Prof. Casey Cazer knew she wanted to be a veterinarian from a young age, but only discovered the career of a veterinarian scientist as an undergraduate at Harvard.
While earning an undergraduate degree in evolutionary biology from Harvard, most of Cazer’s initial exposure to veterinary medicine happened outside of the classroom.
Summer opportunities took her from dairy farms to racetracks, giving her a more comprehensive perspective on the endless possibilities on the intersection between research and medicine. These experiences only further cemented Cazer’s career path: She wanted to find ways to push the veterinary field forward in improving animal health.
The new population medicine professor completed her D.V.M and Ph.D. at Cornell from 2012 to 2020. She described veterinary school as challenging because of the curriculum’s breadth.
“Of course you have the large bucket of knowledge which some people describe as ‘drinking from a firehose,’ trying to learn all that you can about veterinary medicine,” she said.
Through Cornell’s Veterinary Leadership Program, Cazer completed an externship with the pharmaceutical company Sanofi in Frankfurt, Germany. At Sanofi, she learned about many research opportunities in the medical field while working with the company’s pharmacology team, while realizing a career in academia would be a better fit for her.
“There are different mindsets when you do research in academia versus in industry,” she said. “I wanted to start my career in academia because I wanted to be able to drive my own agenda and set my own research goals.”
Just six months into her newest role as a faculty member in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at Cornell, she said she already feels at home.
“I felt like I could really hit the ground running, even though I’m starting my job from my home office,” she said.
She said she has found the virtual environment to be conducive to her research and data analysis because it’s easier to reach out to and collaborate with other researchers.
Cazer’s research focuses on zoonotic diseases and one health, which CDC defines as “an approach that recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.”
“When we talk about one health, we’re really talking about the intersections between human and animal health … this can be anything from diseases that cross those boundaries to how we all depend on the same planetary resources to survive,” Cazer said.
Cazer’s lab focuses on antimicrobial resistance in animal and human populations, how such resistance transfers between the two and how to mitigate resistant bacteria in both animals and people.
One of the lab’s current projects is a scoping review, an overview on previous reports regarding pets transferring bacteria to people. The researchers use data analysis methodologies and modeling, collaborating with wet labs — also known as experimental laboratories — when needed.
Another project the lab is working on utilizes a metapopulation model to monitor how usage of antimicrobials in agriculture can be improved to reduce the likelihood of transferring antimicrobial resistant bacteria through the food chain to consumers. The metapopulation model tracks compartments of resistant bacteria and sees how the bacteria responds to extraneous forces.
This mathematical method is similar to methods used to track infectious diseases, such as the COVID-19 Susceptible Infected Recovered or Susceptible Exposed Infected Recovered models that forecast the spread of the coronavirus.
“Mathematical models have become a little bit of a buzz word lately, because everyone is very familiar with how they have been used to predict the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
The new professor is also working on a few COVID-19-related projects, one of which includes a collection of student reflections on the pandemic. When the University shut down in March, Cazer created a discussion board for her public health course, so students could make predictions on how the pandemic would impact veterinary medicine.
The students found that the field has already been impacted in unusual ways, such as a major increase in the number of pet check-ups. Cazer is also creating some surveillance metrics for the University to “keep a good finger on the pulse of what’s happening” with the spread of COVID-19 cases on campus.
The enthusiasm Cazer first found in her summer experiences as an undergraduate at Harvard has continued into her professional career and has shaped her time at Cornell’s small animal hospital, a position that reminds her why she is a vet.
Looking forward, Cazer hopes to continue setting new goals and remains open-minded for wherever her career takes her next.
“As you’re progressing through your education, you just have your mind set on the next step. In some ways, your first few years as a professor is similar,” Cazer said. “It really broadens your ability to think about what kind of goals you want to set for yourself.”