Project in a pandemic: what an AWF student grant taught me about research


The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways, both personally and professionally. Normal routines had to be adapted, and pre-pandemic plans changed. For our 2020 student grant recipients, this was especially true. In this blog, Kerry Long talks us through her experience of carrying out her project ‘Identifying maternal and post-natal effects on pre-weaned dairy calves’ health’ in the midst a pandemic.

  1. Mask?
  2. Gloves?
  3. Hand sanitiser?
  4. Equipment sanitised?
  5. Health and safety forms all filled out?
  6. Am I at least two metres away from everyone?

This was the mental checklist I had to run through my head daily as I completed an eight-week research project in the middle of a pandemic.

Working on this project was completely different from the research I had participated in previously, yet still the adaptability and perseverance required was all that research embodies.

My name is Kerry Long, and I am a fourth-year vet student at the University of Liverpool. Since starting my degree, I've been curious about research. So, I decided to pursue my curiosity and determine if I had a future in it.

I had my first experience of research during the end of my second year when I completed three weeks of an INSPIRE taster studentship. I joined a research group collecting data on dairy cattle lameness on several different farms in the northwest. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working on the project but felt as if three weeks wasn’t enough time to determine if research was a viable career option for me. After hearing about the AWF grant through the university, I decided to apply for a longer research project during my third year of vet school.

My project focussed on identifying effects of maternal stressors on the health of pre-weaned dairy calves. This topic was of particular interest to me because it was linked to the previous project I was involved in; the calves we followed were born to the cows we had studied previously. I liked the continuity of the research, and it allowed me to feel more personally invested in this topic.

However, because of the pandemic, the project required a lot of versatility. When I applied for the AWF grant, I wanted to primarily conduct statistical analyses of data in order to strengthen my knowledge of statistics. But due to all of the lockdowns, the research team was not able to begin collecting data on farm until I joined them in the summer. This caused my focus to shift from statistical analyses to chiefly data collection. Not only did my role change almost entirely, but I also had to adapt to all the health and safety measures to keep myself, the research team, and the farm and university staff safe. Yet despite these obstacles, we were able to continue the research project and collect enough data for me to analyse.

Throughout my eight weeks of undertaking this research project, I gained so many valuable skills. Not only did I hone relevant veterinary skills such as performing clinical examinations, but I also learnt how to be adaptable through communication and teamwork. Furthermore, I gained a deeper understanding of animal welfare and felt as if I directly had a positive impact on improving welfare of calves through the knowledge of maternal stressor factors that can affect calf health.

If I were to give one piece of advice to anyone thinking of applying for an AWF student grant, it would be the following: just give it a go! This opportunity might help you decide if the world of research is for you. Not only can you get an idea of where you may find yourself in your future, but you will gain a wealth of invaluable experience and transferable skills that will be beneficial in whichever career path you choose.  

Find out more about the AWF Student Grant Scheme: