Job: Margaret "Polly" Clabaugh is a research technologist II in the Division of Animal Resources, a job she’s held for the past 12 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Illinois Wesleyan University.
How long have you been in the job you’re in and how long have you been at the university?
I’ve been at the university 18 1/2 years. I started out in malaria vaccine research, and because of my daily oversight of the primate colony, I got to know the lab animal veterinarians. When the funding ran out for the malaria project, they needed a technician and I needed a job.
What types of research animals are involved?
Certainly, well over 90 percent of the research animals on campus are rodent species – rats, mice. There are some companion animal species, like cats and dogs, and production herds of cows and pigs. We work with everything from the small pocket-sized critters all the way up to the large animals.
What do you do on a typical day?
That’s what makes it kind of fun. Coming in on a given day, you just never know what you’re going to be called upon to do. There are three technicians in our office, and part of what we do is assist the veterinarians with clinical calls that come in from the research units. Say they have a mouse that is trying to deliver her pups and they are just not passing well. We will gather the information, approach the veterinarians and come up with a plan of what we’re going to do for this animal.
We also have a small pharmacy and a system for helping researchers get the types of drugs and supplies that they need.
So the animals are scattered all over campus?
There are five major units on campus: psychology, Beckman, vet med, the ag sciences and the School of Life Sciences. There’re animal units within those colleges, and they report to us in terms of regulatory compliance.
What types of guidelines do you have to follow with regard to the handling of the animals and how they’re treated?
Gosh, that’s an extensive question and I could go on forever. There are numerous government and federal regulations overseeing the use of animals in research. The USDA oversees facility inspections based upon a regulatory guide from the National Institutes on Health.
This office, although we don’t set institutional policy, is mandated to ensure the policies are implemented and that we are in regulatory compliance.
Working with animals you must have had some interesting experiences.
Working with the primates — that will be something
I will always remember. They’re just so smart. And they were brave, they were bold, and you had to be very careful not only to protect the animal but also to protect yourself. There were some very rambunctious monkeys that if they could escape they’d run up your arm, then take just a few extra seconds to ruffle up your collar and your hair before they would jump off and start running around the room.
How are animals retired?
A lot of the rodent species are pretty much just used for a single line project. At the end of that project, there’re not usually options available for transferring to other projects. Or perhaps they need to euthanize the animal at the end and collect internal tissues. As far as the companion animal projects, there is a very strong emphasis to try to get them adopted out if the research doesn’t involve anything that’s really invasive or a manipulation of a normal function of the body.
In fact, one of my pet dogs at home I adopted through the veterinary college when I worked there.
What do you like best about your job?
The people I work with. This office has a really great staff, and we all work well together. I guess the biggest thing is knowing I make a difference — being able to feel the satisfaction of helping people and in how the animals are treated.
Someday there will be computer models or in vitro cell lines so you won’t need to use an animal in research, and I’ll be out of a job, and that’s OK. But until that point, I think it’s really important that you have people in the system that are looking out for the welfare of the animals.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Keeping up with everything that changes.
I think what makes it really hard is when we have to euthanize an animal. You know the animal is clinically sick and the best thing for the animal is to put it to sleep, but it’s still hard.