Destined to Be a Scientist

Sarah Klopatek, a research assistant at the University of California-Davis, was one of the five students to receive a scholarship to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California, during the last full week of October. The pilot CAST Science Communication Scholarship Program required applicants to submit a 30-second video explaining why science communication plays such a critical role in sharing their research findings. Klopatek explains how her research helps bridge the gap between cattle ranchers in California with consumers all over the world and how science communication is key in successfully accomplishing this feat. Her video can be found on CAST’s YouTube channel and other CAST social media.

Klopatek has a very unique background–she was raised by a microbiologist biochemist and a global systems ecologist. Spending most of her childhood surrounded by scientists and field research, it is no surprise that she chose to pursue a career as a scientist. “I fell in love with science because it’s all I’ve ever known.” With soil sample bags in hand, twelve-year-old Klopatek would keep herself entertained as her parents took to their research. Growing up, you could often find her riding horses, playing lacrosse, or swinging a punch or two at boxing practice. “I think being an athlete really prepared me to become a scientist. You must endure a lot in both professions. Being an athlete you have to push your body, where scientists have to push their minds.”

Following high school, Klopatek chose to obtain her undergrad degree in animal science at the University of Arizona. “My parents were professors at Arizona State University, so of course I went to U of A.” Four years flew by and she found herself being accepted into the school of veterinary medicine. Realizing that beef cattle and sustainability was her true calling, Klopatek chose to continue her education at Texas A&M University. She credits Texas A&M for being the “best decision” she has ever made. It helped her establish a beef background from pasture to plate and opened her eyes to the beef system as a whole.

Klopatek chose to relocate to California for her Ph.D. work because UC-Davis was housing a wide variety of systems work at the time. Jim Oltjen at UC-Davis was a great mentor who helped take Klopatek’s research to the next level and allowed her to do research that answers system questions. “I learned that in order to measure sustainability of beef myopically, we must evaluate its relationship with policy, consumers, environmental health, human health, and worker health.” She finds California to be filled with ranchers who face unique opportunities and challenges every day–providing her with a great place to study and grow.

When reminiscing on her journey of becoming a beef sustainability scientist, Klopatek reflected on many life lessons she learned along the way. “When I was younger, I was horrible with change. I have been very fortunate to have great mentors throughout my educational career, and Dr. Todd Calloway was one of those people. He taught me how to roll with the punches and not be my own worst enemy. You can plan for everything to go right in your experiment or project, but things will still go wrong. There will be speed bumps and that’s okay. Learn to adapt.” Calloway once told her, “You are literally getting time in your life where you get paid to learn and discover. You are a monk of science. That is a gift.” If Klopatek could give advice to other young scientists, she would encourage them to enjoy the journey and to compartmentalize. “Sometimes your original plans don’t pan out. Instead of making a plan for your life, make an outline and realize that it isn’t the blueprint of your life. It is an outline to keep you moving closer toward your goals.”

As Klopatek looks to the future, her intention as a cattle sustainability scientist is to influence legislation and policy that would appropriately reinforce environmental and animal welfare that is economically adventitious to both producers and consumers. “I have been able to work on research that I love and believe in. There is so much good science out there, and it needs to be shared with the people in a way that they can understand and resonate with it.” Klopatek tells her students, “Your master’s gets you the toolbox. Your Ph.D. teaches you how to use those tools. The thing is, your toolbox doesn’t go away once you graduate. You should be able to use those tools for whatever science and science communication you are interested in.” Klopatek plans to use her toolbox at the senate to help influence change and policy for the science and agricultural community. It has been a pleasure getting to know her, we wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors, and we look forward to continuing to work with her.

Click here to watch Sarah Klopatek’s video on why she is so passionate about people, the planet, and animals.

By: Kylie Peterson

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