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Ten-minute chat
  1. Sarah Baillie

Abstract

Sarah Baillie, senior lecturer in veterinary education at the Royal Veterinary College, was featured in New Scientist last year as having one of the ‘10 Best Jobs in Science’. As she says, ‘It was great to see a veterinary career featured – some of the other jobs were F1 mechanic and astronaut.’

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How did you get involved in veterinary education?

I enjoyed being in practice, but after a serious back injury I had to look for a less physically demanding career and retrained in computing science, something I'd always been interested in. Although it was difficult giving up being a vet, it was an opportunity to do something I'd always wanted to do. I did an MSc followed by a PhD at the University of Glasgow; this was where I came across haptic (touch) technology and developed the Haptic Cow.

I then joined LIVE – Lifelong Independent Veterinary Education – at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), which allows me to combine my skills. I'm able to draw upon my experience as a vet, combined with my lifelong passion for teaching and newer skills in computing science and educational research. Our aim is to deliver practical, innovative and, importantly, effective solutions for students. The haptic simulators are a good example of this as they help students to learn some of the most difficult and challenging skills.

I'm also involved in many other educational projects including interprofessional education (veterinary and nursing students learning together), EMS, assessment methods, and Web 2.0 (an EU-funded project), as well as business training and a new PhD studentship investigating the impact of the gender shift on the veterinary profession, and much more.

You are one of only two vets to have been awarded the National Teaching Fellowship; tell us about that.

The NTF recognises contributions across three areas of education: promoting and transforming the student learning experience; supporting colleagues and influencing learning at my own institution and beyond; and a commitment to ongoing professional development.

I found the NTF a really tough application to complete, but I received lots of support from colleagues, which was great. I was also delighted to be nominated as a ‘Woman of Outstanding Achievement in Science, Engineering and Technology 2010′ in the Discovery, Innovation and Entrepreneurship category. The award was presented at the Royal Academy of Engineering, which was quite special.

What do you like about your job?

I like the diversity and having the opportunity to work with some great individuals and teams at the RVC and at other veterinary schools in the UK, the EU and beyond. I like working up new ideas and trying to put them into practice as we strive to continue to improve veterinary education. I work with a great team in LIVE; they're good at running with ideas and do some really excellent work.

What do you not like?

Never having enough time to do all the things on my ‘to do’ list and the continual struggle to find funding for projects. We've been fortunate to get a lot of financial support for our work and I'm grateful to those who have backed us. This has allowed us to undertake some important studies and deliver some useful products, for example the EMS Driving Licence (a collaboration with Edinburgh), which helps students prepare for EMS. But inevitably in the current economic climate, finding money for anything is getting harder.

Why is your job important?

I think it is important to take a proactive and evidence-based approach to veterinary education. Veterinary graduates are entering a profession that is constantly changing, evolving and encountering new challenges, and they need the skills to succeed. I am lucky to be involved in a wide range of veterinary education projects and collaborations. By fostering these collaborations across the vet schools, I think, as educators, we can make a real difference to veterinary education, and therefore the profession.

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

I don't think there is a similar career! But seriously, a veterinary degree is a ticket to almost anything you want to do. As a profession we are good at problem solving, multitasking and working with the public, and these are pretty generic skills.

Don't be put off if you want a career change or have one forced on you (as in my case) because you can do it! It can be (was!) very tough at times, but really worthwhile. As vets we bring something pretty special to a new career, and combining your experience in practice with your new skills can be pretty powerful!

Looking back to my undergraduate education at Bristol, something I found helpful were the lessons we learned from some great role models. These people were not just the vets we all wanted to be, but also the human beings we all aspired to be. If you get the chance to learn from great role models take it!

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

Trust your instincts.

What was your proudest moment?

There are two days in my life that stand out as being very special. One is personal – our wedding day, the best party I've ever been to! And the other is professional – winning the Times Higher Education Award as the Most Innovative Teacher of the Year for 2009. It felt like being on the top of Everest! It was really special to represent the veterinary profession at this level in higher education.

… and your most embarrassing?

Most of these relate to the time when I was working as a farm vet, especially when I started out. These are now coming back to haunt me as we live where my first job was in Malmesbury, and farmers love telling the stories about ‘Sarah trying to do this’ or ‘not managing to do that’ or ‘Do you remember that day when this happened’, etc!

Hands-in experience: Sarah Baillie (right) helps a student get to grips with the Haptic Cow

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