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Ten-minute chat
  1. Daniel Mills

Abstract

Daniel Mills is professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the University of Lincoln, where he leads the Masters course in clinical animal behaviour and an international research group examining companion animal behaviour and welfare.

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What took you into behavioural medicine?

Great lectures on behaviour and welfare at vet school by Professor Christine Nicol that really made me think (I don't enjoy rote learning). One evening I went to an open lecture by Professor Sir Robert Hinde on the interdependence of the behaviour sciences. After this lecture (not realising how eminent he was), I wrote him a rather naive letter about how much I enjoyed his lecture, and my interest in behaviour, asking if he had any ideas what I could do as a vet. He sent a lovely handwritten four-page reply, which has inspired me ever since, together with his generosity.

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How did you get to where you are today?

A passion for my subject, and a lot of good luck. I think I happened to be in the right place at the right time. What was formerly Lincolnshire College of Agriculture validated the UK's first degree in equine science, and they were told they needed two additional staff: one to teach behaviour, the other equine health. So the principal at the time decided to go for the two-for-one option and advertised a post for a vet with an interest in behaviour. When the college became part of De Montfort University (later becoming part of Lincoln university in 2001), I convinced them there was a need to develop animal behaviour and welfare programmes at undergraduate level.

My veterinary degree gives me a great platform for interdisciplinary research, as I know a little about the specialisms of my colleagues and can sometimes bring together new collaborations and delve into areas I would never be able to alone.

Describe some of the activities that your job involves you in.

As it is important to keep in touch with the reality of my work, I still see clinical cases, and I use this material in my lectures. I particularly enjoy teaching on our new Masters because the sessions are so interactive, as we try to translate theory into practice using an evidence-based approach. I spend a lot of time associated with my research. The buzz you get from finding out something new is addictive, even if you do sometimes find that someone else has got there first. It's also great to see projects develop to the point of producing something new and of real practical value that we can have confidence in, like the use of mirrors to help horses kept in isolation.

What do you like about your job?

I love the mix of teaching, research and consultancy, and being in a department of biological sciences, which encourages interdisciplinary collaboration. I also enjoy giving opportunities to others (as others have given me), and seeing individuals develop their potential.

What do you not like?

Not having enough hours in the day to do everything I would like to, and government cuts in investment in higher education and research. I also find it sad when I see politicians, the media or others misrepresent something of animal welfare importance and do not seem interested in science. I think we shouldn't be afraid of the truth even if it is unpleasant at times.

Why is your job important?

Our relationship with animals is an intrinsic part of our society, and we don't make as much use of this to improve things as we could.

What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?

Go for it and believe in yourself. Remember, it's a lifestyle choice: you may not get rich, but you can have a lot of fun.

What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?

See practice with as many different people as possible: good or bad, you'll learn something from them. This advice was given to me by Roger Mugford when I saw practice with him as a student.

What was your proudest moment?

Other than my marriage and the birth of my children, it is either the success of the first international veterinary behaviour meeting, which I helped to set up, or being asked to give the retirement address at Cornell University for Professor Houpt, who has been an inspiration to so many in the field.

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