Career Profile: Dr. Josie Coverdale- Associate Professor at Texas A&M
The equine industry is full of exciting careers and opportunities. Pleasurehorse.com is on a mission to share the stories of the wonderful people who keep the industry going and inspire the next generation.
Meet Dr. Josie Coverdale, who is an Associate Professor of Equine Science at Texas A&M University. Dr. Coverdale is no stranger to the world of showing, and has combined her passion for horses into a successful career teaching the future of the equine industry, as well as various research for the betterment of our beloved animals. A native of Krum, Texas, she grew up showing in open and 4-H shows. After high school graduation, she attended Texas A&M, where she started on her career path by receiving her Bachelors’ degree in Animal Science. Her love for learning didn’t stop there, and she moved on to Iowa State University and received her M.S. and Ph.D. in animal tradition. She now has returned to College Station which she is an associate professor and resides in nearby Bryan with her husband, Mark, her biggest supporter.
We sat down with Dr. Coverdale to learn more about her exciting career and her life.
Name: Dr. Josie Coverdale
Professional Title: Associate Professor of Equine Science
Education: Ph. D. in Animal Nutrition, Iowa State University
You’ve been involved in the horse industry for most of your life. Can you tell us a little more about your background and what your current involvement is outside of your profession?
As a youth, I was an active participant in 4-H and FFA where I showed all-around horses. After completing graduate school, I was finally able to afford a show horse again and began competing in NRHA events. In 2008, I was Top-10 in the NRHA Rookie of the Year competition, and recently placed in the Top-10 in Ranch Horse Pleasure at the 2014 AQHA World Championship. For the past 5 years, I have served as a steward for the AQHA Ranch Horse Versatility World Show which has greatly expanded my knowledge and professional network. Additionally, I have been included in several trips to Central and South America educating horse owners as part of the AQHA International program. It has been very rewarding to meet horse owners from around the world, and I am happy to call many of them close friends!
Can you describe in an overview about what your job entails?
At Texas A&M University, I am responsible for teaching and research efforts in equine nutrition.
The road to becoming a professor can be long and challenging, but also very rewarding. What made you decide to take that path and focus specifically on nutrition?
During my undergraduate education, I struggled with a career path. Once I determined that veterinary medicine was no longer an interest, I began looking for a field of study that interested me. During a Feeds and Feeding class, I discovered an aptitude towards ration formulation and began discussing the idea of graduate school with the teaching assistant. Immediately after, I signed on as student worker for Dr. Gary Potter and began assisting with equine nutrition research. This solidified my decision to attend graduate school. While at Iowa State University, Dr. Howard Tyler encouraged participation in the teaching program, and I discovered a love of teaching and research.
While finishing my Ph.D. at Iowa State University, I was fortunate to receive the opportunity to teach several courses. This experience as a primary instructor gave me the experience needed for my first faculty position at the University of Georgia. This position at UGA solidified my love for teaching and gave me experience with curriculum development and extension programming. When the current position at Texas A&M University opened, I jumped at the chance to return to Texas and work for my alma mater.
If someone was going to pursue a similar career path into the field of teaching and research, what advice would you have for them?
I would encourage someone interested in a faculty position to keep an open mind, take the time to experience every aspect that your new job will offer, and take advantage of all the “extra” opportunities offered to you.
What do you feel makes your career so rewarding?
The most rewarding part of my career is student development. I get to watch our undergraduate students develop knowledge, communication skills, maturity, and personality over a 4-year period. Academics are a large part of a college education, but the students that take advantage of additional opportunities, such as internships and undergraduate research projects, are better prepared for careers in agriculture. Similarly, conducting intensive research projects with graduate students is incredibly rewarding. My graduate students are like family, and it is amazing to watch them develop over a very short period of time. I am now at a point in my career that former students are in positions at other universities and companies across the US. It is incredibly rewarding to see the long term impact of your efforts.
It sounds like this is a career that constantly has you doing different things. Can you tell us what a “normal day” (normal being relative) is like for you?
A normal day finds me wearing many hats! For example, I started early today by collecting research samples with my graduate students at the farm. Immediately after that, I taught two lecture classes, conducted office hours, attended a committee meeting, and reviewed papers for an upcoming scientific meeting. If I am lucky my day will end with enough time to ride my personal horses!
I’m sure the first thing people think about when they hear the word “professor” is the teaching aspect of your job. However, like you mentioned, there is the other side to it which is research. What are some research projects you’ve had the opportunity to work on in your field?
I have been fortunate to be involved in many research projects over the years, but the most rewarding have been those developed by two Ph.D. students. Dr. Kelly Walter conducted several large mare and foal projects to determine the influence of obesity during late gestation on mare and foal performance. She successfully developed a nutritional model that illustrates some of the negative effects that over-nutrition of the mare can have on the foal. Dr. Jessica Leatherwood developed a model to induce joint inflammation similar to what is observed during early training in young horses. This model has allowed us to test nutritional intervention strategies to prevent joint inflammation and cartilage damage.
Science and the horse industry are both fields that are constantly and rapidly changing. How has the field of equine science developed and changed during your career?
Equine science has made great progress in the past decade, despite reductions in research resources. We are continuously exploring new methods and have adopted technology used in successfully in other species. As a result of reduced funding, there has been greater collaboration. Young scientists are reaching out to their colleagues at other animal science departments and colleges of veterinary medicine for assistance. This collegial atmosphere has resulted in faster progress and more efficient research.
As someone who works with college students who are in the midst of planning their future careers, what are some pieces of advice you would give them? So many youth only think that training is a way to pursue a career in the equine industry. Do you have suggestions on how they can go about finding other opportunities in the industry they might be interested in?
I encourage our students to always remain open minded and truly do some soul searching about their strengths, talents, and desires. Students often overlook what they feel are minor areas of interest and talent, failing to realize that jobs exist where that talent might be put to use. The horse industry is large and vast; there are certainly other opportunities beyond veterinary medicine and horse training. Finally, once students have a career interest, I encourage them to pursue an internship. For example, many of our students want to work in equine reproduction, but have never experienced a stressful foaling season. An internship is a wonderful way to “try on” a potential career. It is frustrating to see students prepare academically for 4+ years just to find out they dislike their chosen career path. Take time to explore options and gain experience because most jobs in the horse industry are truly a lifestyle and few are simply an 8 to 5 job. An extra semester in school to pursue an internship and gain exposure is well worth the investment for a lifetime of career fulfillment.
Those are some great words of wisdom! Is there any piece of advice you would give yourself at the beginning of your career that you wish you had known then?
Don’t take things so seriously! I was an overachiever on the fast track, and honestly I am very fortunate that I love my chosen profession. I wish I had taken advantage of internship, study abroad, and additional extracurricular opportunities.
If you could meet anyone in the horse industry (dead or alive), who would it be, and why?
I have always been fascinated by the ranching heritage in the state of Texas. The involvement of these early ranching operations shaped the AQHA and the horse industry as a whole. I am always interested in hearing people’s stories about life, struggles, challenges, and success. Those early families that established the W.T. Waggoner Ranch, King Ranch, 6666 Ranch, and many more sure would have great stories.
What is your favorite discipline?
Reining will probably always be my passion. I love the process that goes into creating a finished reining horse. However, there is nothing like watching a good working cow horse. If only I could get the courage to take one down the fence!
What would your dream horse be like?
My perfect horse would be quiet, but responsive. I have always gotten along with horses that require a little more push, but can’t stand horses that are truly lazy. I would love to have a super athletic horse with a laid back attitude and tons of personality!
If you could attend any equine event, what would it be?
I have been fortunate to attend all of the major NRHA and AQHA events in the United States as a spectator and participant, but have little experience with other disciplines. A trip to the Rolex event in Kentucky would be fascinating!
Do you or someone you know have an exciting career in the horse industry? We’d love to hear about them! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to share the story.