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Candace Croney, Ph.D.

Director for the Center for Animal Welfare Science and Associate Professor of Animal Behavior and Well-being at Purdue University

Dr. Croney earned a B.S. in animal science (pre-veterinary studies) from Rutgers University and a masters and Ph.D. in animal science (applied animal ethology and cognition) from Penn State. She studies the effects of rearing environments and enrichment on animal cognition, behavior and welfare; the ethical implications of animal care and use decisions; and public perceptions of animal agriculture. Croney serves as a scientific advisor on animal welfare to numerous well-known companies and organizations. Her research on canine welfare recently resulted in a new national certification program that sets rigorous standards for the care of dogs and puppies by professional breeders. She was honored as an Outstanding Alumna of the college in 2007.

Q: How did you get involved with agriculture?

A: I always loved animals and knew I wanted to work with them. Originally I got steered into a pre-vet program in undergrad. At Rutgers they offered a lot of experience with different animals, so I got research experience working with sheep, horses and cattle and really ended up falling in love with working with farm animals. So I pursued an animal science degree instead of going to veterinary school.

Q: What’s something really exciting in your field?

A: I study animal behavior and animal welfare science, especially in farm animals. But now there’s a new discipline where we’re able to apply some of the work we’ve done with farm animals to other species, in particular companion animals like dogs and cats. I couldn’t have been able to do things like set science-based standards of care for dogs without the experiences and training I’ve had working with farm animals, and to be able to pass that along to some of the young scientists I work with is really exciting. Also, showing people how agricultural procedures and a background in agricultural sciences are relevant to the animals more people interact with every day is wonderful stuff. Additionally, I get to tie what we do back to people’s perceptions of animal treatment, ethical and sustainable systems and practices, etc. The fact that all of these concepts are coming together makes it a really fun time to be working in agriculture.

Q: Tell us a little about how you came to be where you are today.

A: I’ve had some interesting experiences. After my study at Penn State, where we put pigs onto computers and somewhat accidentally spawned a myth that pigs are as smart as two year old children, I did a postdoc at the University of Maryland following up on this work learning even more about pigs’ abilities to learn complex concepts and to differentiate between visual and olfactory cues. I then worked at the American Zoo Association in Washington, D.C., which allowed some interfacing with legislators around wildlife and conservation as well as development of education programs around animals, their care and welfare. I actually met Jack Hanna around that time when he was working with the Columbus Zoo. Later I was offered a faculty position at Oregon State where I worked on animal ethics, followed by a similar position at Ohio State. Finally, I came to Purdue, where I now have administrative duties in addition to the engagement, teaching and research I had focused on before. I actually really enjoy it because it allows me to do things like direct the research center, bring together faculty collaborators and help them meet their goals, coordinate research funding and help us to realize big-picture goals that have a reach and an impact.

Q: You are obviously very accomplished, but you have admitted to experiencing “imposter syndrome.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

A: Being an underrepresented minority and a woman in animal agriculture can be challenging. Sometimes you don’t feel like you really belong in animal agriculture or you’re not totally welcome, especially if you do not come from an agricultural background.  I often used to run into people who were surprised that I was in animal science and had expertise in animal agriculture. Some would quiz me until they were sure I knew what I was talking about. That still sometimes happens.  And as an undergraduate I wasn’t sure I was smart enough to go for a Ph.D., so it’s still a little surreal even to me that I earned one and am now doing the work I am.

Q: So how do you overcome those challenges?

A: What I learned at Penn State is that you can find allies, advocates and mentors anywhere you are who will inspire you to be better than you can be on your own. They don’t have to look like you; they don’t have to think like you; you just have to find a caring network of people who can and will give their guidance and support. Find them as early as you can and really listen to their feedback, even if it’s hard to hear. There are times when I had to hear, “Yes, this is difficult, but you’re being defensive,” and using that feedback constructively really helped me to grow as a professional. I hope students know that even though there will be challenges, if you are willing to do the work, there are resources at Penn State and elsewhere, people who will reach out and support them and help them reach their goals. When it gets hard, look to those people. Dr. Bill Henson, who is the person who recruited me to come to Penn State, and Dr. Cathy Lyons, who was here after Bill retired, provided me with ongoing support and motivation.  The faculty, staff and students in animal science provided me with a challenging and very rewarding program and I use what they taught me probably every day of the job. That includes the invaluable hands-on training I got at the farms from people like Dave Hosterman and Randy Swope, as well as the coursework and informal professional and academic mentoring from so many role models in animal science, the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Department of Psychology (my graduate minor).  For me, the biggest obstacle was overcoming my own self-doubt.  Persistence, hard work and great mentors were the key to moving forward.