressions of dairy cattle and post-mortem dental health”, developing the preliminary understanding of dairy cattle dental health and examining possible areas in which improvements in the monitoring and management of the UK dairy herds' dental health could be of value.
Jillian is now a lecturer in Agriculture at SRUC as well as the founder of Ovation Agriculture, a business supporting livestock systems production development through innovative welfare and sustainability developments, knowledge transfer and education.

Q: Tell us a bit about you

I have a strong passion for animal welfare and in particular livestock welfare. In recent years I have been focusing on cattle production systems with my PhD looking at dairy beef production. In 2022 I started my own business looking to develop innovative technology and training in order to improve cattle dental health and welfare.  In 2023, I started a full time lecturing role at SRUC where I am teaching agriculture.

Q: How did you hear about the AWF student grant and what made you apply?

I applied to the AWF student grant after it was recommended to me by my masters supervisor.  As I was working a full-time and a part-time job to fund my masters this grant allowed me to conduct my masters project covering the costs associated and giving me the flexibility to reduce my working hours. This allowed me to complete my masters to the best of my ability by reducing the financial pressure.

Q: Why did you choose this project to work on?

The project I worked in was looking at dairy cattle dental health. I chose this topic as it was a fascinating area where I saw a lot of opportunities, for future research. It seemed very strange to me that this area had not already been investigated.

Q: What did you hope to achieve?

I hoped to achieve a clear understanding on the types and significance of dairy cow dental health. It was initially hoped that the use of grimace scales would be able to identify dental health conditions in cattle.

Q: What did you enjoy the most about your project?

My favourite part of the project was getting to conduct the investigations on the cattle skulls, this included work in the post mortem rooms and in the CT scanning units.

Q: What did you find challenging (if anything)?

The biggest challenge I found in my research project was in the write up, as a neurodivergent this was my first experience of postgraduate research work. While I had conducted a small research project in my undergraduate I felt that the masters thesis was a significant jump in difficulty. But I did learn a lot from this opportunity.

Q: What have you learned from your project and this experience?

This project taught me a variety of lessons that I carry with me today, most importantly to keep going! Research will give you a lot of challenges some you can predict and mitigate against some you will have to deal with as they come. To be a researcher you need to keep focused and find ways to progress. This is much easier when you have a passion for your work.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to students wanting to get into research/apply for an AWF grant?

My key bit of advice for anyone who is interested in research or applying for a AWF grant would be to ensure you are working on a topic that you are passionate about. Try to find something that will continually keep you excited and help drive you forwards.