This week I sat down with Dr. Harwood, Environmental Science and Biology professor, to chat about her work with research students and her role fostering retired greyhounds. Here’s the chat:
Chelsea: What was your pre-Alma experience, what lead to what you’re doing now?
Dr. Harwood: I did my bachelors degree in a small liberal arts college in Illinois. I joke that it was also very Alma-like, we were also the ‘Fighting Scots’ so I had pre bagpipe exposure, tons of plaid stuff already, I have some stuff from my old days that I could probably still wear here! But yeah, same principle of a small liberal arts college, then I did my masters and PhD at Southern Illinois University, became a toxicologist and then taught at a small liberal arts college in Springfield, IL. They actually ended their undergrad programs, so I ended up at Alma! This actually worked out much better because it was more of what I wanted for a long-term goal.
C: I know you do a lot of work with students, what is this research that you do, and how are students involved?
H: One of the reasons I want to be at a place like Alma is because I wanted to – my favorite thing to teach, I love classroom stuff, but I love to teach students how to do science. The best place to do that is with their own projects. My research is very student driven. I have a couple of main areas now, those being working at the Superfund site, doing research with predicting bioavailability. The other big one is road salt, I try to do community based, it might not be something we think about in Alma but it’s something we should be thinking about in Michigan.
C: I know you do a lot of work with Greyhounds, lets dive into that:
H: I do! I got into greyhounds a little over two years ago, actually my first greyhound’s gotcha day is March 17th, so two years ago. I was 100% skeptical, because there is a large fraction of them that are 70 pound cats honestly, very aloof, they kind of do their own thing, I was very skeptical. But my husband really likes sighthounds because his sister had a borzoi, but we wanted one we could adopt. That’s my style, all my dogs are pound dogs. The group that I volunteer with, Allyies for Greyhounds, they have these things called meet and greets, where you can go and meet the dogs, the last one I went to there was 15 dogs there. I learned that there is a much bigger range of personality, it is narrower than most dogs, they aren’t all as laid back, but they mostly are very calm, very well mannered. When we did our adoption, they brought three dogs to our house and you ‘bachelor style’ pick one, that one stays at your house and the other two go back with them. I asked them to basically send the three craziest ones because I wanted a very high energy dog. About a year into us having him, they put a call out for people to be foster homes. I thought, well should we try it? And we’ve been fostering for about a year now. Our strategy is that we don’t mind the high energy dogs, where most people want the super chill side of things, we talk to the adoption coordinator, and say ‘who needs to get out of the kennel’, and we go pick them up. We keep them in our house and teach them how to be a house dog until they get adopted! Another thing I do with greyhounds is give information and be an advocate for the breed. For example, one of the most irritating things about this is that people often ask if they’re a rescue, where we don’t say they’re a rescue, we say they’re retired. Once I started meeting trainers and people who have been to the track and been to the kennels and have now met hundreds of dogs, they are not abused. So, we don’t say they’re rescued, they’re retired. When they get injured, which happens to many athletes, they get retired. That is another thing, informing people how they are not this abused dog, they are a professional athlete who is no
longer doing that. Once you get into these groups you realize they are so tightly knit that you will never see a racing greyhound in a pound, because if one gets there, a group will come pick it up and bring it back into a foster home. They have a higher placement than your average golden retriever, they’re so regulated. A lot of people think they’re forced to race but you can’t force a dog to do anything, you certainly can’t force them to run as fast as they can. You’ll never see a retired racehorse run for fun, my ex-racing dogs run for fun every day! They love it, you can’t stop them.
C: What opportunities are within your department, and then at Alma as a whole that you don’t think enough students know about, that more should take advantage of?
H: I think students should take as many research opportunities, and summer research opportunities as they possibly can get away with. And another thing people often don’t realize is that you can do research during the school year. If you have to have a summer job, you can do research during the school year and you can get credits for that. The other thing is to try to get into research early, then if you have a few years of experience, some of your professors will take you to a conference. So, if you start with me as a sophomore you’re almost guaranteed to go to a conference.
C: Following up on that, if a student wanted to start research with you or any other professor, how should they go about that?
H: Knock on their door! Send them an email! That’s usually how most do it but know that they fill up fast!