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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


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Science and Our Food Supply Careers: Theodore (Ted) H. Elsasser, Ph.D.

Careers in Food Science Main Page

"Sometimes it's good to know that there is no right or wrong answer to how an issue turns out. You just need to be honest in the approach and ethical in stating the results."

Career Title:
Research Animal Scientist/Physiologist
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service
Growth Biology Laboratory
Beltsville, Maryland

Fields of Expertise:
Physiology and Endocrinology
Biochemical Pharmacology
Animal Immune Stress

Academic Studies:
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Bachelor of Arts in Bacteriology

Hunter College
New York, New York
Master of Arts in Cell Biology

Medical University of South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Ph.D. in Physiology and Endocrinology

Food and Drug Administration
Post-Doctoral Research Program
Center for Veterinary Medicine
Beltsville, Maryland
Field of Study: Drug/Hormone Interactions

Employment History:
General Construction Helper/Painter
(while in high school)

Microbiology Lecturer
Hunter College School of Nursing
New York, New York

Charleston, South Carolina


"If I hadn't become a scientist, I would have become . . . a veterinarian."


Q: What do you do in your current job?
I study ways to improve the health of animals in order to insure that our food supply is healthful and safe.

Q: How did you start your career and what twists and turns has it taken to get you where you are today?
When most people think of a physiology researcher, they might think of the rat, the mouse, or the rabbit as likely models. When I started working in this field, I became so allergic to these animals that exposing myself to them created serious asthma and lung problems. During my post-doctoral experience with FDA, I liked working with larger domestic animals, like cattle and sheep. Other than occasionally getting stepped on or banged around by some cow, I didn't have the asthma complications. In addition, it's now recognized that the calf and the sheep are excellent models for studying some diseases that affect humans.

Q: What do you like most about your career?
I live close to work and enjoy going to the 7,700 acre research farm daily where the views are great and there's plenty of wildlife to observe after-hours. I have considerable freedom to decide how I will approach solving a given problem or how to test a hypothesis that will support or refute a theory or hunch. Sometimes it's good to know that there is no right or wrong answer to how an issue turns out. You just the need to be honest in the approach and ethical in stating the results. Another rewarding part of my job is that I solve problems for 30 "patients" (animals) who can't tell me where it hurts or how they really feel.

Q: What subjects besides science are important for this field of study and why?
In addition to writing and grammatical skills, math is essential because scientists need to measure and quantify differences between observations as well as test different observations using math-based statistics. Even some understanding of geography and social science is necessary because some of the agricultural problems that we research are very specific to certain locations in the world where different resources, feeds, and cultural practices often need to be understood. Therefore, some secondary language skills, such as Spanish or Russian, can be useful.

Q: What advice would you give to students who are interested in pursuing a career in science?
Connect with as many professional scientists as you can and determine the best way your education can balance a career with your personality and skills. For instance, you might be a better writer than a researcher, or you might like the legislative side of science and science-based decision making, which occurs with regulatory agencies like the FDA. Always keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. Law and science can mix, particularly when patent issues involving scientific discoveries are present.



May 2001