That, in a nutshell, describes the career path of Dr. Kelsey Spence, recently appointed assistant professor in Epidemiology and One Health in the Department of Population Medicine in the Ontario Veterinary College, at the University of Guelph.
Joint undergraduate major led to field of epidemiology
Dr. Spence started at Trent University in the Forensic Science program, switching to a joint major in forensic science and biology in second year.
“I was always interested in the investigation side of forensics but enjoyed the flexibility of having a joint major so that I could explore additional career options,” says Dr. Spence. She eventually discovered an ideal fit for her investigative passions in the field of epidemiology – the study of the frequency, pattern, and causes of health-related events in specific populations.
“Epidemiologists are sometimes referred to as disease detectives,” she explains.
Doctoral research in preventing infectious diseases in horses
After graduating from Trent in 2014, Dr. Spence completed her graduate studies, with her doctoral thesis focused on how horses spread disease – equine influenza in particular – when travelling to different show jumping and dressage competitions.
Upon graduating, she pursued postdoctoral training at the Royal Veterinary College in London, England, on improving preparedness for emerging and exotic diseases in the British horse industry. In 2020, she moved back to Canada to support the COVID-19 pandemic response as a mathematical modeller for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), before joining the University of Guelph in April.
Prior equine research relevant to today’s pandemic
Her current work at One Health involves solving complex health problems by studying the interaction and interconnectivity between humans, animals, and the environment. While it was hard to convince people of the importance of infection control measures for their horses pre-COVID, that has now changed.
“People see how easily an infection can spread and the impact it has, so the research is really applicable now to how people make decisions around the current crisis,” says Dr. Spence.
Trent definitely the right choice
Trent’s renowned Forensic Science program and the beautiful Peterborough campus were obvious selling points for Dr. Spence’s decision to choose Trent. She also liked the idea of attending a smaller university for her undergraduate years.
“The learning environment felt more inviting, and the small class sizes and emphasis on student engagement had a huge impact on my ability to succeed,” she says. Her involvement in several student organizations, including the Trent Central Student Association, further nurtured her involvement in student life and ability to make friends.
She credits Dr. Barry Saville of the Forensic Sciences department, her undergraduate research thesis supervisor, with guiding her towards a potential career in research.
“It wasn’t something I had considered before, but he provided me with several opportunities to get involved in research projects and practice my skills as a researcher,” she says. “There’s no doubt Trent was the right choice for me.”
Dr. Spence contributed to some of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s federal modelling projections for COVID-19.
Dr. Kelsey Spence recently participated as a mentor for Life After Trent – a program that creates opportunities for students and alumni at various stages of their career to meet each other, to mingle and support each other along their professional journey.